Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Book of Basketball: Holy Scriptures of the NBA

Very rarely is a subject so thoroughly and entertainingly encapsulated in a single text as Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball: The NBA according to the Sports Guy.  It is, until another writer is crazy or talented enough to attempt to do better, the definitive bible of professional basketball.  His insightful analysis, attention to basketball minutia and the absolute thoroughness of his examination make you wonder if God didn’t appear to the author as a burning bush and dictate the text.  It’s hardly high literature but it’s superbly written and offers enough –often hilarious- references to pop culture that it’s entertaining for even the most limited of basketball fans.

Simmons offers a unique and vibrant dissection of the evolution of the game over the past five decades, a thorough and well-reasoned ranking of the top 96 players ever to play the game, a chapter on the greatest teams of all time, and -in a chapter that is sure to appeal to the NBA-obsessed- he also tackles dozens of fascinating alternative histories like: “What if Len Bias hadn't overdosed?” and “What if the 1984 draft had gone differently?”  Very few stones are left unturned in this exhaustive examination. 

But what elevates The Book of Basketball from just another entertaining sports book to the pantheon of important books is that it breaks new ground by straddling genres.  When originally published in 2009 it was one of the first books that successfully navigated the intersecting terrain between sports and pop culture.  While it contains sufficient stats and jargon to sate basketball purists’ appetites, it also contains enough of the other stuff to appeal to a very broad audience.  It reads something like a well-informed blog; what one might imagine the result of cramming Sports Illustrated, The Onion and People magazine into a blender and pureeing.  And while that may not be an appealing dish for everyone, that seems to be the present state of the publishing industry.   

The Book of Basketball is also an incredibly fun reading experience as the author’s passion and child-like exuberance for the subject is highly infectious and jumps off of nearly every page.  Simmons, aka The Sports Guy, and the brains behind the popular mixed media website Grantland (The Literate Man highly recommends this site, which delves into a little bit of everything, including literature), is not only addicted to the NBA but is also a reverent student and able chronicler of the game.  He’s also compiled what might be the most engrossing and ample set of footnotes we've ever seen. 

So if you hold even a passing interest in the game of basketball do not hesitate to pick up this book.  Before you know it, you’ll be on page 300 -crunching stats and reading about Rick Barry’s hair piece and Larry Bird’s locker room beer consumption- unkempt, unshaven, and pathetic; partaking in NBA lore to levels of near depravity, wishing you’d never picked this book up.  And loving every minute of it.  

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Great Book Giveaway!

Always on the vanguard of that nebulous frontier where social media and innovation collide, The Literate Man (TLM) has crawled into the 21st century of book blogging and we've set our sights on yet another daring first:  we’re giving the people what they want.  And what do the people want?  Why, free books of course!  So let us welcome you to the first ever TLM Free Book Giveaway!  That’s right the TLM Free Book Giveaway! It is, without a doubt, the greatest free book giveaway in the history of the universe (we wouldn't use bold font if it wasn't).  So, we got that going for us, which is nice.  And it’s even nicer for the two lucky winners of this amazing contest.  Two very special people will receive free copies of At Drake’s Command, the terrific new novel by David Wesley Hill (click here to see review).  We’re big fans of the book and we're sure you will be to.  But that's not all, act now and three lucky runner-ups will also receive an electronic version for Nook or Kindle.  That's five free books being given away, folks!   

To enter for your chance to win you must:
1.    Be a follower of our blog (scroll down this page and click the blue Join This Site button on the lower-right side)
2.    Hit the comments section of this post and tell us the next book we should review on this site and why.  The best submissions (as judged by the brilliant editors at TLM) will not only see their book suggestions reviewed on this site, but will also win a free copy of At Drake’s Command. 
Please note: This contest is open internationally. It will close on Friday, February 22 at 11:59 PM (EST) and the winners will be notified via email shortly thereafter.

This contest couldn't be any easier!  So let us know what book you’re hankering to have reviewed on TLM and win yourself a free copy of a great book.  We can’t wait to start sorting through the millions of outstanding submissions that are sure to follow.  Thanks for following and happy reading!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Author Interview Series: David Hill, At Drake's Command

One of the best things about producing The Literate Man is the opportunity to read new and interesting books submitted to us by authors.  We’re both humbled and elated at the prospect of cracking the spine on these submissions and sharing a great new book or author with the world.  At Drake’s Command by David Hill (Temurlone Press, 2012) is latest of the many excellent books we’ve received.    
At Drake’s Command is the rare kind of book that once you open it up, you’ll be planning your day around the next opportunity to pick it up again and devour its 424 pages.  It’s the story of Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the world as seen through the eyes of Peregrine James -a kitchen boy cum privateer- and it’s absolutely fascinating.  James, a novice seaman, learns the ropes as he’s reluctantly drawn into one enthralling adventure after another, culminating with the stunning climax of this first volume of a three part series. 
Hill has created a captivating vision of 16th century at sea that weaves historical accuracy, engaging characters -both real and imagined- and an alluring plotline into a swashbuckling adventure on the high seas and lands unknown.  It holds its own as both a compelling story and as a painstakingly attentive portrait of the details of ship life.  Hill transports the reader back to the Golden Age of Exploration by cleverly re-creating the vernacular of the day and provides an intimate glimpse into the life of an English pirate.  It’s a richly layered depiction of loyalty, betrayal, intrigue and the historical geopolitics of the era.  We can’t wait for an advanced copy of the next book in the series!
Mr. Hill was kind enough to take the time to participate in our Author’s Interview Series.

(Editor's note: certain of Mr. Hill's responses were condensed by the Editor due to space constraints; any usage of seemingly out-of-place punctuation is the fault of the Editor, not Mr. Hill.) 

TLM: Why write about Sir Francis Drake’s voyage?

Hill: In 1998 I was a winner of the Writers of the Future Contest, which was created by L. Ron Hubbard, who was a science fiction writer before he founded the religion of Scientology. Each year winners of the contest are invited to Los Angeles for a black-tie awards ceremony and a week-long writing workshop conducted by a professional science fiction writer…Thus, one morning we were let loose in the aisles of the LA Library to browse the shelves in search of inspiration. I was mildly interested in pirates and began reading a facsimile edition of The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake.

This was not written by Drake himself but published by a nephew thirty years after Drake’s death in an effort to keep alive Drake’s reputationI said to myself, “This is utter mendacity.” So I started researching the real story of what had happenedMy first inclination was to write a non-fiction book about the…affair.  I am, however, a fiction writer, so I decided to tell the tale in novel form.

The dialogue is fascinating.  How did you go about re-creating the day-to-day language of 16th century privateers?

Basically, I divided the English language into three sets:
1.       Modern English
2.       Elizabethan English
3.       Words Common to both Modern and Elizabethan English

Then I used only the words common to both Modern and Elizabethan English (although sometimes, for flavor, I would throw in a purely Elizabethan word). I also added some Shakespearean cadences, and borrowed heavily from John Dunne.

Why did you choose a kitchen boy as the protagonist for this tale?

I chose a cook rather than a sailor because I wanted to make the book accessible to the general reader rather than only nautical aficionados. Perry knows nothing about sailing and thus we learn about the sea as he does, and I'm able to explain (as one reviewer noted) “the difference between a fathom and a firkin.”

Furthermore, I know much about cooking since I worked for many years as a chef for major hotels, mostly in the South. I also briefly cooked aboard the Clearwater, a replica of a 19th century sloop built by Pete Seeger and others, which to this day sails the Hudson River, educating people about the environment. Once, too, I cooked aboard a 50 foot vessel on a blue water delivery sail from Maryland to Florida. These experiences allowed me to bring a certain level of realism to Perry's adventures.

At Drake’s Command strikes us a story firmly rooted in historical detail.  How did you prepare for and research this writing?  What were your primary sources?

As I mentioned, I began with The World Encompassed, which, unfortunately, is a pack of lies and has been known to be such since the publication of the Cooke Account (a manuscript  written by one of the gentlemen adventurers accompanying Drake) in the mid 19th century. Most of the text is derived from the notebook of Francis Fletcher, parson to the adventure; however, Fletcher's notes were heavily edited to cast Drake in a favorable light. Still, though, The World Encompassed remains the most important available source of information about the second circumnavigation of the world.

Next I read Corbett’s Drake and the Tudor Navy, which was published in the late 19th  century and is considered the seminal biography of Drake. Unfortunately it, too, is little more than white wash.

The best scholarly account of the circumnavigation is Wagner’s Voyage Around the World, which was published in the early 20th centurybiased, but of utmost importance, is New Light on Drake, edited by Zelia Nuttall. In the early 19th century, Ms. Nuttall scoured archives in Mexico and Spain to search out any references to Francis Drake during the voyage of circumnavigationThe Principal Navigations, by Haklyutis an invaluable resource and contains much about Drake.

…I wrote to the British Library and had them send me photocopies of manuscripts pertinent to the voyage, and then I had to decipher the writing letter by letter, not an easy task but a thrilling one—it was an amazing experience to hold in my hands the actual signatures of the men about whom I was writing.

As I wrote the book, to get into the spirit of the period, I immersed myself in Medieval and Renaissance music, particularly the work of Orlando Gibbons, William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, and, of course, John Dowland.

How many volumes will this series encompass and how did you arrive at the decision to make it more than one book?

I originally planned a single volume but gave up this idea at the 50,000 word mark, when I realized the story needed much more room. The circumnavigation required more than two years, after all! At Drake's Command follows the adventure from Plymouth to the Cape Verde Islands. The next volume, Desperate Bankrupts, picks up the story in Africa and continues until the fleet reaches Patagonia and Thomas Doughty is executed. The final installment, Beyond Dreams of Avarice, continues the adventure until the Golden Hind returns to England laden with one of the greatest pirate treasures in history.

What are some of your favorite books –fiction or non-fiction- written about the Golden Age of Exploration?

I highly recommend Portuguese Voyages 1498-1663: Tales from the Great Age of Discovery, edited by C. D. Ley.  This is an amazing collection of original source material from the Portuguese Age of Discovery. The section, "The Furthest East", is a first-person account of a shipload of Portuguese desperadoes marooned in the China of Genghis Khan, and it's as gripping as a novel.

Another favorite of mine is The Defeat of John Hawkins, by Raynor Unwin. This is about Hawkins's disastrous slaving voyage, and it's an amazing story. Drake was there, and did not well distinguish himself. So was Pascoe Goddy, a sailor aboard the Pelican, who tells part of the tale himself while explaining his dislike for rapiers and how he lost his ear.

What is it about the Golden Age of Exploration that makes it so interesting for readers and writers?

First, I truly hope the Golden Age of Exploration is interesting for readers. When my agent was marketing At Drake's Command to major publishers, we were continually told that readers only wanted nautical adventures set in the Napoleonic era, not the 16th century. However, by the 1800s, most of the world was mapped, while two centuries earlier most of the world remained terra incognita. This, to me, is the more interesting time, when mystery was just beyond the horizon and every voyage was a journey into the unknown. I hope many readers will feel as I do.

Patrick O’Brian, and his Aubrey Maturin series, is obviously the standard-bearer for this genre, and we’ve written plenty about his work, but how does At Drake’s Command compare with his work?

I have to admit that I've never read Patrick O'Brian. Around ten years ago I picked up a book in the middle of the series but just couldn't get into the story. I figured I should start at the beginning but before I could, I had begun writing At Drake's Command. I rarely read other people's novels while I'm working on my own. I'm afraid of allowing another author's voice into my head because sometimes a good voice will take over and I will find myself imitating the other writer. Since I suspected that comparisons between At Drake's Command and O'Brian's books would be inevitable, I was particularly careful to avoid his work, so that I could honestly claim that I was not influenced by him. I have, however, read all of the Hornblower novels, and Forester is one of my favorite authors.

Your previous work has dealt with science fiction - if we’re not mistaken.  How did you make the leap from science fiction to historical fiction?  How are they similar?

...The transition from one genre to another went fairly smoothly since in both genres the author must create for the reader a world different from our own. In this regard, historical fiction is easier to write than science fiction because the history already exists and you can take from it what you will. For a SF story, however, you must create the new world from whole cloth, a much harder task.

When can we expect part II of The Drake Circumnavigation?

It took me eight years to research and write At Drake's Command. However, now that the research is complete, Book II, Desperate Bankrupts, should take under a year. I should have it finished in late 2013 or early 2014.

David Wesley HillDavid Wesley Hill is an award-winning fiction writer with more than thirty stories published in the U.S. and internationally. In 1997 he was presented with the Golden Bridge award at the International Conference on Science Fiction in Beijing, and in 1999 he placed second in the Writers of the Future contest. In 2007, 2009, and 2011 Mr. Hill was awarded residencies at the Blue Mountain Center, a writers and artists retreat in the Adirondacks. He studied under Joseph Heller and Jack Cady and received a Masters in creative writing from the City University of New York, as well as the De Jur Award, the school's highest literary honor.