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SIDECOUNTRY

TALES OF DEATH AND LIFE FROM THE BACK ROADS OF SPORTS

Spirited tales from a sympathetic observer.

Triumphs and tragedies beyond the realm of organized sports.

New York Times sports reporter Branch has selected 20 articles from more than 2,000 pieces featuring people whose passions drive them to take on intense, quirky, sometimes risky challenges. The title essay, awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2013, focuses on skiers caught in an avalanche on the wild slopes known as “side country”—“just outside the controlled parts of a ski area”—a phrase that aptly describes other terrains that Branch surveys. A palpable sense of peril and terror infuses many pieces: about climbers scaling the sleek surface of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall, a dayslong feat that requires sleeping in hanging cots attached to bolts on the mountain; competitors in the terrifying motor sport of figure-eight car racing; alligator hunters in Alabama; divers for abalone confronting surf, riptides, swells, and threatening weather off the coast of northern California; and, not least, Sherpas retrieving a body from Mount Everest. Other pieces reveal uncommon dedication: a coach rebuilding a football field after a tornado; cross-country runners among the Hopi; big-game hunters whose ultimate pursuit is the killing of one wild sheep, an effort that involves weeks—sometimes year after year—of trekking and stalking as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars required for a permit, money that funds wildlife preservation. The most absurd event Branch covered surely must be Intergroom, a three-day trade show for the grooming of dogs and cats into such entertaining personages as the Mad Hatter or Lady Gaga. Among the most moving were one of his daughter’s soccer games, in which a girl whose mother was slain by the Las Vegas shooter in 2017 scored a winning goal; and a profile of the Lady Jaguars, a girls’ basketball team operated by the Carroll County Juvenile Court (Tennessee) to give structure and focus to the players’ lives.

Spirited tales from a sympathetic observer.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-324-00669-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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F*CK IT, I'LL START TOMORROW

The lessons to draw are obvious: Smoke more dope, eat less meat. Like-minded readers will dig it.

The chef, rapper, and TV host serves up a blustery memoir with lashings of self-help.

“I’ve always had a sick confidence,” writes Bronson, ne Ariyan Arslani. The confidence, he adds, comes from numerous sources: being a New Yorker, and more specifically a New Yorker from Queens; being “short and fucking husky” and still game for a standoff on the basketball court; having strength, stamina, and seemingly no fear. All these things serve him well in the rough-and-tumble youth he describes, all stickball and steroids. Yet another confidence-builder: In the big city, you’ve got to sink or swim. “No one is just accepted—you have to fucking show that you’re able to roll,” he writes. In a narrative steeped in language that would make Lenny Bruce blush, Bronson recounts his sentimental education, schooled by immigrant Italian and Albanian family members and the mean streets, building habits good and bad. The virtue of those habits will depend on your take on modern mores. Bronson writes, for example, of “getting my dick pierced” down in the West Village, then grabbing a pizza and smoking weed. “I always smoke weed freely, always have and always will,” he writes. “I’ll just light a blunt anywhere.” Though he’s gone through the classic experiences of the latter-day stoner, flunking out and getting arrested numerous times, Bronson is a hard charger who’s not afraid to face nearly any challenge—especially, given his physique and genes, the necessity of losing weight: “If you’re husky, you’re always dieting in your mind,” he writes. Though vulgar and boastful, Bronson serves up a model that has plenty of good points, including his growing interest in nature, creativity, and the desire to “leave a legacy for everybody.”

The lessons to draw are obvious: Smoke more dope, eat less meat. Like-minded readers will dig it.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4478-5

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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