Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Top Ten Books of 2012

I'm a big end-of-the-year list kind of guy. I read as many as I can, and I've enjoyed doing my own book and movie lists the last couple years. I'm back at it this year, and since I'll be squeezing in a few more movies, I'll start with my top ten books of 2012. I read 58 books this year (still working on #58, but I'll be done by the new year), up from 42 in 2011. The books on my list weren't necessarily published in 2012, just books I read this year.

10) The Age of MiraclesKaren Thompson Walker: This is the only YA on my list. The Earth's rotation begins to slow, and life is profoundly altered. Walker gives readers a believable teenage protagonist who continues to deal with the average problems of adolescence. 

9) Billy Lynn's Long Halftime WalkBen Fountain: Billy Lynn and the rest of Bravo unit are war heroes. The Bush administration has brought them back from Iraq for a PR tour. This is an excellent look at the US during wartime and the soldiers doing the fighting.

8) Canada, Richard Ford: How's this for an opening line: "First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later." If that doesn't grab your attention, I don't know what will. Ford's writing is sparse and graceful.

7) Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, Alexandra Fuller: This is the third memoir Fuller has written about her family's life in Africa. The Fullers are fascinating people, and I hope the memoirs keep coming.

6) Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward: This is a brilliant book, but don't take my word for it, Ward won a little something called the National Book Award for this one. Ward shines a light on rural poverty in Mississippi with piercing and poetic language.

5) A Hologram for the King, Dave Eggers: A struggling businessman must travel to Saudi Arabia in a last ditch attempt to keep his life afloat. This is one of those rare books that comments on the times by showing the plight of a single character.

4) Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter: I would call this one an epic. Walter expertly weaves together the lives of multiple characters over the course of a lifetime, with unrequited love always the driving force. Walter is emerging as one of America's finest writers.

3) Telegraph Avenue, Micahel Chabon: Not many writers will drop a 12 page sentence on you, and make you love it. Channeling his inner Quentin Tarantino, Chabon has given us a book about America, an America where black, white, gay, straight, male, female, live and struggle together. This one goes in the Great American Novel category.

2) Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand: Nonfiction doesn't get any better than this. Louis Zamperini is a true American hero, and you will be a different person after reading his heroic story. Simply put, Hillenbrand is a nonfiction master.

1) Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn: This book is such wicked fun, I had to put it #1. I like to think of it as War of the Roses.....on steroids.....or even better, meth.  Flynn's first two books are really good, but this one was a coming out party for a great writer.

Let me know what you think of my choices. I'd love to hear what other people enjoyed reading this year in the comments, might give me some ideas for 2013. Your top book, top 3, 5, 10, whatever works for you.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pay for Play

Each December, I finish off the year reading three of my favorite books: The Best American Sports Writing, The Best American Travel Writing, and The Best American Magazine Writing. These anthologies are chockfull of powerful stories written in prose of the highest order.

I just finished reading The Best American Sports Writing, and one story in particular has me thinking,  "The Shame of College Sports" by Taylor Branch. The article was first published in The Atlantic, and while it's a long piece, I highly recommend it.

There is huge money in college sports, particularly men's football and basketball. Professional basketball and football players have powerful unions that guarantee money and healthcare for their members. College athletes do not have that luxury. Many American universities make obscene amounts of money on football and basketball. Branch makes the case that these universities should be paying their athletes.

This is something I've gone back and forth on for a while now, but after reading Branch's article, I would say that I am now firmly of the belief that universities need to compensate their athletes beyond the cost of a scholarship. Lots of people cling to the idea that a free education is more than adequate compensation for playing a game, and twenty years ago maybe it was, but the times have changed. The money involved in big-time college sports is staggering, and the kids who make the money should be getting a bigger piece.

I love college football and basketball. My alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, makes a ton of money on football and basketball. It's time my fellow Badgers get in on some of the money they bring to our school. The situation is the same at many campuses across the country. Every student benefits from the money generated by football and basketball, and I think it's time alums everywhere start demanding their universities take better care of the kids they cheer for on the fields and courts.