Lost on the shelf. The power of an unread book.

The Story of Astronomy has lingered in my library, unopened, for years.

Not a crease across the spine. Not a dog ear between the pages.

I pulled it down from the shelf, hoping it would inspire a poem.

My hope was mislead. But I did learn the sky has a remarkable influence on the Muslim faith:

Allah had put these signs in the sky for a purpose. The stars helped Muslims to work out the direction to Mecca; while the Sun indicated the five times of day when they must pray. The first appearance of the crescent Moon marked the beginning of a new Islamic month. And – by investigating the heavens – Muslim scholars would literally get closer to knowing the mind of God.

Faith and science speaking with each other.

Rare.

Keep those unread books close. Someday they’ll reveal a new truth.

Kicked Off: A new Eredivisie season begins

In celebration of the Eredivisie kicking off, a few passages on Dutch football:

First, from Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Eduardo Galeano recounts Cryuff’s origins:

This scrawny livewire earned a spot on the Ajax roster when he was only a child: while his mother waited tables at the club bar, he collected balls that went off the field, shined the players’ shoes, and placed flags in the corners. He did everything they asked of him and nothing they ordered him to do. He wanted to play and they would not let him because his body was too weak and his will too strong. When they finally gave him a chance, he took it and never let it go. Still a boy, he made his debut, played stupendously, scored a goal, and knocked out the referee with one punch.

Galeano’s Gullit piece reads like it’s speaking to 2019, not 1993…

In 1993 a tide of racism was rising. Its stench, like a recurring nightmare, already hung over Europe; several crimes were committed and laws to keep out ex-colonial immigrants were passed. Many young whites, unable to find work, began to blame their plight on people with dark skin.

Ruud Gullit, known as “The Black Tulip,” had always been a full-throated opponent of racism. Guitar in hand, he sang at anti-apartheid concerts between matches, and in 1987, when he was chosen Europe’s most valuable player, he dedicated his Ballon d’Or to Nelson Mandela, who spent many years in jail for the crime of believing that blacks are human.

I googled The Black Tulip to see if Ruud Gullit would hit my screen first.

Nope.

Instead, the search engine delivered another historical rebel – Alexander Dumas, and his novel titled: The Black Tulip.

Now, from David Winner‘s Brilliant Orange:

A dedication worth reading:

For:

Dad, who taught me to love football,

Mum, who taught me to love art

and Hanny, who taught me to love Holland.

It’s clear to me now, but back in 2004, Winner’s book introduced me to the Dutch mentality of controlling the game. Also, Winner taught me there’s more to Dutch football than Johann Cryuff.

‘It’s a thinking game. It’s not running around everywhere and just working hard, though of course you have to work hard too. Every Dutch player wants to control the game. We play the ball from man to man; we wait for openings. That’s how to play football: with your brains, not with your feet. You don’t have to be a chess player, but you must think ahead. Before I had the ball I knew exactly what I would do with it. I always knew two or three moves ahead. Before I get the ball I can already see someone moving in front of me, so when the ball arrives I don’t have to think about it. And I don’t have to watch the ball because I have the right technique.’ If ball control comes naturally to a player, he needs only one touch to get it where it needs to be.

Arnold Muhren

Lastly, two transfers to watch out for:

Jordy Clasie returns to AZ on a permanent. Could a return to the Eredivisie see him mount a national team comeback?

Former Johan Cruyff Trophy winner and Pochettino outcast Vincent Janssen has landed in Monterrey. Could the ketchup finally flow?

Spoiled Brats: A Collection of Voices

Simon Rich is a literary shapeshifter. A master impersonator.

With his the short story collection Spoiled Brats, I was no longer reading words. My earlobes were nailed to each sentence, listening for the voice.

Whether it was a desperate, widowed, classroom pet hamster:

They buried my wife in a shoe box in Central Park. I like to imagine that the funeral was respectful, that her body was treated with a modicum of dignity. But of course I’ll never know. I wasn’t invited to the ceremony. Instead, the guests of honor were the students of homeroom 2K.

Her killers.

Or a time traveling, pickle factory worker, adapting to a modern Brooklyn he doesn’t recognize:

As the saying goes in Slupsk: “Sometimes you must drink milk right out of the goat, because it costs two rubles instead of the three rubles.”

I think about this saying as I walk the streets of Brooklyn. There are so many decadent restaurants, each one more luxurious than the last. I pass one named in honor of the pirate Long John Silver, which serves assorted treasures from the sea. Then I pass one that serves chicken that is crisped, in the style of Kentucky. Most amazing to me is a large white castle that sells Salisbury steaks between two breads. Their food is so rich I can smell it from the street. My stomach is rumbling, but I know that these places are beyond me. Their signs are spelled out with electric flashing lights. If I want to survive, I must find someplace more humble.

Or even Death himself, picking up some pro bono work:

“Then why are you here?” Tim asked, a slight edge in his voice.

“To kill your dreams.”

He topped off Pete’s scotch.

“It’s a new thing I’m doing,” he explained. “Claiming lives is depressing. I mean, it can be fun, in a ‘gotcha’ sort of way. But it doesn’t do the person any good. By the time I show up at a guy’s doorstep, it’s too late for him to change his ways. That’s why I’ve decided, pro bono, to tell people when their dreams have definitively died. So they can move on with their lives.”

Rich’s encyclopedia of voices alone, is a reason to keep Spoiled Brats on your nightstand.

Whales on Stilts! – A fun, thrill packed adventure tale…

BY JACK F.

This was fun.

I met Whales on Stilts! in a used book store and fate took it from the there.

Real talk, author M.T. Anderson sprinkled in all the essential storytelling spices and herbs, including words like:

cada man who behaves dishonourably, especially towards women.

vestibulean antechamber or hall just inside the outer door of a building.

cetaceanan order of marine mammals comprising the whales, dolphins, and porpoises.

sinister – suggestive of evil or harm.

(you’re welcome for that jump in your SAT scores)

dialogue that burns with Shakespearean fire:

“I am cleverly disguised,” he explained, “as the photocopier repairman of the future, when man, through his ingenuity, will conquer even the farthest reaches of space, and need to make duplicates of things.”

– Jasper

“Everyone wants to get back to the place the know best,” said Lily’s grandmother. “When you are old, though, sometimes that place is not just far away on the map but far away in time. How do you get home, then when home is in another era?”

– Lily’s grandmother

thrilling 5 fisted action:

Cars were stopped in the middle of roads so people could run into discount clothing stores. Smoke was pouring out of the gas station. A pop machine had ruptured; dogs licked up Dr. Pepper from the pavement.

And somewhere in all of that chaos, Lily’s grandmother lived.

and all the 3,000 leagues below the Mariana Trench deep stuff:

A whale. It was a whale, a walking whale on stilts, with deadly laser-beam eyes. Her grandpa had always said this time would come.

M.T. had me turning pages, underlining bits of dialogue, and writing back at him in the margins.

Whales on Stilts! is a worthy read. You’ll laugh from your belly, and cry from your ears – and isn’t that all we want from a book?

We’re Fans: Our Favorite Online Football Writing from 2018

Sure, you normally hit publish on this type of post in December. But I wanted to be sure no piece snuck in before 2018’s final seconds. Also, I procrastinated.

All three pieces are well written, but more so, they warped my football mind with new perspectives.

I hope they warp yours too.

Wright Thompson, The Greatest Game Never Played

Remember as a little kid, when adults would say read! It will take you to new worlds! Wright Thompson’s detailed descriptions make that true. He drops you off in Buenos Aires where the chaos of an eternal rivalry consumed the city.

You’ll hear rubber slugs whizz past, and smell the baking pizza from El Cuartito. But Wright also points out that Boca Juniors, caught up in the madness, missed one of the rarest opportunities in sport – a win-win.

Wright argues had Boca played and lost, they’d have a legitimate excuse to fall back on. Had they played and won? Legends. Forever legends.

Eusebio Di Francesco, The Smell of the Grass

I’m intrigued by professionals who are excellent in their work, but never wanted their jobs in the first place.

Through The Coaches Voice Di Francesco shares a first hand account of running from his calling, and how the smell of the pitch lured him into coaching.

Brian Phillips, World Cup 2018: France Advances Past a Cavani-less Uruguay

Never has a match report made me slam both fists on the dining room table and yell “Yeaaaahhhhhhhh.”

Then el profesor Alan Jacobs posted a snippet from Brian Phillips’ World Cup quarter-final match report.

The opening paragraph, which Alan dubbed “soccer and the impediments to success” is the most obvious, yet insightful explanation of soccer I’ve read.


Current Reading Stack #1

Long ago I decided to participate in the Ray Bradbury writers diet. This diet consisted of reading one short story, one poem and one essay each day.

This he claimed in a lecture at Point Loma Nazarene University’s Writer’s Symposium By the Sea, would ward off writer’s block.

It’s Ray Bradbury. It’s gotta work. Right?

I’ve since gone on to combine Ray’s reading diet with my own, reading one novel, one comic, and one non-fiction book at a time.

I’m not sure it’s helping my writing, but I’m getting a lot of reading done.

 

The Three MusketeersRebecca Solnit wrote on the importance of writers reading the classics. “Live in the deep past” she said.

Taking her advice to heart I started with Athos, Porthos, Armais and D’Artangan. I’ve been in this book for months. Here’s to finishing in 2018!

Fragile Things – A Neil Gaiman collection of short stories. Neil Gaiman will seduce you. He’ll make you choke on your eggs laughing. And he’ll diagnose you with love sickness, all in one book.

The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology – This book was mentioned once on the Freakonomics podcast. I ordered it. Then it took a long nap on my shelf. Now I’m learning geology is the only thing that matters.

The New Kings of Nonfiction – Found this on the clearance shelf at Half Price Books. A sin! This book is worth at least one bitcoin. Glad I scooped it up for two dollars. It’s not considered a collection of essays, more so long form journalism. But I’ll consume it as part of my essay diet for now.

Brown Girl Dreaming – I never believe people when the say “Art is the only thing that will save us.” Jacqueline Woodson’s collection of poems is changing my mind.

The Complete Persepolis – Some people read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” every year. Others read “To Kill a Mockingbird” every year. Many many others don’t read any books, all year.

I read this comic every year. I don’t plan to. But somehow it falls in my lap every twelve months.