Friday, May 11, 2007

Bookmarks (or, Markbooks)

Pro athlete autobiographies are almost uniformly terrible. I used to devour them when I was younger, which is why I'm terrified to ever read Gretzky's auto with Rick Reilly and Reggie Jackson's auto with Mike Lupica again now, since I'm afraid I'll hate them and thus my memory of my two favourite autos by a legit athlete (Mick Foley's book is in a different category) will be tarnished.

After spending a year as a sportswriter, I can see why this is so. Pro athletes, god bless 'em, are not the most colourful speakers in the world. Now, this doesn't necessarily mean they're unintelligent or unable to put two words together. Someone like, say, Gregg Zaun is a very colourful and entertaining speaker, and he's a fun guy to listen to tell a story. But that doesn't necessarily mean this skill can be translated to the written word, or even through a ghostwriter.

Phil Mickelson's One Magical Sunday (But Winning Isn't Everything) is your standard athlete biography. He and ghostwriter Donald T. Phillips tried to frame the story in an interesting way --- eighteen chapters, with a story from Phil's life tied to each hole he played in the final round of the 2004 Masters (which, spoiler alert, he won). Unfortunately, the gimmick varies wildly. For example, Phil skips numerous years in his life. It goes basically from childhood to how he meets his wife to suddenly he's on the PGA Tour, and then it's years later and he's suddenly facing off with Payne Stewart on the last hole of the 1999 U.S. Open. I actually would've liked to have read more about his earlier years in the game, since Phil is one of the most accomplished amateur golfers in recent times, and it would've been interesting to hear how he dealt with the pressure of being 'the next great golfer.' He even glossed over the most notable part of his career, which was that he went all those years as the best player without a major championship.

However, we did get about eight chapters of Phil and his kids. Blah. I know he loves his kids and takes off half the year to spend time with them, but if I wanted to read Bill Cosby's Fatherhood, I think my dad has it somewhere in the basement (note: this explains why he referred to me only as Theo between the years of 1990 and 1992). If I'm reading about a professional golfer, I kind of want to hear about the golf. The first mistake was getting this Phillips guy as the ghostwriter. Phillips is best known for writing motivational self-help books, so perhaps biographies aren't his strong suit.

Also, and I'm surprised it's taken me this long to get to this, but I can't stand Phil Mickelson. He just seems like a real phoney. He always has that goofy smile on his face. He makes all these passive-aggressive comments (i.e. that time he criticized Tiger's equipment, or about how he wished he was the first lefty to win the Masters instead of Mike Weir) that reveal his inner douchebagginess. Everyone in my family also hates him, which led to a funny scene at last year's U.S. Open. The family was all over for a father's day BBQ, and we had the Open on. Phil starts to choke it up on the last hole, and so my entire family started just ripping him for ten minutes straight. Even my 87-year-old grandmother (who particularly dislikes Phil for that Weir comment) got in on the act. Family bonding at its finest.

The point is, if I'm going to read a book about a guy I'm not even a fan of to begin with, it'd better be a good book. Part of the reason I liked the Reggie Jackson bio so much is that it gave me a different view of the guy who I thought was just a publicity hound. But Phil's book just reinforced the fact that he's an ass. There are not one, but TWO different stories in this book about how "he's such a joker!" Nobody who ever says they're funny is actually funny. Case in point, the Joker. Thinks he's hilarious. Isn't.

So thumbs down to Phil's book. I'm giving up on the autobiographies of athletes and just sticking to biographies by real writers. The late David Halberstam was a master at covering athletes and really getting inside their heads. I'd suggest that he write a book about Phil, but....well, he's dead. I guess that makes him a GHOSTwriter! Ha ha! I'm such a joker!


Gregory Macdonald's mystery novels are interesting because they aren't really that mysterious. I think of the 7-8 of his novels I've read, I've figured out the solution in about half of them, including Fletch And The Widow Bradley. Oftentimes, though, Macdonald isn't trying to write a whodunit. His books are excuses to write dialogue and invent funny characters, and thus the lack of a real page-turning mystery can be excused because Macdonald writes some of the best dialogue around.

In this book, the plot is just a little 'too' obvious to work, however. I don't give away any spoilers, but if you just think outside the box a little, it's plain to see. There is one sentence in particular mid-book where I was like, 'Oh, here's the solution,' and that lessened my enjoyment a little. The dialogue and characters were still as witty as ever, but the final denouement is kind of dark, to say the least. Poor ol' Fletch usually gets the better of everyone, but in this case, he decidedly does not. It's kind of a downer. "Hey, follow along with this lovable rapscallion of a character! Oh wait, he gets his ass kicked in the end! Sorry!"

The Fletch series was co-opted by Chevy Chase's movies in the public domain, which I think is weird casting since I don't see Chase as Fletch at all. I like to play the 'who would this character be played by in a movie' game when I'm reading, and Fletch is one of those characters who I'm eternally stuck on. Kevin Smith has reportedly long wanted to do a Fletch movie with Jason Lee in the lead, which would've been interesting but still not quite right. I think the closest one I've ever thought fit was another fictional character --- Jack Burns in John Irving's "Until I Found You." I think Jack could've pulled it off. Unfortunately, a double-literary crossover is unlikely to happen, since now there's the problem of who would play Jack Burns playing Fletch. Someone get Charlie Kauffman on this ASAP.


I read two whole chapters of Sue Grafton's "P is for Peril" before I realized I'd already read it. Oops. Got my letters mixed up. Either I'm an idiot or else Sue Grafton needs to shake up the format a little bit.


Chris "Mad Dog" Russo is one half of New York sports radio's legendary Mike And The Mad Dog team. Their daily show is five hours long, which blows my mind. I had enough trouble filling two hours once a week on CHRW, and that was even with one of the legendary talkers of all time (Dave Lee) as my radio partner. I couldn't imagine doing five hours a day. I'm forced to conclude that Russo is just much, much better at radio broadcasting than I am. Whew. That felt good to admit. Next up, a post about how Bob Vila is probably a better handyman than I.

Russo's The Mad Dog Hall of Fame: The Ultimate Top-Ten Rankings Of The Best in Sports is the kind of dumb book I like (see: my Listamania posts). It's Russo's personal top ten rankings of who he feels are the best in sports. Top 10 best football players, baseball players, best venues, best front office people, you name it. It's an enjoyable read, and good for debate amongst friends since it inevitably leads to a discussion of their own personal top tens.

For example, Russo's list of the top ten best baseball players of all time includes Mariano Rivera at #10. Mariano Rivera. Seriously. A list of top 10 closers ever, Rivera should be one or two. I could even maybe listen to a case for Rivera on a list of the top 10 pitchers ever. But the top ten baseball players, EVER? I think I even registered my disgust at this in a previous blog post. Is Mariano Rivera really better than, like, Hank Aaron? Or Cy Young? I think not. The weird thing is, Russo isn't even a Yankees fan, so he's not biased like your usual New York media person.

Another minor beef I had with the book is that he had separate categories for top tens in baseball, pro football, college football and pro and college basketball. Then he has a 'top ten athletes in other sports' list where he lumps together the likes of Muhammad Ali, Gretzky, Tiger Woods, Rod Laver, etc. Seems lazy to me. If you don't know enough of a sport, just make it a top five.

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