Notes from a faithful reader

[image-1]Boling lives in Washington – the state, not the D.C. – and is coming to Tampa for his day job as sports writer for the Tacoma News-Tribune. He covers the Seattle Seahawks, who play the Buccaneers on Oct. 19.

The Spanish Civil War is a bold theme for a first novel and it might seem strange for an NFL beat writer to bite off such a big subject, especially since that war was the setting for For Whom the Bell Tolls, one of the big bastards in American literature. But the setting came naturally to Boling, who married a Spanish woman and heard fragments of the story over the dinner table for most of his married life.

Boling’s bold and exciting book appears to prove Thompson’s theorem of the value of sportswriting. “Look at the action words,” Thompson once said, noting that service as the sports editor of his military newspaper had a “huge” effect on his writing. It was the constant need for action that drove sportswriters to try a little bit harder to find just the right word. Ernest Hemingway – speaking of For Whom the Bell Tolls – wrote sports. So did Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton and others.

POLITICAL PROSE: Bookshelves are filling with political tomes, ranging from Obama Nation and other campaign tracts, to a bunch of really silly stuff. 101 Things You (and John McCain) Didn’t Know About Sarah Palin (Bergman, $9.95) falls into that second category.

[image-2]It’s a group effort and at the insistence of our attorneys, we refrain from identifying the contributors. It’s that bad. I counted three funny lines in the book, which is a mind-numbingly long 249 pages. Not only is it unfunny, it’s also repetitious. The authors use a single fact to spin off six or seven jokes, creating instant déjà vu.

It’s not that Palin isn’t ripe for satire. Even Republicans like to make the odd Sarah-and-a-moose joke now and then. But this is just pathetic.

Save your money for Tina Fey’s book.

HISTORY LESSONS: A couple of excellent new books take us back to the world of a century ago. Oddly enough, it seems that nothing’s really changed.

The Other Half  by Tom Buk-Swenty (Norton, $27.95) is a full-scale biography of Jacob Riis, the Danish immigrant who turned America upside down at the end of the 19th Century.


After a harrowing journey to America, this Great Dane endured homelessness and poverty and eventually discovered the calling of journalism. Somewhat clumsy as a writer – English wasn’t his native language – he turned to photography when words failed him. His stories about poverty and corruption had no effect. But his unflinching pictures of the poor moved thinking Americans and helped kickstart the muckraking movement and its reforms.

And speaking of muckraking: One of the most tenacious investigative reporters in American history was a mild-mannered woman named Ida Tarbell. Steve Weinberg tells the story of her three-year series on the evils of John D. Rockefeller and his Standard Oil Company. Taking on the Trust (Norton, $25.95) resurrects this great character and shows how her single-minded pursuit of truth in telling the story of the oil monopoly led the U.S. Supreme Court toward its anti-trust decision that still affects us today.

William McKeen is chairman of the University of Florida's Department of Journalism and author of several books, including the Hunter S. Thompson biography Outlaw Journalist.

COMING TO INKWOOD: Hunter Thompson used to say that every writer needed to serve time in a sports department. The drama of the games and the deadline demands brought out a writer’s best work, the Prince of Gonzo said.

Here’s a chance to test Dr. Thompson’s theory. Dave Boling comes to Inkwood Books at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 18, to sign copies of his new novel, Guernica (Bloomsbury, $26). Set during the Spanish Civil War and based around the bombing of the Basque city of Guernica, the novel is Boling’s first published book.

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