Archive for the Non Fiction Category

Three and Out

Posted in Non Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2016 by jaclemens

three and outKnowing Rich Rodriguez is a good guy who never lost his team – no matter how many games they lost – makes it more difficult to hold him in disdain. Plenty of the problems that dogged him at Michigan were outside of his control, and some he could have addressed were outside his perception. I admit I was one of those longtime fans who was glad to see him go, and pleased when he was replaced by a “real Michigan Man,” Brady Hoke. When Hoke was replaced by Jim Harbaugh – who is among the detractors named in this book – I was ecstatic to be present in the stadium for his debut, a loss to Utah, just like Rich Rod’s.

imageRodriguez is now coaching Arizona, so Utah has the opportunity to beat him annually (Arizona put Utah away in double overtime last year). He’s the guy on the opposite sideline, so it would be easy not to like him. But his players did, and I do like them. Mike Martin and Taylor Lewan were teammates on the Tennessee Titans for a couple of years; Martin is now lining up with Brandon Graham in Philadelphia. Denard Robinson and Patrick Omameh are playing together in Jacksonville along with Chad Henne, the quarterback that Rodriguez struggled to find a replacement for until Robinson emerged from backup to repeat Offensive Player of the Week and Heisman hopeful. Unlike some of the QBs before him (Ryan Mallett, Steve Threet), Robinson did not transfer from Michigan when there was a coaching change, although he did try to meet with athletic director Dave Brandon to voice his support of Rodriguez (he wasn’t given the chance).

Those players who remained loyal to Michigan produced for Hoke in 2011, beating Notre Dame and Ohio State to go 11-2 (they lost to Michigan State and Iowa), and beating Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. Greg Mattison returned as defensive coordinator under Hoke, and the defense improved from 107th to 6th in scoring defense. Same players giving their all, different scheme, better results. Hoke was Big Ten Coach of the Year, and Michigan was back. As the roster changed the results regressed each year of Hoke’s four year tenure, sliding back to a 5-7 season without a bowl game. Hoke was replaced, and now coaches in the PAC-12 as Oregon’s defensive coordinator.

Harbaugh was also a PAC-12 coach at Stanford before taking over the San Francisco 49ers. He returned to the college ranks and his alma mater after the 2014 season. Harbaugh retained Mattison as defensive line coach, but brought in D.J. Durkin as defensive coordinator. Tyrone Wheatley, a former star running back, joined the staff as running backs coach. Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. came along as a tight end recruit, and was coached by Harbaugh’s son Jay.

Michigan lost the opener at Utah, shut out BYU at home, suffered a fluke loss to Michigan State, and got thumped by Ohio State to finish the year 10-3. The only loss I accepted was the first one, but routing Florida in the Citrus Bowl helped the progression from 2015 to 2016. Harbaugh’s first quarterback, Jake Rudock, is now a Detroit Lion, along with his center, Graham Glasgow. Harbaugh has not yet named his starter for 2016, but it won’t be long now!

At the Bar

Posted in Giveaways, New release, Non Fiction with tags , , , , on February 25, 2014 by jaclemens

Bosnia ListIt’s fitting that The Bosnia List begins at the bar with Kenan Trebinčević and his brother, Eldin.  Reading this memoir feels like taking a seat next to them at the bar and listening to their story.  It’s a riveting account of their escape from war-torn Bosnia, told in a conversational style by Kenan with journalist Susan Shapiro.  So pull up a chair and keep the drinks flowing, because you won’t want to walk away until you hear how it ends.

The escape from persecution is a necessary part, but it’s not the whole story.  Kenan’s friends, neighbors, favorite teacher, and idolized coach all turned against him and his family when the ethnic cleansing began.  Their survival and escape from the deadly conflict is remarkable, but it is the decision to return two decades later that is staggering.  Kenan and Eldin go along with their ailing father’s desire to visit their homeland, but Kenan goes with his own agenda.  He makes a list of a dozen redresses that begins with “Confront Petra about stealing from my mother” and “Stand at Pero’s grave to make sure he’s really dead.”  This is no social visit for Kenan, who has been having involuntary revenge fantasies.  How he reconciles the items on his list provides the resolution to this tragic tale.

I was in high school when Slobodan Milošević incited Yugoslavia to tear itself apart.  I was studying Russian at the time, so I followed the developments in the news, but only through American channels.  I didn’t have a sense of what it meant on an individual level until I read The Bosnia List.  I am grateful that Lindsay Prevette at Penguin Books directed my attention to it, and that Penguin is allowing me to giveaway a copy!  The Bosnia List goes on sale today, and the giveaway goes through Friday the 28th.  Leave a comment below to enter the random drawing!

Undertakings

Posted in Events, New release, Non Fiction, Reading List with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2013 by jaclemens

Election Day 2013November has been a big month for author events at the University of Utah.  For the second straight year, I spent Election Night listening to a prominent author.  In 2012, it was Brandon Sanderson at Weller Book Works; in 2013, it was Malcolm Gladwell at Abravanel Hall.  Mr. Gladwell was the esteemed guest for the inaugural Sam Rich Speaking Series presented by the Hinckley Institute of Politics.  Fortunately for the University Campus Store, the Hinckley Institute chose us to provide copies of Mr. Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants for his first appearance in Salt Lake City.  It was easily the largest event I have worked in my bookselling career, and I didn’t do it all on my own.  Fortunately for me, one of our student supervisors volunteered to assist me in this undertaking. Lucy LaPutka’s involvement was an integral part of making this large event a success.  Lucy wanted to learn how events run, and she hoped to meet Mr. Gladwell.  We were able to listen to the closed-circuit telecast of his presentation – he handles his audience with exceptional skill – but we did not get the chance to meet him afterward.  Mr. Gladwell signed as many books as he could before he had to leave for his flight.  It still proved to be a late night, but I didn’t have much time to recover.

Sam Daley-HarrisTwo days later, the Hinckley Institute hosted Sam Daley-Harris, and invited me back to sell copies of the 20th anniversary edition of Reclaiming Our Democracy: Healing the Break Between People and Government. Daley-Harris is the founder of RESULTS, and spoke about his experience in harnessing the enthusiasm of volunteers and directing it into meaningful channels of change. This was a smaller scale event, which is befitting the author’s approach.  He was able to poll the students in the audience about their belief in the efficacy of implementing change, and explained why he remains firmly in the hopeful camp.  It was an uplifting message for those who heard it in person or via radio broadcast.

I was surprised to learn of another event the following Tuesday.  A shipment of books arrived at our store without an order.  I contacted the publisher and was informed of an event that evening!  When I arrived at the venue on campus both the organizers and the authors said they weren’t aware I would be there.  Nor was I!  The topic of discussion was “The Loud Absence: Where is God in Suffering?”, sponsored by the Veritas Forum.  Margaret Battin, a professor of philosophy at the University of Utah, and John Lennox, a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, led the discussion.  I was on hand to sell Lennox’s books, such as God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design is it Anyway? and God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?.   For an unanticipated event the sales were decent, but it made for a long bus ride late at night.

A week later I had a fourth event on campus.  I knew about it in advance, but I was one of the few who did.  A miscommunication in publicity resulted in a small audience for Tim Cope, who had spoken to 800 people the night before in Santa Barbara.  Cope is an adventurous Australian traveler, who has cycled through Siberia, rowed a river boat to the Arctic Ocean, and ridden horses from Mongolia to Hungary.  His book On the Trail of Genghis Khan: an Epic Journey through the Land of the Nomads recounts the daring 10,000 kilometer ride through five countries.  In October it won the Grand Prize at the Banff Book Festival.  The title of the book didn’t grab me, but Cope’s personal presentation certainly did.  He sat on the front of the stage and spoke to our intimate group over a slideshow of still shots and video footage from his immense journey.  It was an incredible presentation, and I urge you to visit his website, timcopejourneys.com, to learn more.

David and Goliath has been on my to read list for some time, but On the Trail of Genghis Khan is the book I’m reading right now!

Open Season

Posted in Events, Fiction, Non Fiction, Reading List with tags , , , , , , on August 30, 2013 by jaclemens

WeddleUtah opened the football season with a rousing victory against Utah State last night! In preparation for the season I read No Excuses, No Regrets: The Eric Weddle Story by Trent Toone (another May release). I have another blog where I track the Utes who have gone on to play professionally, and Weddle is definitely one of my favorites. He isn’t going to grace the pages of ESPN the Magazine’s Body Issue, but he is the epitome of a professional athlete in my eyes. His determination to make pivotal plays is unmatched, and he deserves to be one of the highest-paid players at his position. If only Toone was as dedicated to being the best at his profession as his subject, this would be a truly great read. This biography discusses Weddle’s accomplishments to date, but it also examines his high character, family life, and conversion to the LDS Church. I was already a Weddle fan, and now I’m determined to get The Man’s Chargers jersey (even if he did admit to reading the Twilight series!).

Billy LynnFor a more complicated subject and superior writing, I turned to Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. I’m no fan of the Dallas Cowboys, Destiny’s Child, or the war in Iraq necessarily, but I am a fan of writers who can meld difficult subject matter into an entertaining book, so that makes me a Fountain fan! He deserved to be a National Book Award Finalist for what he did with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. It may not be the definitive literary work of the Iraq war, but I have already recommended it to my buddy in the Navy. I await his verdict as to the authenticity of Billy Lynn’s experiences on both fronts, battle and home, but I thought the book was terrific. And, as someone who recently suffered a migraine, I can attest to the horror of that halftime show!

100 thingsI completed my off-season workout with Patrick Sheltra’s 100 Things Utes Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. It came out in 2011 so it isn’t entirely up-to-date, but I’m familiar enough with recent developments; it’s the history of the program on which I needed to brush up. I was working concessions in the stadium for #17 Yergy’s Drive from 55 in the 1993 Holy War, and I was delivering pizza while listening to #23 Lusk’s Dash in the Dusk. I’ve already written about my reaction to listening to the 2005 Emerald Bowl. But I wasn’t around for #31 The Lost Championship of 1969, or Fred Gehrke painting the first horns on the helmets of the Cleveland Rams. I’ve been tracking Reggie Dunn’s preseason in Pittsburgh for my other blog, and it bears a resemblance to Erroll Tucker’s experience in 1986. These are some of the 100 things I needed to know. Eric Weddle comes in at #19, three spots behind Larry Wilson, the only player from Utah in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Art of Power

Posted in New release, Non Fiction, Quote of the Day with tags , , on January 25, 2013 by jaclemens

ImageThis was a new release when I started reading it, and I am still categorizing it as such. The triviality of the two months it took me to read and review it has no bearing on the subject matter or the presentation; Thomas Jefferson is fascinating, and Jon Meacham could win another Pulitzer Prize for Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. In it another aspect of Jefferson is brought to light: “He dreamed big but understood that dreams become reality only when their champions are strong enough and wily enough to bend history to their purposes.” Jefferson was a philosopher, but that did not make him an ideologue. He was pragmatic, both in his personal affairs and his public service. He learned how to acquire and wield power early in his career and put those lessons into practice. It takes power to withstand tyranny, and Jefferson was a champion of democracy. Jefferson was narrowly elected president, but his principles guided four of the five presidents who succeeded him. “And so began the Age of Jefferson, a political achievement without parallel in American life,” Meacham writes. Would that it were so to this day, sir.

Reading on Three Fronts

Posted in Fiction, New release, Non Fiction, Reading List with tags , , , , , on August 3, 2012 by jaclemens

I took a three-pronged approach to my summertime World War II reading: a novel about North Africa, a profile of a POW in the Pacific, and a biography of the preeminent Soviet general. I haven’t kept up on reading Jeff Shaara’s war novels as well as I’d like, so I started with The Rising Tide. My grandfather was a bombardier in World War II, so most of my reading has been in that direction. His father was in Eisenhower’s tank company in World War I, so it was good to get a sense of the tank battles in Northern Africa under Eisenhower’s command.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand recounts the extraordinary experiences of a B-24 bombardier, but that’s where the similarities with my grandfather’s WWII service ends. He wasn’t a neighborhood nuisance or a world-class distance runner. He didn’t serve in the Pacific theater, or go down in the ocean. He didn’t survive weeks afloat on a drifting raft with no provisions and circling sharks. He wasn’t captured and treated inhumanely as an enemy combatant. This is an amazing story told with great depth of research and emotion, but I also like my grandfather’s story: he finished his missions over Germany and returned to his civilian life.

Zhukov wasn’t a bombardier, and he did not return to a regular civilian life after accepting Germany’s surrender. He garnered so much success that he was elevated to commander-in-chief of the ground forces. His fame was as fickle as Stalin was suspicious, however. In a matter of months he was busted down in rank and sent away from Moscow. After Stalin died Zhukov participated in the arrest of Beria, and was rehabilitated under Khrushchev. He rose again to the position of Defense Minister, only to be deposed and exiled once more.

Zhukov was Stalin’s go to general, the one he sent into besieged Leningrad, recalled to defend Moscow, deployed to hold Stalingrad at all costs, and put on the offensive at Kursk. Stalin appointed him marshal of the Soviet Union two months before assuming the title for himself, and gave him the honor of reviewing the Victory Parade. When his popularity rivaled that of Stalin he was removed from the capital and the authorized history of the war. In present day Russia Stalin is still revered by some for leading them through the Great Patriotic War, in spite of all the self-inflicted damage he caused. Zhukov’s reputation has been restored in all its complexity, and he is no less revered for it.

A Fan’s Notes

Posted in Fiction, Non Fiction, Reading List with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2012 by jaclemens

I got this one from the Esquire list of 75 Books Every Man Should Read, but that isn’t why I read it (incidentally, I won’t be getting my Man Library Card from Esquire anytime soon). I picked it up because of a particular project I’m working on with a similar bent. I wanted to see how Exley approached his recounting of a fan’s life from a fictional standpoint. Changing names and particular details allows more creative license, but does it still resonate the same way? The book is more about the narrator’s mental instability than it is about his admiration for Frank Gifford and the G-men. It is a well-written example of its generation, but I’m not a man of that generation.

When it comes to the NBA I’m not a man of the current generation, either. After this season’s lockout I hardly paid any attention to the league, and even then it was only to defend my title in a family fantasy league (I was the runner up). I poured my attention into the NHL instead, and was rewarded with an outstanding season for a new fan.

The University of Utah has a club hockey team that hasn’t produced any pro prospects, so I don’t have my usual connection to a given team. Utah does have the Grizzlies, an ECHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames. I took my son to a Grizzlies game this year and we had a great time. As an extension of that experience could I become a fan of the Flames? The connection is too tenuous. I did find one player in the NHL who hails from Salt Lake: Trevor Lewis of the L.A. Kings. It’s not easy for a native Utahn (me) to be a fan of any franchise in Los Angeles, but it helped that a native Utahn (Lewis) is a member of the team. After Lewis scored two goals in game six of the Stanley Cup Finals to help the Kings win the Cup for the first time it sealed the deal: I am a Kings fan! It may appear to be hopping on the bandwagon, but that isn’t the case. At the beginning of the season my friend Ryan and I each chose four teams, all division rivals. I took the Kings, Predators, Flyers, and Hurricanes; he picked the Coyotes, Blues, Devils, and Lightning. Four teams apiece seems a bit much, but it made the season far more interesting for us both. Especially when six of our teams made the playoffs and faced each other in the second round! Ryan won that round 2-1, but I won in the end as eighth-seeded L.A. knocked out all three of his teams: #2 St. Louis, #3 Phoenix, and #6 New Jersey in the Finals. It was a season for the ages!

To get my basketball fix I had to turn to an earlier age. Last season I read The Fab Five by Mitch Albom (props to Juwan Howard for finally winning a title with the Heat), and this year I read Living the Dream by Hakeem Olajuwon (with Peter Knobler). Hakeem was my favorite player growing up – loved watching him go up against the Jazz and Mr. Robinson’s Spurs – and now that the NBA has degenerated into an unwatchable mess, I felt it was time to revisit the golden age of the sport (mid-80’s to mid-90’s). Hakeem’s not my favorite writer, but he’s still my favorite player!

Bill Simmons researched dozens of books on the NBA for The Book of Basketball, but he bypassed Olajuwon’s book. In one of his self-perpetuating footnotes he says he “refused to buy Living the Dream because it sounded so awful.” Is it fair to expect a world class athlete to also be a world class writer? How much talent can you fit into a 6’10” frame? It doesn’t compare to the entertaining way Simmons writes, but English isn’t Olajuwon’s native language. I’d like to see Simmons go to Nigeria to play soccer and demonstrate how multi-talented he is! He can write circles around Hakeem, and he certainly knows his basketball. I enjoyed reading The Book of Basketball, although it took me a month to get through it. This is a case of having too much of a good thing: too many zany theories, too much Boston worship, too many porn star references. Reading a complete history (plus his alternate histories) of the league made up for disregarding the NBA this season (and for the foreseeable future).

Simmons also turned to the Kings in lieu of the locked out NBA; can’t wait for him to release a book on the 2011-12 season in the NHL!