Tag Archives: sports

A SPRING in your step

Happy First Day of Spring, everybody! We made it! (Well, actually that was yesterday, but we’re librarians not climatologists).

I don’t know about you, but when the ol’ equinox rolls around, I like to start thinking about baseball.

The teams have been doing their spring training, uh, training for the past few weeks and we are just days away from the start of a new season.

There’s no better time than now to check out some of the newer baseball related items the library has to offer.

Smart Baseball by Keith Law

If you’ve seen the movie or read the book Moneyball, you’ll know that there is a tension in baseball between the traditional methods of evaluating players and the newer statistical methods collectively known as “sabermetrics”. In this book, veteran ESPN writer and statistical analyst Keith Law covers a lot of the same ground and demonstrates why the old ways don’t really yield meaningful results. Despite this, baseball is filled with superstition and many of the old criteria, like favouring a player who has “the good face” still pops up now and again. He also does a good job at explaining and demystifying some of the newer stats that have become such a big part of today’s game.

Offspeed: Baseball, Pitching and the Art of Deception by Terry McDermott

Baseball is complicated, but one thing is certain: you need solid pitching to win games, or at least to not lose games. Is that the same thing? Who’s to say? Terry McDermott frames his book around 9 chapters, with each one looking at the history of a different type of pitch. Mr. McDermott, like Keith Law, recognizes that baseball relies just as much on folk wisdom as it does on modern statistics, and he does a good job here in using both kinds of knowledge in his research. And even those this book may only really appeal to die-hard baseball fans, you gotta love a non-fiction baseball book that begins with a Field of Dreams reference.

Lou by Lou Piniella

It was only a matter of time before Lou Piniella wrote a book about baseball. The guy has been involved with the game for over 50 years, first as an outfielder in the 1970’s with the New York Yankees, then later as a manager of 5 major league teams. He’s even done some time in the broadcast booth. He’ll probably be best remembered as a guy who liked to yell and scream at umpires though, and I’m pretty sure his nickname, “Sweet Lou”, was ironic. I wonder if his memoir is written in ALL CAPS? If you don’t believe me, have a look at this short video clip highlighting some of the debates in which he took part over his illustrious career. Some of those debates were with a second base, apparently.

Baseball Life Advice by Stacey May Fowles

I think we need a palette cleanser after that, and luckily Stacey May Fowles provides the perfect alternative. Of all the baseball books coming out this Spring, I am most looking forward to reading hers. Currently a columnist with The Globe and Mail, Stacey May Fowles has also written a couple of novels Infidelity and Be Good. In Baseball Life Advice, Ms. Fowles writes from the perspective of a unabashed baseball fan, and all the thrills and simple joys that come with visiting a ballpark and following a favourite team. Already a fan of her prose, I have a feeling that her baseball book will be something special. Early reviews suggest that even if you are not a baseball fan, you’d do well to pick up this memoir. If your eyes glaze over with stats talk (like mine do), and if you can only take a little bit of yelling, (sorry Lou!), then I think Ms. Fowles will speak to that part of the fan that cannot be quantified: the baseball lover’s spirit.


Spring Training


It’s not too soon to think about baseball, is it? I mean, the Toronto Blue Jays start their spring training schedule tomorrow (March 2) against the Phillies, and the regular season is only a month away. As a Blue Jays fan, I’ve had a few months now to reflect upon that remarkable run from August to October last year, which included acquiring David Price (albeit briefly), Josh Donaldson winning the MVP, and the triumphant return of Marcus Stroman (fully recovered from a knee injury sustained in spring training). We won’t mention the Pillar/Tulowitzki collision. I’m sure Tulo’s fine, now. Right?

It was the first time the Jays made the post season since their back-to-back World Series wins in 1992/93, and it seemed that everyone was talking about it.

The Jays faced the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship last fall, and the two public library systems of each city got into a bit of a good-natured “twitter war” using book spine titles to create “poems” that trash-talked the other city. You can read an article on it here.

tpl twitter war

It’s a whole new season, KC.


Although the Jays fell to the Royals in the ALCS, we will never forget those magical few weeks leading up to the post season which culminated in that wacky game five of the American League Divisional Series against the Texas Rangers. Even casual sports fans will remember that iconic image of José Bautista’s famous bat flip.


The Bat Flip


But here we are at the beginning of a new season, where anything can happen. Let’s take a look at a couple of baseball related items to get in the proper mindset.

Ken Burns’ Baseball

ken burns

I know this documentary is over 20 years old now, but it is still my favourite piece of pop culture dealing with baseball. Broken into 9 parts (for 9 innings, get it?), it tells the story of baseball from its earliest incarnations right up to the mid 1990s. There is also a lovely companion book to the series, which also tells America’s story for most of the 20th century. I’ve probably watched this documentary five times already, and I’d watch it again in a second. My favourite inning, by the way, is the fifth inning, “Shadow Ball”, which deals primarily with the pre-integration “Negro Leagues” and gives players like  Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige their due. This volume also talks about the early careers of future superstars Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. If you only have time for one “inning”, I recommend the fifth. Ken Burns did a sequel a few years ago, called “The Tenth Inning“, which covers the mid 90s and the 2000’s, but so much of it deals with the steroid era, it’s kind of depressing.


Full Count by Jeff Blair

full count

Sometimes it’s good to take a look back before looking to the future. Jeff Blair, host of the Sports talk show, “The Jeff Blair Show” took a stab at the first four decades of Blue Jays baseball. At just over 250 pages, it covers a lot of ground but does not go into a lot of depth on “behind the scenes” stories. Still, it is a very readable way to get up to speed on the history of “Canada’s Team”, (sorry, Expos fans!), and for a fan it’s fun to relive some of the great moments. I was just about to turn three years old when the Jays played their first game in 1977, so I obviously don’t remember it, but my Mom had the game on at home and my Dad was calling from work every 15 minutes or so for updates. That was back in the day when the Jays played at Exhibition Stadium and it snowed during the first game. Welcome to Canada!

Change Up: How To Make the Great Game of Baseball Even Better by Buck Martinez

buck martinez

This book won’t even be published for another couple of weeks, but I can’t wait to read it. Buck Martinez was a former Major League catcher, who spent some of his career with the Jays. In fact, I used to have a book written by him called “From Worst to First, the 1985 Toronto Blue Jays” or something like that. That was the year the Jays won their first division title, but went on to lose to the Kansas City Royals. What’s up with these Royals? On July 9th, in a game against Seattle, Buck Martinez was blocking home plate and was on the receiving end of a terrible collision and ended up with a broken leg and a dislocated ankle. Still, he was able to complete one of the craziest double plays I’ve ever seen. You can read more about that play here. After he retired from playing, he made his way to the broadcast booth, and even managed the Blue Jays for a brief time in 2001-02 before eventually becoming the Jays’ play-by-play commentator in 2010. I’m sure his latest book will be full of interesting insights from a guy who has been around baseball his whole life.


Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Trust, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball by R.A. Dickey


For a slight change of pace, you may enjoy R.A. Dickey’s memoir. He is currently part of the Jays’ starting rotation, and his journey to becoming Major League Baseball’s only active knuckleball pitcher is quite remarkable. He was originally offered a $810,000 signing bonus from the Texas Rangers as their first round draft pick in 1996, but when it was discovered that he was missing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right arm (a defect from birth), they reduced their offer to $75,000. He struggled in the early part of his career to remain at the major league level after making his debut in 2001. It wasn’t until 2005 that things started to go his way, when he decided to perfect his knuckleball pitch as a way to stand out from the crowd and extend his career. In 2012, he was selected as an All Star for the very first time, and was the first knuckleballer to ever win the Cy Young award that year. The following year, he signed with the Jays. It’s a very well written memoir, full of humour and optimism, despite his many challenges.

Opening Day isn’t all that far away, and once the season starts: ANYTHING can happen.





World Cup Fever!

World Cup fever has hit Winnipeg, or at least my home! There’s nothing like spending a whole month immersed in the beautiful game. For Euro 2012, I wrote a blog post for people interested in armchair travelling, highlighting authors from all competing countries. This time around, I thought I would explore the music of the games. Football is often called the beautiful game, so why not enjoy it with some beautiful music?

I’ve pulled together list of CDs from almost all 32 countries participating in the finals. For those of you who prefer to stream/download your music, visit Winnipeg Public Library’s hoopla page. We’ve gathered a long list of music from around the world, again focusing on competing countries. After you’ve logged in, scroll down to the end of the music page. I know you won’t be disappointed!

Os Mutantes – Fool metal Jack
Dom La Nena – Ela
CéU – Caranava sereia bloom
Sérgio Mendes – Bom tempo

Ela - Brazil

Río Roma – Otra vida
Tommy Tores – 12 historias en vivo
Buitres de Culiacán Sinaloa – Simplemente buitres
Los Ángeles Azules – Cómo te voy a olvidar

Otra vida Mexico

Sally Nyolo and the original bands of Yaoundé – Studio Cameroon


Armin van Buuren – Intense


Boy & Bear – Harlequin dream
Tame Impala – Lonerism
Xavier Rudd – Spirit bird
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu – Gurrumul

harlequin dream

Alejandro Sanz – La música no se toca
Buika – En mi piel
DePedro – DePedro
Andy & Lucas – Desde mi barrio

En mi piel Spain

Choc Quib Town – Oro
Aterciopelados – Lo esencial Atericiopelados


Ivory Coast
Magic System – Toutè kalé
Dobet Gnahoré – Na Afriki

na afriki

Hiromi – Voice
The Rough Guide to the music of Japan
Kodō – Heartbeat
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – Nanda Collection

Voice Japan

The Rough Guide to Greek Café
Rebetoven – Rebetoven
Greece: A musical odyssey
Potergeist – Muddy Mermaids

muddy mermaid

Gigi D’Alessio – Ora
Il Volo – Il Volo
Zucchero Sugar Fornaciari – Chocabeck
Marco Calliari – Al faro est


Ellie Goulding – Halcyon
Emeli Sandé – Our Version of Events
Coldplay – Ghost Stories
Little Mix – Salute

ghost stories

Jorge Drexler – Amar la trama
Vayo – Tango universal

jorge drexler

The Rough Guide to Paris lounge
Air – Le voyage dans la lune
Carla Bruni – Little French songs
Féfé – Le charme des premiers jours

Voyage dans la lune France

Alain Morisod & Sweet People – Si c’était à refaire

alain morisod

Ecuador Manta – Alborada


Bajofondo – Presente
Astor Piazzola – Astor Piazzola Remixed
Frederico Aubele – Panamericana
Pablo Aslan’s Tango Grill

Tango Grill Argentina

Niyaz – Sumud
The Rough Guide to the music of Iran
Acoustic World: Iran


Sean Kuti – Seun Kuti & Fela’s Egypt80 
King Sunny Adé – King of Juju

king of juju

United States
Danny Schmidt – Man of many moons
James Cotton – Cotton mouth man
Hurray for the Riff Raff – Small town heroes
Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite – Get up

Man of many moons US

C.K. Mann & his Carousel 7 – Funky highlife

Funky Highlife Ghana

Amália Rodrigues – The queen of fado
Pedro Moutinho – Encontro
Ana Moura – Desfado
Mariza – Terra

Desfado Portugal

Stromae – Racine Carrée
Adamo – De toi à moi
Kate Ryan – French Connection

racine carree

Speed Caravan – Kalashnik Love
Cheb Mami – Layali
Indir – Neveo
Houria Aïchi – Renayate


Chirgilchin – Collectible
Lube – Svoi
Larisa Segida – Jeans River
Traditional music from East Siberia


South Korea
Kayo: Collection of the best known popular songs of Korea
Girls’ Generation – The boys


— Barbara

Doing the Derby

Last Friday morning I arrived at work at Millennium Library bruised, sweaty, exhausted, but, overall, riding high on endorphins. I’d been up since five a.m. with a bunch of other members of the Winnipeg Roller Derby League, drilling and skating in a mock scrimmage for a live morning TV broadcast. Despite the early hour, and the fact that we’d all been at another two-hour practice less than 12 hours before, we were a pretty chipper, boisterous group, mostly because we were all doing what we love: hitting, sweating, and living roller derby.

whipit Modern roller derby is quite different from the staged “sports entertainment” shows on TV in the 80s and 90s, with stars like Gwen Skinny Minnie Miller, plenty of over-the-top action and WWE-like pre-scripted outcomes. Modern roller derby is grassroots; it’s still full-contact, and the larger-than-life characters and edgy player names still dominate, but it’s low-budget, run by the players, and above all, it’s a real sport. The hits are real, but if you take someone down illegally, you’re going to the penalty box.

If you’re interested in exploring this burgeoning sport, check out a few of the resources available on our library shelves:

Derby Girl (book) and Whip It (movie) by Shauna Cross

Basically a running-away-to-join-the-circus story; a young teen stuck in small-town Texas finds kinship and acceptance among the bold, tattooed personalities in the roller derby league in nearby Austin. A lot of people first heard about modern roller derby in the Ellen Page/Drew Barrymore movie Whip It, the screenplay for which Cross wrote around the same time she penned Derby Girl (later retitled Whip It to match the movie). Cross brought true-to-life experience to the page, having skated under the name Maggie Mayhem for the LA Derby Dolls.  There may be some Hollywood-style liberties taken in the movie but, pretty much every derby girl who sees it agrees, they got the part about kinship and sisterhood just right. When you join a roller derby league, you join a family.

Talking Derby: Stories From a Life on Eight Wheels by Kate “Pain Eyre” Hargreaves

A series of short vignettes and day-in-the-life-of moments from Pain Eyre’s life on the derby track with the Border City Brawlers in Windsor, ON. Most of the stories are short, terse and whip-sharp — just like derby!

Down and Derby: The Insider’s Guide to Roller Derby by Alex “Axles of Evil” Cohen and Jennifer “Kasey Bomber” Barbee

If you’re looking for a less anecdotal, and more factual, run-down of the derby world, check out this insider’s guide. Both authors skated with the LA Derby Dolls & worked on training Hollywood actresses for Whip It. Some of the rules might be a bit out of date, given that the WFDTA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) rules recently underwent a major overhaul, but the basics still hold true.

And finally, if you’re looking for something a bit fun, we’ve also got Joelle Charbonneau’s Skating On the Edge. It’s the third volume in a series of mysteries featuring small-town roller rink owner Rebecca Robbins. In this volume, Robbins asks derby girl Sherlene-n-Mean to fill in for her in the dunk tank at the local fair, but Sherlene ends up electrocuted. You better believe they figure out whodunit, because there’s one thing that’s certain: if you take out a derby girl, her teammates will be coming for you. See you on the track!

Sophie “The Scufflepuff”

Jockosopher Kings

While catching up with baseball and basketball scores and stories on Espn.com, I came across a blog featuring an email exchange between ESPN sports columnist Bill Simmons and the writer, social observer, critic and general gadfly Malcolm Gladwell, appropriately called ‘The Exchange’Their wide-ranging discussion covered such diverse themes as celebrity and sports, the public fascination with true crime and how,  if given a choice, the public generally prefers a dramatic, complicated and conspiratorial explanation over a plausible but boring answer

Another interesting twist in their discussion was the attempt to coin the term ‘jockospher’ to describe those athletes that offer a more introspective and informed point of view than we normally expect from our athletes. Using the example of LeBron James, Simmons quotes James’ teammate Shane Battier as saying he is ” ‘first and most seminal sports figure in the information age.’ ”

Born in 1984, James’ emerging career coincided with MySpace (2003), Facebook (2004), Gmail (2004), YouTube (2005), and Twitter (2005). Gladwell makes the compelling point:

“He was born in 1984. In every way, his life would be better if he had been born 10 years earlier. I don’t believe that the world was always better in the past. But I do believe that there are moments when the particular mix of available technologies don’t actually combine to make your life better — and I think we’re in one of those moments now.”

Gladwell is right and wrong at the same time. He is right in that if Lebron had been born 10 years earlier, he would have been counted as one of the greatest athletes of that historical period (right up there with Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Wayne Gretzky). But, as Simmons said, he would have had all of the success he enjoys now, but still have a normal life.

I cannot help but think that Gladwell is wrong only in the sense that it is the never-ending hype and narcissistic self-promotion of our Facebook statuses and Twitter updates that fuel “greatness” as much as any accomplishments on the court.

Just thinking about the intersection of sports and entertainment, the moments of the spectacular versus the mundane of everyday life, I can see how this moves people. But ultimately these performers are regular people who, while they hunger for attention and are celebrated like gods, are also actors trapped in a role of appearance and image management equal to a Shakespearean tragedy figure. For me, the damage was done when the marketing departments of all the major sports leagues determined that marketing star-power to the world was more important than the competition itself. Winning and losing became irrelevant, replaced by the goal of increasing TV market share in Brazil or the number of kids buying Michael Jordan jerseys.

Here is my list my favourite sports books and jockosophers that wrote them:

 David Halberstam, “The Breaks of the Game“.  Profiles one NBA season of the Portland Trail Blazers three years removed from their magical championship season; ostensibly a book about sports at another level, it is a social history of a changing American culture when sports transitioned from a competition between cities to a branch of the entertainment industry.

Bill Russell with Alan Steinberg, “Red and Me: My Coach, My Lifelong Friend“.  The Boston Celtic reflects on the mentorship and the character formation he experienced while playing for legendary Celtic coach Red Auerbach.

Michael Sokolove, “Ticket Out: Darryl Strawberry and the Boys of Crenshaw“. Profiles the Los Angeles baseball team  of Crenshaw High School in 1979 where various scouts called the collection of players the greatest of all time. Most prominent was Darryl Strawberry who played with the New York Mets and L.A. Dodgers.

Jim Bouton, “Ball Four“. The former Yankees pitcher describes the reality and underside of living the dream of a professional athlete.


Armchair travelling for Euro 2012 fans

In my most humble opinion, there is no better way to start the summer than with an internationally televised football (soccer) tournament. Naturally, the World Cup tops my list of preferred events, but UEFA’s Euro competition is definitely #2.  The group stage wrapped up earlier this week, and we’ve now moved into the quarter finals; yesterday, we saw Portugal eliminate the Czech Republic, while this afternoon, Germany goes head to head with Greece. Exciting!!

As the tournament continues, it unfortunately means that there are longer periods between games; there’s a lot of time to kill on the days and evenings when there’s no football on the television! What to do, you ask yourself? Answer: read your way around Euro! Luckily, I have a few suggestions for you.

Let’s start by visiting the Netherlands, forgetting that the team lost all three games in the group stage and returns home covered in shame. (Yes, I’m feeling quite a bit of resentment that my number one team performed so horribly, but I’m working through it.) A Heart of Stone by Renate Dorrestein was one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read, and also the most rewarding. As Publishers Weekly states, “Dorrestein excels at describing how an eccentric family, the van Bemmels of The Hague, is tormented and finally destroyed by the growing madness of one of its members.” Other popular Dutch authors include Gerbrand Bakker, Tommy Wieringa, and Margriet de Moor.

Moving on to Portugal, I recommend Blindness by the late José Saramago. Originally published in 1995, this book was adapted for the big screen in Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness. A city is hit by an epidemic of “white blindness” whose victims are confined to a vacant mental hospital, while a single eyewitness to the nightmare guides seven oddly assorted strangers through the barren urban landscape. You should also try out José Luís Peixoto, Luís Miguel Rocha, and António Lobo Antunes.

My number two team is Germany, home of Herta Müller. Her novel about the Gulag, Hunger Angel, was first published in 2009, the same year that she won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The novel traces the experiences of Leo Auberg, who, after five torturous years in a post-war Soviet Union labor camp, succumbs to a hallucinatory existence where hunger and everyday objects take on anthropomorphic qualities. Other popular German authors include Ferdinand von Schirach, Günter Grass, and Jan Costin Wagner. Of course, none of these names are as fun to shout out as German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger. SCHWEINSTEIGER!

The Keeper of Lost Causes by Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen is a book you may have heard of last year. This novel is the first in the crime-thriller series about Department, and was originally published in 2007. Chief detective Carl Morck recovering from what he thought was a career-destroying gunshot wound is relegated to cold cases and becomes immersed in the five-year disappearance of a politician. The second Carl Morck book The Absent One will be released this August. Reserve your copy today! I also recommend books by Sara Blædel, Peter Høeg, and Christian Jungersen.

Regardless of the fact that this team beat my beloved Dutch in 2010’s World Cup final, let’s visit Spain by reading A Manuscript of Ashes by Antonio Muñoz Molina. It’s the late sixties, the last dark years of Franco’s dictatorship: Minaya, a university student in Madrid, is caught up in the student protests and the police are after him. He moves to his uncle Manuel’s country estate in the small town of Magina to write his thesis on an old friend of Manuel’s, an obscure republican poet named Jacinto Solana. The country house is full of traces of the poet, notes, photographs, journals, and Minaya soon discovers that, thirty years earlier, during the Spanish Civil War, both his uncle and Solana were in love with the same woman, the beautiful, unsettling Mariana. Javier Marías, Manuel Rivas, and Arturo Pérez-Reverte are also popular authors from Spain.

Croatia’s Vedrana Rudan is a former journalist who started writing fiction when she was fired from her job for criticising the president, Franjo Tudjman. Her first novel, Night, is narrated by Tonka, a middle-aged, antifeminist feminist, who spends an entire night in front of the TV, rambling to an imaginary audience about her grievances about her own life and the world around her. She is a free-thinking woman who (finally) doesn’t give a damn, but she is also a victim of a hypocritical society to which she has no choice but to succumb. This isn’t a book for the easily offended, but those brave enough to give it a try won’t be disappointed. Other suggested Croatian authors include Josip Novakovich, Dubravka Ugrešić, and Miljenko Jergović.

Our first stop in Italy is The Age of Doubt by Andrea Camilleri. In this 14th installment (after The Potter’s Field ) of the internationally popular series set in Vigata, Sicily, Inspector Montalbano once again wrangles with local politics, mysterious strangers, and the ever-present dilemma of what to have for dinner. I also recommended stopping with Simonetta Agnello Hornby, Fabio Geda, and Niccolò Ammaniti.

The Republic of Ireland is home to many a famous author, including Colum McCann. His novel, Let the Great World Spin, was the winner of the 2009 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, hinges on Philippe Petit’s illicit 1974 high-wire walk between the twin towers. It is the aftermath, in which Petit appears in the courtroom of Judge Solomon Soderberg, that sets events into motion. You may also enjoy the works of Anne Enright, Colm Tóibín, and William Trevor.

Not only is England my number three team (it gets even more complicated during World Cup), it’s the home of my absolute favourite author, Sir Terry Pratchett. And it’s only fitting that he’s written a book about football, the 37th novel in his ever more popular Discworld series. In Unseen Academicals the wizards of Unseen University in the ancient city of Ankh-Morpork must win a match of foot the ball, without using magic, so they’re in the mood for trying everything else. As the match approaches, four lives are entangled and changed forever. It’s by far one of his best novels, and not just because there’s a librarian in goal. Some of my other favourite British authors include Monica Ali, Hilary Mantel, and Ruth Rendell.

I have yet to be disappointed by France’s Anna Gavalda, falling in love with each and every of her books. Hunting and Gathering, originally published in 2004 and made into a movie starring Audrey Tautou in 2007, is just a delight to read. The story follows four Parisians – a starving artist, her shy and aristocratic neighbor, the neighbor’s obnoxious but talented roommate, and a neglected grandmother – who share unexpected twists of fate that connect them to one another. If you haven’t already, you should also try books by Fred Vargas, the late Irène Némirovsky, and Claude Izner.

Andreĭ Kurkov is one of the better known Ukrainian authors, at least here in Canada. His latest mystery, The Case of the General’s Thumb, blends slapstick and political assassination. When the body of retired general Vadim Bronitsky, missing a thumb, rises over the city dangling from a Coca Cola advertising balloon early one morning, the local police, in the person of Lt. Viktor Slutsky, and Ukrainian security, represented by Nik Tsensky, both investigate. Other popular Ukrainian authors include Borys Antonenko-Davydovych, Marina Lewycka, and Sana Krasikov.

Since Stieg Larsson‘s Millennium series exploded onto the literary world, Swedish crime fiction has been terribly popular with our customers. However, Sweden is not only home to crime thrillers, as witnessed in Jan Guillou‘s Crusade Trilogy. The first book, The Road to Jerusalem, sees a Cistercian monk and former Knight Templar, Arn Magnusson, sent into the world by his master. He  encounters the scheming power battles of twelfth-century Sweden and is separated from the woman he loves by a headstrong noble’s fateful mistake. The series continues in The Templar Knight and Birth of the Kingdom. And because I’m also a fan of crime thrillers, I heartily recommend any books by Liza Marklund, Åke Edwardson, and Henning Mankell.

If you’ve never read a graphic novel before, I can’t think of a better place to start than with Marzi: A Memoir by Poland’s Marzena Sowa. Told from a young girl’s perspective, Marzena Sowa’s memoir of a childhood shaped by politics is fresh and immediate. Structured as a series of vignettes that build on one another, Marzi is a compelling and powerful coming-of-age story that portrays the harsh realities of life behind the Iron Curtain while maintaining the everyday wonders and curiosity of childhood. If graphic novels aren’t your thing, why not try books by Andrzej Stasiuk, Witold Gombrowicz, and Jerzy Andrzejewski?

My high school reunion is coming up in a few weeks (egads, it’s been 25 years!). That might be why I was particularly taken with Ordinary Lives by Josef Škvorecký, my Czech suggestion. The novel takes place during two class reunions: the first, twenty years after the class graduated, in 1963, and the second thirty years later in 1996. Danny Smiricky’s loyalties are tested as secrets from the past are revealed. Other famous Czech authors include Milan Kundera, Patrik Ouředník, and Arnošt Lustig.

In the mood for something on the weirder side? Try out The Hall of the Singing Caryatids by Russian author Viktor Pelevin. After auditioning for the part as a singing geisha at a dubious bar, Lena and eleven other lucky girls are sent to work at a posh underground nightclub reserved exclusively for Russia’s upper-crust elite. They are to be a sideshow attraction to the rest of the club’s entertainment, and are billed as the famous singing caryatids. Things only get weirder from there. For those who would like something a little tamer, I suggest Boris Akunin, Vladimir Sorokin, and the late Alexandr Solzhenitsyn.

Our last stop is Greece. One of my recent finds is Stolen Time by Vangelis Hatziyannidis. A young student is selected by a group of five eccentric artists intrigued by his apparent intelligence and agrees to spend two weeks with them in a Greek hotel. The group claims it only wishes to interview him to probe the depths of his intellect, but as the sect begins to inquire into the young man’s past, the young man discovers mysterious writing on a dresser drawer and begins to uncover the secrets of the hotel–and of the group itself. You may also enjoy the books of Panos Karnezis and Nikos Kazantzakis.

Phew! Now I need to rest, and maybe watch a game. Or two. Hurrah! Hurrah! Die Deutschen die sind da!

– Barbara

Books of Summer

It’s July, but Winnipeg is still in the grip of hockey fever following the announcement that a new NHL team called the Jets will be playing here — a testament to the power these supposedly trivial pursuits can wield. Even those of us who don’t play them can be drawn in by their emotion on the field or on the page.

The original logo for the WHA JetsIf you’d like to brush up on your hockey history, The Rebel League by Ed Willes (a former sportswriter for the Winnipeg Sun) is an anecdotal chronicle of the World Hockey Association where the Jets started out. It’s all here: Bobby Hull’s million-dollar contract, colourful hockey franchises, lawsuits, and innovations which would have a widespread effect on pro hockey, like the 18-year-old draft and the talent hunt for European players .

If you’ve ever doubted that sports can have a profound impact on society, I Had a Hammer proves otherwise. Much more than just a collection of baseball memories, this is Hank Aaron’s first-hand account of the prejudice he and his contemporaries who followed Jackie Robinson into major league baseball faced – including death threats when Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record.

Nick Hornby’s memoir Fever Pitch is the definitive portrayal of the otherwise normal guy with a full-blown sports obsession, in this case the English soccer team Arsenal. You’ll remember that the word “fan” is short for fanatic as Hornby asks himself “the only true question there is: Which comes first, Football or Life?”

Team dynamics play a huge role in sports. In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle by Madeleine Blais follows one season in the lives of a high school girls’ basketball team, from tryouts to the state championship. Her in-depth portraits of the players provide insight into how important athletic skill and competition can be for young women.

Non-fiction is not the only choice for sports fans, either. Baseball may have the edge on literary fiction with titles such as Shoeless Joe and The Natural, but Paul Quarrington’s King Leary has a claim to the title of Great Canadian Hockey Novel.

And genre fiction with a sports backdrop is always popular. It Had to Be You and other books in the best-selling Chicago Stars series by Suzan Elizabeth Phillips follow the romantic entanglements of professional football players. Harlan Coben’s engaging Myron Bolitar mystery series (starting with Deal Breaker) features a former basketball player, now star sports agent. In fact, there’s a mystery series for every sport from boxing to horse racing to golf.

Sports books are a sure thing for readers. If you don’t see a title that interests you here, check with the rabid book fans at your local library!


Discovering the Thrill of the Grass

The crack of the bat, the smell of hotdogs, the shout of a vendor, the thrill of the grass…

With the Major League Baseball season underway once again, there’s no better time to get reacquainted with some of the Library’s best baseball-related material.

Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns

Ken Burns is one of the most prominent documentary film-makers in America. He once said that America will be remembered for three things: the Civil War, jazz, and baseball. He has done extensive miniseries on each of these topics, but I believe his baseball miniseries is by far the best of the lot. He cleverly breaks the film into nine episodes, and calls them innings. Each episode covers approximately a ten-year span. The documentary covers the origins of baseball in the 1840s right up to the mid-1990s. While the main focus is on the history of baseball, the real story is how the United States changed and grew from the perspective of its national pastime. After a brief prologue, each episode begins with the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” just as you would hear at the beginning of a ball game in America. The episode covering the 1960s uses Jimi Hendrix’s version. Highly recommended, even for those who are not huge baseball fans.

In the fall of 2010, Ken Burns made an update to the series called  “The Tenth Inning.”

Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella

The book begins with this beautiful quotation from Robert Kennedy: “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” This sets the tone for the rest of this wonderful fantasy novel about a farmer from Iowa who hears a voice while he is out in his corn field. “If you build it, he will come.” He blindly follows the voice and mows down his corn field, replacing it with a baseball diamond. This act releases the spirits of long dead baseball players, primarily those who were banned from baseball forever after being indicted in the 1919 Black Sox scandal. While the diamond gives these haunted spirits a place to play the game again, the voice soon has the farmer off on another quest to make contact with the reclusive author J.D. Salinger. The Philadelphia Enquirer said it is “not so much about baseball as it’s about dreams, magic, life, and what is quintessentially American” — which is a little ironic, since W.P. Kinsella is a Canadian author. This book was made into the film “Field of Dreams” starring Kevin Costner in 1989.

Jackrabbits in the Outfield by John Hindle

Baseball season in Winnipeg won’t get under way until May 12. In the meantime, local fans may want to take a look at this book by the Winnipeg Goldeyes’ former general manager. John Hindle worked with the Goldeyes from the very beginning in 1994 until the 2001 season. His honest account of the early days of the Northern League is a must read for any local baseball fan. Hindle discusses many “behind the scenes” aspects of running a ball team, from dealing with diva players to promotions that didn’t go according to plan.

Winnipeg Public Library has enjoyed a fun relationship with the Winnipeg Goldeyes over the years. We’ve participated in “Library Night” at the ballpark and Goldeyes players have come out to library branches to read and sign autographs. I hope that we can continue to introduce young readers to the “thrill of the grass.”

– Trevor