The Word on the Street

Anthropologist’s book explores why we love sports

An image on a Greek vase depicts an early game known as ephedrismos, a form of polo.

An image on a Greek vase depicts an early game known as ephedrismos, a form of polo.

“The Ball: Discovering the Object of the Game” (Harper) begins with a question from a 7-year-old. Harvard-trained anthropologist John Fox is playing a game of catch with his son when young Aidan asks, “Why do we play ball, anyway?”

This sets Fox off on an odyssey to destinations, pedestrian and exotic, seeking fun, insights, and a break from the scandal and big money that engulfs professional sports today. Along the way, Fox explores the Native American origins of lacrosse and studies ancient ball courts in Mexico. He visits a marine park in Florida where he observes that balls are the dolphins’ favorite toy. He travels to the Scottish isle of Orkney, where a centuries-old version of football is played only twice a year, on Christmas and New Year’s Day.


Closer to his home base in Boston, he visits the city of Springfield, the birthplace of basketball, Fox’s favorite ball game. It was in 1891 that James Naismith, a teacher at a YMCA training school that would later become Springfield College, was given two weeks to complete his assignment: Create an indoor game that would challenge a class of future YMCA administrators and give them a good workout.

Belfast book fest

Authors of books about Maine birds, lighthouses, trivia, and the drink Moxie will converge on Belfast, Maine, July 27-29. Novelist Richard Russo and the authors of cookbooks and children’s books also will gather for the second annual Belfast Bound Book Festival. The coastal community’s downtown boasts a number of literary draws including the Old Professor’s Bookshop, Artisanal Books & Bindery, and Left Bank Books, which moved from Searsport in June. Details at www.belfastboundbook

Life (and career) lessons

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One of the premier publishers of work by children and teens is the writing center 826 Boston. Its newest book, “A Place for Me in the World: People Talk About the Work They Love,” is a high-energy collection of interviews by Mission Hill School students. The assignment was to talk to someone who holds a job you’re curious about. That person might be a bouncer at a nightclub, a marine biologist, a rap artist, a firefighter, or even the mayor of Boston.

What makes for fascinating reading are the students’ post-interview reflections in which they write about what they learned, what surprised them, and how the encounter has influenced their thinking about a career. Some students discovered that their dream job can be boring. Even interviewing someone in a field that’s a far cry from what you want to do can be helpful. A student who wants to work in sports radio talked to a school nurse. “It proved to me,” he wrote, “that you have to be determined about getting the job you really want.”

Coming out

 “The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network”by Katherine Losse (Free Press)


 “Shadow of Night”by Deborah Harkness (Viking)

 “Earth Unaware: The First Formic War” by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston (Tor)

Pick of the week

Jean-Paul Adriaansen of Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, N.H., recommends “Quarantine: The Loners” by Lex Thomas (Egmont USA): “This captivating young adult novel in the style of ‘The Hunger Games’ is not for the faint of heart. It is a bloody and cruel story. A high school, hit by a deadly virus, is under quarantine. Meager supplies, dropped by helicopter, are stolen or grabbed by the strongest. Belonging to a gang is practically the only way to survive.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @JanLGardner.
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