What I Read
At the Boston Book Festival this past fall, where I had the joy of sitting in a large venue talking with Howard Bryant, Etan Thomas, and Bill Littlefield about sports and politics, an intrepid young man named Max, who was there for Scholastic News, took the microphone during the Q & A and asked us what advice we'd give to a young writer.
"Read," we all answered, almost simultaneously. "Read."
We talked a bit more about it -- about why good writers are great readers. Read stuff you love and figure out why, we said. Read stuff you hate -- stuff you disagree with -- and figure out why. Just read. And when you're done, I added, read some more.
With that in mind, I offer my meager contribution to this past year in books. I love end-of-the-year lists, and devour them all, from books to music to movies. This year, however, being on the crazy train of book tour and more, I didn't get to anything as much as I wish I had. One of my favorite books I read this year wasn't even written this year, Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny. So with that in mind, I offer a list of my favorite books of the year (in no particular order) written by friends, because for the most part, they were the only books I had time for.
1. Rhiannon Navin, Only Child
A gut-wrenching perspective on America’s love affair with guns through the eyes of a child. The opening passages of a Newtown/Parkland school massacre are tough, but 6-year-old Zach is a character to embrace, cheer for, and help you see a future without senseless violence.
2. Jeff Pearlman, Football for a Buck
A romp – seriously, there is no other word for this raucous and densely informative book – through the short-lived USFL, a league that Pearlman claims was a “great” idea but was brought to its knees by the men in charge, including one Donald J. Trump (and he isn’t even the slimiest of this group!)
3. Lisa Genova, Every Note Played
While her rare niche in fiction – neuroscience – has given us gems like Still Alice, this story about ALS isn’t just focused on the particulars of the disease and its impact, but the far greater picture of how to die, when to die, and – for those left behind – how to move forward. The last pages are both unbearable and addictive.
4. Howard Bryant, The Heritage
I never need to be convinced that sports and politics is something to spend a whole lot of time thinking about, but if you are, grab this book and don’t put it down. Howard's nuanced and well-researched take on athletes, social movements, and -- perversely -- patriotism makes this a key book in this moment of Trump and Kap.
5. Siva Vaidhyanathan, Anti-Social Media
One of the big bad guys this year has been Facebook. Want to know more about why the social media behemoth can wreck such havoc? Siva will tell you how and why Facebook has gone so terribly wrong as it has kept us all so very connected.
6. John Fea, Believe Me
John is one of my favorite people to disagree with, but one thing the current presidency has done is put us on the same page more often than ever before. His treatise on evangelicals and Trump is thought-provoking and thoughtful, rarities these days.
7. Rebecca Traister, Good and Mad
I was lucky enough to read this one when it was still a manuscript, and I’m glad I did -- it gave me the tools to digest and question the explosion of #metoo that continued throughout the year, with meticulous detail and passionate argument. Rebecca is a national treasure, and her latest shows exactly why.
8. Brian Phillips, Impossible Owls
It's no secret that Brian is one of my favorite writers, and this book of essays shows why – eclectic, enthusiastic, smart, and funny. His writing is the kind that inspires me to pick up a pen and get going -- the power of words personified.
9. Laurent DuBois, The Language of the Game
I should probably be sick of soccer at this point but I'm not, and Laurent’s beautiful prose about the beautiful game is a great reminder as to why. Lyrical and informative – what more could you ask for?
10. John Branch, The Last Cowboys
I am a huge fan of just about anything that John puts down on paper -- a groupie when it comes to his legendary piece "Snowfall" -- and this book is no different. A wondrous depiction of the modern American West, and a family at its center. Rodeo, by the way, is no joke.