sports

Review: A Separate Peace

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A Separate Peace Book Review
3 of 5 stars to A Separate Peace, a novel written in 1959 by John Knowles. I suspect if I were to re-read this “classic” again now, it has a chance of getting a higher rating; however, I’m not in a rush to prove the theory. I have a few good memories of the story, some a bit “blah,” but overall… it was a decent book. When I read The Secret History last year, I had vague recollections of this being somewhat similar, though the topics are quite different.

At the core, this is a coming-of-age story focused on Gene and Finny, two polar opposite boys at a prep school around the time of WW2. An accident occurs which may have been deliberate, thus becoming the focus of the story. As a result of the accident, one of the characters suffers an injury that prevents him from continuing on his path to the Olympics. Friends take sides. Families wonder. But the friends try not to question it. Until other people force them to. And in the end, there is pain, death, forgiveness and unexpected consequences.

The book is a good juxtaposition of lifestyles and choices. It makes you think about what you’d do in such a situation. How far can one person be pushed? And when you do something wrong, do you tell anyone, especially if you can get away with it? Lots to teach young adults, learning to make their own decisions and set a path for their life.

I enjoyed the story, but I would have preferred a more modern setting. I’m not a fan of excessive sports or war, and these were two central themes in the book, which ultimately led me to feel partially disconnected. But the parts inside the character’s head, questioning motives, being psychological in their analysis, were the ones worth reading.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

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Review: Beartown

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Beartown4.5 out of 5 stars to Beartown, a 2016 contemporary novel by Fredrik Backman. Although the book had a bit of a difficult start for me, it developed into an emotionally-charged hot bed, triggering anger and frustration over so many things about the human race… and I’m quite glad I read it and enjoyed it. But wow… I haven’t a visceral emotional reaction to words like this in a very long time.

Why This Book
Beartown began showing up on a few of my Goodreads’ friends book lists earlier this year, intriguing my interest. I read the overview and saw many comments that “although the premise is all about a junior hockey team, it’s so much more.” I had a hard time believing that to be true, but thought it might be worth a chance if I could get it from NetGalley. And then I was approved to read it in early April. It took me a few weeks to find the right time in my reading schedule, but it all fell into place last week when I finally took on the book.

Overview of Story
Beartown is a very small town in the middle of a forest far away from everywhere else. It was once bigger and stronger, but the economy has pushed it further and further down a hole — to the point where all they have left is the possibility of a good junior hockey team in the future. Everyone in the town gets involved to some degree, either playing, supporting or raising the players who range from 13 to 17 years old. It’s the place where agents sometimes go to find the next great star of the professional leagues.

But the lack of resources and funding has led to a bitter passion among the residents, who seem to stop at almost nothing to ensure their kids have an opportunity to win their games. Some of the residents are fair and honest. Some are rude and malicious. It’s a typical American sports town, breeding team camaraderie, fueled in some cases by hatred and anger, but in a few others, promoting acceptance and tolerance.

Each of the key team members (8 to 10) has a personal story. Each of the parents and coaches has a vision. Rivalries and favoritism shine all around. And with each passing game, the school must decide what side of the coin they’re on… supporting the team and accepting hockey will always comes first, before education, or fighting back to keep a fair balance. But when someone is attacked, sides must be taken within the school, the team, the hockey league and the town.

It’s a story about hope, control, loss, jealousy, anger, and desire. It’s about parenting styles. It’s about looking the other way for the sake of long-term goals, despite what you may be letting someone get away with in the short term. It’s about how people treat one another. And in so many cases, it is not the way it should be.

Approach & Style
Beartown is told by an omniscient narrator who can look into any character’s head at any moment.

It’s told in the present tense with a few small reflections on the past.

Point of view changes and hops around within chapters, defined by a few spaces between paragraphs.

It’s mostly short sentence structure and paragraphs. Told the way people speak.

Strengths
1. I am not a big sports fan. I played on a soccer and baseball team when I was younger. And I worked for a sports arena for nearly 20 years. But I have never been interested in hockey. And while the story is too focused in the beginning on the pertinent parts of the sport and rules, it generally has a very good approach to building a fever for the team among us readers. When an author can do that, it’s a strong book.

2. The characters are fairly vivid, each representing a difference slice of life and personality. You will like a few. You will hate many of them. It’s another good thing when an author can deliver this level of emotion. As an example, Maggan Lyt supports her son no matter what he has done. And she’s rude to everyone, lies, believes her own lies and has no sense of morality. She wasn’t a huge part of the story, but she is the epitome of what I hate about what sports can do to a kid. She’s the worst kind of mother and should have been taught a bigger lesson. (I rarely go off on topics, especially like this… but she is what is wrong with so many things right now about how people behave in this world…)

3. The setting is described nearly perfectly. You feel the despair. You see the emptiness. You can tell it’s a freezing cold pit of fear.

4. Views are told from everyone’s angle. And even though you will have pure hatred for some of the people, part of you has a small understanding of why they do what they do. You won’t accept it or like it, but you can see how it happened in Beartown. And you will wonder if that’s what’s happening in so many other towns across the country.

Open Questions & Concerns
During the first 60 to 75 pages, I was a little frustrated at the focus on hockey as a sport the town rallied around. It was slightly boring and difficult to connect. I trudged through, reading 75 pages the first night and the second night. By the third night (last night). I was 35% through and starting to feel that intense sensation where you just don’t want to put the book down, and I finished the last 300 pages all in one sitting (in bed). Intense because I was so angry at the people, the actions and their beliefs. It made me feel sorrow for any town who focuses on sports as the center of their life. I’ve always thought high school sporting teams were full of nonsense. I don’t want to alienate any readers of the book or even my reviews… but I really have to ask the question… Do school sports breed teamwork or do they breed arrogance and nasty habits of accepting things just because you’re on the same team? I’m sure there are good examples of a team building positive traits in children… but this was not one of them. When they’re proud to have injuries… when they support someone who has clearly done something bad because they are on the same team… when they use derogatory language in a locker room because it helps create a bond… that’s not teamwork. That’s humanity at its worst… that’s people thinking they are above others because they have some physical talent for playing a sport. I have little if any tolerance or patience for people like that. Even when I played on teams, sure, I bought into the “rah, rah, let’s win” concept. But the second it crosses that line and because a situation where it’s just bad behavior or the thoughts of the uninformed and lazy, ridiculous politics of small minds, I wish they’d all go straight to hell in a hand-basket. And that’s how this book made me feel – it conjured up those feelings…. and it was really well done. It hit all the hot spots I have about awful sports parents, horrible team members who think they can do anything because they’re a “hero.”

I couldn’t push this up to a 5 for a few reasons:

1. Some of the characters felt too similar / duplicate. I had a bit of a hard time distinguishing them from one another, e.g. which parent is that, what happened to that kid before the game? It could have been a little tighter in this area.

2. I’m a bit unclear on the ending… it was like there were 2 possible versions… and I wanted to know exactly what happened. It also didn’t feel like every character had a proper ending… a few open issues left for me.

Author & Other Similar Books
I haven’t read any other sports-themed books, so I don’t have anything to compare it to from that perspective. But as far as the intensity of your anger or hatred for some of the characters… I would liken it to how I felt about James K. Morrow‘s The Philosopher’s Apprentice.

Final Thoughts
I’ve ranted a bit here. It’s a powerful book. It showcases many of the fears I have about a good portion of the country. I’m all for team spirit and finding hope in an activity when there seems to be nothing else available; however, if this is a commentary on what it’s like for many towns across the world… my fears are justified. And when a book can share and show that… it’s a really strong one… and worth the read.

P.S. No offense intended to anyone who is a big sports fan, sports parents or sports player themselves. The anger I felt in reading this book is for the negativity steaming off all the wrong things about sports and how they make people act. I’m all for a positive, character-building team sport where the intensity is on the field… and the only thing left off the field is friendship, fair and honest support and an ability to know when to draw the line.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

View all my reviews

365 Challenge: Day 32 – Defensive

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Defensive: (1) very anxious to challenge or avoid criticism, or (2) used or intended to defend or protect

The best explanation I could give for how I have been known to be defensive is a work-related situation. One of my mentors, who knew me quite well, once pulled me out of a meeting, to highlight an example of how I was being defensive. This is where it gets funny… when you hear the word defensive, you likely think argumentative, disruptive and generally annoying. For me, it was quite the opposite. Apparently, and I don’t like admitting this, if a decision was made in a meeting that I didn’t like or support, my body language gave me away. I might have thrown out my opinion, and sometimes I didn’t weigh in if I knew I hadn’t a snowball’s chance in… never mind… point being… I apparently shut down. My expression went sour. My arms folded themselves across my chest. I sat back in the chair at the conference table. And I didn’t speak for the rest of the meeting. It was a silent defense system, more commonly known as pouting!

For the record, I respect Annalise Keating!

You’re thinking… that’s silly. Nothing you’ve said in the last 31 posts seems like you could have done that. Oh, but I did. And I fully admit it. I am a very defensive person, but I work on it regularly to try and let it dissipate. When my mentor (and boss) pulled me out the meeting, (s)he explained what (s)he saw, told me I’d never move up if I couldn’t learn to interact more professionally, and that it was immature.

I wonder which one I am in this little video…

My immediate reaction: “You’re wrong!” No, I didn’t say that… I accepted the feedback, returned to the room… (s)he told everyone there was a confidential production emergency and that’s why (s)he called me out to ask me to get someone to fix it, as (s)he was a very caring boss… From that moment on, I’ve been super conscious of my external behavior and how I’m being seen.

For that matter, I can also admit I was a defensive child, too. I never liked to be told I was wrong. Being wrong and me in the same sentence didn’t make much sense. I’d run off and hide if that ever happened. As I get older, I find myself seeing lots of situations where my facts or opinion are wrong or insufficient. I deal with it in a healthy way these days. I grab a drink and then go hide. Then everyone just thinks I’m thirsty. 😛

But it’s still lingering there on the surface. I don’t like being this way, but I know that I am. I attribute it to my father. He’s very defensive too. So I know I inherited the behavior, through either DNA or learned actions. Never in a horrible or mean way… just enough that it made me a bit more human. I’ve often been called robotic, so I suppose, this is a sign that I, too, have faults. Yuck. I hate saying that aloud.

But being defensive means you have passion. And passion can be healthy. It’s all a matter of perspective and control. If you’re defensive, you care about something strongly. Perhaps you want to protect it. It’s not always a bad thing.

Though I’m not a big sports guy, there’s always the offense and the defense within a game. Defense is there for a reason: to protect something and help ensure it is either given the path it needs or able to contain something long enough for the win.

I wonder what that guy was trying to defend?

Being defensive as a person should be a sign that you have something worth protecting. Then it’s just a matter of how to handle it professionally, with a courteous and considerate approach. At this point in my life and career, it’s really a very minimal issue… in fact, I’m more concerned about people seeing it, so I almost never let it show or happen. And that’s progress!

Any other defensive folks out there? How do you help keep it in check?

About Me & the “365 Daily Challenge”

I’m Jay. I am 40 and live in NYC. By profession, I work in technology. By passion, I work in writing. I’ve always been a reader. And now I’m a daily blogger. I decided to start my own version of the “365 Daily Challenge” where since March 13, 2017, I’ve posted a characteristic either I currently embody or one I’d like to embody in the future. 365 days of reflection to discover who I am and what I want out of life.

The goal: Knowledge. Acceptance. Understanding. Optimization. Happiness. Help. For myself. For others. And if all else fails, humor. When I’m finished in one year, I hope to have more answers about the future and what I will do with the remainder of my life. All aspects to be considered. It’s not just about a career, hobbies, residence, activities, efforts, et al. It’s meant to be a comprehensive study and reflection from an ordinary man. Not a doctor. Not a therapist. Not a friend. Not an encyclopedia full of prior research. Just pure thought, a blogged journal with true honesty.

Join the fun and read a new post each day, or check out my book reviews, TV/Film reviews or favorite vacation spots. And feel free to like, rate, comment or take the poll for each post.

365 Challenge: Day 28 – Scottish

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Scottish: containing roots from Scotland

There are lots of famous Scottish people I admire: Gerard Butler, Ewan McGregor (one of my favorite and most versatile actors), Annie Lennox, Sean Connery, Robert Burns… there are tons more, but I only picked the few I easily recalled and that I actually know things about or have seen things they are in. For example, Tony Blair is apparently Scottish, but I only know of him as a former PM for the UK. I couldn’t tell you very much about him, so I didn’t list him. But I guess I just did. Oh well.

As we finish the fourth week of the 365 Daily Challenge, it’s time to cover the last major ethnic and genealogical heritage within my DNA. Irish, German and English were the first few, and now we’re gonna chat about my Scottish roots. Based on my research through Ancestry.com, I’m around 12.5% Scottish, mostly stemming from my mother’s side of the family. There are 4 families from Scotland, out of 32 branches, focusing on the ones who immigrated from Scotland to the U.S. And those names are: (1) Robertson, (2) Wallace, (3) Hector, and (4) McGregor or McSwegan. I am not certain which is the correct last name because there are two marriage certificates when James Robertson married Margaret around the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. Both are New York marriages, both have all the same details for addresses and parental information, except on one certificate it shows her name as McGregor and on another, it shows her name as McSwegan. I can only assume it is the same woman, filled it out twice for some reason, and she was married once before my 2x great-grandfather, but I would likely need to go to Scotland to get more details. Some day!

So let’s talk about Scottish roots and stories. I love the accent. I love Outlander (who doesn’t)! I love Mary Queen of Scots. And I’ve started reading a new cozy mystery series with lots of potential. For those not familiar with my book reviews, check out the links to see another side of me. And when I Love Lucy went to Scotland in her dream, I loved it! There is so much rich culture and history in the country, beautiful landscapes and fantastic substance, I wish I had more Scottish blood in me.

But when I looked up the top ten traits of the Scottish, this time using a cross between Quora, Huffington Post and Answers.com, I had to wonder how much of these things are true: at least when it comes to me. Here we go, lasses and lads:

1 – Pale / Freckled / Ginger

  • We covered this one under Irish and English, so I’m not gonna repeat myself. I am. I was tempted to post a picture of an attractive red-head… but too many to chose from, so you get a bottle of soda!

  • Score: 1 out of 1.

2 – Violent

  • We covered this one under Irish, so again, I’ll skip it. I’m not.

  • Score: 1 out of 2.

3 – Sports-Lovers

  • We covered this one in the last few. I’m not a big sports guy. Who runs around on a field and chases balls purely to say I caught it in the end?

  • Score: 1 out of 3.

4 – Drinkers

  • We covered this one under German, Irish and English. The whole world seems to be. And while I drink a bunch, I wouldn’t fit this definition.

  • Score: 1 out of 4.

5 – Kilts & Bag-Pipes

  • I think kilts are gorgeous. I think they should be worn in the right setting. If you’ve got strong calf muscles, definitely flaunt them. If not, skip it. I’ve never worn one, but I’d like to and I’d ROCK it. But since I haven’t, I can’t claim it.
  • I find the sound hypnotic. In the funeral scene in my book, “Watching a Glass Shatter,” there’s a passage about bag pipe music that moves a character to tears. Writing it also moved me to tears. It’s a bit lyrical. You should read it here; it’s in the beginning of chapter 1, but read the whole thing. (Oh, how bad was that plug!). But I’ve never played one, nor been in the physical presence of one. So that’s a no for me sadly.

  • Score: 1 out of 5.

6 – Cheap

  • The word used was miserly, but I don’t agree. When I think of miserly, I think of Shylock from Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.” No… perhaps a little cheap is what they mean. And there’s a small part of me that is a bit cheap. I do spend money, and sometimes way more than I should, but my initial reaction to something is usually “and how much will that cost me?” I should give myself a few points to account for that…

  • Score: 1.25 out of 6.

7 – Haggis-Lovers & Poor Diets

  • I have never eaten haggis. Most people aren’t even sure what it is. I looked it up to be certain, as I knew it was the stomach of some animal. It’s sheep. And while we’ve covered my obsession with cookies, you also know my diet is generally healthy. So epic fail here.

  • Score: 1.25 out of 7.

8 – Can’t understand them

  • The accent is alluring. Charming. Exotic. Sensual. Rich. Many of us get chills when we here it. I’d probably do anything under the right circumstances, if someone spoke to me with an authentic Scottish accent. And yes, it can be a little hard to understand the person. Although not quite the same, people sometimes have a hard time understanding me… claiming I mumble and speak too softly. I suppose they are correct… it’s not that I slur, but since I’m quiet and shy, I tend to not speak too loudly unless in a work situation. So… I’ll give myself a few percentage points for this, but not a lot.

  • Score: 1.5 out of 10.

9 – Loch Ness Monster

  • While I love the concept of the Loch Ness Monster, and it’s used so often in books and film, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist. Though it would be cool if it did! And I am not a monster, so I get nane. (none, in Scottish)

  • Score: 1.5 out of 10.

10 – Homophobic

  • Hmm… I don’t think I agree with this being a trait of the Scottish. But it showed up in 2 of the 3 places I looked for the “top 10” traits, so I had to include it. I’m just gonna go with… if you’re reading this post, you know me, or you live in the modern world, then no… this is ridiculous. I don’t think Scots are, and I am certainly NOT! Quell hypocrite!

  • Score: 1.5 out of 10.

How ironic… 1.5 out of 10 is 15%, which is roughly how much Scottish I have in me. I wonder… did I just work that math out purposely, or are these true and accurate tests for my DNA structure and personality characteristics. The world will never know…