The home run as nirvana: a pleasant thought that echoes throughout these pages, which, all in all, are a real treat for...

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HOME RUN

A winning anthology devoted to that most satisfying of moments—smacking a baseball out of the park.

“A home run is by no means an easy thing to describe, no more or less than a military historian can wax fondly over the flight of a mortar shell,” writes publisher, author, and professional amateur Plimpton (Pet Peeves, 2000, etc.). Yet, whereas loving descriptions of artillery trajectories are few, American literature abounds in glorious works in which baseball plays some part. Plimpton gathers minor classics such as Grantland Rice’s 1888 poem “That Man from Mudville” (a happy-ending response to Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s spirit-crushing “Casey at the Bat”) and Bernard Malamud’s The Natural, mixes in excerpts from modern novels and the better class of baseball reportage, and seasons the lot with knowing headnotes and a worth-the-ticket-price chronology of home-run history from 1876 to 1999. Although Plimpton’s choices are sound, some of the pieces (such as Paul Gallico’s “His Majesty the King” and John Updike’s “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu”) have been heavily anthologized. The collection is thrown a little off-balance, too, by a 40-page excerpt from Don DeLillo’s Underworld, which, though worthy enough, might have been abbreviated to make room for other pieces. Still, these are minor flaws, for which Plimpton more than atones by tossing in some pleasant surprises—including Gregory Corso’s poem “Dream of a Baseball Star” and a wonderfully curious memoir by Sadaharu Oh (possibly the greatest player in Japanese baseball history), who writes: “As the ball makes its high, long arc beyond the playing field, the diamond and the stands suddenly belong to one man. In that brief, brief time, you are free of all demands and complications.”

The home run as nirvana: a pleasant thought that echoes throughout these pages, which, all in all, are a real treat for baseball fans.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-15-601154-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harvest/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2001

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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

WHY WE SWIM

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

BACK FROM THE DEAD

A basketball legend reflects on his life in the game and a life lived in the “nightmare of endlessly repetitive and constant pain, agony, and guilt.”

Walton (Nothing but Net, 1994, etc.) begins this memoir on the floor—literally: “I have been living on the floor for most of the last two and a half years, unable to move.” In 2008, he suffered a catastrophic spinal collapse. “My spine will no longer hold me,” he writes. Thirty-seven orthopedic injuries, stemming from the fact that he had malformed feet, led to an endless string of stress fractures. As he notes, Walton is “the most injured athlete in the history of sports.” Over the years, he had ground his lower extremities “down to dust.” Walton’s memoir is two interwoven stories. The first is about his lifelong love of basketball, the second, his lifelong battle with injuries and pain. He had his first operation when he was 14, for a knee hurt in a basketball game. As he chronicles his distinguished career in the game, from high school to college to the NBA, he punctuates that story with a parallel one that chronicles at each juncture the injuries he suffered and overcame until he could no longer play, eventually turning to a successful broadcasting career (which helped his stuttering problem). Thanks to successful experimental spinal fusion surgery, he’s now pain-free. And then there’s the music he loves, especially the Grateful Dead’s; it accompanies both stories like a soundtrack playing off in the distance. Walton tends to get long-winded at times, but that won’t be news to anyone who watches his broadcasts, and those who have been afflicted with lifelong injuries will find the book uplifting and inspirational. Basketball fans will relish Walton’s acumen and insights into the game as well as his stories about players, coaches (especially John Wooden), and games, all told in Walton’s fervent, witty style.

One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1686-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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