Wednesday, February 16, 2011

February - the Beginning of Sports Nirvana

Ah February, the month of love and even though the 14th has come and gone there are still many love celebrations to observe.  There is “Love Your Library Month” and so I would like to urge everyone to email, call, write, or post on our Facebook page why you love our library!  We would love to pass on these comments to the Mayor, City Council, and the City Manager. There is also a comment box in the library – so you when you come in you can write down why you love your library.  
The heart is also feted with "American Heart Month" and we have lots of heart-friendly cookbooks to check out.   The animal rescue community urges everyone to observe "Responsible Pet Owners’ Month" and we urge you to put the kibosh on irresponsible pet love so that you can enjoy “Love Your Pet Day” on February 20 with a clear conscience because your pets are spayed or neutered. 
February is not really about holidays for me but the middle of the month signals that some of my favorite sporting events are fast approaching: 1) Daytona, the first race of the NASCAR season (Go Junior-he has the pole!) is just a couple of days away; 2) the glory of March Madness (Go Duke-2010 Champions, repeat in 2011!) of the NCAA Tournament is just around the corner and conference play is underway; and 3) spring training is underway(Go St. Louis Cardinals and you better talk to Pujols!). It is also time to remember Dale Earnhardt, the greatest NASCAR driver of all time, who passed away on the last lap of Daytona on February 18, 2001.  I can’t believe it has been a decade.

While I religiously watch certain sports, it occurred to me that I do not read any true sports books unless you count The Encyclopedia of Duke Basketball that my husband gave me for Christmas.  Oh sure there are the romance books that have a tenuous connection to sports such as the Chicago Stars Series by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. The main book characters are connected to a pro football team although it is is peripheral to the story and is a device that ties the different book in the series together. I also love her books (Fancy Pants, Lady Be Good, and her latest, Call Me Irresistible) which feature professional golfers from right here in the Texas Hill Country.  I love the series but I do not read it for the sports!  Oddly enough, and you think I would love them, but I do not care for the romance books set in the world of NASCAR.  All of the titles I have tried seem to lack the snappy dialogue and that leavening of humor I so enjoy in my favorite romance books. The one I like best in this romance sub-subgenre was Once Around the Track, by Sharon McCrumb. 
Of the books that I have read and enjoyed where the sport itself takes more of a center stage are Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace and Playing for Pizza by John Grisham.  I am not a fan of Grisham's legal thrillers but I am surprised by how much I liked this small novel.  It chronicles the story of how Rick Dockery, a washed up NFL player, finds himself playing professional football in Italy and what happens as a result.  It's a bit sappy and predictable but who knew they played pro football in Italy!  I enjoyed the afternoon I spent reading it. 
Wallace's book, the better written of the two, is set in the Roaring Twenties and it fictionalizes the real life story of Virnett "Jackie" Mitchell, who was signed as pitcher for the all-male Chattanooga Lookouts at the age of 17.  A phenomenal pitcher, her fame grew and then her legend was cemented when the mighty New York Yankees travelled to Tennessee to play an exhibition game.  On April 2, 1931, in the first inning of a rain-delayed game, Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth (who took the called third strike very badly indeed to say the least) and Lou Gerhig on 4 and 3 pitches respectively. Baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided her contract and declared women unfit to play baseball as the game was "too strenuous" and I do not think it was a coincidence that the rather oddly-named northerner banned women two days after the exhibition game. 
Ruby Thomas in Wallace's book not only faces the same sexism that Jackie Mitchell faced but his story also places his heroine in the broader societal context of the 1920s.  The novel expands upon many of the other simmering issues of the time including anti-Semitism, class, and even the disastrous cultural effects of World War I and the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.  While the author can go on a bit long at times, it is still a rich and well-woven tale.

Happy Reading!

p.s. if you are both a mystery and a sports fan, try Harlan Coben's long running Myron Bolitar series, which features a crime solving sports agent. I haven't read any of his books but I know that Coben is one of our patrons' favorite mystery writers.  The newest book in this series, Live Wire, will be out on March 22 and I expect it to be in great demand here at the library. 

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