This is why I read books.
I have spent the entire day wandering around London reading what looks like a rectangular basketball, drawing appropriately bizarre stares from Suits and Tourists.
McSweeney’s have done it again.
After becoming addicted to Dave Egger’s short story quarterly, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, and their monthly culture compendium, The Believer, it was as if they held a meeting over there in San Francisco to decide how best to encourage me to part with my well-earned tips. Another quarterly? Sounds good. With a funky cover? Check. All about…sports? Game over.
The first edition of the quarterly launched in November 2011, but I am only getting around to reading it six months later, as I have it shipped to my brother’s address in Brooklyn to save money on shipping, and only managed to pick it up recently. The first release not only looks and feels fantastic, (as the McSweeney’s quarterlies generally do); almost every single one of the 4-10 page articles, generally drawn from ESPN’s ‘sports guy’ Bill Simmons’ website of the same name, are fascinating and unexpected, if not both. I found myself finishing each article presuming the next one couldn’t be as interesting, surely…but it generally was.
McSweeney’s have understood one of the most important things about books in this electronic era: just as in my late teens/early twenties I realised that I didn’t have to settle for either a good looking girl or one with a personality, McSweeney’s have occupied the space where the Venn diagram of literary content and gorgeous form overlap.If it were just about the writing, I could read it online, or on my iPad, or get it from the library; and a beautiful book without anything to say is like a beautiful girl without anything to say – pretty, but pretty pointless.
Issue One came in a fake basketball-feel cover, with impressive portraits of various of the subjects in an insert in the inside cover as a kind of visual index, (from LeFlop James to Ichiro to Ayrton Senna to – believe it or not – Amy Winehouse). When I got to the end and felt the sadness I often feel at finishing a great book, I had the delayed gratification of being able to go back and read the 67page mini-magazine insert somehow glued into the middle of the tome, recounting the rise and fall of the U.S’s only (and short-lived) daily sports newspaper.
Besides the tactility, the writing is excellent throughout, too. The star is my new favourite footnote-obsessed sports writer, Bill Simmons, but he is well supported by his team, from Chuck Klosterman to Jimmy Kimmel, (who supplies the funniest story of the compilation, of an unexpected half-time show). At one point halfway through I wasn’t sure how much better a reading experience could get: then I turned the page to find an article by one of my non-fiction favourites, Malcolm Gladwell.
There are one or two lows, naturally: the non-sporting inexplicably creeps in from time to time, be it in the form of an Amy Winehouse obituary or a ploddingly dull story of the death of William Faulkner’s daughter, but sometimes the stories with the most tenuous connections to sports are the pleasantest surprises. One example was the ‘Top 9 of Humblebraggers,’ (people who use Twitter to boast through seemingly self-depreceating tweets…or twats, as my Prime Minister once hilariously Freudianed); another is ‘Matrimonial Moneyball,’ a statistical analysis of wedding announcements in the sublimely snobby New York Times. (Modern US sports’ obsession with ‘sabre metrics,’ or advanced statistics made famous in the book/movie ‘Moneyball,’ often led to the flimsiest excuses for articles, from that NYT nuptials analysis to Klosterman’s formula for rating every individual musician’s relative worth to their band).
From two Americans describing watching a cricket match for the first time,
(“11:25 – something happened!
Sehwag is out!
We’re not sure why…”)
to a scene-by-scene breakdown of Simmons’ favourite ever basketball movie ‘Hoosiers,’ (which produced possibly my favourite ever pun headline: ‘Hoosier Daddy’…), via a very precise analysis of why Will Smith is not actually a film star and a surprisingly moving in-depth look at a 1988 junior college basketball match attended by maybe a dozen spectators, there was enough in this single volume to keep all sports lovers or literature fans, (or the lucky ones of us who manage to find time to be both), happy for a very long time.
I’m sad I finished it in just a day and a half, but glad I have a subscription, and issue two currently winging its way over the ocean to me in Mum and Dad’s luggage…