Our list of good sport literature reads

March 20, 2011

As I wrap up editorial work on two books for my publishing house – Sport, Race, and Ethnicity: Narratives of Difference and Diversity, and Reading Baseball: Books, Biographies, and the Business of the Game,  I’m realizing that I’ve had a wonderful experience editing these two works. The first, edited byDaryl Adair, features essays from a multitude of international scholars in the fields of sport history, sport management, sport and culture, sociology, communications, and then some—all on the topics of race, ethnicity, and aboriginality in sport. The second book is a collection of essays by scholar Braham Dabscheck on the varying underpinnings of baseball: labor relations, sentimentalism, ambassadorship, race, and culture.

From my standpoint as a reader only, I have to say that these two books are wonderful, and although “pegged” as sport pseudo-academia (I say this because of the entertaining value on top of the intellectual value), they shouldn’t be confined by the framework of sport. These books are for anyone with an interest in humanity. Sport serves only as the vehicle to deliver the stories.

Which brings me to my topic: Too often I see hungry readers, who have no vested interest in sports, bypassing sport literature. As an editor, writer, and journalist, I feel I must make a case for sport literature as a foundation for humanity. The best way to do this is to take a look at a solid reading list, hand-picked by scholars. Attached below is a recommended reading list by writers and scholars in the field—Dr. Steven Pope, Dr. Braham Dabscheck, and Dr. John Nauright (see bottom of article for biographies):

The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture (1994), by Gerald Early. From the jacket: “The sport of prizefighting forms the intellectual core and central metaphor of this celebrated collection by one of our most daring writers. Early’s subjects, though, range far and wide—his insights and expertise illuminate subjects from multiculturalism, Black History Month, and baseball to racist memorabilia, Malcolm X, early jazz music, and the raising of daughters. Important and captivating, The Culture of Bruising, as William Gass has written, ‘provide[s] for the reader an almost continuous revelation.’”

Beyond a Boundary (1963), by C.L.R. James. John Nauright says, “In the book James recounts the history and legacy of colonialism in his native Trinidad and how that history impacted on his own life and on the development of the sport of cricket in the Caribbean. James, a leading Marxist influenced scholar, was influenced by his favorite novel, Vanity Fair and was a life long passionate follower of cricket, not a sport usually associated with the masses. In the West Indies, however, cricket did become a lingua franca that permeated all classes and races. Beyond a Boundary tells this story with passionate expression, keen cultural insight and a political edge that all merge to generate a compelling study of history, culture, politics and sport in the Caribbean.”

Crossing Boundaries: An International Anthology of Women’s Experiences in Sport (1999), edited by Susan Bandy and Anne S. Darden. From the jacket: “Crossing Boundaries is the first anthology of its kind—international in scope, cross-cultural in context, and uniquely female in content. The collection includes poetry, short stories, prose memoirs, dramas, and journalistic works by women from over twenty countries, including such celebrated contemporary authors as Margaret Atwood, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Wislawa Szymborska, and Joyce Carol Oates. The female voices that resonate through these works are often angular, raging, and knowing; at other times they are soft, melodic, peaceful, and yearning.

Baseball: The Early Years / Baseball: The Golden Age, by Harold Seymour, Oxford University Press, New York, 1960 / 1971. From Dabscheck: “Early work that demonstrated that sport was capable of research and writings norms associated with other areas of scholarship.”

Eight Men out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series, by Eliot Asinof, Owl Book, New York, 1987 (first published 1963). From Dabscheck: “A classic study of one of the greatest scandals in the history of sport.”

Lapham’s Quarterly, Vol. III, No. 3, (Summer 2010). This edition is titled “Sport & Games.” From Lapham’s introduction: “One not need be American to know that sport is play and play is freedom. It’s not a secret kept from children in Tahiti or Brazil. Dogs romp, whales leap, penguins dance. That play is older than the kingdoms of the Euphrates and the Nile is a truth told by the Dutch scholar, Johan Hizinga, in Homo Ludents, his study of history that discovers in the ‘primeval soil of play’ the origin of ‘the great instinctive forces of civilized life,’ of myth and ritual, law and order, poetry and science. ‘Play,’ he said, ‘cannot be denied. You can deny, if you like, nearly all abstractions: justice, beauty, truth, goodness, mind, God. You can deny seriousness, but not play.’”

Playing America’s Game: Baseball, Latinos and the Color Line, by Adrian Burgos Jr., University of California Press, Berkley, Los Angeles and London, 2007. From Dabscheck: “A nuanced account of the changing role of Latinos in the national pastime and nuances and subtleties associated with race in the American experience.”

Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville: A Lifelong Passion for Baseball, by Stephen Jay Gould, Jonathan Cape, London, 2004. Dabscheck says, “One of the great thinkers of modern times demonstrates how logic and scientific method can be applied to unravelling various aspects of American baseball.”

Lords of the Realm: The Real History of Baseball, by John Helyar, Ballantine Books, New York, 1994. Dabscheck: “An account of the internal operations of an unstable cartel.” Read the rest of this entry »


FiT, BISG, and the future of the textbook

March 14, 2011

At the Book Industry Study Group (#BISG) conference on ebooks and higher learning, which took place last month in New York, several industry specialists turned their attention to the manifest destiny of digital texts and trade books.

The conference opened with the statement, “There is tremendous noise in the industry.”

It’s hard to avoid the oft-overused “Wild West” descriptor, but it’s true. It was apparent today that while industry gurus have a strong grasp on focus groups, marketing numbers, and projected stats, the future of digital media in higher learning is still a great unknown. While it is achievable to poll several thousand students from 1,100 universities and colleges across the Western world to see what their preferences and current trends are, it is difficult to predict the impact of technology as it changes as fast as people can assemble a business plan.

The conversion from print to digital media has been complex. According to Steve Paxhia, President of Kaplan Publishing, three years ago only 1.5% of magazines were read online, compared to 38% today. And newspapers are finding 61% of their readers are getting their news online. Trade books had no digital market four years ago (this fact can probably be refuted, although minimally), yet today their digital share is 10% and doubling annually.

But textbooks are tricky. Students are confounding predictions, since conventional wisdom suggests that they are the first to adopt “gadgets” like androids and iPhones, iPads and tablets, and Kindles and Nooks. But the economy has dragged down student pocketbooks, as well as the pocketbooks of their families. Fewer loans are going out, tuition has been rising, and the cost of textbooks continues to escalate.

BISG put out a lot of great information, some of the highlights are listed below:

—The longer students are in school, the more likely they are to obtain their study material via alternative methods. Some of methods of procurement include: copying textbooks, downloading texts and quizzes from online sources, screen capturing, using International texts, and staying with old editions (only 62% stick with current new/used editions).

—Students still prefer print textbooks by a 4 to 1 margin. Reasons for this include: high expenses of technology, the ability to resell textbooks for “money” (of an undefined number), because they are directed to by faculty, and the feel and permanence of print (they are able to carry that book with them into their careers).

—The top four platforms students use for ebooks are: 1) Laptop computer, 2) Desktop computer, 3) Kindle, and 4) iPad. Computers (#1 and #2) overwhelmingly make up the vast majority of platforms.

Kelly Gallagher, Vice President of Publishing Services for RR Bowker, says that in spite of dire predictions of the textbook market, it continues to grow. One reason for this is the massive return of professionals to school, due to the state of the economy.

—Textbooks that deal with the sciences are more often kept by students, unlike liberal arts textbooks.

—According to Rob Reynolds, Director of Product Design and Research at Xplana, for-profit universities, tech schools, and colleges are continuing to rise dramatically. From 2005-2010, they rose from 903 to 1,215.

—Because of the economical strain, students have become much more savvy with their purchasing, as quoted by the National Association of College Stores (NACS). Students are comparing prices, shopping around, and are utilizing coupons and discounts.

—Students are a great test group, because they are willing to experiment with new technology, but only as long as there is a viable, tangible reward or payoff.

—There is a new future developing where textbooks are going to experience the “iTunes effect”; that is, they are going to be chopped up into smaller, more affordable segments that can be pieced together into a custom ebook.

How does this relate to FiT? We have made a committment to listening to the professors, faculty, and students that we engage with on a daily basis. We solicit their thoughts and needs, and plan accordingly. We have been making several of our books available as an accessible, interactive e-book. We also realize that many students like to keep their hands on hard copies of texts for future reference, or as a type of barter that enables cash-in-pocket at the end of the semester (although e-books are usually, ultimately cheaper down the stretch).

We are interested in hearing what you have to say, and we want to know your thoughts. Whether you’re a new student in a sport psychology course, an academic who wants our trade books on the iPad2, or you’re a faculty member that wants a comprehensive package of print, digital, and “packaged” slides and material, please drop us an email to fiteditors@mail.wvu.edu. Tell us what you like, what you want to see us do, and what suggestions you have for us. We welcome all of your ideas and comments. You can even tell us what we’re doing right!


Sports writing, Gay Talese, and the human drama: a review

January 25, 2011

[Braham Dabscheck is an industrial relations scholar, sports writer and enthusiast, and author of the upcoming title, Reading Baseball: Books, Biographies, and the Business of the Game, to be published this summer, 2011, by FiT. He has written extensively on many aspects of sport, and he continues with that tradition today by offering a review of The Silent Season of a Hero: The Sports Writing of Gay Talese, by Michael Rosenwald, 2010. Dabscheck is a man proper from Down Under, and out of respect for his Australian English, no edits have been made to his vernacular.]

Michael Rosenwald (ed.), The Silent Season of a Hero: The Sports Writing of Gay Talese, Walker & Company, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-8027-7753-9, pp. viii + 308, US $16.00, paper.

Gay Talese is a leading American writer and journalist. He is now into his seventh decade of writing. Besides his journalism and The Silent Season of a Herohe has published eleven other books. They range over such matters as the Italian immigrant experience, American sexuality, a mafia family, New York, bridge building, a behind the scenes peek of the New York Times, portraits of leading American characters, musings on writing and an edited work of short stories.

In the Introduction to The Silent Season of a Hero Talese points to a mesmerising sentence penned by Carson McCullen, in a piece entitled The Jockey that appeared in the New Yorker on 23 August 1941. It reads, “If he eats a lamb chop, you can see the shape of it in his stomach a hour later”. He read this in 1956 when he was 24 and found himself fascinated by the imagery of the sentence. He goes on to say that in his writing he sought to apply the skills of fiction writing to non fiction (p. 3). He modelled himself on Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John O’Hara and Irwin Shaw, the latter two writers with theNew Yorker.

Talese came to writing by chance. Lorin Angevine, a customer of his father, who was a tailor in Ocean City, New Jersey, asked Talese to contribute articles to his weekly, the Sentinel-Ledger on “High School Highlights”. He also wrote a column called “Sportopics”. He was unsuccessful in his quest to find a college in his region after graduating from high school. Another friend of his father contacted his alma mater, the University of Alabama, who agreed to enrol Talese in a journalism course. By his junior year he was writing sports stories for the Crimson-White. After graduating he landed a job as a copyboy with the New York Times in 1953.

Michael Rosenwald, a staff writer with the Washington Post has brought together some of the best examples of Talese’s sports writing. Rosenwald tells us that Talese was an outsider at school and rejected the approach that his journalism teachers, of who-what-when-where-why, tried to drill into him (pp.17-19). There are also indications that Talese had more than a few battles with editors over his approach to writing. Talese from a young age had worked out how he wanted to write and held steadfast to his views. The proof of his pudding is in its eating.

Talese’s sports writing is really unconcerned with who won or lost. He is more concerned with the playing out of the human drama, of those who find themselves caught up in the spider’s web that is sport. Talese is interested in the oddball, or what others might regard or tangential matters associated with sport. There are three issues which feature in The Silent Season of a Hero. First, there are those persons who operate apart from or outside the gaze of the mainstream of sport; whether they be a boxing referee, the time-keeper of boxing matches at Madison Square Garden, a boxing trainer, a former bare-knuckle boxer, a female golfing star, a female roller derby veteran, a horseshoe maker, a barbell exponent, a mouth guard making dentist or a baseball (off the field) sports agent. Second, he is fascinated by losers; of how they respond to loss and coming to grips with the pressure of unrealised expectations; whether it be Floyd Paterson after being shown up twice by Sonny Liston or the female Chinese soccer player Liu Ying, who missed her kick in the penalty shoot out in the 1999 Female World Cup, which was won by America. Third, the pathos of former stars, such as Joe Louis, Joe DiMaggio and Muhammad Ali who, in different ways, find themselves trapped in a glorious life lived long, long ago.

The Silent Season of a Hero comprises 38 chapters. They range in length to little more than a page, pieces written for a newspaper, to longer pieces over 25 pages for magazines or other publications. Seventeen are devoted to boxing, four each to baseball and more general issues, three to golf, two to football and the rest are spread across a broad range of sports. One piece is pure whimsy where Talese gives full rein to his humour. He refers to a social anthropologist, a Dr. Ray Birdwhistell who devoted his life to studying athletes who perform “merely to provide Roman circuses for customers: (p. 200). Amongst other things, this chapter highlights the vulnerability of male athletes, who by stint of circumstances and the demands of monastic minded coaches are forced into all male environments, and “just never seemed to learn how to defend themselves against a marrying woman” (p. 188). The good Dr. also noted how those who can play baseball are subject to the revenge of those hopeless kids in sandlot games who were chosen last and forced to play right field who subsequently became sports writers or managers (p. 194). His more substantive point is that athletes who go to college should be given six year scholarships, so that those, the majority, who do not make it to the big time, can be given a real education to enable them to obtain a career and earn a decent living (p. 200).

The chapters included here range from pieces written by Talese as a school boy and then college reporter to his early professional writing where he established his reputation, through to his more mature years. His skill is in his combination of character and narrative. Talese is able to pull readers into the scene, drama and the various persons he is writing about. Especially with his portrayal of his “out of sight” characters I had the feeling that I could see them, knew how they walked, how they dressed, even what they ate for lunch. His most poignant pieces are those of the stars of yesterday: Joe Louis filling in time in his good natured way; Joe DiMaggio’s loneliness in not knowing what to do with the rest of his life; and the awkwardness of the meeting between Muhammad Ali’s meeting with Fidel Castro in Havana in 1996, when “The Greatest” presented a photo of himself and Malcolm X taken on 1963. El Presidente had many skills, but one of them was not one unscripted small talk.

My favourite chapter is “The Loser” on Floyd Paterson, which was first published in 1964, as he seeks to come to terms with his second loss to Sonny Liston. Amongst other things the chapter demonstrates Paterson’s inability to stand up to school boys who are teasing his daughter. There is something in Talese that enables him to obtain the confidence of those who he finds interesting. Paterson opens up to him and explains how in boxing he found a way to escape the poverty of his family circumstances and his sense of inferiority and self loathing. Paterson told Talese

When you’re hungry, you’re not choosy, and so I chose the thing that was closest to me. That was boxing. One day I just wandered into a gymnasium and boxed a boy. And I beat him. Then I boxed another boy. I beat him too. Then I kept boxing. And winning. And I said, “Here, finally, is something I can do!” (pp. 162-3).

Michael Rosenwald tells us that Gay Talese wrote 37 articles on Floyd Paterson (p. 111). Why so many? While the circumstances of Paterson’s and Talese’s early years are radically different, they had in common the problem of finding something to do. They both turned to “the thing that was closest to” them. In Paterson’s case it was boxing, something which he found himself; for Talese it was the pen; something which his father’s acquaintances found for him. Being an outsider Talese was fascinated by and never lost his compassion for other outsiders and those who struggled against overwhelming odds; whether themselves, the fickle finger of fate or the negotiation of the long and sad descent into irrelevance. This is what gave Gay Talese his edge and propelled him to the centre stage of American writing and journalism.

© Braham Dabscheck

Faculty of Law

University of Melbourne