Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Book Talk: AGAINST FOOTBALL, by Steve Almond

AGAINST FOOTBALL by Steve Almond, via Indiebound.org (affiliate link) Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto
Steve Almond (Facebook) (Twitter)
Melville House (August 26, 2014), Hardcover (ISBN 161219415X / 9781612194158)
Nonfiction (journalism/sports), 192 pages

A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (August 29, 2014)Shelf Awareness provided me with a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review, and compensated me for the review they received and posted.

Those who don’t care much for America’s favorite autumn-weekend pastime might be inclined to pick up Steve Almond’s collection of essays, reflections, and arguments, Against Football, looking for validation of their position. Those who love the sport may be drawn in by its subtitle, One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto, for similar reasons. The power of this book lies in its ability to speak to both, and Almond’s ambition for it is to fuel a candid discussion of America’s complicated, dysfunctional relationship with its favorite sport.

Almond states up front that he’s loved football all his life–playing the game, following it, bonding with father and brothers and friends over it–but he can no longer watch it in good conscience. Against Football is his attempt to reconcile the sport’s appeal and allure–“in its exalted moments, (it) is not just a sport, but a lovely and intricate work of art”–with its undeniably problematic aspects. The brutality and violence of the game play are the most obvious of these, but Almond also addresses the culture surrounding football, reflecting on its tolerance, if not outright cultivation, of homophobia, racism, and greed.

In Against Football, Almond is examining the ethical quandaries that football has created for him as a fan. Is it right that an activity that has been proven to cause long-term, irreversible physical and mental damage is promoted to boys and young men as a viable career path? How do “student athletes” and athletic scholarships support the educational mission of universities? Why does reverence for football players’ skills seem to give them a pass for antisocial–sometimes even criminal–behavior off the field?

None of these questions are easily answered. That makes them readily debatable, and debate is what Almond is after here. Opinionated and provocative, Against Football may be a “reluctant manifesto,” but it’s passionately interested in a conversation about the issues it raises.

Book discussion on The 3 Rs Blog: AGAINST FOOTBALL

Book description, from the publisher’s website
On any given Sunday, football functions more like a national religion than a sport. 
But simply put: the game isn’t good for us. Medical research confirms what the grim headlines keep reporting: football causes brain damage. Beloved Hall of Famers are now suffering from dementia, and taking their own lives. Children and teenagers are susceptible to the same sorts of injuries with the same long-term results. 
But football’s psychological and economic hazards—though more subtle—are just as profound.
In Against Football, Steve Almond details why, after forty years as a fan, he can no longer watch the game he still loves. Using a synthesis of memoir, reportage, and cultural critique, Almond asks a series of provocative questions:
• What does it mean that our society has transmuted the intuitive physical joys of childhood—run, leap, throw, tackle—into a billion-dollar industry? • How did a sport that causes brain damage become the leading signifier of our institutions of higher learning? • Does our addiction to football foster a tolerance for violence, greed, racism, and homophobia?
There has never been a book that exposes the dark underside of America’s favorite game with such searing candor.
From the Prologue:

"Among the motley artifacts taped to the walls of my office—tucked below the photo of the Bay City Rollers in snug tartan jumpsuits and the student evaluation that reads, “If writing were a part of my body, I would cut it off with an Exacto blade”—is a tiny yellowed clipping.

"It’s a grand total of two paragraphs, snipped from a Boston Globe recap of the New England Patriots’ 12–0 win over the Miami Dolphins on December 7, 2003. I’m almost certain I didn’t watch this contest, because I hate the Patriots, though oddly, if I’m honest (which I don’t like being in the context of my sports-viewing habits) I have watched a lot of Pats games over the years, so there’s a decent chance I caught a portion of this one, maybe just the third quarter at a friend’s house.

"The passage reads:
"With 13 minutes 50 seconds left in the game, running back Kevin Faulk hauled in a 15-yard pass from quarterback Tom Brady, then got leveled by Miami safety Brock Marion, who forced a fumble and left Faulk motionless on the ground.
“’I wasn’t out cold, but I was out,’ said Faulk. Asked if he remembered lying on the ground, he said, ‘No, I don’t, so I must have been out. I knew that something was wrong with me. I knew that, like, it wasn’t normal. I didn’t have that same, normal feeling when I got up.’
“I have no idea how I came across this dispatch. I don’t subscribe to the Globe, so I probably found it on the subway. I do remember the strange buzz that accompanied the reading of these words. The first paragraph is standard sports reportage: game data, a stark description of collision and injury. But that second paragraph! It read more like a poignant existential monologue. Faulk seeks to minimize his injury, then, pressed, struggles to assimilate what happened to him, which most physicians would describe as a significant injury to the brain. What you’re hearing is the linguistic equivalent of a concussion.”

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: "Architecture"

One of my favorite things about the cities of the Northeast is the way old and new buildings live side by side, like here in downtown Boston.

Boston building collage on The 3 Rs Blog--WordlessWednesday

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

What's What in the Sunday Salon: The Disappearing Blogger

What's What on Sunday at The 3 Rs Blog

What I’m reading
  • in print / on screen
I feel like I’ve been reading a fair amount–and I seem to have a backlog of not-yet-written reviews to (NOT) show for it! My plans to catch up on review writing last Sunday pretty much fizzled, a very busy week at the office–I got out late nearly every day except Friday–left me without much time or energy for tackling it, and starting on a few new books this week has pushed me even further behind.

October is apparently going to be a huge month for new book releases–Shelf Awareness sent me a package of eight October galleys for review consideration (including three I requested), and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten that many at once from them. I need to look at the pub dates so I can get them into proper reading order, and then I need to get cracking! But I need to finish the one September book I’ll be reviewing for them first.

I’m bouncing back and forth between two e-books on a common topic. As I mentioned last week, I’ve returned to Fic, thanks in part to this summer’s binge-watch of Supernatural, a TV show which has spawned mountains of fanfic. I’m also reading the even more closely relatedFangasm: Supernatural Fangirls, in which two academics consider fandom through their own personal experience–it’s making for some fascinating reading so far.

I’m not reading as much fiction lately, but I’m reading nonfiction about fiction. Huh.
  • on audio
As predicted last week, Rob Lowe is reading to me during drive time–we’re a little more than halfway through his most recent book, Love Life.

What I’m watching

The aforementioned Supernatural binge is winding down–we only have a few episodes of Season 8 left to watch. I’m hoping that Netflix will have Season 9 available within the next few weeks, since Season 10 begins in October.

And for those of you who’ve watched “Deep Breath”, the big question: what are your early impressions of this Doctor?

What I’m writing

Please refer to “what I’m reading.” That’s pretty much where what I’m writing will need to come from.

What caught my eye this week
“In fact, reading content on your mobile device is so nice, they built an entire product segment around making it even better: tablets. Functionally, there’s almost no difference between a smartphone and a tablet. Except the bigger screen size. While most of us don’t want to carry a 7–10” phone around in our pocket, we love the idea for sitting on the couch in the living room reading. Laptops are okay if you want to multitask with something productive, too, but if you’re just leaning back and reading, nothing beats a phone (or tablet)."
–Reading feeds: One of “The Everyday Tasks Your Phone (Or Tablet) Does Better Than Your Computer” (via Lifehacker)

Do you want to support independent bookstores by buying books from them, but you're not sure where to find them? The Internet comes to the rescue with Better Places to Buy Books.

What Else is New?

What’s new is that you’re probably not going to see much new from me for the next week or so. I will be focusing on writing until I have some finished posts in the hopper, so the blog and its feed will be pretty quiet until September. From what I’ve noticed lately, it probably won’t be the only quiet place. See you soon!

Gratuitous Photo of the Week

"A horse with its head in the clouds" on The 3 Rs Blog
My most-"liked" Instagram photo this week, captioned "A horse with its head in the clouds." You can't plan shots like this, but sometimes you're lucky enough to capture them.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: "Yellow"

The Tech Museum, San Jose, CA
Is it me, or is "Museum of Innovation" just a bit of an oxymoron?
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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

(Audio)Book Talk: ALL JOY AND NO FUN, by Jennifer Senior

ALL JOY AND NO FUN by Jennifer Senior via Indiebound.org (affiliate link) All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood
Jennifer Senior (Twitter)
Audiobook read by the author
Ecco (January 2014), Hardcover (ISBN 0062072226 / 9780062072221)
Nonfiction: Sociology, 320 pages
Source: Purchased audiobook (Harper Audio, January 2014, ISBN 9780062308634; Audible ASIN B00H8QSIFS)

Jennifer Senior’s provocatively-titled New York magazine article from July 2010, “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting” contained much of what makes up the introduction to her 2014 book, which reframes the proposition of “all joy and no fun” with the more encompassing, less incendiary subtitle “The Paradox of Modern Parenthood.” The shift is subtle but significant, reflecting a focus on the state of having children rather than the actions of raising them. Senior’s goal is to examine, through research and personal stories, how the various stages of raising children profoundly affect the lives of parents.

Senior frequently points out that most of what she discusses in All Joy and No Fun is primarily relevant to middle-class families. While the middle class in the early 21st century may be a shrinking demographic, it remains the one for which the experience of family life has changed the most notably over the past hundred years, and it’s also the one most likely, for various reasons, to analyze and question how those changes are affecting them. Being in a position where one gets to make choices about work and lifestyle and bringing up a family means you’re also in a position to second-guess and feel conflicted about those choices:
“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.”
The chapter on “concerted cultivation”–the educational and extracurricular race that comprises many families’ weekly calendars–seems to speak to this pretty directly, and is probably the section that best captures many of the beliefs and practices (and stereotypes) of modern middle-class family life. However, I was most intrigued by two sections of the book that get into areas that are less often discussed in the context of parenthood: marriage and adolescence.

The ways in which children affect and reshape the relationship between their parents are many and mixed, and they aren’t always a big part of the social conversation about family, because they’re not entirely comfortable to consider. (That said, awareness of those effects may be part of why some couples decide to be “child-free.”)

The reasons we see less conversation among, and about, parents with adolescents may include the variety of experience–there are fewer commonalities and more complexity among teens than among babies and toddlers, and that extends to those living with and raising them–and concerns about autonomy. Regarding that last point, Senior discloses that the “Adolescence” chapter is the only one in which she uses pseudonyms in the personal stories she recounts, but the stories matter more than the names associated with them. Since this is the phase of parenthood I'm closest to right now--my stepson, the youngest of the three kids my husband and I have between us, is just starting high school this year--this chapter had the highest "click" factor for me, including some discussion about connections between having teenagers at home and parental "midlife crisis" behavior that I really wish I'd been aware of about fifteen years ago.

While my years of actively parenting are winding down, I’ve spent just about my entire adult life as a parent (that’s what happens when you have a baby at 20). The norms of parenting have changed in many ways during my time as a parent, although some have changed less than I might have expected–there are still daily debates over working vs. at-home mothers and breastfeeding vs. bottles. That said, it’s the fact that we have choices that allows these debates to happen. However, these debates are about the practices and practicalities of parenting and seldom touch on the experience and context of parenthood. It’s the focus on the latter that makes All Joy and No Fun valuable and important reading. It’s insightful and thought-provoking, and would be an excellent choice for parents who have the time to be in book clubs. The author reads the audiobook herself, and her delivery makes the research approachable, the personal stories more relatable, and reinforces the book’s nonjudgmental tone. Modern parenthood may feel like all joy and no fun sometimes, but Jennifer Senior finds some hope in there too.

Rating: Book and Audio, 4 of 5

Audiobook discussion on The 3 Rs Blog ALL JOY AND NO FUN: THE PARADOX OF MODERN PARENTHOOD by Jennifer Senior

Book description, from the publisher’s website
Thousands of books have examined the effects of parents on their children. But almost none have thought to ask: What are the effects of children on their parents? 
In All Joy and No Fun, award-winning journalist Jennifer Senior tries to tackle this question, isolating and analyzing the many ways in which children reshape their parents’ lives, whether it’s their marriages, their jobs, their habits, their hobbies, their friendships, or their internal senses of self. She argues that changes in the last half century have radically altered the roles of today’s mothers and fathers, making their mandates at once more complex and far less clear. Recruiting from a wide variety of sources—in history, sociology, economics, psychology, philosophy, and anthropology—she dissects both the timeless strains of parenting and the ones that are brand new, and then brings her research to life in the homes of ordinary parents around the country. The result is an unforgettable series of family portraits, starting with parents of young children and progressing to parents of teens. Through lively and accessible storytelling, Senior follows these mothers and fathers as they wrestle with some of parenthood’s deepest vexations—and luxuriate in some of its finest rewards. 
Meticulously researched yet imbued with emotional intelligence, All Joy and No Fun makes us reconsider some of our culture’s most basic beliefs about parenthood, all while illuminating the profound ways children deepen and add purpose to our lives. By focusing on parenthood, rather than parenting, the book is original and essential reading for mothers and fathers of today—and tomorrow.
From the Introduction:

"There’s the parenting life of our fantasies. and there’s the parenting life of our banal, on-the-ground realities. Right now, there’s little question which one Angelina Holder is living. Eli, her three-year-old son, has just announced he’s wet his shorts.

"‘Okay,’ says Angie, barely looking up. She’s on a schedule, making Shake ‘n’ Bake chicken parmesan for lunch. Her evening shift at the hospital begins at 3:00 PM. ‘Go upstairs and change.’

"Eli is standing on a chair in the kitchen, picking at blackberries. ‘I can’t.’
"‘Why not?’

"‘I can’t.’

"‘I think you can, You’re a big boy.’

"‘I can’t.’

"Angie unpeels the oven mitt from her hand. ‘What is Mommy doing?’

"‘Changing me.’

“‘No, I’m cooking, So we’re in a pickle.’”

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

What's What: A Late-Sunday Salon Post for August 17

The Sunday Salon on The 3 Rs Blog

What I’m reading
  • in print / on screen
I finished reading The Interestings on the iPad yesterday, and resumed my long-dormant reading of Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World, which I started back in the spring. I can’t recall setting it aside for any particular reason–OK, truthfully, maybe it was because I’d gotten to the Twilight section–but the piece I’m working on about our “Summer of Supernatural” has inspired me to get back into it. I’m thinking that there’s a good themed-content week there.

I am not reading anything in print at the moment, which feels a little strange. I’m only doing one September review for Shelf Awareness, and since that book won’t be out till late in the month, I’ve been taking it a little easy this week. I should change that this week…but to be honest, not a lot’s really calling to me these days. End-of-summer doldrums, I suppose…is it just me, or are you feeling them too?
  • on audio
I can’t find the review that made me decide I wanted to listen to Judy Greer’s I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star, but I’ve been really enjoying it. A steadily working character actress who has played a lot of “best friend” roles, Greer comes across as…well, friendly; down-to-earth and very likable. I should finish this one during commute time in the next day or two, and I think my next audio will be in a similar vein, as it will probably be Rob Lowe’s Love Life. After two consecutive celebrity memoirs, chances are that I'll be ready for something a little weightier.

What I’m writing

I have designated today as “catch up on reviews day,” so guess what I’m doing after I get this posted?

What caught my eye this week

Wise reflections in the aftermath of Robin Williams’ death
“Pirouette On A Tightrope: On Addiction and Depression”  
“Robin Williams, Matt Walsh, Joy and Silence”
And thoughts about changing how we live on our online lives
“How To Take a Social Media Vacation” 
"I Quit Liking Things On Facebook for Two Weeks. Here’s How It Changed My View of Humanity.”

What Else is New?

I’m not sorry I went to BEA this year. And I’m not sorry I went to BlogHer’14. But I am regretting that I did those in place of an actual vacation this year, and I’m pretty sure that’s why I’ve got a case of the late-summer blahs.

Gratuitous Photo of the Week

"Morning has broken" on The 3 Rs Blog via Instagram (@florinda3rs)
"Morning has broken"...and gotten a lot of Instagram likes

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book Talk: A SONG FOR ISSY BRADLEY, by Carys Bray

A SONG FOR ISSY BRADLEY by Carys Bray, via Indiebound.org (affiliate link) A Song for Issy Bradley: A Novel
Carys Bray (Twitter) (Facebook)
Ballantine Books (August 12, 2014), Hardcover (ISBN 0553390880 / 9780553390889)
Fiction, 352 pages, $26.00

A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (August 12, 2014). Shelf Awareness provided me with a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review, and compensated me for the review they received and posted.

Faith, guilt, family responsibilities and cultural norms overlap and clash in Carys Bray's debut novel. A Song for Issy Bradley explores the effects of the sudden death of its youngest member on a Mormon family living on the English coast.

As a convert to the Mormon church, Claire Bradley has often found life as a bishop's wife challenging, but when four-year-old Issy is suddenly and fatally stricken with meningitis, she no longer has any strength for, or interest in, the struggle. The child could not be saved by her father's blessing, and Claire retreats to blame herself and her weak faith for that, doubling the loss to the rest of the family. Rather than providing the comfort they might have expected, their beliefs complicate the responses of both Claire and her husband Ian to the death of their youngest; Bray's depiction of Claire's grief is particularly stark and affecting.

Meanwhile, the older Bradley children, Zipporah and Al, are adrift and resentful of the expectations that their community and their father have placed on them in the wake of the family's loss, and their younger brother Jacob, with a seven-year-old's understanding of his church's teachings, is intent on making a miracle happen to set things right for his family.

The family's Mormon identity is central to A Song For Issy Bradley. Bray's portrayal of a community practicing this American-born faith in England offers a fresh and particular perspective on it. At the same time, her rendering of a family finding its way through grief strikes a universal, and sympathetic, chord.

Book discussion: A SONG FOR ISSY BRADLEY on The 3 Rs Blog

Book description, from the publisher's website
The Bradleys see the world as a place where miracles are possible, and where nothing is more important than family. This is their story. 
It is the story of Ian Bradley—husband, father, math teacher, and Mormon bishop—and his unshakable belief that everything will turn out all right if he can only endure to the end, like the pioneers did. It is the story of his wife, Claire, her lonely wait for a sign from God, and her desperate need for life to pause while she comes to terms with tragedy. 
And it is the story of their children: sixteen-year-old Zippy, experiencing the throes of first love; cynical fourteen-year-old Al, who would rather play soccer than read the Book of Mormon; and seven-year-old Jacob, whose faith is bigger than a mustard seed—probably bigger than a toffee candy, he thinks—and which he’s planning to use to mend his broken family with a miracle. 
Intensely moving, unexpectedly funny, and deeply observed, A Song for Issy Bradley explores the outer reaches of doubt and faith, and of a family trying to figure out how to carry on when the innermost workings of their world have broken apart.
Opening lines:

"Claire dreams she is walking along a beach with the Lord. She cannot humble herself and speak nicely so they progress in silence. The sand is hard and damp, puddled in places; its ripples bump her bare feet. They walk until He stops and presses a gentle hand to her arm.

"'Please come back. I love you.'

"The words whisper along the tiny hairs of Claire's inner ear. Did someone sneak into the bedroom, touch her arm and murmur I love you? She lies as still as she can, in case someone is there, hoping to talk to her. If they think she is asleep they will go away and leave her alone."

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