Archive for February, 2010

Keith Gessen And The Current Events Novel

I picked up Keith Gessen’s first novel, All the Sad Young Literary Men, about 18 months too late. It was published in April of 2008, but I didn’t read it until recently. You might think that there is nothing wrong with this. After all, we routinely read books several decades–or even centuries–after they are written; what harm could a couple of months do? But Gessen’s novel is particularly wrapped up in a specific time period, namely the decade from 1998-2008. Reading it now may make you nostalgic for the very recent past or, quite possibly, make details from three years ago seem especially dated.

The reason the novel is so connected to a particular time period is that the sadness of all the titular sad young literary men is caused by a sense of global ennui, a collective disappointment or sense of betrayal by the world at large. Sam, Mark, and Keith are all intelligent, liberal, worldly, politically conscious, vain, self-obsessed, overeducated, lazy, Jewish, sad, young recent college graduates of the last decade. Their stories don’t really intersect at all—Gessen gives them varying degrees of tangential connection, but never has them interact. The novel is cut into three parts, and each character gets his own chapter in each part. And while these stories move along independently of one another, they inhabit the same landscape. Continue reading

Advertisements

The Sports Revolution: Tweaking the Olympics

Let me set the scene for you: The Games of the XXI Winter Olympiad are about to end, and they were pretty good.

Let me reset the scene for you: The Games of the XXI Winter Olympiad are about to end, and they were truly transcendent. Everyone is anxiously awaiting the Closing Ceremonies, complete with the first unveiling of the Ultimate Podium and the first declaration of a real Olympic winner.

We all know that the Winter Olympics suffer from a bit of a middle-child syndrome, perpetually locked between the last Summer Olympics and the next Summer Olympics. But at their heart, the Winter Olympics should be more fascinating than their vernal kin. This is because so many of its events are so novel to us living in America. We no longer live in the peaceful America of Saturdays spent with Jim McKay and ABC’s Wide World of Sports, where we’d occasionally catch a glimpse of a skiing event in a year that wasn’t divisible by four.* With our sporting purview more limited to the mainstream now, our predominant reaction to the sports of the Winter Olympics comprises questions such as, “What’s going on here?” and “How come nobody else thinks this is that cool?” (The latter of which is adopted by my own colleague.)

*This was back when the Winter Olympics only occurred in years divisible by four. Continue reading

Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #116: Freight Train Blues

There’s a scene in I’m Not There in which the character known as Woody, played by Marcus Carl Franklin and designed to embody the youthful, mythical Bob Dylan, hops onto a train with nothing but a guitar case labeled “This Machine Kills Fascists.” Once there, though, Woody finds himself confronted by unsavory characters who are generally unsympathetic to Woody’s romantic notions of life on the run. Scared, Woody briefly abandons his life on the run for life as an imposter with a middle-class family. Continue reading

Survivor Survival Guide: “That Girl Is Like a Virus”

“There’s nobody out here that’s honorable. There’s nobody out here that’s honorable anymore—except for me. I hate to pontificate on this. Martin Luther King says that the greatest measure of a man is not in the way he handles times of comfort, but in the way he rises to controversy and challenge. There’s always hope; the last thing we have in life and in this game is hope that the impossible will happen, that we dare to dream that Randy’s gonna wake up in this camp tomorrow. So yes, there’s still hope. I still have breath and a brain cell in this brain. I will fight for him.”

—Coach, who then voted Randy out of the tribe

Last week, NPI’s go-to television critic, Alan Sepinwall of the Star-Ledger, wrote about how the way Survivor episodes were edited often revealed a lot of what was going to happen. To wit: Even before the Immunity Challenge in Week 2, there was already discussion in the Heroes’ camp about who should be voted off, and a lot more of the camp dissension centered on Stephenie than on Amanda. Consequently, it wasn’t surprising when the Heroes lost and when Steph was voted off.

When I read that last week, I kind of conceded the point, thinking I too should have seen it all coming (not like it was a huge surprise, but still…). But then I remembered that Survivor is also good at throwing red herrings at you, spending entire episodes focused on the machinations of one character who seems on the verge of being voted out, only to end with the elimination of another, minor character. And that’s what happened last night. Continue reading

The Value of Jeter, Part 2

Spring Training is underway now, which means fans and the media are gearing up for the 2010 MLB season. This season brings a lot of things: the return of Mark McGwire, another chance for the Mets’ doctors to practice, the long-awaited absence of Chip Caray. It also brings the end of Derek Jeter’s 10-year, $189 million contract.

Yesterday, Jeter addressed these concerns to the media for the first, and he says only, time this year. He didn’t really say anything new: He wants to stay with the Yankees, he’s always wanted to stay with the Yankees, he won’t talk about it again until the end of the season.

All indications, from both Jeter and Yankees GM Brian Cashman, are that Jeter will re-sign, and, as I’ve said before, he’ll probably do it quickly, since he is worth more to the Yankees than to any other team. But his new contract won’t be settled for at least seven months.

Why? Because the Yankees have a policy of not negotiating new contracts until a player’s old contract has ended.* In general, this policy makes sense, since it obviates any awkward mid-season negotiations and allows the team to factor in the production of the last full season when coming up with a contract offer. And since the Yankees have the resources to outspend any other bidder if they so choose, then the risk of losing a player on the open market is not that high. In Jeter’s case, though, this policy is probably a mistake. Continue reading

The Double Bonus: The Talking Cure

As usual, Tim in black and John in red.

In the aftermath of Bob Huggins’ ejection Monday night against Connecticut, ESPN’s Andy Katz raised an interesting question: Why do NCAA officials talk so often with coaches?

Conversations between coaches and officials are much more prevalent in basketball than in pretty much any other major team sport. I postulate that this derived from the positioning of officials on a basketball court; the official on the outside of the three-point line usually finds himself right next to the coach. The frequent stoppages of play, during timeouts and even more so, free throws, give coaches plenty of time to yap with refs.

As such, it’s now a common sight at a college basketball game to see a coach like Huggins or Jim Boeheim or Mike Krzyzewski carrying on a conversation during free throws with refs like John Cahill, Jim Burr, and Karl Hess. In fact, it’s pretty much a go-to shot during the broadcast of a game. Kyle Singler’s called for a block, show replay, have announcers discuss call, Davis misses first free throw, show Krzyzewski talking it over with Hess. We see this several times each game. The announcers even explicitly refer to it as “working the officials.” Continue reading

A Beginner’s Guide to Lent

Note: I know Lent started a week ago. But this is a Beginner’s Guide to Lent, not a Guide to the Beginning of Lent. Timeliness isn’t always a concern at NPI.

I grew up in a Roman Catholic neighborhood, going to Roman Catholic schools, and attending Roman Catholic Mass every Sunday. So the idea of Lent is fairly simple and straightforward to me.

But every once in a while, someone like Josh—who you may have been able to infer did not grow up in a Roman Catholic neighborhood, go to Roman Catholic school, and attend Roman Catholic Mass every Sunday—reminds me that certain things we Catholics do—like “put that cross on our heads” (his words, not mine)—strike others as awfully strange.

Lent, of course, starts on Ash Wednesday, which is not, contrary to popular belief, a holy day of obligation. Still, any good Catholic will attend a short prayer service, which typically entails a reading, a Gospel, a brief sermon, and the distribution of ashes. The ashes are meant to remind us that we were made from dust and to dust we shall return. As a result, my high school’s prayer service always concluded by playing the sacred recording, “Dust in the Wind,” by Kansas.

Continue reading