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Showing posts from February, 2015

Upcoming Book Release: Kirstin Valdez Quade

Kirstin Valdez Quade (or KVQ, as we know her in the biz) is a New Yorker fiction section alum and her first published short story collection -- Night at the Fiestas: Stories -- is about to drop on March 23rd. For those of you who don't remember (who am I kidding), her Oct. 20th, 2014 New Yorker story "Ordinary Sins" earned mixed but mostly positive reviews on TGCB (12/10/14) for her story dealing with an alcoholic priest and a conflicted, pregnant-out-of-wedlock teenager. If most of her stories tackle similar material, and, since she's a relatively young writer, I'm guessing they do, you can expect to read about people trying to reconcile their religion with their humanity within the context of their mostly dysfunctional family environments. Doesn't sound like your particular cup of yerba mate? You still should check out "Original Sins" or rent the book on Kindle, how ever you do. Why? KVQ does appear to have a knack for turning out a tale, for gett…

The Literature of Soccer-Football, Volume I: Fever Pitch

As a lover of literature and a lover of soccer-football, I'm on a quest to discover the best books about the sport. In each installment of this series I will discuss my thoughts on a different soccer book with an eye toward how it has helped me develop a greater understanding of the history, culture, tactics, and players of the game. Hopefully this series will serve as a game-plan for those looking to do the same...

Book: Fever Pitch
Author: Nick Hornby
Year: 1992
Rating: Three points
What is it: A memoir of the author's obsession with the English soccer team Arsenal FC from the late 60s until the mid-90s. What started with a reluctant Saturday excursion with his estranged father turns into an all-abiding passion, a madness, that affects every aspect of Hornby's life as a young man. Fever Pitch is not only an autobiography of a young man's life, it's also a cultural history of football fandom, as Hornby shows the way the game and its place in society changed during the …

This Week's Top Soccer Story: World Cup '22 to take place in November/December

This has been in the wind for a while, but FIFA just officially announced (or rather, "recommended", whatever) that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar be held in November and December instead of June and July, in order to avoid sweltering heat. Hey, I got an idea...how about, first off: NOT HOLDING IT IN QATAR. For that matter, how about not holding the World Cup in Russia in 2018?

Frankly neither location seems attractive. Russia for the political and military unrest that's always going on there, going on there now and that probably will still be in four years, Qatar for the human rights violations that have been committed in the building of its stadiums already, the fact that FIFA allegedly accepted bribes from the Qatari government, and the fact that...Qatar? It's a peninsula in the Persian Gulf the size of Connecticut. Is it soccer country? Do they even have a national team?  Put the goddam thing in a place people actually want to go. You've got all of Europe, the …

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Labyrinth" by Amelia Gray

Issue: Feb. 16, 2015

Story: "Labyrinth"

Author: Amelia Gray

Rating: $

Review:  For me, the prospect of discovering new writers is the single biggest reason to keep reading the New Yorker week-in and week-out. Therefore, I feel like The New Yorker fiction section is at it's best when it's showcasing the work of fledgling young writers trying to make names for themselves or even slightly more established young writers who are, nonetheless, still in need of more exposure. With three collections of short stories under her belt and one on the way -- Gutshot (FSG, due in April) -- Amelia Gray falls into the latter category and she's a new one on me. Based on the strengths and weaknesses of "Labyrinth" I'd have to say I'm not gonna be knocking anyone over on the way to the bookstore when Gutshot drops...but I will keep my eyes peeled for her name and maybe, at some point, dig a little deeper into her oeuvre.

One major thing Gray does have going for her: s…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Sweetness" by Toni Morrison

Issue: Feb. 9, 2015

Story (Novel Excerpt): "Sweetness"

Author: Toni Morrison

Rating: $/Meh

Review: I'm not a big fan of the novel excerpt as New Yorker fiction piece for the week, but here it is and here we are. "Sweetness" is a apparently excerpted from Morrison's upcoming novel God Help the Child, which, until I read this excerpt I was pretty excited to read or at least read about when it comes out.

Before we get into my critique, let me back track and use the standard disclaimer I use when I'm reviewing the work of an author I greatly respect (it's a way to cover my ass just in case I ever run into them at a fancy literary party someday. Granted, the chances of a.) my ending up at a party with Toni Morrison and b.) her having read my blog, are approximately equal to my winning the Powerball lotto and then getting struck by lighting. But I digress...), Toni Morrison is a probably one of the greatest American authors that ever lived. Far be it for me t…

Citizens Trounce Magpies 5-0

If the Liverpool v. Southampton game is your Match-o-the-Week (and...it has the benefit of not actually having happened yet...) then Newcastle United vs. Manchester City was your amateur-hour spanking-o-the-week. I don't think I've seen a drubbing this bad since...well...since Newcastle had their eyes blackened by Southampton way back in the beginning of the season. This was really a sorry state of affairs.

Don't get me wrong: it was a powerful display of athleticism and brilliant, clinical attacking, but by the WRONG TEAM. A penalty in the first minute didn't help, I'll grant you, putting the Magpies at a disadvantage before my bartender even had time to find the game on TV. But Man City began hammering in the coffin nails just a few minutes afterward, and just didn't stop.

I'm still not proficient at deciphering the tactical-level mechanics of a game...what formation they used and what an outrageous move it was to sub Smithee in for Doosen-Watson at hoobl…

Your EPL Match-O-the-Week: Liverpool at Southampton

It's gonna be an odd weekend in EPL land. Coming off last weekend's break (was it an International Break? An FA cup break? A UEFA Champions League break? Who the f*ck knows...) the Prems are back with a bunch of basically consequence-less matches and....LIVERPOOL v. SOUTHAMPTON....which is sure to be a cracker. Why??The league table implications in this game are fairly significant, moreso than almost any other game this week. SOU sit 4th and LIV sit 7th. A few bad or mediocre games in succession, and Liverpool could find it a real struggle to get back up to Champions League level (4th or above). Missing the Champions League would be a big blow for the club. On the other hand, Southampton finishing in the top four would be almost akin to them winnin the league, considering they were relegated just three seasons ago. They've got something to prove: namely that they have what it takes to stay in the top tier of the table. Beating a resurgent Liverpool would be a big, big sta…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Alice" by Elizabeth Harrower

Issue: Feb. 2, 2015

Story: "Alice"

Author: Elizabeth Harrower

Rating: $$$$

Review: For the first time in two years I've (gasp!) misplaced a copy of the New Yorker and had to read this story in two parts -- online and via the NYer's podcast of the author reading her own story. This was a fortunate accident for two reasons. First, as a mostly analog consumer of the New Yorker, I was forced to finally discover the New Yorker's fiction podcast series. Not that I'm going to give up reading my crumpled magazine on the exercise bike or in my easy chair at home of a Sunday morning...but I'm anxious to see if the fiction podcast has anything worthwhile to offer to my understanding of these stories. Secondly, I was allowed to hear "Alice" read in Elizabeth Harrower's sweet, gravelly, Australian/British voice, which gave the story a certain tenderness it might not have had otherwise. Would I have liked the story as much as I do had I been forced to read it…

Playboy 2014 College Fiction Contest Winner: "Something Ancient Welling Up" by Nolan Turner

Issue: Oct. 2014

Story: "Something Ancient Welling Up"

Author:Nolan Turner

Rating: $$

Review: I've been reading Playboy for more years than I care to actually count and I've been a creative writer for even longer than that. So the Playboy College Fiction Contest has always been somewhat of a curiosity to me.

Like every repressed, mischievous, middle-class teenager in America, I was fascinated by college and longed for it years before I got there; not because I wanted to start my secondary education, but because I wanted to grow up, to strike out on my own...and to party. To me, college was this strange, alternate universe in which everyone was vastly more sophisticated and mature than I was; a place where people got bleary-eyed on martinis every night after class and had mature, sophisticated sex with each other in swanky apartments that I would later learn resembled nothing like actual college living conditions, while studying the stock market reports and preparing to m…

New USMNT Away Jerseys Unveiled

So, this isn't exactly "breaking news" or anything (a photo was leaked late last year) but today the U.S. Men's National Team official Away Jerseys were unveiled. I'm not gonna piss and moan like a lot of people, but...I think they're a little weak. I'm not in favor of the "gradient" style, it's just a little wishy-washy and non-descript, like somebody forgot to finish designing it.

As Jason Davis, of Soccer Morning, observed in his latest podcast, we need to come up with a dignified, classy, classic-looking uniform by which people can identify the U.S. team throughout the world. Look at Italy's blue, or Brazil's yellow, or Portugal's maroon. These are trademark colors...national brands almost. You see some guys playing in yellow shirts with a green collar in an international competition anywhere in the world, for the past 50 years, and you know it's Brazil. This new away kit is just way, way too unremarkable to serve as the…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Breadman" by J. Robert Lennon

Issue: Jan. 19, 2015

Story: "Breadman"

Author:J. Robert Lennon

Rating: $

Review: Imagine a short story about the "Soup Nazi" from Seinfeld, only pretend the story is about a mobile bread baker/merchant and that the story takes place on the fringes of a gentrifying neighborhood in a small- to mid-sized city instead of New York. Imagine, also, that instead of Jerry Seinfeld, your protagonist is a neurotic (wait...), mealy-mouthed, over-worked, under-loved corporate everyman who is on the down-slope of a marriage and doesn't realize it or rather is trying not to realize it.

Imagine also that, under the best of circumstances, this man's encounters with the blissed-out, unshaven, bread-selling, sandal-wearing bohemians are necessarily difficult and fraught with conflict. Imagine that, on this particular day, his interaction with the blissed-out, unshaven, bread-selling, sandal-wearing bohemians ends in him taking a swing at the Breadman, missing, and getting punched…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Inventions" by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Issue: Jan. 26, 2015

Story:"Inventions"

Author: Isaac Bashevis Singer

Rating: $/Meh

Review: I can't recall ever being overly thrilled or even mildly impressed when the New Yorker digs up and publishes a "lost" manuscript from a well-known but deceased writer; and here I'm thinking specifically of "Paranoia" by Shirley Jackson, from the Aug. 5, 2013 issue, TGCB 8/23/13). "Inventions," written in 1965 by the late Isaac Bashevis Singer -- who died in 1991 -- does nothing to change my mind on that. I can understand why certain craggy, cobweb-strewn nooks of the literary/academic world might thrill at the publication of one of Singer's lost stories, but I can't say I'm among that group of people.

Furthermore, for the story to even make sense on the first read (or even the first few reads (I know...I tried)) I'd have to to be way, way more fluent in my pre-WWII Soviet history than I am. I'd have to know and understand the diffe…

USMNT v. Panama: At least now we know we can beat...Panama

I'd be remiss if I didn't offer a few words on Sunday's U.S. Men's National Team friendly against Panama, in which the U.S. defeated the Canalmen 2-0. Granted it's Wednesday and anyone who cares has already read enough about it that they don't have to read this sorry excuse for an analysis blog...but I digress. If you didn't manage to see the game, here are some bullet points:


U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley scored off a rare "Olimpico" goal in the 27th minute; an Olimpico is when a player scores directly from a corner kick, curling the ball into the goal without the assistance of any of his players.Clint Dempsey scored ten minutes later off a break-away goal from a link up pass by USMNT newcomer Gyasi Zardes, though it looked like Dempsey came perilously close to flubbing it. Speaking of flubbs...most of the rest of the game the USMNT looked like donkeys in front of the goal (I'm looking at you Wondolowski); like they couldn't even kick th…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Crabapple Tree" by Robert Coover

Issue: Jan. 12, 2015

Story:"The Crabapple Tree"

Author: Robert Coover

Rating: $$

Review: Even when he's not writing outright re-boots of fairy tales, Robert Coover's stories always have a basic undercarriage of fairy tale magic and/or magical realism which makes them fun to read. And they're short, which helps in that regard as well. Opening up the pages of the NYer to a Robert Coover sotry is kind of like opening up your stocking on Christmas morning....Hey, it's a candy bar! A Starbucks gift card! A shot-glass from the Atlanta airport! A pack of pens! Neato! i.e. you never know what you're going to get, but it'll be something small and good.

"The Crabapple Tree" is (wonder of all wonders) a story within a story told by a woman who lives in a small town about a long-since passed away friend of hers who died in childbirth. Her story is the kind of thing that I'm sure used to be much more the fabric of rural small town life than it is now; a …