Create Your Own Mythology: On Usain Bolt’s 9.58


Usain, being still.

Under review: 9.58: Being the World’s Fastest Man, by Usain Bolt with Shaun Custis (2010, HarperSport, 287 pages)

As the Sochi Winter Olympic Games lurch to a close, it’s instructional to remember that, for Summer Olympians, the past two weeks were exactly like every other two weeks in an uninterrupted four years of solitary, quasi-monastic training, in anticipation of the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. The nature of their work is as astonishing to the insider as it is to the most casual of viewers: years of existentially trying toil, all aimed at a window of competition usually under a minute long, in which the slightest of missteps will send the head-shaking athlete back to four more years of private practice mournfully directed at that next crucial minute of competition.

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Publication Starts the Story: On Jim Bouton’s Ball Four

Bouton, motivating corporate types.

Bouton, motivating corporate types.

Under review: Ball Four: Twentieth Anniversary Edition by Jim Bouton (465 pages, 1990, Wiley Publishing)

A memoir’s publication date usually serves as a finish line. The events within have already taken place well, well in the past; their cathartic release tends to act as a formal and organized end to the events’ influence on the author’s life.

The opposite is true of the life and memoirs of Jim Bouton, big-league pitcher throughout the sixties and into the seventies. The weeks and months that Bouton chronicled in his memoir, Ball Four, were hardly detectable compared to the Richter-scale impact that the release of Ball Four had on Bouton’s life. Decades later, Bouton in his seventies still earns speaking gigs at corporate functions not so much because he lived the life that Ball Four details, but because he wrote about it.

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Memoir as Weapon: On Keyshawn Johnson’s Just Give Me the Damn Ball!


Paparazzi snag Keyshawn in retirement.

Under Review: Just Give Me the Damn Ball!: The Fast Times and Hard Knocks of an NFL Rookie by Keyshawn Johnson with Shelley Smith (1997, Warner Books, 216 pages)

The Sports Memoir: Choose Your Own Adventure

There’s something inherently cathartic about the process of writing a literary memoir. The events within have occurred too close to the writer’s heart for the writing to be handed over to anybody else—all of the interpretation and re-imagining of events is intimate territory and, for the first drafts, all access is strictly forbidden.

Creating a real, bound book is also a steep mountain to summit and, in doing the untold hours of boulder-pushing required to get a manuscript at all organized, the writer’s thoughts become organized too. No matter how frenetic and unkempt a day or an emotion was in its first, raw experience, it must still be fit into a taut and precise rubric of chapters and scenes. The publication and release may in fact be secondary: it was that intense polishing, that taming and compartmentalizing of wild life, that was most appealing and even necessary. Continue Reading