Tuesday, February 8, 2011

True Believers

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of True Believers: The Tragic Inner Life of Sports Fans (Picador, 2004).

My mother got me a pair of Joe Queenan books for Christmas. The first of them, If You're Talking to Me, Your Career Must Be in Trouble, I did not enjoy very much, because I have little interest in mediocre films starring the sorts of mediocre talents that Queenan spotlighted in it. He went on for twenty pages about Melanie Griffith, and all I could find to note was that, yes, I had seen her in Something Wild and certainly agree with the author that she possessed a remarkably fine rear end at that point in her career. He later made a similar point about Susan Sarandon's rack. Other than Rocky Horror, which I don't really remember, and Thelma & Louise, I have never seen any of Susan Sarandon's movies. I'm sure you're pleased that I did not try and review this book. Not without illustrations anyway.

True Believers, on the other hand, I really enjoyed reading, because I know much of what Queenan speaks. He grew up in Philly, and still supports the four major professional home teams despite what he perceives as their poor performance. Actually, strike that, I live in Atlanta and Queenan's a whiny bitch. I just looked up his teams on Wikipedia, and at the time he wrote this book, those four teams had one World Series win, two Stanley Cups and three NBA championships. What the hell is he complaining about? We've got one World Series and a championship by the Atlanta Xplosion in whatever the heck league they play in. Look them up and then whine about poor Philly and see what a chump you look.

He does raise some interesting questions, and while it's fun to consider them, I don't know that he answers them. Why do people support the San Diego Padres, who never win anything? Well, probably the same reason why I like the Hawks and the Thrashers: because this is where I live and these are the teams for whom I can cheer and these are the teams that I can take my children to see. It's a little amazing that Queenan could write a book as long as this and not really get the point of that idiotic "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" song. As much as I enjoy the spirit of competition, and the occasional burst of amazing athleticism, and the always soul-filling burst of schadenfreude when some overhyped celebrity like Dwight Howard or a turncoat punk like Ilya Kovalchuk comes to town and gets whipped, I genuinely love the sense of community pride and a little bit of local history. I like seeing Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby playing in Dominique Wilkins' house. (Well, okay, they don't, because Wilkins played in the long-demolished Omni, but you know what I mean.)

This is a great book for anybody interested in fandom. Sports fans aren't that much different from any others; boorish idiots are common in any crowd and so are the people who will live and die based on what happens in what they are observing. There are people who take the Celtics too damn seriously and people who take Harry Potter too damn seriously. It's much more fun to just like the game and pretend to take it too damn seriously. Unless you're a Gators fan. You, I can't stand.

Now, I did have one objection to Queenan's observations. While witty and amusing throughout, I just can't agree with his grumbling about people having loyalty to teams not naturally theirs by either geography or inheritance via a father. I like the Toledo Mud Hens quite a lot. I don't know why I still do; I picked a team to have an amusing, safe point of argument with my first wife after she moved to Louisville and some outlet for good-natured trash-talking around the children was thought a good idea. Yet my first wife can, now, fall through a hole in the earth's crust and that'd suit me just fine, but I still adore the Mud Hens. I think they're silly and ridiculous, but they've got a better ball park than darn near any in Major League Baseball and the one time (so far) I've had the chance to see them at home, I had a terrific time. I enjoy the simplicity and the relaxation of minor league baseball - and the prices - wherever I go and whichever league I am watching, and Toledo exemplifies everything I love about the fun distraction of sports. Bafflingly, while I have no real business being a Mud Hens fan, according to Queenan, it's okay for my son to be one. Good. Just so long as he hates the Louisville Bats, right?

On the other hand, people who bandwagon-jump for the Lakers or the Yankees just because of their records, those guys and fair weather fans both, they can both get out of sight. You're not a true believer unless you really know about the agony of defeat. This is a sparkling, hilarious book, and absolutely recommended.

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