Tuesday, May 17, 2016

I cannot live without books, either

More than 200 years ago, President Thomas Jefferson once said, "I cannot live without books." As one of our country's Founding Fathers, Jefferson was onto something – and today, I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment.

While I have a nice living room display and collection of books, it's become increasingly challenging to find and make good time to read books on a regular basis. Mind you, I enjoy reading – even if I have a reading list I will never finish. Every day, I spend time reading The New York Times and I keep up with the newsfeed of my Facebook. Still, I would like to spend more time with books. Doesn't matter if they are hardcover or softcover. A good book is something that's hard to put down.

Fortunately, each time I go to the gym – usually five times a week – I bring a book with me and spend 30 minutes riding a stationary bike with an open book to take my mind off of exercising. After all, it's been said, "Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body."

While reading a book is like taking a good journey, three books which I have recently read and recommend to everyone are:

Indentured / Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss
The rebellion against
the college sports cartel.
• Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA by Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss. The authors (one a columnist, the other a contributing writer for The New York Times) have long recognized that there is a widespread corruption that plagues big-time college sports. Indentured grew out of a controversial New York Times column Nocera wrote four years ago in which he asked pointblank: "How can the NCAA blithely wreck careers without regard to due process or common fairness? How can it act so ruthlessly to enforce rules that are so petty? Why won't anybody stand up to these outrageous violations of American values and American justice?"

As millions of high school seniors each year accept athletic scholarships to American colleges and universities to chase their dream of fame and fortune as "student-athletes," sports fans have finally come to realize that athletes in the two biggest college sports, men's basketball and football, "are little more than indentured servants." Their best interests are not being served by the NCAA, notes Nocera and Strauss.

They write: "For about 5 percent of top-division players, college ends with a golden ticket to the NFL or the NBA. But what about the overwhelming majority who never turn pro? They don't earn a dime from the estimated $13 billion generated annually by college sports – an ocean of cash that enriches schools, conferences, coaches, TV networks, and apparel companies ... everyone except those who give their blood and sweat to entertain the fans."

Indentured is a must read book for college sports fans – a real eye-opening drama and a good page-turner – and chapter after compelling chapter, it tells a story of a group of "rebels" – former athletes, coaches, marketers – who decided to fight for justice against the hypocrisy of the NCAA.

Saving Capitalism /
For the Many, Not the Few
By Robert B. Reich.
• Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few by Robert B. Reich is a book that's an intersection of economics and politics, "a myth-shattering breakdown of how the economic system that helped make America so strong is now failing us, and what it will take to fix it." Reich has served in three national administrations – he was Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton – and currently is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economics. So, he knows his subject matter very well.

In Saving Capitalism, Reich "reveals how power and influence have created a new American oligarchy, a shrinking middle class, and the greatest income inequality and wealth disparity in eighty years." His writing throughout the book is both filled with passion and it's precisely argued.

Reich recalls how in the post-World II outlook, America created the largest middle class the world had ever seen. "Then, the economy generated hope. Hard work paid off, education was the means toward upward mobility, those who contributed most reaped the largest rewards, economic growth created more and better jobs, the living standards of most people improved throughout their working lives, our children would enjoy better lives than we had, and the rules of the game were basically fair," writes Reich.

He continues: "But today all these assumptions ring hollow. Confidence in the economic system has declined sharply. The apparent arbitrariness and unfairness of the economy have undermined the public's faith in its basic tenets. Cynicism abounds. To many, the economic and political systems seem rigged, the deck stacked in favor of those at the top. The threat to capitalism is no longer communism or fascism but a steady undermining of the trust modern societies need for grown and stability."

Robert Reich is one of the best economists in modern American history, according to U.S. Senator and Democratic Presidential contender Bernie Sanders. "He understands that there is something profoundly wrong when the top one-tenth of one percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. This book is a road map on how to rebuild the middle class and fix a rigged economy that has been propped up by a corrupt campaign finance system," said Sanders.

I'd Know That Voice Anywhere /
By Frank Deford
A collection of his NPR commentaries.
• I'd Know That Voice Anywhere by Frank Deford. The longtime NPR Morning Edition commentator, who is also senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated and a senior correspondent on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, is one of America's most beloved sport commentators. Since 1980, Deford has recorded over 2,000 commentaries for NPR – "the serious, the foolish, the noble, the idiosyncratic; this game, that athletic." His latest book – his nineteenth – is a collection of literary sports commentaries that brings together a charming, insightful and wide-ranging look at athletes and the sports world.

"Being a writer, I never paid much attention to my voice," writes Deford in the forward for I'd Know That Voice Anywhere. "Since, when it came to interviewing, I was a primitive pen-and-notebook reporter, I rarely even heard myself speak on a tape recorder. ... Then, in the autumn of 1979, through impossibly serendipitous circumstances, National Public Radio approached me about doing a weekly sports commentary, and suddenly I had to direct that run-of-the-mill voice of mine into a microphone. But then, to my utter delight (shock and awe?), I soon found myself being complimented, advised that I possessed a distinct "radio voice." Where did you get that? people asked me, as if you could pick it out at an appliance store."

In I'd Know That Voice Anywhere, Deford muses everything sport from our continued love affair for Joe DiMaggio to the similarities between Babe Ruth and Winnie the Pooh. He rhapsodizes about how football reminds him of Venice, and even offers Super Bowl coverage in the form of a Shakespearian sonnet. Deford waxes poetically about the most popular sports of yesteryear such as boxing, golf and horse racing, and compares the Olympics to an independent movie comprised of foreign actors you've never heard of.

"Sports is, on the one level, mere amusement, but it is found in every culture," notes Deford, "and while it's not an absolute necessity for us, as eating and drinking and procreation are – sports is a card-carrying part of the human condition, in the same league with religion and drama and art and music. You can ignore sports, just as  you might choose not to care about other of those optional devotions, but sports does have a hefty place in our world, and I'm pleased to have been its troubadour on NPR. To voice sports may well be the next best thing to being out on the field itself, playing. And there's no risk of concussions."

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