Books Read and Briefly Noted
I’ve been reading and noting what books I write on the Internet, including on sites both now gone and private, since 2004. About eight months ago, I hit the point where I more or less stopped bothering to review, even just to fix in my own mind, the books other than those that were exceptionally good (and those I generally did not even review either, because they were good enough I remembered them). I have read lately, by which I mean in the month since I posted my most recent review, several football and football-related books, none of which inspired me to write a longer review. This post’s purpose will be to be as a brief repository of my thoughts on those books.
1. Comparing my reviews relative to the total population of football books that are published, player autobiographies may be the subset thereof I am least likely to review. Perhaps there is something in a book like Growing Up Gronk I would find informative and valuable if I were to read it, but my experience with most autobiographies is the athlete’s voice is invisible, uninteresting, or both. When I picked up a copy of Going Deep: How Wide Receivers Became the Most Compelling Figures in Pro Sports, Cris Carter’s new autobiography with Jeffri Chadiha, I was unsure I would finish it, let alone review it here.
The good news then is I read it and enjoyed it. Carter had an interesting and somewhat troubled life, forced into the supplemental draft after taking money from an agent cost him his senior season at Ohio State and spending a bit too much time in Philadelphia partying and not enough learning how to be a good NFL receiver. He eventually turned his life around in Minnesota and became both a good NFL player and a pretty solid citizen. There aren’t the sort of searing revelations of debauchery in Going Deep, but you do get a hint of the darker sides of life, including Carter’s long-time estrangement from his mother.
In the addition to the story of Carter’s life, as the subtitle suggests Going Deep is an exegesis of the transformation of the wide receiver position over the past quarter-century or so, The most interesting parts of the book are probably Carter’s comments on the star receivers of the past decade, with more direct than I expected evaluations of Larry Fitzgerald, whom he’s known since his days with the Vikings, Randy Moss, and Chad Johnson, among others. I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised, considering Carter is now a media guy, but I’m so used to all punches being pulled that anything resembling personal evaluations, even the relatively obvious like Chad Johnson got to the point where he more or less got distracted by his celebrity, becomes a pleasant surprise. The broader theme he tries to invoke, the rise of the “diva” wideout (my term rather than his), is a tougher evaluation for me; clearly, there was a period from roughly the early 1990s through the early-mid 2000s where you had players from Michael Irvin and Andre Rison through Ochocinco, but the pendulum seems to have swung backward. Plus, even in the supposed heyday you had the very good but not necessarily prominent wide receivers, like Marvin Harrison (if Harrison had an interesting personality, he hid it well as a player).
I’ve actually been sitting on Going Deep for a couple weeks before bothering to write this review, partly to decide just how good the book was. As a non-Vikings/Eagles or Carter fan, his comments on his days there and his relationship with Buddy Ryan and Dennis Green are not particularly meaningful to me. There could be interesting things I’m missing there, just because I did not follow either team or its goings-on particularly closely. While clearly a cut above most jock autobios, I would not put it with the top ones like Instant Replay. Rather, I recommend it to the already interested.
2. I enjoyed Ben Alamar’s Sports Analytics: A Guide for Coaches, Managers, and Other Decision Makers, but the basic problem I had with it is who is its intended audience? The best answer, I think, is “people in charge of sports teams,” a group of people that does not include me. If you fit that group and are interested in thinking seriously about how to use analytics, this is probably a great book for you. The most fun I had while reading it was trying to figure out which teams and/or players he was writing about.
3. Lamar Hunt: A Life in Sports is a pleasant and expectedly well-done authorized biography of its subject by the highly reliable Michael MacCambridge.
4. Unsurprisingly, Chris Kluwe’s Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities is not really what I think of as a football book. As far as a taxonomy of books goes, it struck me as more of what I think of as a political tome, the acquisition and reading of which is an affiliational act in support of the viewpoint expressed by the author. If that describes the reasons you wish to read this book, by all means go ahead. As to me, I try to devote the time and mental energy I formerly spent on such works elsewhere.