mini-reviews: vacationland and instant replay

More non-fiction! Here are a couple of great, diverse celebrity memoirs I recently listened to on audiobook:

I’ve wanted to read Instant Replay for years, the diary of inside linebacker Jerry Kramer of his experience of the Green Bay Packers’ historic 1967 season. I’m sure my dad has a copy somewhere but I just hadn’t gotten around to it. When Kramer was recently inaugurated into the NFL Hall of Fame, though, my interest was renewed and I was able to listen on audio. What a great book! It’s definitely for a niche audience; if you’re not familiar with the team, key people involved, or the game of football, you will likely not be interested. Kramer may not have the most eloquent “voice,” but he’s a straight-talker just like Lombardi was, and Kramer’s day-to-day account here of his last season playing, as well as Lombardi’s last season coaching the Packers, is full of great stories from both on and off the field. A must read for any Packers or football fan for sure. [Listened to audiobook in April 2018.]

I listened to John Hodgman‘s Vacationland on audio while flying back to the States from Singapore a couple weeks ago. I enjoy Hodgman’s humor in small doses, so maybe listening in one long sitting wasn’t the best for me, but I’d definitely recommend audio over paper for this one. His sly delivery makes all the difference on many of these stories. Sometimes he meanders off-topic and much of it is navel-gazing white privilege, but at least Hodgman acknowledges this and his self-deprecating humor makes it work. I enjoyed it and it was a good way to pass the time, even if it won’t be very memorable in the long run to me. [Listened to audiobook in June 2018.]

reading recap: may through july 2016

I’m back! I’m still getting settled in here in Singapore, and I admit I haven’t been real motivated to blog. I haven’t been really interested in being on the computer at all much since the move. I don’t exactly feel like I’ve been on vacation here, but I think I needed the break. But now, two months in here, I’d like to catch up and get back into a regular habit of writing and keeping track. Even though I haven’t blogged, I have been reading! Here are my books read from May through July:

may-july-reading

  • Love, Loss, and What We Ate (audio) … Padma Lakshmi, read by author (May)
  • Earth: A Visitor’s Guide … (audio) … Jon Stewart, read by Daily Show cast (June)
  • A Load of Hooey (audio) … Bob Odenkirk, read by author and various (June)
  • League of Denial (audio)…Fainaru-Wada/Fainaru, read by D.H.Lawrence XVII (July)
  • I’m Just a Person … Tig Notaro (July)

All three non-fiction books here were outstanding, but I’m torn between naming League of Denial or I’m Just a Person my favorite of these months. League, which covers the NFL and traumatic brain injuries in (primarily) football, was horrifying, infuriating, and disheartening but so interesting. It’s an important book for any fan of football and other high-impact sports. Tig Notaro, who suffered two life-threatening diseases and the death of her mother all in a short time period, had me in tears by the end of I’m Just a Person. Padma Lakshmi was so relatable in Love, Loss, and What We Ate, like visiting a close girlfriend. I didn’t know much about her life beyond Top Chef and her marriage to Salman Rushdie, and it was a pleasure to learn more about her life, in her own words and voice.

Earth was fun—just what you’d expect from The Daily Show crew, but it’s predecessor (America) was better. I was excited to listen to A Load of Hooey as I think Bob Odenkirk is hilarious, and several of the short stories here were wonderfully ridiculous, but a few fell flat for me.

I’m not sure yet if I’ll go back to write up individual reviews for all these books from May to September, but recaps for my August and September reading will be coming soon!
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where men win glory

Jon Krakauer is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve read several of his books before I finally got to Where Men Win Glory, a biography of Pat Tillman, on audiobook this summer. From Goodreads:

Like the men whose epic stories Jon Krakauer has told in his previous bestsellers, Pat Tillman was an irrepressible individualist and iconoclast. In May 2002, Tillman walked away from his $3.6 million NFL contract to enlist in the United States Army. He was deeply troubled by 9/11, and he felt a strong moral obligation to join the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Two years later, he died on a desolate hillside in southeastern Afghanistan […] in a barrage of bullets fired by his fellow soldiers.

I was completely engaged by this book, part biography and part exposé. I vaguely remember the scandal as it was happening; I was early into my college years and not quite yet the political junkie I am today, but certainly the 9/11 attacks stirred my interest in learning more and becoming involved, if just a minuscule amount compared to how it impacted Tillman and drove him to action. Krakauer presents Tillman as a loyal all-American patriot who values hard work, respect, and honesty. Aside from being a little hot-headed, he really did seem like a stand-up kind of guy, dependable by family, friends, and teammates alike. His journal excerpts are particularly affecting, which include entries from his college years through his NFL career and even during the war. Tillman was forthright and specific about his disillusionment, anger, and discontent with the war, and what he wished for in the event of his death.

I was struck by the utter audacity of the government and military, then, to propagandize Tillman’s death, covering up and redacting key details of the tragedy. And of course, it’s important to remember this has happened to countless others who were not celebrities back home. Without saying it, Krakauer makes his position on the matter and opinion of the war and Bush administration clear. It’s a little hard to ignore that Krakauer is kind of doing just what Tillman did NOT want here—to be posthumously paraded around in the public eye (I’m paraphrasing). But Where Men Win Glory does especially succeed in reminding you of exactly how big the machine is (politics, military, media). Great read.

Listened to audiobook from July 14 to 16, 2015.

driven

The paper book I decided to bring along with me on my trip to Wisconsin last month was Driven: From Homeless to Hero, My Journeys On and Off Lambeau Field by Donald Driver. What else! I was in the mood for something light and uplifting, and I was heading home for a long weekend, so it was a perfect choice.

In Driven, Driver recounts his family’s struggles with poverty during his childhood, his drug-dealing adolescence, and his career in professional football, as well as his winning turn on Dancing with the Stars.

Who doesn’t love Donald Driver? He has consistently been a fan favorite for years, and is definitely one of my faves. He just has a bright, good-natured persona, and is bursting with charisma, which was upheld in this memoir. I didn’t really know much about his past, especially the extent to which his family suffered and his drug dealing and car stealing days. Driver’s a very fortunate person and it’s clear he doesn’t take it for granted, and it’s wonderful his tenacity and patience has paid off.

It was a real thrill to read about a player’s view of some Packers games that I remember watching or attending, and I was touched by Driver’s close friendship with Brett Favre. This book made me super excited for football season to start up again! Every fan of the Packers would love this memoir. I think it would also be fantastic to experience on audio, if Driver was the narrator of course, because it reads very conversationally, like he’s just hanging out with you telling you about his life.

While I really enjoyed it as a Packers fan, as a reader it has its share of flaws, mainly in the editing. I did find a tiny handful of spelling errors, and there was much repetition. Every time Favre is mentioned, it is reiterated that they were close friends, or that he was the quarterback. (Not verbatim, but you get the idea: “Packers quarterback Brett Favre, my close friend…” “My close friend Brett Favre (who was quarterback at the time) and I…”) This also happened with mentions of his wife Tina. I found the writing during the football chapters much more exciting and engaging than other chapters, not that the parts about his personal life and Dancing with the Stars weren’t interesting, they just didn’t go as deep (ha! get it… he’s a WR…#nerd) as the football writing.

An absolute recommend for Packers fans! Driver’s memoir is heartwarming and truly conveys how much he loves Green Bay, the game, the players, the community, and the fans. (I will admit to tearing up during his retirement ceremony, which I watched live online at my work desk. My boss walked in and was like, “What’s the matt— oh! You’re silly!” haha)

Read from July 8 to 17, 2014.

when pride still mattered

In January I read When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi by David Maraniss in my book group at the public library. From Goodreads:

More than any other sports figure, Vince Lombardi transformed football into a metaphor of the American experience. The son of an Italian immigrant butcher, Lombardi toiled for twenty frustrating years as a high school coach and then as an assistant at Fordham, West Point, and the New York Giants before his big break came at age forty-six with the chance to coach a struggling team in snowbound Wisconsin. His leadership of the Green Bay Packers to five world championships in nine seasons is the most storied period in NFL history. Lombardi became a living legend, a symbol to many of leadership, discipline, perseverance, and teamwork, and to others of an obsession with winning. In When Pride Still Mattered, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss captures the myth and the man, football, God, and country in a thrilling biography destined to become an American classic.

I was really excited and surprised that a book about Vince Lombardi was chosen for our book group—I would have never suggested it (well, not unless I was in a book group in Wisconsin 😉 ) since it’s 500+ dense pages—so I was also pretty curious to see how my bookish Kansas City cohorts would take to it. I knew off the bat that I would love it, and I did. Unfortunately, the book wasn’t quite up their alley. I can absolutely see why I had special interest in When Pride Still Mattered over the rest of the group, though—unless you are a fan of football (Packers or otherwise), or are interested in football (and Wisconsin) history, this book probably won’t do it for you.

But since I am a football fan, Packers fan, Wisconsinite, and interested in popular American history, When Pride Still Mattered was endlessly gripping for me. Best known as head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s who brought the team to an unprecedented five championships wins in nine seasons, Vince Lombardi has transcended mere historical figure to storied legend, surrounded by a particular mythology that began to develop even before his death in 1970. I absolutely LOVED the chapters about his time in Green Bay; Maraniss’s descriptions of the small industrial city are spot-on. I felt like I was living through every game recounted, and it was fun to read about Lombardi’s players—Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Willie Davis, Max McGee, Jerry Kramer, and more. I found myself becoming nostalgic for an era that happened 20 years before I was born!

Maraniss’s When Pride Still Mattered is the definitive Lombardi biography, covering his family growing up in New York to his Jesuit education (Fordham University), and career as an assistant coach (West Point, New York Giants) long before ever having a chance at a head coach position. Along the way Maraniss ties in historical events and changes in the United States and how they related to Lombardi’s career, like the rise of television (and how that changed professional football), the Kennedy family’s political reign and JFK’s assassination, and the cultural revolutions of the 1960s.

Beyond this broader scope, Maraniss objectively presents Lombardi the man as well, as a son, brother, husband, and father. Despite having a seemingly larger-than-life persona and air of success in the public eye, Lombardi was actually quite shy, lonely, and awkward, as well as a disappointing, frustrating husband and father. I felt like I knew the family intimately after reading When Pride Still Mattered. One part of Lombardi I found especially striking were his progressive, liberal social leanings, particularly with sexual orientation and race on his football teams.

When Pride Still Mattered hit home on a personal level for me, too, beyond just being a Packers fan. Lombardi lived just under a mile away from my grandparents’ house, where my mother and her siblings were raised, and where I spent a lot of time myself before my gramma moved out in 2010. Lombardi frequented Resurrection Catholic Parish in Allouez, where my mom’s family attended, where my parents were married, and where my grandparents’ funerals were held. I just felt extra connected having been to a lot of these places mentioned in the book and having times in my family’s history click with Packers/Lombardi history (my grampa taking my uncle to the Ice Bowl, for instance). I rarely cry over books and movies, but I cried at the end of When Pride Still Mattered, when Lombardi was dying of cancer in the hospital:

By August 31, Lombardi was slipping in and out of consciousness, but he remembered that this was a special day, their thirtieth wedding anniversary. “Happy anniversary, Rie,” he said to Marie. “Remember, I love you.” (page 497)

The day after my gramma died in October 2013, a few of us went on the Lambeau Field tour and saw the Packers Hall of Fame (because duh! That’s how we do in Wisconsin):

I can’t recommend When Pride Still Mattered highly enough! It’s a chunkster, but totally worth it if football history, the Packers, Lombardi, and/or American biographies are your jam.

Read from January 3 to 29, 2014.

top ten tuesday: books i’d recommend to…

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt from Broke and the Bookish:

November 19: Top ten books I’d recommend to X person

This is a fun one! I’m picking Green Bay Packers/football as the topic, and myself (sort of) as the X person, since I haven’t had a chance to read most of these yet. Or anyone who likes football in the Midwest. Or football. Or the Packers. 🙂

As you know if you read the blog, I love my Green Bay Packers, and if you are following the NFL this season, you’ll know the Pack is having a rough time out there lately. I don’t usually have the chance to watch games live on TV and have to wait for replays online, so the books and DVDs reliving better seasons have made these last ugly couple weeks a bit more tolerable. Plus, I bleed green and gold anyway so even though I haven’t read all these yet, I definitely want to get to them eventually. The links go to the books’ Goodreads pages. In no particular order:

1. Packers: Green, Gold and Glory by Sports Illustrated
The one I’m reading right now. Great pictures, and brief profiles of fans, beloved players, and memorable game recaps. At the end, there is a section of previously published Sports Illustrated articles about the Packers, too.

2. When Pride Still Mattered by David Maraniss
The quintessential biography of legendary Packers coach, Vince Lombardi.

3. Driven by Donald Driver
This one was just released and I can’t wait to read it! I think Donald Driver is arguably the most beloved Packer of late—super charismatic, charming, genuine, generous. He’s just one of the best. This memoir chronicles his impoverished childhood, overcoming adversity left and right to being a true icon of the Green and Gold.

4. Aaron Rodgers: Leader of the Pack by Rob Reischel
I mean… yeah:

Aww yeah.

5. From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap by LeRoy Butler
Former All-Pro safety and Packers Hall of Famer LeRoy Butler is the inventor of the Lambeau Leap, a time-honored tradition at the Frozen Tundra.

6. Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer by Jerry Kramer
Offensive lineman Jerry Kramer kept a diary during the 1967 season, his 10th year with the team and the last year of the Lombardi era. Looks like an awesome insider’s account!

7. Favre by Brett Favre, et al
Okay before my fellow cheeseheads get mad—you gotta admit, Favre is a fascinating athlete and has lived quite a life. Of course, this book goes up to all the “retirement” brouhaha, from his childhood in Mississippi, playing high school ball for his dad, through college and his legendary time with the Packers, up to that unforgettable December 2003 Oakland game the day after his father died.

8. Never Die Easy by Walter Payton and Don Yaeger
The autobiography of one-time leading rusher in NFL history. Nicknamed “Sweetness,” Payton was an incredible player and the idol and inspiration of many players that came after him. Payton’s performance and commitment to the game transcends team loyalty—he was a Chicago Bear but everyone can agree he was one of the all-time greats on the field.

9. Monsters: 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football by Rich Cohen
Again, I think any true fan of football can appreciate the Chicago Bears crazy-incredible 1985 season. And, Super Bowl Shuffle. Hahaha! How does that not bring a goofy smile to your face?

10. Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer
Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman turned down a multi-million dollar extension contract to enlist in the Army after the 9/11 attacks, feeling a deep moral obligation to serve his country. Tillman was sent to Afghanistan, where it was ruled he was supposedly killed in friendly fire. Krakauer delivers another investigative book, piecing together the events that lead to Tillman’s death. I love Krakauer’s work anyway, so I thought this would be a great addition to the list.

11. BONUS! The Packers Experience by Lew Freedman and Tom Silverman
I just found this one! A year-by-year guide through every season in the franchise’s history, containing recaps, photos, images of old publicity materials and programs, and more.

What books (or genre) would you recommend to someone—a non-reader, your spouse, your sibling, your parent, etc.?