Veteran journalist Talese (Unto the Sons, 1992, etc.) revisits his youth and education.
The rather odd framing device, since the author says he was never a fan, concerns soccer. Quite by accident, Talese watched on television the American women’s shoot-out victory in the 1999 World Cup. What interested him most was the Chinese player, Liu Ying, whose blocked kick made possible the American victory. How did she feel? How was she greeted when she returned to China? Four hundred pages later, we find out when the writer crosses the Pacific to interview her. In between, Talese takes a long and winding road through his life and career, a genial journey that for the most part is both enjoyable and illuminating. Maintaining a mostly non-linear chronology, he tells us about friendships with folks like boxer Floyd Patterson and baseball manager George Steinbrenner. We learn about the author’s difficulties in high-school English, his experiences at the University of Alabama (the only college that accepted him), his decade-long career at the New York Times. “Writing is often like driving a truck at night without headlights, losing your way along the road, and spending a decade in a ditch,” he writes. Then Talese invites us to consider two big projects that just never worked: a book about a site in New York City that held a succession of failed restaurants (he calls it the Willy Loman Building) and a story about Lorena and John Bobbitt that Tina Brown nixed at the New Yorker. Two pieces about Selma, Ala., work out better: The writer was there in 1965 for the marches and mayhem, then returned in 1990 to research a gripping story about an interracial marriage.
Talese shows in an amiably digressive way that this writer’s life has comprised not just celebrity and success, but many false starts, failures and frustrations.