A hot start to the new year.

God Save The Fan – Will Leitch. Along with Bill Simmons, Leitch is one of the founding fathers of internet sports journalism. The creator of Deadspin, Leitch mainstreamed irreverence and snark in sports writing.

The cover claims that this is his look at all the things that are ruining sports, from ESPN to idiot fans to ESPN to dishonest owners to ESPN to, well, ESPN. It’s not really all about ESPN, but there is a lot of WWL bashing.

But really it’s more than just about the things that are wrong with sports. There are plenty of essays about what is right with sports. The piece about Leitch’s experience watching the clinching game of the 2006 NLCS with other Cardinals fans in New York is an ode to why we still care despite all the garbage we have to put up with these days.

Some of it is goofy, some overly self-referential, but there are enough fine essays to make it worth the read. Especially of note, in addition to his Cards essay, are those about PEDs and athletes who evangelize.

Where The Game Matters Most – William Gildea. Another in my reading tour through Indiana basketball. This book covers the final season of the All Comers high school basketball tournament in Indiana, which was played in 1996-7. Gildea focuses on four schools – tiny Batesville, just down the road from Milan; DeKalb, which features the state’s best talent and future Indiana and Iowa player Luke Recker; Anderson, a traditional power whose coach just had a liver transplant; and Merrillville, the previous year’s runner up who feel perpetually overlooked in the “Region” near Chicago. In addition to those four schools, Gildea visits others, hits the high points of Indiana basketball history, and examines the political battle that encompassed the move to class basketball.

I’ll admit, and I believe I’ve written about this before, that I never used to understand the fuss over class basketball. After all, 47 other states did it. And then I moved here. It took a year or two, but now I’m firmly in the single-class camp. I don’t know that going back to single class basketball would bring back all the glamor to Indiana high school basketball. There are numerous factors that have fueled its decline in popularity despite the fact a historic number of excellent players have come out of the state in recent years.* There’s no denying that high school basketball does not have the same hold over the state it once did.

(Including current NBA players Courtney Lee, George Hill, Josh McRoberts, Greg Oden, Michael Conley, and Jeff Teague. Of course, they’re all from the Indianapolis area, so perhaps that’s part of the problem.)

Written during the transition, the book is certainly steeped in the emotions of the time. Gildea is not a Hoosier, and at times his tone shows that. There’s a little too much reliance on rural images to characterize the state. Too many hackneyed devices like “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.” But maybe that’s just me. It’s a decent, but not great, book.

Chasing the Dragon – Domenic Stansberry
The Big Boom – Domenic Stansberry
So I’ve been working my way through The Wire (getting close to the end of season one). Since I can’t really watch the show while the girls are awake/around, to supplement the show I decided to read some novels in the same genre. I’ve read quite a few Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, and RIchard Price novels, each of whom wrote for the series. Using the magic of the internet, I searched for similar authors I had not read yet. Stansberry came highly recommended.

These books are the first two of several that focus on Domenic Mancuso. In the first, while he travels back to his hometown of San Francisco for his father’s funeral, the mysterious, quasi-governmental agency he works for puts him to work setting up a trap for some local drug dealers. In the second, he has moved back to SF, set up shop as a private detective, and investigates a murder of a former lover during the glory days of the dot-com boom.

Each is taut, brief, and wonderfully detailed. Mancuso is the classic difficult-to-know detective with a dark past that always finds a way to unravel the threads of a mystery. Sometimes, though, while he unravels them just in time to save himself he does so too late to save others.

Stansberry, who lives in the Bay Area, does a wonderful job putting you in the City. If you’ve ever been to San Francisco, you know it has a particular feel that no other city has.* You sense the fog and cool air of the evenings, the ocean-tinged warmth of the day in these pages. As most of each story takes place in the old, Italian North Beach neighborhood, you feel the Italian roots with the creeping Asian culture that is slowly replacing it. Having lived in the Bay Area briefly, I ate these books up.

(You can probably say that of any place. But the unique qualities of San Francisco’s geography make them more noticeable.)