David Goldblatt contends there are significant similarities between “the misgovernance” of the Premiership and problems of leadership in the United Kingdom in general in “The Game of Our Lives,’’ his examination of how soccer has mirrored changes in modern British culture.
When I interviewed him, I suggested that was a stretch. He made an excellent case that he was right, and I was wrong.
Goldblatt writes of the presence of “the debt-fuelled antics and bitter conflict of the rich and famous” and “the high hopes and harshly dashed aspirations of the hardworking poor” in both contexts, and his analysis not only makes sense, it is marvelously entertaining.
Goldblatt knows soccer in England at all levels. He references not only former players, managers, and ownership groups, but the chants particular to various teams. But the grand achievement of “The Game of Our Lives’’ is in the author’s leap beyond the minutia of the game to a consideration of its significance in a society where he finds “a longing for the communal and the public in an individualized and privatized world.”
Readers curious about why people around the world care so deeply about teams made up of mercenary, millionaire strangers and owned by billionaire businessmen will find some answers in Goldblatt’s analysis.
“The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks’’ chronicles a year in the growing and lucrative industry of coaches — many of them ex-quarterbacks — who are doing very well for themselves by creating the next Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. Or purporting to do so.
The jargon in the book, which takes readers inside elite private quarterback-training programs, suggests that some of those engaged in “making the modern quarterback” have a stake in rendering their efforts so complicated and mysterious that the fathers and mothers of would-be signal-callers will surrender under the avalanche of “kinematic sequencing” and “the landscape of the quarterback space” and write the check to fuel the journey led by the “quarterback guru.”
Trent Dilfer, an NFL quarterback from 1994 until 2007 and a TV analyst since his retirement from the league, is the guru upon whom Feldman most often focuses.
Dilfer has turned the process of “making” the next generation of quarterbacks into not only a successful franchise, but a reality TV show called “Elite 11’’ as well. His story will especially delight football fans who’d prefer to forget that pro football significantly damages the brains of lots of the men who play it.
Oscar Pistorius, who thrilled and inspired South Africa and lots of people elsewhere when he became the first runner to compete in the Olympics on prosthetic legs, “was prone to behavior that might be considered understandable in an adolescent but was rash to the point of imbecility in a well-known individual who needed to be attentive to his public image.”
This tendency, identified by John Carlin in his biography of the fallen star, “Chase Your Shadow,’’ may or may not have had something to do with Pistorius’s fatal shooting of his girlfriend, the event that opens the book.
According to Carlin, Pistorius is also prone to paranoia, fear, and an acute sense of vulnerabilty that may have accounted for his rash actions on Feb. 14, 2013, when he fired several shots through the locked door of his bathroom, killing Reeva Steenkamp.
Carlin’s account of the childhood of Pistorius, his impact on the culture in his home country and beyond, and the trial during which he claimed the shooting of Steenkamp was an accident is fascinating, though his contention that “[a]s hero and anti-hero, [Pistorius] offers an archetype to which all people can relate” may be a step too far.
Retired NHL goalie Clint Malarchuk’s suffering has been extraordinary. His obsessive-compulsive disorder and bouts with depression could not prevent him from “willing” himself “into becoming an NHL goalie,” but they certainly made him miserable as he details in his memoir, “A Matter of Inches.’’
As an adult, he successfully hid most of his disorders from teammates and others for years. Then in 1989 his throat was cut open by an opponent’s skate, and he nearly bled to death. Years later he acknowledged that the incident had left him with post-traumatic stress. By then he was suffering from chronic depression and addiction to alcohol. In 2008 he attempted suicide by shooting himself in the head. He mentioned to me in a recent interview that the bullet was still in there.
“A Matter of Inches’’ can’t easily be characterized as therapeutic. Malarchuk seems relieved to have seen the book through to completion, and is hopeful his story will help others who’ve battled the demons that have made his life so difficult, but he also acknowledges he quit the project a couple of times, and the work on it triggered a relapse after he’d been sober for some time. His candor about his past and present struggles is inspiring, and no one reading his story will fail to wish him strength and serenity going forward.
THE GAME OF OUR LIVES: The English Premier League and the Making of Modern Britain
By David Goldblatt
Nation, 368 pp., $26.99
THE QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks
By Bruce Feldman
Crown, 320 pp., $27
CHASE YOUR SHADOW: The Trials of Oscar Pistorius
By John Carlin
Harper, 400 pp., $27.99
A MATTER OF INCHES: How I Survived in the Crease and Beyond
By Clint Malarchuk with Dan Robson
Triumph, 272 pp., illustrated, $25.95
From WBUR in Boston, Bill Littlefield hosts NPR’s “Only a Game.” His most recent book is “Take Me Out,’’ a collection of sports poems.