Monday, December 9, 2013
John Grisham, Playing for Pizza (New York: Doubleday, 2007).
John Grisham, Playing for Pizza, Read by Christopher Evan Welch. Unabridged (randomhouseaudio.com, 2007).
Also available on Nook and Kindle.
Reviewed by Wilda Morris
I saw the author’s name on the box of CD’s on the sale counter – John Grisham. “Ah,” I thought, “a legal thriller. That should keep me awake on a long drive up to Door County, Wisconsin.”
The book begins with a man named Rick Dockery coming out of a coma, not knowing why he is in the hospital. His visitor, Arnie, considers him a client, so at first I figured he was Rick’s lawyer. Soon, though, I discovered that I was not listening to a thriller. Playing for Pizza is a football story. I may watch a few plays if someone else has turned on a game. I check two or three times each season to see how the Chicago Bears are doing. On football Saturdays I sometimes check on the fate of the Illini, Hawkeyes, and Hoosiers. In other words, I’m not much of a football fan. I would not have purchased Playing for Pizza had I read what the box said about the book. I kept listening, though, because it was the only recorded book I had with me, and soon Grisham drew me into his story. I lost my sense of disappointment.
Rick Dockery bounced around the NFL, never quite living up to the promise he showed in at Davenport High School* and in college. He is a third string quarter-back for Cleveland when the Browns make it to the AFC championship game. Unfortunately the starting quarterback and his back-up are both injured. The Browns are 17 points ahead with 11 minutes to go when Rick comes into the game. Three intercepted passes later, he is the biggest goat in NFL history. Needless to say, the Browns will not renew his contract. In fact, once out of the hospital, Rick isn’t be safe in Cleveland. He is a laughingstock even in Davenport.
Rick insists that his agent get him a contract for next year, but no team in the US will return Arnie’s calls about jobs for Rick. He does find a team eager to have Rick play, however—the Parma Panthers in Italy. This move would be a real come-down for Rick, since most of the Italian players are amateurs who play for the love of the game, but work at other jobs. Rick has never been to Italy and does not know a word of Italian. He doesn’t even know where Parma is. But since no NFL team will consider hiring him again and a Browns cheerleader is filing papers against him in a paternity suit, he finally decides he has no choice. The Panthers assume that an NFL quarterback will give them a big advantage over other Italian teams, and they might actually win the Italian Super Bowl for the first time.
Grisham follows the Panther season, giving us some interesting characters and an exciting plot. There are issues to think about: plays that are “perfectly legal, perfectly brutal” (p. 210); head injuries; when it’s time to hang up the helmet and quit; playing for money vs. playing from passion. Grisham works them into the plot; they don’t slow the story down.
I said this is a football story, but it is also a story about Italian culture: the food and wine, opera, ancient cathedral and castles, beaches and pretty women. Yes, there is romance thrown into the mix.
The story has a satisfying ending, but it is open enough that Grisham could decide to give us another installment in the life of Rick Dockery. Will he marry the girl he’s been hanging out with? Will he play another year for the Panthers? If not, how will he support himself? If Grisham does write a follow-up, I’ll be looking for the CDs so I can listen to them on another trip to Door County. Hopefully Christopher Evan Welch will be the reader again; he did a good job on this one.
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*In the interest of full disclosure, perhaps I should tell you that I went to Iowa City High School, and we considered Davenport to be our Number 1 opponent. Had we lost every other game and only defeated Davenport, we would have considered it a winning season.
Friday, November 22, 2013
Terry Jones and Alan Ereira, Barbarians: An Alternative Roman History (BBC Books, 2007). A companion to the four-part BBC TV documentary and DVD set, Terry Jones’ Barbarians.
Also available on Nook and Kindle.
Reviewed by Laird Addis
Terry Jones is best known as a member of Monty Python, but he is also an amateur historian, having written four books on medieval England, as well as authoring several children’s books.
History, they say, is written by the victors, and this book is largely concerned to correct the history of the Roman Empire as was written by the Romans and their successors, especially representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, over the centuries since. It is a highly entertaining (Jones can’t completely forget his Monty Python years) and very instructive account of the interactions of many kinds of the Romans over several centuries (roughly, 200 BCE to 500 CE) with the Celts, the Goths, the Hellenes (Greeks), the Vandals, the Huns, and other peoples. In general the Romans treated all of these peoples (with the partial exception of the Hellenes, whose culture they consciously adopted in many respects) as “barbarians,” that is, as primitive and inferior peoples who, if they came into contact with the Romans, deserved to be conquered and ruled by the Romans, especially if they had the temerity to attack any territory claimed by Romans as theirs.
What we learn is that all of these peoples, even the Huns whom the Romans gave an especially bad reputation, were in their various ways cultured and inventive ones, some even with literatures of their own from which much of the evidence Jones relies on is taken. It was actually the Romans, Terry Jones argues, who were the “barbarians” in the sense that they were especially prone to savagery, intolerance, and repression in their dealings with the peoples they had conquered and ruled. Perhaps most important in the long run, Jones is able to show, is that much of what was good in Roman culture was brought to the Romans by the conquered peoples, and that they were important contributors to Western civilization as we know it.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Isabel Allende, The Sum of Our Days, translated from Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden (HarperCollins, 2008). Also available in Spanish.
On CD read by Blair Brown (Harperaudio, 2008).
Reviewed by Wilda Morris
On the library sale shelf I found a recording of The Sum of Our Days. I was familiar with the author’s name and knew she was a best-selling and award-winning author. I also knew she was famous for writing magical realism, a genre with which I’m not very familiar. I thought I might give Allende a try. I was disappointed to learn that this book is not fiction; it is the fourth memoir written by Allende.
The Sum of Our Days covers thirteen years following the death of Allende’s daughter, Paula. Allende drew upon letters she wrote to her mother during the time period covered, as well as memories (hers and others). She submitted the manuscript to friends and family members about whom she wrote, allowing them to “opt out.”
I didn’t find myself engrossed in the intimate details of Allende’s affair with Willie (which became a lasting relationship) or with the entanglements of her friends and family members. Had I already been a fan of Allende, or had I read her book, Paula, first, I might have enjoyed this book more.
I wonder if she couldn’t have fictionalized the life of Tabra, the maker of folk jewelry, and/or that of her daughter-in-law, Celia, who changed more than anyone else in the book during the time period covered. I suspect such novels would have captured my interest more than this memoir. But it is too late—she has already given away too much of their stories.
I was not totally disinterested or bored—I did listen to the entire book on CD. And someday will look for one of the novels of magical realism.