Tuesday, September 16, 2014

(Audio)Book Talk: I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW ME FROM, by Judy Greer

I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW ME FROM by Judy Greer, via Indiebound.org (affiliate link) I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star
Judy Greer (Twitter)
Audiobook read by the author
Doubleday (April 2014), Hardcover (ISBN 0385537883 / 9780385537889)
Nonfiction: memoir/essays, 256 pages
Source: Purchased audiobook (Random House Audio (April 2014), ISBN 9780804149150 / Audible ASIN B00IPJTXHO)

I know exactly what I know Judy Greer from, and it’s why I knew that if I i intended to read her memoir/essay collection, I Don’t Know What You Know Me From, at all, I’d be reading it in audiobook. Greer is most familiar to me as the voice of Cheryl/Carol/Cherlene, the independently wealthy office assistant/microchipped country-music star from Archer. I might not identify her right away if I saw her, but I’m pretty sure I’d place her quickly if I heard her.

I Don’t Know What You Know Me From is divided into three main sections, “Early Life,” “Hollywood Life,” and “Real Life.” The Hollywood stories Greer chooses to share are somewhat idiosyncratic, often amusing, and give readers a good feel for the life of a working actor (she acknowledges her good fortune in never needing to fall back on a waitressing job since college). Their effectiveness is enhanced by the fact that by the time she gets to those stories, Greer has already established her down-to-earth, Midwestern, good-girlfriend persona–you want to come along for her Hollywood ride, and be gratified to see that success hasn’t spoiled her. “Real Life” is divided between work and family–and for Greer, it’s a literal divide. She and her husband spend half their time in her house in LA, and half in his house with his kids from his first marriage (in the next town over from where I live. I really might recognize her from her voice someday…at the mall); not surprisingly, I was especially interested in her adventures in step-parenting.

Greer doesn’t come “from” comedy in the way that so many memoir/essay writers seem to–she acknowledges that despite attending college in Chicago, she’s never even seen a Second City performance, let alone been part of the fabled improv company–but she’s done a lot of work in comedy, and her writing clearly displays a flair for it. A sense of humor seems like a good thing to have if one wants a career in entertainment, and Greer has carved out a solid one. She works steadily in a variety of formats–big movies, small movies, television, animation, theater, and the Internet, where she hosts the web series Reluctantly Healthy; her work is well-regarded enough to remain steady; and she’s recognizable, even if people can’t always figure out why. Maybe this book will help. I Don’t Know What You Know Me From was a thoroughly likable listen, thanks to the fact that Judy Greer comes through as a thoroughly likable person, and someone I really enjoyed getting to know.

Rating: Book and audio, 3.75 of 5

Audiobook discussion on The 3 Rs Blog: I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW ME FROM by Judy Greer

Book description, from the publisher’s website:
You know Judy Greer, right? Maybe from The Wedding Planner, 13 Going on 30, Carrie, Arrested Development, or The Descendants. Yes, you totally recognize her. And, odds are, you already feel like she’s your friend. 
In her first book of essays, I Don’t Know What You Know Me From, Greer writes about everything you would hope to hear from your best friend: how a midnight shopping trip to Walgreens can cure all; what it’s like to wake up one day with stepchildren; and how she really feels about fans telling her that she’s prettier in person. Yes, it’s all here—from the hilarious moments to the intimate confessions. 
But Judy Greer isn’t just a regular friend--she’s a celebrity friend. Want to know which celebs she’s peed next to? Or what the Academy Awards are actually like? Or which hot actor gave her father a Harley-Davidson? Don’t worry; Greer reveals all of that, too. You’ll love her because, besides being laugh-out-loud funny, she makes us genuinely feel like she’s one of us. Because even though she sometimes has a stylist and a makeup artist, she still wears (and hates!) Spanx. Because even after almost twenty years in Hollywood, she still hasn’t figured everything out—except that you should always wash your face before bed. Always.
From the Introduction:

"Dear Reader,
“I am not a movie star. Chances are when you walked by my book and saw my face, you didn’t know what my name was, but you knew that I looked familiar. Perhaps you think we have a friend in common–we don’t. Or that I was in your sorority–I wasn’t. Maybe you do know that I’m an actress, but you just don’t know my name. You might remember me from as far back as The Wedding Planner or as recent as Arrested Development or Carrie. It’s hard to say, since I’ve had so many different jobs and played so many different characters. What are you into? What do you like to watch? Are you into movies or television? Indie films or blockbusters? See, if I had the time, and we were in the same room, I could sit down with you and maybe tell you what you liked me from.”

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Good Week Wrap-Up: Sunday Salon, September 14

The Sunday Salon: updates & discussions at The 3 Rs Blog

What I’m reading
  • in print / on screen
Well, my double-teaming of the ARCs didn’t quite work out; I had to pick one to stick with. But I’m finishing it this weekend and returning to the other today, so it’s OK. Considering what my work week was like, I’m mildly impressed with myself for getting through a 400-page galley.

And…I’ve been reading blogs! Every day! I’m not leaving much evidence of it with comments, but I do have more links saved for sharing than I’ve had for weeks.
  • on audio
I came close to DNF’ing an audiobook this week. I didn’t do it–there was nothing else I urgently wanted to listen to instead, and my commutes this week were particularly irksome–and I will write up my thoughts about it, because this blog exists to help me remember what I’ve read, even if it bugged me. Perhaps it’s especially important to record those reading experiences, to help avoid repeating them?

What I’m watching

It wasn’t much of a watching week. Paul was out two evenings this week, and I rarely watch TV on my own these days. I’m quite sure this is connected with having a good reading week, though.

What I’m writing

I’m working on a couple of book reviews this weekend, and thinking about a blogging experiment–short daily posts (daily‽ I know!) highlighting and commenting on some of those links in my save-and-share files–an expansion of what I usually do in the next section of this post, in some ways. Just watch your feed reader–you’ll see if it comes to pass.

What caught my eye this week

A fourteen-year-old’s eloquent praise of the patron saint of girl brainiacs:
”An outspoken, bookish, fluffy-haired kid, I was immediately drawn to Hermione Granger: clever, smart, and, best of all, appreciated for her nerdiness. The other characters accept the fact that she raises her hand in every class, reads textbooks for fun, and can always be found in the library. They sometimes tease her, but she knows that, in the end, they love her for it. In fact, Hermione’s knowledge saves their lives, many times over. 
..Admirably smart, she remains a positive role model for all of the girls, like me, who spent their recesses curled up in a corner of the playground with a book they couldn’t wait to finish. In Hermione’s world, being smart is what makes her important.”
“What’s right with Hermione”, by Naomi Horn at BoingBoing

On a related note, reading about Hermione, Harry, and Hogwarts can actually make you a better person. Science says so!
”Three new studies, conducted by by professor Loris Vezzali of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia and published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, were performed to see how children and university students treat “out-groups” (a sciencey term for marginalized folks) before and after being exposed to Harry Potter…At the end of the six weeks, the kids who’d read the sections where Harry has to deal with bigots found that their attitudes towards marginalized groups had changed to become much more positive. 
”…The researchers believe that fantasy books in particular help kids and adults to deal with our prejudices because we’re confronting them in a way that’s parallel to real-world issues, and so avoids any defensiveness that might come up when discussing actual IRL marginalized groups. Realizing that it’s not cool to hate Muggles is a lot easier than confronting your own potential homophobia, but it’s nice to know that one actually does have a mitigating effect on the other.”
“Studies Find Reading Harry Potter Makes You A Kinder, More Empathetic Human” at The Mary Sue

Also related—these kids ARE READING! A new paper from the Pew Research Center reporting on the reading and library-use habits of Millennials (ages 16–29) finds that, among other things,
”Some 43% (of Millennials) report reading a book—in any format—on a daily basis, a rate similar to older adults. Overall, 88% of Americans under 30 read a book in the past year, compared with 79% of those age 30 and older. “
My apologies to any readers who fall into that age group and may not appreciate my referring to them as “kids,” but I actually have two kids in your age group. (Well, technically just one...the other aged out two months ago.) (Yes, I AM old enough to be your mom.)

What Else is New?

Sheila at Book Journey is once again inviting people to “Play in the Banned” and join her in celebrating the freedom to read during Banned Books Week:
”There are some amazing reads on this list. For the past 4 years I have dedicated Banned Book Week to only read banned books and because of that I have read some great classics, re-read some childhood favorites, and explored new books to me as well. 
”Do not get me wrong – being pro-banned books does not mean that I want to read every banned book. For instance, I have no interest whatsoever to read 50 Shades Of Gray. However, I do not have the right to say that because I choose not to read it that no one can. That is the difference.”
Banned Books Week is September 21–27, 2014.

Gratuitous Photo of the Week

We went to the Hollywood Bowl last night for one of the final shows of this season, “The Simpsons Take The Bowl”, but these photos are from the Fourth of July. (EW.com's PopWatch blog reported on the highlights of Friday night's performance--and there's one more show tonight, if you're local and can find tickets still available!)

Hollywood Bowl collage July 4 2014

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Talk: THE INTERESTINGS, by Meg Wolitzer

THE INTERESTINGS by Meg Wolitzer, via Indiebound.org (affiliate link) The Interestings: A Novel
Meg Wolitzer (Facebook)
Riverhead (2014), Trade paper (ISBN 1594488398 / 9781594632341)
Fiction, 481 pages
Source: Purchased e-book (iBooks edition)

I’ve been feeling for a while that fiction doesn’t call to me the way it used to, and that more of the books I get excited about reading these days are some variety of nonfiction. At this point, with fiction, I’m less inclined to try new-to-me authors without solid recommendations, but I still give new books by authors I already know and like a second look. Meg Wolitzer definitely falls into that camp, and what I heard about The Interestings sounded like it just might live up to its title. This is a novel that contains many of my favorite fictional elements–
  • multiple perspectives from a group of characters
  • characters in my own age range
  • following those characters over a long time period, with extra points for scenes occurring during their 1970s/1980s youth
  • New York City
–and they’re being put to work by the provocative Meg Wolitzer. I was in.
The Interestings centers on a half-dozen teenagers who meet at an summer arts camp in the mid–1970s and follows them through more than thirty years of the ebb and flow of their connections to one another. Julie Jacobson–soon to be known as “Jules”–is new to the camp in the summer of 1974, and never quite loses her sense of wonder at being welcomed into the group that’s just named itself “The Interestings,” because she’s quite certain she’s the least interesting of them all:
“’From this day forward, because we are clearly the most interesting people who ever fucking lived,' said Ethan, 'because we are just so fucking compelling, our brains swollen with intellectual thoughts, let us be known as the Interestings.'”
(And because these are fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds, they bestow this name upon themselves without irony–they believe it, and the whole world is ahead of them.)

If the group is viewed objectively and its members compared to one another over time, Jules is probably not wrong about her place within it. The two with the strongest artistic drive, Ethan and Ash–who also become Jules’ closest friends–not only achieve success in their respective fields of animation and theater, they marry each other. Jonah, who may be the most naturally gifted, sets aside music for MIT and engineering while nursing the childhood trauma he’s never shared with his Interesting friends; and the whole group becomes involved in the trauma that eventually breaks it up, cutting ties with dancing Cathy and sending Ash’s brother Goodman underground. And Jules, after college and a brief and unsuccessful career as a comic actress, becomes a social worker married to a depressive ultrasound technician.

Writing in the third person throughout, Wolitzer shifts viewpoints between Jules, Ethan, and Jonah; this seems to indicate which characters shefinds most interesting. However, the split is nowhere close to even; it’s Jules’ story more than anyone else’s, and it seems fitting to me that most of the time, the Interestings are seen through the eyes of the member who feels most on the fringes of the group. Through Jules, Wolitzer explores the place of shared history in holding long-term friendships together despite conflicted emotions–particularly the mix of love and envy–and diverging life paths. And from Jules’ husband Dennis, who truly is on the fringes, we get this:
“…Your friends. Mr. Loser Gold Tooth, and his lying sister with her precious plays that I have never understood, and Ethan the magnificent, all of whom you’ve always worshipped beyond anything or anyone else on earth. And the thing is: They’re not that interesting.…And you’re still there with them, so much more invested in their story than you are in ours. …Specialness–everyone wants it. But Jesus, it it the most essential thing there is?”
It feels like Wolitzer is having Dennis give voice to one possible reaction to The Interestings as a whole. It’s clear throughout the novel that Jules finds her friends terribly interesting people–far more interesting than she herself, at any rate–but it’s not always so clear exactly why we should share her interest in them. I particularly felt this way about Ash–even as other characters extolled her virtues, she came across to me as generally decent, clearly overprivileged, and just not all that remarkable. Perhaps that’s intentional on Wolitzer’s part, though, and part of the novel’s point. In any case, I found Jules the most interesting of the Interestings.

The Interestings explores the premise that what we find interesting in other people as teens may not necessarily be what interests us as adults; interesting teens don’t necessarily become interesting adults; and our history with people–our knowledge of who they were–can make it difficult for us to see clearly who they become. The novel is absorbing, ambitious, and provocative. I may be reading less fiction lately, but when I do read it, I want fiction like this.

Rating: 4 of 5

THE INTERESTINGS by Meg Wolitzer: book discussion on The 3 Rs Blog

Other opinions, via the Book Blogs Search Engine

Book description, from the publisher’s website:
The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge. 
The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken. 
Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.

From Chapter One:

“On a warm night in early July of that long-evaporated year, the Interestings gathered for the very first time. They were only fifteen, sixteen, and they began to call themselves the name with tentative irony. Julie Jacobson, an outsider and possibly even a freak, had been invited in for obscure reasons, and now she sat in a corner on the unswept floor and attempted to position herself so she would appear unobtrusive yet not pathetic, which was a difficult balance. The teepee, designed ingeniously though built cheaply, was airless on nights like this one, when there was no wind to push in through the screens. Julie Jacobson longed to unfold a leg or do the side-to-side motion with her jaw that sometimes set off a gratifying series of tiny percussive sounds inside her skull. But if she called attention to herself in any way now, someone might start to wonder why she was here; and really, she knew, she had no reason to be here at all. It had been miraculous when Ash Wolf had nodded to her earlier in the night at the row of sinks and asked if she wanted to come join her and some of the others later. Some of the others. Even that wording was thrilling.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

#WordlessWednesday: Taking It Slow...

#WordlessWednesday link-up badge

...like, at a turtle's pace. (It's a "Wild Card" Wordless Wednesday. I'm going in the opposite direction of "wild.")

Turtles at La Arcada, Santa Barbara CA, March 2014
Turtles in the fountain at La Arcada, Santa Barbara CA, March 2014

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

All Joy and No Fun and More Thoughts on Modern Parenthood

ALL JOY AND NO FUN by Jennifer Senior, via Indiebound.org (affiliate link)I made all sorts of notes while I was reading Jennifer Senior’s All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood last month. I didn’t think I’d get all of my thoughts into my discussion of the book and planned a follow-up post, although I didn’t plan for it to go up quite so long after the review. But since it felt like many of us were on some form of blogging break during August, I really don’t mind revisiting this now…and you might have missed it the first time, anyway.

Gayle at Everyday I Write the Book also read All Joy and No Fun this summer, and appreciated many of Senior’s insights:
“To research All Joy and No Fun, Senior interviewed couples, single moms, grandparents raising grandchildren, working moms, SAHMs, and SAHDs to get at the heart of why parenting can be both such a slog and the most rewarding thing we’ve ever done in our lives. She also explores the effect children have on marriage, on friendship, on work, and on self-esteem. I read this book with interest and felt reinforced by many of Senior’s conclusions. One of my friends on FB posted about this book a few months ago, calling it required reading for parents and suggesting that we have our parents read it too, so that they can understand why we’re all going crazy.”
I agree with Gayle’s friend, but not necessarily for the same reason. One thing that All Joy and No Fun really brought home for me was just how different our parents’ experience of parenthood was–and how my own experience of it, begun thirty years ago and continuing with my teenage stepkids, has elements of both the traditional and the modern.

My sister and I have had numerous conversations about how much time she spends with her kids’ homework, and she once asked me “Was Mom involved with us and our homework like this?”

Not to my recollection, Mom wasn’t. She might have answered questions or read over something for us, but she didn’t get involved unless she was specifically asked. Our homework was our homework, and I never sensed that she had all that much of a stake in it other than asking what we had to do and checking in on how we were doing with it.

My parents were children during the Great Depression and in school throughout Word War II, and both grew up in homes that held extended family, but only one parent. Between that particular combination of personal and cultural circumstances, they were raised under very different conditions and philosophies than those in effect by the time they had children of their own. Senior notes that “modern” concepts of childhood–and thus, of parenthood–didn’t begin taking shape until the mid–20th century; many of us “modern” parents were raised by “pre-modern” ones ourselves.

Even so, in some ways, our mother had more in common with my sister’s cohort of mothers than with her own. Like many of them–and like my sister herself–she spent more than a decade in the workforce before she married, and she didn’t have children until her mid-thirties. In the 1960s, that was nowhere near as common as it is now, and it put her several years behind most women her age. And while it was rare for mothers to work in those days–especially if they had husbands, lived in middle-class neighborhoods, and their children were young–they didn’t identify as “stay-at-home moms;” they were “housewives” or “homemakers.”

Book Thoughts on The 3 Rs Blog

Granted, by the 1960s, homemaking was taking up less of a woman’s day than it had ten to fifteen years earlier–thanks to advances in appliances, transportation, and food production and preparation methods–but mothers were just beginning to shift their newly available time and attention from their chores to their children…and/or jobs, volunteer activities, and sometimes maybe even personal development and self-nurturing. The second wave was cresting. And while we were the first generation of kids to grow up with color TV, which got a lot of our time and attention, we also may have been the last granted hours of lightly supervised free-play time.

I think my parents sought a balance between encouragement and protectiveness of their children–often leaning more heavily to one side than the other, and maybe not always leaning to the correct side–and I know they weren’t afraid to leave us to our own devices sometimes. They weren’t about to leave us hanging, but they wanted us to have the chance to learn from our mistakes and develop our own resources.

I was barely an adult when I became a mother myself–a full-time student during the first three years of my son’s life, a full-time worker (as was his father) ever since, and a full-time parent until he graduated high school. My non-parenting full-time pursuits played a part in my desire for him to learn to develop his own resources, I’m sure; we didn’t have the time to go over every bit of homework together, and he didn’t get deeply involved in extracurriculars until the more independently-mobile high-school years. However, I always considered my primary job as a mother to be the production of a functioning (and functional) adult, and the development of one’s own resources is a fairly critical component of that.

Even in this era of “intentional parenting” and “concerted cultivation” of our children, parents remain aware that we’re ultimately working ourselves out of a job…and that’s actually okay, both for us and for our kids. As Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the 
Minivan notes, “Sometimes I ignore my children, and that’s okay”:
“I don’t want my kids to rely on me for their own good time. I want them to learn how to be creative, and to handle boredom. I want them to use their own resources to discover imaginative play…I’m available - always. But I’m going to preoccupy myself in the moments that I’m not needed, or when they are preoccupied. The idea of standing-in-waiting for my children is ludicrous.”

A quote from the original New York magazine article that grew into All Joy and No Fun sums up the book’s thesis:
"“A few generations ago, people weren’t stopping to contemplate whether having a child would make them happy. Having children was simply what you did. And we are lucky, today, to have choices about these matters. But the abundance of choices—whether to have kids, when, how many—may be one of the reasons parents are less happy…When people wait to have children, they’re also bringing different sensibilities to the enterprise. They’ve spent their adult lives as professionals, believing there’s a right way and a wrong way of doing things; now they’re applying the same logic to the family-expansion business, and they’re surrounded by a marketplace that only affirms and reinforces this idea.”
Parenthood is like blogging. Although there are plenty of ways to get it wrong, there’s really no one way to do it right.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What's What: The Sunday Salon, September 7

The Sunday Salon on The 3 Rs Blog

What I’m reading
  • in print / on screen
October is a huge month for publishing, and a reason I’m doing something I rarely do: double-teaming ARCs for Shelf Awareness reviews. The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. is a new novel by Gina B. Nahai, out on October 7. I’ve read two of her earlier novels, Cry of the Peacock andMoonlight on the Avenue of Faith; her niche in writing about Iranian Jews, both in Iran and in exile in America, is pretty specific. The Lost Book of Mormon: A Journey Through the Mythic Lands of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Kansas City, Missouri by Avi Steinberg is nonfiction about an entirely different religious group. I’m hoping to get to at least one more of the ARCs they sent me for next month, and most of the galleys I brought back from Book Expo America in May are starting to ripen right abut now, too. It’s nice to have so many things I want to read, even if it is tough to decide among them.
  • on audio
I’m about one-third through How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer, read by her friend Joshilyn Jackson; they made a great team on the audio of Netzer’s debut novel, Shine Shine Shine. I’m not entirely sure what I think of this one yet, but I’m curious to see where we go with it, which is pretty much the same way I felt at this point during my first experience with the author; she’s doing interestingly odd things with fiction. I’m not really loving some of Jackson’s character voices here, but am amused by how much one of them sounds like Milhouse Van Houten.

What I’m watching

It’s September, and the new TV shows are coming! Most of the ones I watch are still a few weeks away from new episodes—except for Doctor Who, which has been back for three episodes as of last night—and I still cannot find out when Season 9 of Supernatural will start streaming on Netflix. (We’re putting Season 10 in the DVR rotation anyway, and we’ll just let it pile up till we’re caught up.) Netflix is filling the gap in other ways, though—we started watching Orange is the New Black last week.

What I’m writing

I took an extra day off last weekend to get my book reviews and a couple of related “think pieces” done for the blog. One of those went up last Thursday, and the second is scheduled for this Tuesday—come by and talk about one or both with me!

What caught my eye this week

I’m way backlogged on blog reading. so I don’t have much to pull from my saves-and-shares lists this morning. But there’s this:
”I published all four of my books through traditional publishers, so you may not think there is anything I could possibly say about self-publishing. But I’ve thought about the world of self-publishing a lot, and about how it relates to traditional publishing, for a long time. 
”There are a few reasons why traditional publishing still has an edge over self-publishing, but there is one very simple thing self-publishing could do to turn the tide… 
“Self-publishing needs a review space that the mainstream population looks at as a trustworthy place…rather than shunting self-published books to the side on separate sites, we need to bring all the good self-published books into the same mainstream places that traditional publishers get to use.”
“I’m Grateful My Book is a Kindle Daily Deal Today (and I Wish Everyone’s Book Could Be)”, by Melissa Ford on BlogHer.com

And this:
”There are two groups of individuals that (hypothetically) benefit from a well written negative review. First, and who I’m most concerned about, are my readers. If every review that I write is sunshine and lollipops, how can my readers tell what it is that I actually like, versus what’s just okay - or flat out bad? In other words, for me, it’s a matter of credibility. If I read a book I dislike, but am unable to put my distaste down into words - how valuable are my positive reviews? 
”This is not to say that bloggers that don’t write negative reviews lack credibility, but if I don’t know the blogger on a personal level, then I’m more apt to search out another review on a book before making a decision on whether or not to read the book.”
“The Necessary Evil of the Negative Review”, by April at The Steadfast Reader

What Else is New?/Gratuitous Photo of the Week

On Labor Day, I did something for the first time. It was a fun thing that I most definitely intend to do again.
two on a motorcycle selfie via @ramsestmagnum Instagram

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A (NON)Fan(girl)'s Notes: Against Football

I don’t come from a particularly athletic family, but I am the bridge between two generations of passionate, engaged, involved spectators. My son started reading the sports pages soon after he became capable of reading anything, and twenty-odd years later, his sideline is writing about his alma mater’s athletic program. My father was never a sportswriter, but his sports reading was probably the model for his grandson’s.

Of course, neither just reads about sports–they’re viewers as well, with partisan interests. My son’s tastes are actually pretty wide-ranging, encompassing international favorites like soccer (and more recently, cricket) along with baseball, college basketball, and American college football.

My dad follows the major leagues and the pros. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of autumn Sunday afternoons, when he watched football on TV–and was not to be interrupted or disturbed for anything less than a dire emergency. Ideally, the rest of us wouldn’t do anything that blocked or drowned out the TV while the game was on–in fact, it was probably best to be in another part of the house, if not out of it entirely. Nothing could be planned on Sundays during the months when Dad’s Sundays belonged to the NFL; the family was put on the sidelines until the games were over.

As I said, I’m the bridge, and the sports-interest gene pretty much passed me by. I’m occasionally interested in baseball, but I harbor a long-standing and active dislike for football. I’m pretty sure that much of that dislike is fueled by festering resentment and other childhood emotional baggage.

That said, there are also plenty of things about the game itself for me to dislike.

"Book Thoughts" on The 3 R's Blog: "Against Football"

The game play is confusing to me, and the pacing is poor. (I’ve never quite understood why people find baseball boring to watch; I view football as five minutes of milling around for every 30 seconds that something actually happens. Baseball may have a similar ratio of action/inaction, but I think it flows better.) And while the aim isn’t that hard to grasp–move the ball down the field to score points–the brutality involved in carrying out that aim, which is systematically and actively built in, isn’t something I want to watch or support.

While I am happy that “My Son the Sportswriter” gets to write about the athletic fortunes of the SEC university he attended (on an academic scholarship, for the record), you do not want to get me started ranting about college football’s function as an unofficial NFL farm-team system and how it’s at odds with what universities were created to do.

I realize that my feelings on that particular topic are colored by my utter lack of athletic ability, my firmly-established place on the “nerds” end if the jocks-vs.-nerds spectrum and, admittedly, a degree of
academic/intellectual snobbery. I don’t intend it to be classist or racist and I apologize if it comes across that way; I recognize that sports, particularly football, really do provide an avenue of advancement for some. The root of my issues with college football, particularly its financial arrangements, is this:

My understanding is that colleges and universities were created to educate–anything else they offer should be secondary to that mission. Going to college “to play football” seems completely backwards to me. I suppose there’s an argument that college football actually might be career preparation for some–and yes, career preparation is another purpose of the university–but looking at the market for that particular career, I don’t find it a particularly convincing one.

AGAINST FOOTBALL, by Steve Almond, via Indiebound.org (affiliate link) Given my relationship to the sport, maybe it does seem a little strange that I asked to review Steve Almond’s Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto. It’s fair to say that I relate more strongly to the book’s title than its subtitle, but it’s the subtitle that provoked my curiosity and got me thinking. Sure to be controversial, I think this is an important book. I hope it gets a lot of attention, and spurs a lot of discussion, during this football season.