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Books In Brief | Kate Tuttle

Insights on soccer, bridge, and feminism

Juan Villoro’s essays mine the psychological and emotional depths of what soccer represents. Mexico’s Toluca fans and players (above) cheered after scoring on an Argentine team. Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press


Tackling the Giants, Villains, Triumphs, and Scandals of the World’s Favorite Game

By Juan Villoro

Translated from the Spanish by Thomas Bunstead

Restless, 256 pp., paperback, $16.99

Growing up in Mexico City, the son of a father from Catalonia and a mother from Yucatán, journalist Juan Villoro settled on rooting for the local team as an early rebellion. “My parents came from separatist traditions,” he writes. “By way of contrast, I decided to be of my street.” In these lyrical essays about the beautiful game — the one we call soccer and everyone else calls football — Villoro mines the psychological and emotional depths of what the sport represents, and what it means, and feels like, to be a fan. Many of these pieces center on the way sports can evoke a state of childlike wonder, blending our joy of play with our deepest associations with our parents, our neighborhood, our city. It didn’t matter, Villoro writes, that his chosen team was a perpetual loser; as a fan of Mexican football, he points out, “defeat suits me.”

Strange and soulful as the game itself, Villoro’s pieces will send many readers to Wikipedia to check out key plays and legendary players. Although it’s not encyclopedic (nothing on the women’s game, focusing mostly on national teams in Europe and South America), the book nonetheless captures something ineffable about what it means to love a team and a sport. This makes Villoro’s scathing takedown of soccer’s governing body even more poignant: “In art and sport alike we make a mental return to childhood, the space in which great marvels are possible. The unfortunate thing is that FIFA has put childhood up for sale.”




A Memoir

By Betsy Lerner

Harper Wave, 320 pp., $25.99

“Bridge was the HBO of its day,” writes Betsy Lerner; the card game was such a popular hobby that big matches were broadcast on radio, and most newspapers had a bridge columnist. Although now a niche activity (Lerner pegs it as “on par with stamp collecting”), the game still looms large among devotees, among them Lerner’s mother and her bridge group. All Jewish women in their 80s in the New Haven area, the friends have played bridge together for decades; still, she notes, “I had known these women my whole life and hardly knew them at all.” The group’s weekly lunches and games form the spine of this deeply affecting memoir.

Growing up, Lerner admits, she was in a state of rebellion against her mother, who seemed a guarded, judgmental figure during the author’s teen years in the ’70s. As the mother of her own teenage daughter and newly returned to her hometown, Lerner investigates what makes the Bridge Ladies tick. Learning their game — which “brings out the best and worst in a person: how competitive you are, how generous, how petty, and how kind” — she begins to learn who these women are. “I can see the girls they once were and the cards they were dealt,” Lerner writes. “Death hovers over the Bridge table,” she adds, but in this generous and honest examination, she honors these women’s lives.



From Riot Grrrl to Cover Girl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement

By Andi Zeisler

PublicAffairs, 304 pp., $26.99

At the 1995 birth of Bitch magazine, founding editor Andi Zeisler recalls, “feminism had only recently reentered the pop-cultural imagination after the massive 1980s backlash that saddled the very word with a wealth of ugly baggage.” Reclaiming that title word was part of the magazine’s sensibility, and the era’s: equal parts ironic and idealistic. But as Zeisler writes in this sharp new examination of the uses and misuses of feminism, as the word “bitch” became cool, “the complexity of making ‘feminist’ palatable remained.”

Today, pop icons from Beyoncé to Taylor Swift claim the title feminist, and the word appears proudly in the kind of women’s magazines that also promote fashion and frippery. But is this a sign of social progress, Zeisler asks, or the commodification of an idea, more about rebranding than revolution? As she points out, the political landscape when it comes to many women’s rights — from reproductive health to economic equality — has been uglier than ever. In this wide-ranging and thoroughly entertaining book, Zeisler takes skeptical aim at both feminist history and consumer culture, as well as their weird recent symbiosis: “I call it marketplace feminism,” Zeisler writes. “It’s decontextualized. It’s depoliticized. And it’s probably feminism’s most popular iteration ever.”


Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at