Saturday, October 27, 2012
by Thomas Boswell
New York : Doubleday, 1990.
Thomas Boswell is a veteran writer for the Washington Post whom I never would have heard of if it hadn't been for a friend of mine. Despite the fact that he will only read an actual book if it's not available on the Kindle, he happens to be one of the only people I know in person who reads anywhere close to what I read in a year (and he claims it's only one fifth of what I read). So, every now and then I'll ask him what he's reading, and a month and a half ago, this was it. At least, I'm about 80% sure I got the author right. But regardless of whether or not I actually picked up the same book or author, the fact remains that I would not have chosen to read this book if it had not been for my friend's recommendation.
Boswell covers football, basketball, boxing, golf, the Olympics, tennis, and baseball. I watch the first and the last three, so of course found those the most interesting, while the middle dragged a little for me. But my friend described this as a book about various sports that had the most words he'd ever have to look up in the dictionary. I admit that was the selling point for me; I am a sucker for learning new words. Though I spent the first 100 or so pages wondering what he was talking about, in the remaining pages I wrote down a dozen or so to look up, from words I'd never read before, such as ectomorph (an individual with a slender, lean body, a slight build), to words I didn't know specific to a sport, such as a dogleg in golf (crooked or bent like a dog's hind leg as in "a sharp dogleg bend in the fairway"). What my friend didn't tell me was the Boswell has a bit of a philosophical bent, too, from ruminating on the way in which talking about sports has become the American way of talking about deep thoughts of morals and politics when it just appears to be about "only a game," to his sounding off on our tendency to demonize athletes when they make a mistake. He references classical mythology, John Updike, Moby-Dick, and Emily Dickinson (actually, he didn't just reference her, he had two of her poems in one article).
I had a mixed reaction overall. When I was reading about the sports I didn't really care about, I found myself characterizing the book as something that my friend was interested in professionally (he's a local sportswriter himself), and not something that I could see appealing to the general public. I almost put the book down multiple times - I like sports, but 300+ pages of sports columns is quite a commitment. But about two thirds of the way into the book, I started 1. finding more new words and 2. settled into a rhythm where I found myself enjoying the smart references and vivid descriptions. And, the truth is, once I got to the Olympics, I was back in sports I was interested in. Would I recommend it? Not for the casual fan. But if you follow a variety of sports, know your 1970s to 90s sports history, or are interested in sports journalism in general, then yes, this was an engaging, smart collection that you may find thought-provoking.