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The Speed Game: My Fast Times in Basketball

Paul Westhead. Univ. of Nebraska, $29.95 (216p) ISBN 978-1-49622-260-2

Former NBA coach Westhead, who coached the L.A. Lakers to an NBA championship in 1980, provides a cursory look at his professional life in this underwhelming memoir. Westhead grew up in Philadelphia and became an assistant coach at St. Joseph’s College in 1961. When his boss, Jack McKinney, was hired by the Lakers in 1979, Magic Johnson’s rookie year, he brought Westhead along. Westhead soon became the acting head coach after McKinney suffered a serious injury, and was at the helm when Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar brought home the title. The championship clinched Westhead the permanent coach position, but due to an early playoff exit in 1981 and criticism from Johnson, Westhead was fired. He subsequently coached in college, the NBA, and the WNBA. Westhead provides exhaustive details on his jobs but is strangely casual when recalling a plan by disgruntled former player Spencer Haywood to have him killed. (“That was the last time I saw Spencer Haywood for several years, until he came to my office at Loyola Marymount to apologize for attempting to have me killed”). Readers won’t get a very good sense of Westhead’s non-professional life, and the overall feel of the work is one of a superficial career overview. Only die-hard hoops fans need apply. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Narratives, Nerdfighters, and New Media

Jennifer Burek Pierce. Univ. of Iowa, $39.95 trade paper (210p) ISBN 978-1-60938-718-1

Burek Pierce (Sex, Brains, and Video Games), a professor of library and information science at the University of Iowa, confuses rather than enlightens in this look at how YA author John Green and his fans interact, and what that means for the future of reading. Burek Pierce assumes an enormous amount of knowledge that Green’s fans may have, but the general public won’t. The introduction is titled “Toward an Anticipatory History of Nerdfighteria,” but unless readers are already part of the Nerdfighteria online community (which Green and his brother, Hank, launched in 2007), they may quickly feel out at sea. Burek discusses how the Greens built a several-million-strong following by sharing YouTube videos in which they discuss literature. Over time, their followers generated their own media in response, and thus the Nerdfighteria was born. In tedious detail, Burek Pierce explores the history of Nerdfighteria and uses its success to argue that the future of reading lies in this communal experience. Green’s fans will certainly enjoy this, but the uninitiated will largely be perplexed. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are

Rachel Bloom. Grand Central, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-1-5387-4535-9

Actor and Emmy winner Bloom combines irreverent humor with childhood journal entries in this entertaining essay collection. The cocreator of TV show My Crazy Ex Girlfriend traces her search to feel “normal” back to middle school, when she was “pretty insufferable” and also the victim of bullies. Bloom’s humor, however, survived, and can be appreciated in amusing notes to her therapist, her journal entries (such as a list of all the “bad words” she knew at age 12), and a reprint of a high school newspaper editorial she wrote titled “Inside Jokes Can Leave Many Outside.” In an “interview” conducted by her 13-year-old self, Bloom captures her experience working as the sole woman in male-dominated writers’ rooms, telling teen-Bloom that “a few of them are SO funny that I often can’t even get a word in.” She recaps her rapid success (My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was ordered for series “blindingly fast”), and while a few of her bits fall short—in “My Official Celebrity Cause,” she writes that it’s important for stars to use their platform to speak out on issues; hers is “amusement parks should be smarter”—many of her reflections are spot-on. Fans of My Crazy Ex Girlfriend will want to give this a look. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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You Ought to Do a Story About Me: Addiction, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Endless Quest for Redemption

Ted Jackson. Dey Street, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06293-567-0

In this raw account, Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist Jackson tells the story of his friend Jackie Wallace, a former NFL cornerback whose life unraveled after he retired. Jackson vividly recounts his first meeting with Wallace in the early 1990s when Wallace, who at the time was homeless and living under the Pontchartrain Expressway in New Orleans, told him, “You ought to do a story about me.” Jackson then skillfully describes Wallace’s sensational athletic career—he played in two Super Bowls in the 1970s—and the setbacks and tragedies he’s faced, including the death of his mother, his struggles with CTE due to chronic head trauma from his time in the NFL, and heroin addiction. The narrative’s strength lies in Jackson’s lack of shyness in taking on the seedier parts of Wallace’s life, namely his abuse of both substances and people, as outlined in tales of addiction-fueled self-destruction and domestic violence (“Jackie is not a man to be idolized or championed. He is a deeply flawed and broken man—a cautionary tale if I’ve ever known one”). Gut-wrenching yet hopeful, Jackson’s work is a bracing look at the struggles and triumphs on the road to redemption. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Science of James Smithson: Discoveries from the Smithsonian Founder

Steven Turner. Smithsonian, $29.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-58834-690-2

Turner, curator emeritus of physical sciences at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, offers a detailed account of the life and work of James Smithson (1765–1829), an English chemist who willed his wealth to the U.S. government for the creation of “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of Knowledge among men”: the Smithsonian Institute. By the time Smithson’s bequest reached Washington, D.C., in 1835, his work in chemistry and minerology had been largely forgotten, lost beneath newer discoveries. Born to wealth, Smithson attended Oxford in the 1780s, “a golden time for English science,” and worked with celebrated scientists including chemist Joseph Black, physicist Henry Cavendish, and geologist James Hutton. Smithson’s curiosity ranged widely: he studied mineral samples gathered deep inside a Scottish coal mine, dated fossil remains, and analyzed ancient Egyptian pigments. Near the end of Smithson’s life, he shifted his focus to those “outside of the scientific community,” which Turner attributes to London’s Mechanics Institutes, created to educate the working class; this Enlightenment belief, that science should “better the human condition,” Turner notes, is likely what led Smithson to will his fortune to the Smithsonian. Curious readers will appreciate this accessible look at the work of a thoughtful, idealistic scientist. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Dr. Mary Walker’s Civil War: One Woman’s Journey to the Medal of Honor and the Fight for Women’s Rights

Theresa Kaminski. Lyons, $26.95 (344p) ISBN 978-1-4930-3609-7

Kaminski (Angels of the Underground), a historian and reviewer for PW, presents a stirring portrait of a Civil War surgeon and women’s rights activist, Mary Edwards Walker (1832–1919), the only American woman to win the Medal of Honor. Presented by President Andrew Johnson in 1865, the award cites Walker’s “patriotic zeal” in serving as a contract surgeon for the Union Army during the Civil War and her endurance during four months’ detainment at a Confederate prison in Richmond, Va. After the war, Walker advocated for women’s suffrage and dress reform (she believed that traditional women’s clothing was unhygienic and constrictive, and was arrested on multiple occasions for wearing trousers). Walker’s activism sparked controversy, and in 1917 her Medal of Honor was revoked as part of a review that stripped 900 other recipients of their awards. Kaminski attributes renewed interest in women’s history in the 1970s and the patriotic surge of the 1976 bicentennial to the restoration of Walker’s Medal of Honor in 1977. Replete with intriguing tidbits about Civil War–era medicine, the suffrage movement, and 19th-century gender politics, this is a rewarding introduction to an influential yet little-known figure in early American feminism. (June)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Plastic Free: The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters

Rebecca Prince-Ruiz & Joanna Atherfold Finn. Columbia Univ, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-0-231-19862-2

“Plastic Free July” founder Prince-Ruiz tells the story of how she started an environmental movement and offers solutions for decreasing waste in this accessible account. In 2011, a visit to an Australian recycling facility left her “overwhelmed and frankly mortified” at the amount of trash she saw. She decided to go plastic-free for a month, a challenge she invited colleagues and friends to take up as well. With time and the help of social media, the challenge became a global movement that, Prince-Ruiz writes, has reached over 250 million people. Prince-Ruiz also provides an introduction to basic environmentalist concepts (the effects of ocean debris) and as she recounts her personal story, intersperses easy tips for those looking to lessen their reliance on plastics, such as replacing single-use plastic bags and straws. Though none of the advice is new, the earnestness with which Prince-Ruiz conveys it is motivating (“One day I want to walk along the shoreline at my local beach and look down at shells and seaweed, and not be expecting to find plastic”). Readers eager to reduce their plastic consumption would do well to pick up this excellent primer. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Bayou Dreaming

Lexi Blake. Berkley, $7.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-1-984806-60-4

Romance blooms between a former big-city cop and a small-town bad boy in Blake’s sweet and sexy third Butterfly Bayou romance (after Bayou Baby). Frustrated by career dead ends, Roxie King-Nelson finds her way from Manhattan to the Papillon Parish Sheriff’s Office in southern Louisiana. Early in her tenure there, she has a one-night stand with sexy local Zep Guidry—and she still hasn’t stopped thinking about him a year later. Zep is equally hung up on her and will do whatever it takes to get her attention, even if it means letting her throw him in the drunk tank. Wildlife expert Zep is also the closest thing Papillon has to animal control, so Roxie and he must collaborate to investigate reports of a possible rougarou, or bayou werewolf. As they work together, Roxie gives in to her long-simmering desires. But their fragile new relationship is complicated by the sudden arrival of Roxie’s family and a potential job offer in New York. The vivid bayou setting is as charming as ever and the well-drawn characters will have readers hooked. This cozy romance is sure to please. Agent: Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands

Sonia Nimr, trans. from the Arabic by Marcia Lynx Qualey. Interlink, $15 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-623-71866-4

This spellbinding work from Nimr (A Little Piece of Ground) follows the adventures of Qamar, a young Palestinian woman. After Qamar is born in an unnamed, premodern village where only male children have been born for 50 years, her family is shunned. Despite this, she is raised in a loving home, and she becomes a voracious reader with an unquenchable desire for exploration. When Qamar is 15, her parents die, leaving her to set off on the first of many adventures. Qamar walks to Jerusalem and joins a caravan traveling to Egypt, where she is caught and sold as a slave. She eventually becomes the slave of, and then trusted adviser to, Princess Noor al-Huda. But when Noor is targeted in an assassination plot, Qamar escapes to Tangier. There, she learns from a renowned scholar, falls in love with a pirate captain, and disguises herself as a man in order to sail with him and his marauding crew. Qamar’s myriad journeys, while often outlandish, are moving and maintain the energy of the epic tales she read as a child. Nimr’s rip-roaring feminist folktale combines legend and history to great effect. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us

Donald Trump Jr . Center Street, $30 (294p) ISBN 978-1-5460-8603-1

Trump Jr. debuts with a vitriolic screed against "liberal losers" and "Starbucks-chugging socialists in Brooklyn," combining a full-throated defense of his father's presidency with autobiographical snapshots likely to fuel speculation that he has political ambitions of his own. Sarcastically stating that he's "not mad" about special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, Trump Jr. derides the inquiry for "taking nearly two years" when "anyone with half a brain could have done [it] in five minutes." He snipes at many of the right wing's favorite targets, including the Green New Deal ("freaking stupid"), undocumented immigrants ("comparing today's illegal immigrants to the ones who built this country is ridiculous"), and safe spaces on college campuses ("don't get me started"). Trump Jr.'s memories of visiting his maternal grandparents in Czechoslovakia, learning to hunt and fish, and working manual labor jobs during summer breaks are meant to burnish his common-man bona fides, despite the fact that he grew up rich. Aiming exclusively at "Trump-supporting Americans," Trump Jr. delivers the snarky yet polished self-portrait he's been honing at his father's rallies and on Twitter for years. Loyalists will nod their heads in agreement; skeptics need not apply. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

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