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.]

league of denial

Last summer, I listened to the excellent audiobook version of League of Denial by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru. With football season upon us, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at this one. Edited from Goodreads:

“Professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis.”

So concluded the National Football League in a December 2005 scientific paper on concussions in America’s most popular sport. That judgment, implausible even to a casual fan, also contradicted the opinion of a growing cadre of neuroscientists who worked in vain to convince the NFL that it was facing a deadly new scourge: a chronic brain disease that was driving an alarming number of players—including some of the all-time greats—to madness.

League of Denial reveals how the NFL, over a period of nearly two decades, sought to cover up and deny mounting evidence of the connection between football and brain damage.

If you read my little slice of the internet here, you know I’m a rabid Green Bay Packers fan. My mother grew up in De Pere, in a house just a mile from Vince Lombardi’s house. Lombardi frequented my grandparents’ church. My grandparents went on dates to games. We have coveted, hard-to-get season tickets. As a fan, as someone who cares and is curious, I decided to read League of Denial. I already knew there are health consequences to playing contact sports, but I had no idea just how disturbingly deep the CTE controversy goes in the NFL.

League of Denial exposes the fraud of “safety” in football, from the physically violent way the game is played to attempting to solve the CTE issue with advances in helmet construction and technology, from medical teams to owners to the highest levels of administration. It was just like how Big Tobacco convinced everyone for the longest time that smoking cigarettes was safe. There’s no helmet that can keep the brain from experiencing trauma and damage inside the skull when a player is hit, whether it’s football, baseball, boxing, or anything else.

The amount of research and countless interviews that went into League of Denial is staggering. I know Brett Favre is concerned and vocal about his own future health regarding CTE, and the distressing experiences of football greats like Troy Aikman and Dan Marino in this book really bring home CTE’s seriousness, as well as the NFL’s denial and inaction. The most disquieting story, though, is the life and tragic downward spiral of four-time Super Bowl champion Mike Webster. He was from Wisconsin, where he grew up on a farm, rooted for the Packers, and was a center for the Badgers in college at UW-Madison. It’s a very typical Wisconsin upbringing that hits close to home for me.

This is a compulsively readable book. The only downside of the audio is I’m sure I missed out on a photo section on paper. I haven’t been able to denounce and boycott the game, primarily because the Packers are such a huge part of my homestate’s culture and my family’s bond and history. But I’m paying closer attention for sure to this issue and how the NFL handles it going forward. As a sports fan, and particularly a football fan—one with a conscious—I’m glad I read this informative book. It serves as a warning for exactly how more and more rampant CTE will become each year, and makes the reader question why we as a society are so obsessed with a sport that mimics war and glorifies violence.

Listened to audiobook in July 2016.

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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it’s monday! what are you reading?

WELL. How is it possibly the end of October already?? So much has happened and IS happening. This time of year is always busy. I have been reading a bunch, but hardly finishing anything. One thing I did finish that I’ve been working on the past month is this drawing, a gift for my husband for our 5-year anniversary on October 16:

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Not bad for my first drawing in like six years, eh? Just pencil and paper, nothing fancy. I think it took me about 30 hours. This is a portrait of Werner Herzog, an influential, esoteric filmmaker whose work we enjoy. Nick was at a composer residency the whole month of September, and he said he drew something for me, so I was inspired. It was a great way to pass the time while he was gone, very cathartic and fun to draw again. I realized I had never done a drawing for him, it was about time! I want to draw more!

Rehearsals have started in full, taking me out of the house a few nights a week after work. I’ve also had two family visits and a few concerts these recent weekends… either playing in them myself or ones I’m working for my “day job.” And LAST weekend, my husband and I went to Denver to celebrate our anniversary… with a SLASH concert. It was epic! I have forthcoming posts about the concert and trip planned for this week, stay tuned!

Watching…

ROYALS! It’s so exciting to see them back in the World Series again! Game 1 is tomorrow night here in KC. While I was working on that drawing, I “rewatched” (had on in the background) almost all of The Sopranos on DVD. Damn, that was a great show. Nick and I also recently saw The Martian in 3D at the cinema—better than the book, and the book was great! We’re also getting back into The Walking DeadAmerican Horror Story, and The Last Man on Earth. Happy to see Tandy’s beard is back this season! I have EverestSelma, and Black Mass (even though I didn’t finish the book yet) on my list.

Reading…

Speaking of Slash, I’m still reading his autobiography, Slash. About halfway through at the moment. It’s a bit of a chunkster! I’ve also dabbled a bit in Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot (I don’t kid myself that I’ll be anywhere near finished by the end of the #SalemAlong), and I have a copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last from the library that I’m going to have to renew here soon since I’m only a few pages in so far. Nick and I also listened to the audiobook version of Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari during our Denver road trip.

Listening…

Still really enjoying our turntable. I have a bunch of classic rock records, and Nick is building a decent collection of all sorts of metal on vinyl. Stuff by Slash, of course, with his new band Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators (Apocalyptic LoveWord on Fire), his eponymous first solo album, and revisiting Guns N’ Roses albums like Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion.

This past weekend I dug out my copy of the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and gave it a listen, after seeing that Friday (October 23) was the 20th anniversary of its original release. I still remembered all the lyrics! My dad took me to see them on this tour in October 1996, their stop at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. What a great show, great memories!

I wanted to jump in on this week’s It’s Monday, what are you reading? despite my not exactly reading (or rather, finishing) much lately. What are you reading this week?

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.

i never had it made

I had all these plans to write and publish blog posts over the holiday weekend (and after work this week) but couldn’t bear to be on the computer. Instead, I read, hung out with my husband and friends, and visited the Liberty Memorial at the National World War I Museum on Memorial Day. I also finished reading I Never Had It Made by Jackie Robinson on my e-reader. Edited from Goodreads:

Before Barry Bonds, before Reggie Jackson, before Hank Aaron, baseball’s stars had one undeniable trait in common: they were all white. In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke that barrier, striking a crucial blow for racial equality and changing the world of sports forever. I Never Had It Made is Robinson’s own candid, hard-hitting account of what it took to become the first black man in history to play in the major leagues. Originally published the year Robinson died, I Never Had It Made endures as an inspiring story of a man whose heroism extended well beyond the playing field.

I was reminded I had this in my e-reader when I was watching the Royals game on April 15—all the players (on all teams) wear #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. (April 15 was opening day in 1947, Jackie’s first season in the majors.)

Jackie’s autobiography was surprising to me in a few ways, namely that it was less about baseball and more about other aspects of his professional life in business and politics. I also found it rather relevant to our current racial tensions and issues—I wonder what Jackie would have to say today.

The first freedom for all people is freedom of choice. I want to live in a neighborhood of my choice where I can afford to pay the rent. I want to send my children to school where I believe they will develop best. I want the freedom to rise as high in my career as my ability indicates. I want to be free to follow the dictates of my own mind and conscience without being subject to the pressures of any man, black or white. I think that is what most people of all races want. (96)

While I’m glad I read Never Had It Made and enjoyed getting a better idea of who Jackie was beyond his time on the field as a Brooklyn Dodger. He didn’t deeply analyze events or his feelings much, except for the very moving chapter about the death of his oldest son and throughout you can tell his love for his wife and family was palpable. But he recounting several hardships he faced growing up and “breaking the color barrier” in sports and business (being the first black corporate VP), and spats he had along the way with sports journalists and politicians alike.

I do wish he had covered his baseball career more extensively. I can’t be alone in that being the main interest for readers of this book, although his remembrance of his days in Montreal Royals was great—clearly he loved his time there! I admit to glazing over during the business sections a bit, and I also would have loved to learn even more about his role in the Civil Rights Movement. The prose is straightforward but rather blunt and dry, and can sometimes not feel so natural. But, Jackie was not a writer and from an era of strong-but-silent types, and I think the co-author here did a good job of conveying Jackie as a person and what concerned him during his lifetime.

On a personal note, this reminds me that I should stop by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum here in Kansas City soon! It’s been quite a while since my last trip. Jackie played for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945. (Just a fun fact from the biography project I did on Jackie Robinson in elementary school! 🙂 ) I’ll have to check out 42 soon, the movie that came out a couple years ago based on parts of I Never Had It Made.

I Never Had it Made is my third of twelve books read for my Ebook Challenge.

Read from May 9 to 23, 2015.