Reader’s Notebook, 3/20/19

The First Major: The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup – John Feinstein
Years ago I used to read a lot of Feinstein’s books. His A Season Inside is one of my all-time favorite sports books.[1] But, over time, I found his books to basically be the same format with different details. There were little moments that would appear in every book that drove me nuts. Plus he comes off as a bit of an arrogant prick. I had plenty of other books to read, so it had been probably 16–17 years since I had read one of his efforts.

But…he has a bunch of golf books. And I’m in a golf mode.[2] Seemed like a perfect moment to jump back into his writings and see if he adjusted his style at all once I stopped reading his work.

Good news, he did make some adjustments. Yeah, it’s the same deep look at an event/season concept. In this case his focus is on the 2016 Ryder Cup. But some of those things that used to annoy me most were either sanded away or had disappeared completely.

All in all, I really enjoyed this. There is a solid history of the Ryder Cup, with some deeper dives into how the European team came to dominate it in recent years. There’s a ton of material about how the US adjusted how it picked its team in order to try to fix what went wrong in 2014 specifically. He goes deep into the men who made both teams in ‘16. And then he covers the actual event in a brisk manner that feels right.

It was interesting to read it months after the 2018 Ryder Cup, which much of what went right for the US in ’16 went wrong again. It was also a reminder at how quickly things change in sports. In 2016 Tiger Woods was just an assistant captain and his future was uncertain. Jordan Spieth was still the brightest young star in the game. People didn’t hate Patrick Reed.

The biggest revelation, though, was that I actually kind of liked Phil Mickelson after reading it. I’ve never liked him, always thinking he was a phony, Eddie Haskell-type whose personality outweighed his immense talent. But, good grief, I have softened on him after reading this book and because of his recent embrace of social media where he comes across as a pretty funny dude.

Tornado Weather – Deborah E. Kennedy
Another book I loved so much that I hated it. Kennedy is an Indiana native and sets this, her debut, in a fictional town in northern Indiana.

The story revolves around the disappearance of a young, wheelchair-bound girl one day after getting off of her school bus. Each chapter centers on a different member of the community, sometimes with a direct link to the possible crime, other times only having tenuous connections with the girl that grow stronger after later revelations. Each chapter is more about its character than about the disappearance, and Kennedy slowly, carefully reveals details of what really happened as she builds up the town.

And her town is full of characters. A worker at a massive dairy who is actually an embedded reporter who is about to publish an expose on how it relies on illegal immigrants for labor. Two strippers, one intelligent and beautiful and another dumb, prone to terrible decisions, and not particularly attractive. A series of dirtbags who aren’t nearly as smart as they think they are. A young man who believes he is a woman and struggles to find him/herself in a town that isn’t nearly ready for that kind of thing. The family of the missing girl. And on and on.

Kennedy sets up a town that seems divided at first, but is actually way more interconnected than it knows. One character in particular seems unsettling and odd at first, but eventually pulls the entire story together. This character offers the final line of the book, which is one of the best, happiest, most emotional lines I can recall reading.

I had seen Kennedy compared to Daniel Woodrell. I’m not sure who made that comparison but I found it to be waaaay off. She reminds me so much more of Carl Hiaasen. Her writing is full off oddball, hilarious, unforgettable characters. She pushes their actions to the edge of believability but always stops before she pushes too far. Time and again I was laughing out loud. Within all that humor is a compelling, carefully crafted story.

Another debut novel that completely floored me. I loved it. Which makes me hate Kennedy. (Not really.)

  1. Helped largely by the fact he took a year-long look at college basketball, Kansas was one of the teams he focused on, and they just happened to go on a run that ended with a national championship.  ↩
  2. More on that down the road…  ↩

1 Comment

  1. Deborah Kennedy

    Hello, sir! I just wanted to thank you for your review of Tornado Weather. Once in a while, I’ll do a Google search on the book and your review popped up. I’m glad you liked the book, and I do so appreciate insightful reviews like yours. Hope Indy’s treating you well today. I’ll admit — I get pretty homesick for Indiana at times. Miss thunderstorms and snow. Happy reading and writing!

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