A young man obsessed with basketball tries to puzzle out God’s game plan in this sprightly Christian motivational memoir.
Hammond, a high school basketball coach in Missouri, starts out by recounting his boyhood dream of becoming an NBA star, which he pursued with single-minded intensity through amateur leagues, summer camps and school teams. It’s a story full of juvenile drama—last-second wins and losses, an agonizing wait to find out if he made the varsity starting squad—that the author tells with panache and a dollop of self-deprecating humor, which obliquely registers the pain of discovering that he’s not quite good enough for the college level. But when the pre-med direction doesn’t pan out—he faints while observing an operation—Hammond feels called to recommit to the game by becoming a coach and teacher, an ambition that’s not quite as lofty as his former dreams of NBA glory, although, in its way, it can be just as absorbing. His career scramble takes him to a small-town school with a flagging team in dire need of a turnaround, then on to a metropolitan Kansas City high school basketball powerhouse, where some of his more important revelations come from supervising a humble detention class. Threaded through this picaresque is his growing Christian faith, which affirms itself through trials great (his mother’s bout with cancer) and small—his struggle to break with a soulless collegiate party culture; a soured romance; and the persistent doubt about whether he’s choosing the right path in life. Hammond’s love of the game animates the narrative, which is full of gripping play-by-play, subtle explications of on-court strategies and leadership insights both gratifying and harsh, especially when a losing season forces him to take a hard look at his unwieldy coaching system. But basketball is also a hook for his probing, complex take on religious priorities. The game serves as a metaphor for his active, fighting faith, not to mention a possible false god that can distract from a life of deeper meaning and purpose. Hammond’s lively prose and down-to-earth perspective make his lessons in devotion unusually resonant.
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").