Sunday, April 11, 2021

Undisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps by Chris Jericho

Why I Read It: Hulk Hogan won the WWF championship when I was 12. 'Nuff said. Hulkamania, once caught, is hard to shake.

Summary: Chris Jericho's journey to the WWE, out of it and back again, paralleling his life as a rock star, a burgeoning TV star and actor, and, most importantly, a family man.

My Thoughts: If there's one thing Jericho wants me to do in this review it's to use his new word "froot," a flexible term that can mean anything in any situation, but he's not going to get it. I refuse to use it.

The more I read about the wrestling industry, the more I want to read about it. Jericho takes the peek inside the world of the pro wrestler one step deeper than I've ever been, talking about match construction, storyline writing, etc. I truly appreciated (both in this book and his first, A Lion's Tale, available in airport book stores everywhere) his brutally honest style.

Perhaps most importantly, Jericho did not even consider shying away from the most controversial of topics, the still-mysterious death of his friend and wrestler Chris Benoit. He has no problem defending Benoit, even to Benoit's children, when the rest of the world has labeled him a monster. Yes, his life ended in a monstrous way, but the rest of his life was not lived that way, Jericho argues. Jericho could have kept quiet or, worse yet, jumped on the bandwagon with everyone else, but his fierce independence and his belief in the rest of the truths of his friend's life would not let him.

The rest of the book is written with outrageously humorous takes on the events of his life. He is, if nothing else, both an egomaniac and humble. Many times both sides of his world meet and at those times he learns. He understands that he has been lucky to live the life he has, but also that it wouldn't have happened without his remarkable drive to succeed. Whether fronting Fozzy or challenging HHH for the world title, Jericho has given it his all.

Long live Y2J and all he has given to the professional wrestling business. I hope that he gives the same energy to his young family, and suspect he does.

Fine. I'll say it. This was one of the frootest books I've ever read.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Leaping Lanny: Wrestling with Rhyme by Lanny Poffo

Why I bought it: Leaping Lanny was one of my favorite wrestlers of all time.

Summary: A collection of poetry that mostly has to do with professional wrestling in the late 1980s.

My Thoughts: So, when I grabbed this one from the Kindle Store, I thought I was getting myself an autobiography. Totally my fault - I just hit send without looking deeply, really because I was so excited to start reading it. I always found Lanny Poffo to be a very interesting character (even beneath the facade of playing a character). He was, I think, the first wrestler I saw doing backflips in the ring. And with his suit of armor, he was perfect for the caricaturish WWF (when it still was the World Wrestling Federation) of the late 1980s. I saw him once in a battle royale at the old Boston Garden wearing it, and when he got tumbled over the top rope, top heavy, I never laughed so hard in my life (who won? King Kong Bundy beat "The Duke of Dorchester" Pete Doherty - yes, my memory can be insane sometimes).

Why poetry? Before his matches, whether a heel or a face (bad guy or a good guy), Lanny would read a poem to the audience, typically about his opponent. He put the words onto frisbees and then flung them into the audience.

Of course, a lot of it was woven into the storyline. He'd end a poem by saying that Jim "The Anvil" Neidhardt had no brain, and Anvil would come across the ring with a double axehandle and crumple him. Despite his obvious physical abilities and his confidence on the microphone in front of a full audience - before many others picked it up - he never went anywhere in the federation. This was during the age of Hulkamania. Size meant everything (still does with WWE). He wasn't a jobber, but he might as well have been, which to me was always a shame. I guess I like rooting for underdogs, which is usually how wrestling hooks us anyway.

So, many of the poems are pure strolls down memory lane for my 15-year-old self. But there's more. Lanny shares with us several other poems that have to do with his personal life, a few beautifully chosen words here and there. We're not talking about major works of art, though a few lines did strike me right in the heart. And I think it was heartening to know that the poetry on the frisbees wasn't a gimmick, that this actually was part of the life of Lanny Poffo.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Steve Blass: A Pirate for Life by Steve Blass with Erik Sherman

Why I read it: Impulse buy while in Pennsylvania; I love baseball history, and here was a bit I didn't know.

Summary: The autobiography of Steve Blass, Pirate World Series hero pitcher who lost control of his pitching and had to end his career. 

My thoughts: The baseball books are piling up on my shelves. Some wax poetic, others reach for laughs. This book does both.

Steve loves a lot of stuff in life: his wife and kids, baseball, his Connecticut roots, and everything there is about Pittsburgh. But at times, baseball, for one, didn't love him back.

If there was a reason for his sudden loss of control, he's not sharing it. But suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, Steve Blass, slider specialist, became Steve Blass, nervous wreck. The strike zone left him. After battling it in any way he could think to do, not wanting to let his teammates down any more, he walked away from the game.

So what did he do? Well, for the nuts and the bolts, see the book. In general he tried to replace the void in his life by taking on too much. He settled into baseball broadcasting, but learned a ton about himself along the way.

I've always maintained that the funniest baseball book I've ever read was Bullet Bob Comes to Louisville by John Morris, but this book may be the new champ. Blass has obviously reached the point beyond caring what people think of what he says, as he gets down and dirty with stories about himself and his teammates in ways that make you laugh out loud. We must always keep in mind that professional baseball is played by men 18-45; that's a lot of youth, a lot of money, and a lot of free time. From that comes a lot of pranks, a lot of irreverence.

For Pirates fans, the names are all there: Clemente, Stargell, Mazeroski and on. In a way, now that I think about it, it was nice reading a book about baseball that didn't mention steroids. I'm sure he encountered them - Barry Bonds played for the Pirates, for instance - but he chose to ignore them. Heck, after fifty years in baseball, he had plenty to talk about anyway.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Trout Water by Josh Greenberg

Why I Read It: Impulse grab. I grew up on the ocean (on a peninsula) and felt like this book would include tales about how the other half lived.

Summary: A year in the life of an impassioned trout fisherman.

My Thoughts: I've seen such passion before.

I've seen it in birders, who I've led around the country in search of species to check off on life lists. Sometimes it's been just very local walks, and other times it's been hundreds of miles from my home in Massachusetts. I'll never forget one time driving a van across Colorado when we came across a bend in a river as a small boat pulled towards us, one man at the wheel, another on the deck casting and reeling in. We, the van full of birders, from Massachusetts, New York, Montreal and other points east, seeking glimpses of prairie chickens and longspurs and burrowing owls, watched as the guy on the bow looked our way. "I came all the way from Pennsylvania for this!" he yelled. "This is the best day of my life!" From behind me, a woman's voice said, "Can you imagine traveling all the way across the country, just to go fishing?"

This book is about that kind of passion - both his and hers - but it's not about the fish. They get mentioned, dozens of times, but it's not about the fish.

It's about fishing, yes, but it's about how fishing has been the sidelight, perhaps the background activity, for the most important moments in the author's life. It's tied him to family and friends, it's formed relationships and cemented relationships.

It's about generations, too, and understanding that we are all links in a chain. The book starts with the passing of an old friend, a legendary trout fisherman, and the feeling of loss that moment engendered for not only the friend, but for the days lost to the inexorable march of time and what it does to us all. It ends with stories of the author's boys, and the beginnings of their fishing adventures on the same stretches of water they dad fishes and someday their grandchildren will, too. The author lets us know that we are here to learn, and to pass on what we learn. In his case, the story is told through trout fishing.

We should all be as passionate about something in life as the author is about his friends and family.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Wrestling and Wrestlers by Sidney Gilpin and Jacob Robinson

Why I read it: Couldn't pass it up - as obscure a topic in wrestling history as I think I will ever read.

Summary: "Biographical Sketches of Athletes of the Northern Ring; to Which is Added Notes on Bull and Badger Baiting" (the subtitle)

My Thoughts: Imagine Messrs. Gilpin and Robinson, back in 1893, knowing that we would someday read their classic work as an "ebook." Imagine the wrestlers, who practiced their art back in the first three decades of that same century, knowing they would be immortalized, in the way that anybody whose name lives on in a text like this one, two centuries after their deaths, in digital format, no less.

Yet here we are. The authors take us first on a journey around the world - the world of the British Empire - to discuss the methods of wrestling found in different places. You'll excuse them for occasional racist stereotyping, please. The times were what the times were. And then they make the case that no one could match the wrestlers of the English/Scottish border area of the early 1800s.

Perhaps the most interesting tales in this book concern the facets that have come down to today's professional wrestling rings, including, I think my favorite thing, the belt. In those days when a man threw his opponents in a tournament at a fair or other staged event, a prize was usually offered, and oftentimes it was a hat, other times it was a belt. Just a good old-fashioned workaday belt, something to hold the pants up, yet also a symbol of victory. Oh, how it has morphed.

Most of the book is comprised of those aforementioned sketches, each one an attempt to outrank the last. Every man was big, performed ridiculous feats of strength or found himself in some sort of real-life combat. The authors go to great lengths to include the language of the day, accents and all, which can be very funny to try to read. One almost has to do it phonetically, sounding it out.

In the end, the bull and badger baiting is a strange add-on, but wait! They used dogs to bait the bulls? British...bull...dogs? Hmm, I want to look more into that one.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Big Hair and Plastic Grass by Dan Epstein

Why I read it: The cover looked like my first baseball card collection.

Summary: A chronological summarization of 1970s baseball, spiked with the baseball-related tales that made the decade unique.

My Thoughts: Although it sounds harsh to call Epstein's book a "summary," in a way, it's true. He gives us the whole picture from '70-'79, sharing the major stories of the baseball seasons from the diamond, then spicing them up with all sorts of cultural references, everything from political campaign slogans to television commercial jingle lyrics. It's a dip back in the pool that was the 1970s, the most funkadelic decade America ever saw.

For a child of the '70s like me, it was fantastic. I was born in 1971, and came of baseball age around 1976. I wanted to be Fred Lynn. Still do when I grow up someday. While the first half of the book, therefore, was a world of which I knew the characters but none of the plot lines (save for what I could read from the backs of baseball cards as a kid), the latter half was a walk down Yawkey Way to the Fenway Park of yore. It was, in effect, a chance to relive that part of my youth through a different set of eyes.

And one thing struck me overall. Being an historian, I'm well aware of the concept of the Revolutionary War vet shaking hands with the young boy who would go on to the Civil War, who, as a G.A.R. man grabs the hand of a boy who will one day march off to World War II. Baseball has those same ghosts, best personified in W.P. Kinsella's Iowa Baseball Confederacy. In any baseball decade, there is crossover. Players from the 1950s were leaving the game as players who would play in the 1990s were entering it. It's a cycle that runs throughout time, the mixing of the generations. It doesn't happen so prevalently in any other sport, save for with an occasional aging back-up quarterback or an ageless goaltender or two. Hank Aaron out, Rickey Henderson in. As Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., would say, "And so it goes."

Epstein is probably right in singling out the 1970s as untouchable when it comes to baseball history. Defining the decades just by their numbers is, of course, ludicrous, but think "1970s" and certain images pop up. Reggie Jackson's home runs in the 1977 World Series. Carlton Fisk's home run in the 1975 World Series. "We Are Family." Aaron's 715th. Lou Brock stealing bases. Chicago White Sox in shorts. The Houston Astros uniforms. Their Astroturf. Oscar Gamble's afro. Rollie Fingers' mustache. Mark "The Bird" Fidrych. Disco Demolition Night.

But there's more. Free agency. The designated hitter. Expansion. Baseball changed in the 1970s, in important ways.

Still, I'd love to see a "Baseball in the 80s" book written, if just to continue the narrative. Think about it. George Brett's .390. Dan Quisenberry's submarine pitching style. Fred Lynn's 1983 All-Star Game grand slam off Atlee Hammaker. Roger Clemens' 20 strikeouts. Harvey's Wallbangers. Ozzie Smith. The cocaine scandals. The beginning of the steroid era. This story could roll on.

But Epstein's book is a stand-alone triumph. It's one of those books you have to read and then think to yourself, "You can't make this crap up." That's the 1970s in a nutshell.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Master of the Ring by Tim Hornbaker

Why I Read It: I remember when Buddy Rogers asked Jimmy Snuka if Rogers could become his manager, on Buddy Rogers' Corner.

Summary: The biography of the original Nature Boy, including the many ways in which he changed the wrestling world.

My Thoughts: Every time I read a Tim Hornbaker book, I say that same thing: Dammit, he did it again.

Hornbaker has a thoroughness and fineness about his research and his writing that matter-of-factly brings everything to the surface for every story, without leaving the reader to consider hidden agendas. The facts are just there, page after page. Like every good historian, he interprets them, but without much personal bias. Well, that statement should be couched, I suppose. I don't believe he would have invested the time he did in the project if he actually hated Buddy Rogers. So, maybe there was some positive bias. But that said, he had no problem exposing dissenting opinions when they factored into the story.

Rogers, or Herman Rohde, arrived on the scene just prior to World War II, and worked hard at his craft. He rose to the top in the age of Lou Thesz and the birth of the National Wrestling Alliance, when the insiders' political game was as important - perhaps even more important - than wrestling skill and the ability to pull in box office dollars. Rogers toured the country, moving from territory to territory, using the same finishes, the same drama, from town to town, knowing that there was no way somebody in Houston had seen him pull the same schtick in Columbus two weeks earlier. He ended up "in the hospital" in city after city after diving through the ropes, missing a flying tackle, or getting his neck twisted up in them, all in the tried-and-true routine of generating heat or just pain interest in the product. But that's how wrestling was in those days.

Hornbaker follows him step-by-step through the years, bringing us from East Coast to West Coast, from Florida to Montreal. We understand what drove Rogers, his love for his family and his never-ending marital problems. Being in demand meant being on the road, and when he finally did achieve his dream of the NWA world heavyweight title, it meant that he was on the road non-stop. Hornbaker walks us through the birth of the "Nature Boy" gimmick and how it has itself lived as a cultural icon for three-quarters of a century.

The story wraps in the birth of the World Wrestling Federation and weaves in the life stories of the myriad professional wrestling personalities Rogers encountered from the 1930s to the 1990s. We see Buddy from all angles, from his home life to his life on the road to wrestling greatness to his post-career business enterprises. No stone is left unturned, no good story left untold.

In a Tim Hornbaker-written book, we wouldn't expect anything less.

The Pitcher and the Dictator by Averill "Ace" Smith

Why I Read It: Baseball is in my blood, now and forever, even if the sport dies before I do.

Summary: The year that Satchel Paige jumped to the Dominican Republic, with numerous side dramas taking place.

My Thoughts: My immediate reaction to this book is that I wish I could time travel back to watch Satch pitch even one full game in his prime. My second reaction is that I wish that I could have seen Josh Gibson hit even one home run. But of all the baseball players profiled and followed in this book, I have to say that my ultimate dream would be to retreat in time and watch Martin Dihigo play the game.

But baseball wasn't really the story, here. Baseball was a pawn. Satchel Paige was a pawn. He was brought, unknowingly, into a volatile political situation, playing on a baseball team charged with winning its season championship as a memorial to the reigning despot, Rafael Trujillo. The ultimate series was even called "Campeonato Nacional de Baseball Reeleccion Presidente Trujillo." Paige pitched for the Ciudad Trujillo Dragones, representing the city that carried the name of the dictator. o pressure there.

In order to win the series, the Dragones scoured the American Negro Leagues for the best talent, and find it they did. Aside from Paige, the team featured James "Cool Papa" Bell and Josh Gibson, among others. 

The story comes down to power, political in the Dominican, and the eternal struggle between players and ownership in the States. It also juxtaposed racism in America and the lack thereof in the Dominican, where, unfortunately, freedom from racism didn't matter. The country's leader could order anybody killed at any time, from individuals to large groups, and the press would sweep it under the rug. Paige and his companions had no idea what a powder keg they were sitting on, or just what would have happened had their team lost. The armed military guards surrounding the fields and trailing them as they went out at night probably gave them some idea.

The story follows Trujillo, Gibson and others to the end, and celebrates the life of perhaps baseball's all-time greatest pitcher.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

A Short History of the Victorian Era by Gordon Kerr

Why I Read It:
Fascination with British history.

Summary: The Victorian Era, decade by decade, in about 250 pages.

My Thoughts: I've read a lot of British history, I've read a lot about the Victorian Era. I've traveled through London looking at Victorian Era landmarks. This was the first time I really thought about the concept of a Victorian era.

What, other than the life of one woman, was it that bound the 1837-1901 timeframe together? Nothing.

And yet, somehow it strangely compels us to look at it as if it matters. Consider the ends. At the beginning of the era, the main mode of transportation was the horse. At the end, airplanes were in development. Victorian society did not march from a place of woe to a place of greatness. The timeline is filled with peaks and valleys, victories and horrible losses. And yet, we consider it an era.

And so, we roll with it. '

The book is mostly a political history, with Gladstone and Disraeli and even the first Churchill. If Queen Victoria truly had an influence during this time, across the great expanse of it, it was in her political work, of calling for governments to be built, and interacting with the men she believed would help England over the next hurdle. The politics typically involved class struggles, but just as often had to do with problems beyond the borders of England, with famines in Ireland, with the struggles of empire in India, South Africa and more.

But the author dives into the social history, the major authors of the day, like Dickens and Trollope and Eliot. He explores the rise of sports and sporting clubs, gender, race, religion, the Crimean War, the Boer War and more. He does all that he can with 250 pages. We are left with a thorough narrative of the political changes, a dash here and there of the rest, but in the end it's a big question we're left with. Did life really change in England once Victoria was gone? Was the end of her era really the end of an era?

Right now it is, because we said so.

The Fighting Bunch by Chris DeRose

Why I Read It:
My unending fascination with World War II.

Summary: How World War II veterans won the only successful armed rebellion since the Revolution (also the subtitle).

My Thoughts: If this book doesn't get your blood boiling as an American, nothing will.

Before you read it, drop political affiliations. Understand that corruption happens under any banner as long as a path is available. In this book, the political machine was Democratic. In my hometown a hundred years ago, it was Republican. It doesn't matter. What matters is this basic premise: thuggery ruled.

The political machine that ran McMinn County and the town of Athens Tennessee, was as bad as it gets, a portion of a statewide kingdom ruled by, believe it or not, a man named Crump. They murdered when they had to, they overlooked those murders and they ensured they would forever line their own pockets with taxpayer money by fixing elections, despite a harassing public that tried to figure out how to break the hold the party had. Appeals went to the federal government, but nobody helped the beleaguered and beaten - often physically beaten - people of Athens.

It got worse during World War II. But the war was about the best thing that could have happened to Athens, in a strange, twisted, sad way.

The boys went off to fight. When the came home, they had no rights. They got bullied with the rest. They voted, but their votes didn't count. They took the situation into their own hands. They went the political route with the next election, setting up a non-party affiliated "GI ticket," and when that didn't work, they fought fire with fire. It was what they had been trained to do.

The author builds the story by following multiple paths to the final conflict. We train and fight with the boys of Athens overseas as their parents and loved ones are roughhoused at home. We travel to Guadalcanal and Northern Africa, to the French beaches and beyond, until that fateful day they come home. The intensity builds as the election draws near and when the final explosion hits, we're on the edge of our reading seats.

The fact that it had to come to what it did, a pitched battle and bloodshed in the streets, is deplorable. But I now have to go to Athens. I have to stand on the site and consider what lengths Americans had to go to to retain their basic freedoms. Democracy is based on equal freedoms; we all have the right to vote. Anybody who says otherwise, or tries to limit groups of people from voting because they might vote "wrong," needs a refresher on the Revolutions, the one in 1776, and the one 170 years later in Athens, Tennessee.

DC Comics Cover Art by Nick Jones

Why I Read It: One of those things where you look back on your life and realize you can associate with much of what is being presented.

Summary: 350 of the greatest covers in DC's history (also the subtitle).

My Thoughts: When I was born in 1971 I was only about 35 years removed from the beginning of DC Comics. The Golden and Silver Ages of American comics had come and gone, and most of the characters we know today had been introduced. Comics had gone mainstream, into TV, movies and more, and were soon to transition from newsstands to dedicated comic book shops.

So, there is a definite insertion point. I never was a serious collector, though I followed a few series (mostly Marvel) until I realized how out of hand everything could become if I traced every step of the characters I wanted to read; every crossover meant a few more dollars each month that I really didn't have to spend at the time. My brother, though, engaged with the Batman mythos and has never looked back. Therefore, there are certain covers in this anthology that caught me dead in my tracks. I'd held them in my hands before. I remember when Bane broke Batman's back.

So, retreating back to the earliest days of the genre, I had fun watching the characters evolve through this book. I had seen the famous Action Comics cover that had started it all, Superman lifting the car over his head, but didn't realize how it - or, actually, the next Superman cover that followed - transformed the marketing of comics themselves. The author does a wonderful job of walking us through the history of the industry as well as of the characters and artists wo depicted them. We learn everything about the art of the cover - who did it, what techniques and materials they used, where they fell in the pantheon of artists - and a few other funny things along the way, like the repetitive use of certain themes.

I think we see a bit of America changing in there as well. When comics started, super heroes grinned from ear to ear, all the time, it seemed. Even Batman smiled. Somewhere along the way, America lost its innocence (we can pinpoint it to the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, mostly). Today, superheroes don't smile. Only villains smile, and they do so with evil aforethought. America has gone from utter confidence to general wariness and deep skepticism and distrust.

So they are all there, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, the Teen Titans, Nightwing, the Green Lantern, Hawkman, the JSA, the JLA and so many more. The covers capture social history, too, with the first black superheroes, gender-swapped roles (a Hispanic female green Lantern?) and more. Comics continue to be a world where the odd man - or woman - out is invited in, where everybody can find a face in which to see one's own reflection.

It's a beautiful thing, and so is this book.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Pain and Passion: The History of Stampede Wrestling by Heath McCoy

Why I Read It: Like many wrestling fans, the players are familiar from their post-territory days successes.

Summary: The story of Stu Hart, the Hart family and the brand of wrestling they brought to the world.

My Thoughts: The author doesn't get into it too much, but I do wonder how much Stu's childhood played into his desire to inflict pain upon others. But that's way too deep of a subject for me to even consider getting into myself. I'm no psychiatrist.

What I did find interesting about this book was seeing the lengths to which a father would go to drive his kids, and those kids would go to please their father. In many ways, the same story played out in Texas, with the Von Erich family.

This tale, though, covers the entire run of Stampede Wrestling, from Stu Hart's Olympic dreams to the final days of the shell of a promotion clinging to the once-proud name. It covers the many roller coaster-like bumps up and down the path of the promotion's history, from days flush with cash to moments when new clothes were hard to come by for the kids. And the kids. There were so many kids.

If it needed a third alliterative word to add to the title, it would be pride. The Hart family, many of the people with whom they worked and especially the fans of the Western Canadian promotion loved their brand of the sport. But the pain was real. The travel was difficult, the days long. The drive to succeed got the better of many of the beloved performers, like Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith. The death of Owen Hart is wrestling's greatest tragedy. Finding peace in its aftermath was near impossible, and will probably never be fully achieved.

And yet, somehow, a third generation of Harts has continued the tradition. The expended and updated version of the book (or e-book, in my case) brings the story into the days of Natalya Neidhart, and her drive to succeed despite the many tragic lessons of the family's past. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Big Three by Michael Holley

Why I Read It: I lived it.

Summary: The story of the triumphant 2008 NBA champion Boston Celtics, complete with all the highs and lows.

My Thoughts: I remember every play. At least, that's how this book made me feel.

We had been through a lot as Celtics fans, in the years leading up to the Big Three, the Pitino crash, the sense of steadiness under Jim O'Brien, and the sense that magic could happen again with Danny Ainge in charge. Doc Rivers signed on as coach, and then the deals started to fly. I'll never forget listening to Glenn Ordway on WEEI sports radio when the news broke. He predicted that it wouldn't be just two; there was going to be a third superstar coming to Boston. And so he was right. When the dust settled, it was Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Like Bird, McHale and Parrish. The Celtics had returned to their old winning formula.

Holley brings us through that timeline, the build-up, the construction of the team, through the draft, through trades, through the free agent signings. He takes us behind the scenes, though he really didn't have to; the story as it played out publicly was thrilling enough. But he does shed some light on a number of shorter contextual tales that explain some gaps in the public story. He confirms a few things - like how mad the players were when Ainge traded Kendrick Perkins away while the team was on a run to the finals - and exposes a few more. We learn more about the people behind the scenes, the analysts, the coaches, those people who influenced the player and coach acquisitions.

We know what happened. I remember exactly where I was when Ray Allen threw the ball into the air as the final buzzer sounded, and it landed in Cedric Maxwell's hands. The Big Three got their world title.

But we also know what happened afterward, how it all fell apart after a few more years. Holley doesn't spare us the denouement. As painful as it was to relive, I had to read it. I lived that, too. I watched Garnett turn his back to Allen as he tried to greet his old friend and teammate in his Miami Heat uniform after taking a free agent offer. I, like so many of us, wished it had ended differently.

This book relates the tale of the three, but also of Rivers and Rondo, of Kobe and Lebron. It captures an era. It takes us back, even just a decade, to a different time in pro basketball history.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Too Sweet by Keith Elliot Greenberg

Why I Read It: I've watched AEW since day one, and have been fascinated by how its story has played out.

Summary: Wrestling's "indie revolution," leading to the formation of All Elite Wrestling.

My Thoughts: There are so many strings to pull, stories to unravel, that it seems like an impossible task to tell this story, but the author pulls it off.

I have to admit that I'm one of those wandering wrestling fans who simply got bored with WWE programming. The storylines got stale, the in-ring action completely predictable, the fact that it was simply all to take my money out of my hands just blatantly obvious. I drifted. I grew up on pre-Hulk Hogan WWF and World Class Championship Wrestling programming, decidedly two different animals, for sure. I found solace in the past, revisiting old books and videos. I found safe harbors in homes where the storytelling was good, even if it had to be in a different language. I switched over to New Japan Pro Wrestling, to Major League Wrestling. Anything but WWE.

I was not alone. As Greenberg relates in this book, this groundswell started a long time ago. It used to be that every wrestler in the world aspired to work for WWE. That tide has started to turn, and with every wrestler who prefers to bear the badge of honor "indie performer" there is a legion of fans who are glad that he or she has stuck with them on the smaller stages.

Greenberg walks us through the end of the territory era, quickly, as it's all been told before. But it is a precursor to where we are now, a story that must be understood. We travel through the ECW days, when the "upstart" promotion shook the foundations of the sports entertainment world, daring to go places few others would. We move into an era of "money marks," people who have enough money to start a wrestling organization, but don't truly understand the commitments needed to make it successful. We even wander around the world, to Japan, and Germany and England, to see the grassroots leagues come together. 

We see how specific performers learned their trade, formed a vision, and came together. AEW is born with an indie feel - and even now, as I write this, during the COVID-19 pandemic - reaches out to indie performers with offers for paychecks when most of the world's wrestling shows are indefinitely postponed. We understand how this rival promotion comes to be, but we have to ask ourselves a question that Greenberg doesn't deeply explore. Is the success of AEW the culmination of the "Indie Revolution," proof that indie wrestling can compete with WWE, or is it simply proof that the deep pockets of the Khan family have created a competitor that will eventually just become the WCW to the 1990s WWE?

We are left with the hopeful notion that as long as AEW - all of its performers, its executives (who are  wrestlers themselves) and other staff - remembers its indie roots, that philosophy of openness will remain, and wrestling fans the world over will have options that meet their tastes, needs and desires for entertainment.

The New Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan

Why I Read It: No idea. The mood just struck me.

Summary: Modern studies in Asia, political, military, industrial and more, and their effects on the West.

My Thoughts: We're in for a rude awakening.

The author makes a specific point over and over again, one that can be seen symbolically as well as it can be deduced logically. The West is falling as a home to world leaders. The age of imperialism is long over, and even the post-World War II era of United States dominance has come to an end. The world's finances have shifted, and have been shifting for a long time, from the West to the East. China, at the core of a rising East, is poised to take a new role on the world's stage.

Ironically, its happening in much the same way it always has. The author points out the U.S.'s way of using language that promises a benign U.S. presence in a new country, but is instead simply opening doors to American businesses to exploit new markets. Today, it's the Chinese who are buying up land in countries all over the world for various purposes, making promises and deals that ultimately will fall apart, leaving cash-starved countries in positions to have to turn over land for Chinese military bases and more.

The book focuses on the major reengagement of the ancient "Silk Roads" philosophy, harkening back to the wondrous days when the world's major trade routes ran through the region. China has excited many other countries into believing this world can be revived, strengthened, pulled together for common success. 

Meanwhile, in the West, the United States is "building a wall" to keep its neighbors out. England is pulling out of the European Union. The West is fracturing, as the East is coming together. The Trump administration ridiculously accelerated the process. We may never see things return to the "normalcy" of the last century in our lifetimes. Is that a bad thing?

It all depends on where you stand.