Monday, September 04, 2006

Book reports

It's a rainy afternoon on Labor Day, the holiday bridging the unofficial transition from summer to fall. It seems a good to move books from the nightstand to the bookshelf.

As long as I can remember, I've preferred reading non-fiction -- especially biographies and particularly those of sports figures. After devoting most of my free time the past four years to writing sports non-fiction -- including a full biography of National Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Red Faber -- it has been great to take some time away from writing to do some reading. None is a new release -- just "new" to me.

Here are most of the books on my "completed" list.

Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life, by Richard Ben Cramer. Though "hero" is part of the title, this is no hero-worship biography. On the contrary, Cramer reveals the obsessive, greedy side of a man known as (and required to be introduced as such at his public appearances) The Greatest Living Ballplayer. On the field, DiMaggio was a superstar. Off the field, according to Cramer's intricately researched book, DiMaggio was anything but. Here is one reviewer's assessment of the book.

How You Played the Game: The Life of Grantland Rice, by William Harper. (1999). I started this biography during the spring, set it aside for another choice, and finished it this summer. As a former sportswriter interested in sports Golden Age of the 1920s, I was curious about the era's leading sportswriter, who seemed to have a front-row seat for all of the major events of his day. The book struck me as a little long, but a good investment in time nonetheless.

This Side of Cooperstown: An Oral History of Major League Baseball in the 1950s, by Larry Moffi. (1996). I might not have spent much time with this one, except I had plenty of free time (camping vacation in Colorado). Most of the retired players who consented to interviews with Moffi were far from household names. Still, the reader gains insight into the life of a major leaguer before he became a major leaguer. The oral history style -- all "in their own words" -- helps the book move along.

The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s over Germany,
by Stephen E. Ambrose.
I put aside the sports books temporarily for this one. The compelling account is mostly told through the experiences of a young pilot who later became a U.S. senator and presidential candidate George McGovern. The book, released in 2001, was among a half-dozen Ambrose projects that were the subject of ethical questions. including accusations of plaigiarism. Ambrose died of lung cancer in October 2002, and the furor subsided. In any case, the book helps a reader appreciate the youth, the sacrifice and the dangers of McGovern and other B-24 pilots.

Thus ends my summer reading book report.

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