August – December 2010 Bookshelf

Hardcourt Confidential (2010) by Patrick McEnroe with Peter Bodo

Tennis is a relatively important part of the Cupcake’s life (Exhibit A) (Exhibit B).  In fact, we’re getting to one of my favorite times on the annual tennis calendar, The Australian Open.  For two weeks starting next Sunday, I’ll be getting out of bed at 3:30 every morning to watch the live feed from Melbourne, my rationale being that athletic events should be viewed in real-time, not on tape-delay.  Most people think I’m crazy, but, personally, I sorta like getting up and watching Grand Slam-caliber tennis being played in what is not only the middle of the night for Atlanta, but also the middle of winter.

Anyway…the other McEnroe enters authordom with this account of his 20+ years in professional tennis.  Patrick, the less talented, and more importantly, less volatile (but no less entertaining in the booth), younger brother of all-time great John McEnroe, paints a very interesting picture, albeit one that is for tennis enthusiasts only.  For example, I seriously doubt Joe Bookreader is going to give a shit about how much sand McEnroe demanded the courts at Portland’s Memorial Coliseum were laden with during America’s Davis Cup triumph back in 2007.  But, I did and, if you like tennis, you will too.

McEnroe should be given a lot of credit for the trajectory of American tennis under his watch as Davis Cup Captain for a decade (in addition to winning in 2007, his team featured as runner-up in 2004) considering he had very little to work with, save for Andy Roddick and the Bryan Brothers.  He is deservedly proud to have squeezed quite a bit out of a very, very small lemon during that 10-year period and relates his ups and downs with a frankness that is welcome.  This frank approach really comes through when it comes to historic underachievers like James Blake and the problems the USTA has had with upstart (if, at 21, you still want to call him that) Donald Young and his parents.   In fact, McEnroe caught a lot of heat for this attitude when Hardcourt Confidential came out, but I welcomed the bluntness given the near epically-deficient state American tennis will be in when Roddick eventually drops out of the Top 10 (talk about squeezing a lemon…).

The real insight this book provides involves life as a merely “average” tour pro.  It was nice to see that Patrick made every effort to make it on his own, routinely turning down offers and entries based on his lineage.  Knowing that he approached his career with such integrity makes reading about his highs (e.g., his out-of-nowhere 1991 Semifinal appearance at the Australian Open) that much more fulfilling.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning (2005) by Jonathan Mahler

As I’ve said before, baseball isn’t really my thing.  With the steroids, pro baseball is, in my opinion, one step away from professional wrestling, but I guess every sport is on that cusp at this point.  Nevertheless, Mahler’s review of New York in the year 1977 is about much more than baseball.  While the plight of that year’s Yankee squad serves as an entertaining backdrop, we also toggle between the landmark race for Mayor between Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo, the phenomenon of Studio 54, the epic blackout that struck at the height of the summer and the “Son of Sam” killer – a mailman who took orders from his dog and subsequently killed just about anyone he saw hanging out in a car.

That said, baseball is the main focal point here.  The surreal clash between All-Star Narcissist/Slugger Reggie Jackson and All Star Alcoholic/Manager Billy Martin is riveting.  I can’t say, based on the evidence provided, that I was partial to either, though if I had been  in that Yankee dugout, I likely would have identified more with the fiesty, never-say-die Martin over the egotistical “I’m the straw that stirs the drink” Jackson.  Mr. October comes off as smug, insincere and, if you factor out said October, very average.  Good thing he made that killer (that works a couple different ways) stint in The Naked Gun.

What’s impressive about this effort is how much stuff Mahler crams into the story.  Hardly any of the book seems out of place or unrelated and it serves as a great time-capsule from a very significant year in the life of America’s largest metropolis.

Bonus: Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’re likely aware that ESPN made this book into a mini-series starring John Turturro and Oliver Platt.  From what I hear, ESPN should stick to covering sports and avoid dramatizing sports henceforth.

Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Germ Laboratory (2004) by Michael Christopher Carroll

I can sum this book up in one sentence: I am not taking a vacation any where near Connecticut or Long Island’s North Fork region in the foreseeable future.

Bonus sentence:  It seems pretty evident to me that Lyme Disease was produced at this lab and subsequently carried off the island, where it then infected millions of people.  The documentation is fairly convincing that the condition was not a spontaneous act of nature originating in Old Lyme, CT (from still-unexplained origins) – itself a frisbee-throw from Plum Island.

The Smoking Cupcake, January 2011


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