Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s written tribute to his 50-year friendship with legendary basketball coach John Wooden is a gift to sports history. While the author may be the NBA’s reigning all-time leading scorer (with scores of other athletic accolades also to his name), this memoir about his basketball career veers away from stats and records. Instead, it drives straight into the core of one of the most incredible mentor relationships ever seen in sports. The writing, honest and witty, is the linguistic equivalent of a subtle, knowing smile. Abdul-Jabbar reminisces about Coach Wooden’s aphorisms and Midwestern quirks, his winning strategies, and his quiet struggles. Most of all, through the kaleidoscope of Abdul-Jabbar’s memories, we see the vision of a unique friendship where two men were perfectly suited to learn from each other, challenge each other, support each other, and become masters not just of their sport, but also of living a life that fills each “minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.”
Caitlin Scarano’s debut poetry collection Do Not Bring Him Water is a master class in exploring the rot of trauma and the dissonance of need. Each poem shows us a speaker who will not be held down, clawing her way to the surface to breathe, scratching everything that gets close along the way. At turns hollow, luminescent, bloody, and frozen, the collection’s fragmented voice is wrought together with indelible image threads—the white dog, spoiled milk, bowl and spoon, the ghost of a son. These graceful, violent poems are not written for the faint of heart, and you might end up crying hot tears in a coffee shop if you read them all in a row like I did. But most of all, this book shows us how to write without flinching–to tell the truth. I’m convinced that this poet’s real name is She Is Not Afraid. Caitlin Scarano is one to watch.
Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list when it came out in 1980. The book also made its way, along with the rest of the series, to my mother’s bookshelf. When I discovered it as a young middle schooler sometime in the 90’s, I wasn’t allowed to read it. So I thought it was about time! This novel is still captivating, and its power comes from the meticulous, extensive research about ancient people groups that comes through so clearly in Auel’s prose. The writing is not particularly artful in craft, and I wouldn’t say that the book is without pacing problems, but it’s still an addicting (almost guilty) thrill for the modern reader. This book set my imagination on fire. It prompted me to do a bunch of research of my own on neanderthal people, their technologies, and their relationship with early humans. Also: holy cow was I emotionally invested in these characters! This book has that wonderful transportative effect that takes you into the adventure and makes you want to fight, love, and feel alongside the characters. If you missed The Clan of the Cave Bear the first time that it was a big deal, and you have any degree of fascination with a world where people hunted mammoth and lived in caves, do yourself a favor and take this ride with Ayla, Creb, Iza, Brun, and the celebrated Jean M. Auel.