Sunday, August 27, 2006

My Top Ten Favorite Football Books

I have been wanting to post something different than usual. So, with the begining of the NFL, EPL and stretch run of MLS, I decided to list my favorite football books.

1. The $1 league: The Rise and Fall of the USFL by Jim Byrne (1987). You have to enjoy the business side of sports to like this book, but I have read this book about the creation of a new pro football league in the 1980s several times. The star of the book becomes New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump who basically ruins the USFL by wanting to take on the NFL.

2.A Season with Verona: Travels Around Italy in Search of Illusion, National Character, and...Goals! by Tim Parks (2002). Parks, an English teacher in Italy, watches every match of his favorite club, Hellas Verona. Parks is a great writer and covers much more than just Serie A action, as he goes into the character of Italy as a country.

3.Next Man up: A Year behind the Lines in Today's NFL by John Feinstein (2005). Feinstein is a brilliant sports writer and he gets incredible access to follow the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens for a year.

4.Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton by Walter Payton and Don Yaeger (2000). This heartbreaking memoir was being written when Payton passed away from liver cancer. Yaeger finished the book and used tons of interviews with Payton’s friends and family to turn it into more of an oral history.

5.Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger (1999). This also made for a great movie, but the book that follows a High School football team in Texas is extremely poignant.

6.Going Long: The Wild Ten-Year Saga of the Renegade American Football League in the Words of Those Who Lived It by Jeff Miller (2003). Just like the overly long subtitle says.

7.Now You See Him ...The Barry Sanders Story by Barry Sanderss and Mark E. McCormickk (2003). Some of this bored me, but getting a look into his personality and why he quit football is quite interesting.
8.Long Bomb: How The Xfl Became Tv's Biggest Fiasco by Brett Forrest (2002). I don’t care what anyone says the XFL was so silly it was cool. Forrest followed the crazy league and one of its teams, the Las Vegas Outlaws, for the XFL’s only season.

9.I Am Third by Gale Sayerss and Al Silverman (1970). The greatest football movie of all time, Brian’s Song, was based on Sayers autobiography that stars himself and teammate Brian Piccolo.

10.Proving Ground: A Season on the Fringe in NFL Europe by Lars Anderson (2001). The league that created Kurt Warner and other NFLers gets its due in this book. Anderson spends the year following the now-defunct Scottish Claymores and several of their players who went overseas to get another shot at the NFL.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

New Discoveries

Here are a few random things that I have happened upon lately.

Former Over the Rhine guitarist and Monk frontman Ric Hordinski is now on MySpace. He has some songs up that are catchy pop tunes. Not his normal thing, but still enjoyable. He explains more at his new homepage.

Also, Sarah Masen has been updating her site now and again with new songs. The best is her cover of Elvis Costello's Veronica, though there are some other good tunes on here. Apparently at some point, she was working with Hordinski, who is a good producer. Her last CD is still Dreamlife of Angels from 2001. I'm hoping she records again, especially if she can re-create the vibe of 1998's less poppy and more organic Carry Us Through.

Finally, for those who know of my Christian Music past (don't tell anyone), then this article from last year may be interesting. Kate Bowman's "Secular, Sacred or both?" makes a couple of good points about the place (or lack thereof) of Christian music in the current music scene.


What I'm Reading -- The Driftless Area by Tom Drury

Tom Drury’s main character is Pierre Hunter, a thoughtful 24-year old bartender. Hunter is saved from a nearly fatal accident by a beautiful girl, who is in the same town but lives alone and rarely leaves her old mansion. Pierre continues to float through life, but starts to realize he is part of a bigger plan that involves his new girlfriend, some mobsters, $77,000 and a strange old man. There also is a bit of mysticism thrown into the story that creates some weird situations and a groovy ambiance. Pierre seems to have no problem being a part of something bigger, but Drury gives little indication of how the story will be resolved.

This is an incredibly well written book. Drury tells the story with an amazingly concise style of writing. He gives his readers exactly what he wants them to know, no more and no less. The dialogue is quick and witty. The characters are all smart and enduring. Besides the somewhat creepy cover this book is absolutely great. This is one of my favorites over the last few months. The Driftless Area is a bit similar in tone and story to Markus Zusak’s I am the Messenger.

What I'm Reading -- Hello I Must be Going by Christie Hodgen

In Hello I Must be Going, Hodgen follows a mother and her two children following the death of their husband/father. The main character is 9-year old Frankie, who like her brother, worships their Vietnam-vet father. Following his death, Frankie becomes quiet and focuses on her drawings, her brother begins some bizarre behaviors and her mom becomes obsessed with weird boyfriends and pills. Hodgen excels when following the slow but consistent growth of Frankie as she becomes more confident and plans for college. Some of the book’s situations are a bit too farcical considering the overall tone of the novel. This is a good solid read, though it does not live up to better and more realistic portrayals like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Music Review -- Eyes Open by Snow Patrol

Every once in a while a band seems on the verge of creating an epic album. This often makes the band’s next release seem mediocre compared to expectations. Eyes Open is the follow up to Snow Patrol’s great Final Straw. Final Straw had an amazing combination of textures, sonic influences and modern rock that garnered obvious comparisons to Coldplay and Radiohead. Eyes Open is a wonderful album, but it is a bit disappointing that they made the same transition to arena-ready songs that Coldplay did between A Rush of Blood to the Head and X&Y. The results are still quite good. It would just be nice to see Snow Patrol (and Coldplay) working outside of the parameters of soaring, arena-freiendly songs.

The emphasis here is on Gary Lightbody’s songwriting. These are wonderfully written songs with introspective lyrics that look at every side of bittersweet relationships. The writing is similar to, but even more biting and personal, than Ben Gibbard’s work with Deathcab for Cutie and The Postal Service. The opener is a high energy, sing-along with Lightbody singing, “Electric shocks on aching bones/ There is a darkness deep in you/ A frightening magic I cling to…It’s so clear now you are all that I have/ I have no fear now that you are all that I have…” The lyrical maturity on this album is impressive as the writer’s subjects long for peace, look for anything they can do to force their worlds to behave as they wish and even yearn for anything tragic to rouse them to greater things or personal defeat. On Headlights on Dark Roads he writes, “For once I want to be the car crash/ Not always just the traffic jam/ Hit me hard enough to wake me/ And lead me wild to your dark roads.”

Musically, this is much lighter on sonic influences and heavier on guitar and hook driven tunes than previous efforts. The downfall of the disc is that they try too hard to be catchy and hit an emotional note in song after song. This is an amazingly capable band and Lightbody’s voice is an instrument itself. The producer did a great job not allowing his somewhat wispy voice to be lost under the crunchy guitars, though I wish they would allow him more time singing alone without the constant harmonies.

Maybe someday, Snow Patrol will create their own Sgt. Peppers, but for now they are proving to be one of the best bands around.

3.25 out of 4.00 on the Vin Swanson Scale.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Music -- Johnny Cash

I have listening to a lot of Johnny Cash lately. I won’t review them too deeply because if you don’t already know that Cash was the man then you have more problems than I can fix. One is Cash’s Personal File, which came out in May. This collection covers 49 tracks he recorded in the 70s and 80s. Personally I like the earlier era of Cash and this comes after the young, brash, rocking Johnny Cash. Still, its nice to hear Cash do a ton of standards and hymns when his voice was younger and stronger and he was deeply ensconced in his folk roots. The other disc I’ve been listening to is American V: A Hundred Highways that was released last month. This is the last of the CDs of an older Cash singing covers, standards and an occasional newly written song. This is my other favorite period of his music. In this fifth installment, his voice wavers as he sings this collection of songs that are mostly about death, or seem like they are about death because of what we know about the singer. I recommend his early music or the collections from the last few years to newer fans, though Personal File is fun to hear another part of the great artist’s career.

What I'm Reading -- Literacy and Longing in L.A. by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack

I was expecting a deeper book when I chose to read Literacy and Longing in L.A. by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack. Once my expectations changed a bit though, I was pleasantly surprised by this novel. The book follows divorced, former news writer Dora. The 35-year old recounts her life being obsessed with books, being out of work and trying to figure out what to do with herself. She meets a handsome, intelligent book store clerk and they start a relationship that changes once she finds out about his family and more about his personality. Anyone who is well-read will enjoy the literary references and there are a ton. Really, this is more of a chick-lit type novel, but since I recently bailed on a book halfway through, I had to finish this one. Anyway, Dora does tons of worrying about her looks, avoiding the L.A. highways and all sorts of things expected in chick-lit. The authors, however, do a nice job giving Dora and her fling some depth, especially when they introduce Fred’s family situation. Dora is funny and tries quite admirably to do the right thing despite her situation and hang-ups. This is a good book for deeper readers looking for something lighter or general chick-lit fans looking for something a bit more substantial.