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Norton Book Of Sports

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  • Posted February 10, 2009

    Plimptom produces an overall well vetted overview of important sports writing, but overlooks important fictional and poetic gems.

    George Plimpton certainly takes advantage of being George Plimpton in this anthology. In a genre that is not really a genre for lack of good material, this inventive author, who has resources and knowledge, spends too much time charmingly,self-effacingly using his own material when important sports writing in the truest sense is omitted. <BR/> Such pieces as F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Swimmer", a gem of a short story that appeals to anyone who simply finds an outlet in physical activity would be a great addition especially with the sly wit of the rare Fitzgerald hero who outsmarts his grasping rich wife. Plimpton could well have cut the famous "Jumping Frog" by Twain, which is in most American Lit books, and instead used "The Bowl" by Fitzgerald, a short story about football (these are hard to find) especially ones, even though dated in the 1920's, that deal with choices athletes have to make: his sport or his girl? Or is it his integrity?<BR/> Although Plimpton includes poetry, because he uses a template of the four seasons to present his choices, important poems such as "To An Athlete Dying Young" do not appear. This poem must appear in a sports book. Every athlete ponders this question--and comes to different conclusions: thus it is a cornerstone of sports literature. With Plimpton's insight, he could have included Emily Dickinson's "Victory is Sweetest"; this poem refers to the defeated in a battle truly understanding the sweetness of winning--far more so than the victors, yet athletes resonate with this theme. These two poems work well with the essay "The Place Fear Plays in Sports"<BR/> The main problem with the book beyond not using actual literature, lies is its use of baseball (as much as I love it), golf, and boxing as its meat . True, there are a few football references, some tennis, but soccer, basketball, track and field, softball, hockey, even bowling, for heaven's sake, are either skimmed over or ignored.<BR/> The main pupose of a sports book should be to give a balanced view of as many sports as possible. Admittedly, when I bought the book, I was on a mission. I needed a textbook for a sports literature class I was going to teach college sophmores. I wanted something to accompany novels such as "The Natural", "The Legend of Bagger Vance", "Bleachers", "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner", "Million Dollar Baby". Every anthology I examined was aimed at high schoolers, or had a social agenda. I simply wanted a decent text of short stories, poetry and some good sports writing. Instead I got George Plimpton noodling around with some excellent pieces, some pieces that might have worked in a book devoted to sports essays, and a few classics, thank goodness.<BR/> I suppose it would be too harsh to say this book is a waste--and it would be untrue. After all, the title doesn't lie; this is indeed "Norton's Book of Sports" edited by George Plimpton. However, when one sees "Norton" on a collection, there is an expectation of excellence: that is NOT true of this book. The best part of the book lies in the prefaces Plimpton writes before each piece--but even those can be frustrating because he often leaves the reader hanging, and the expectation the reader's curiousity will be satisfied doesn't happen in the following piece. That's teasing--just as the title is.

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