The next time one of your writer friends brags about their wordsmith abilities, harshly remind them we live in a time when George Saunders has rightlyThe next time one of your writer friends brags about their wordsmith abilities, harshly remind them we live in a time when George Saunders has rightly claimed the title of Best Writer Alive. And his latest, "Lincoln at the Bardo," suggests he's not giving up the throne any time soon.
"Lincoln at the Bardo" is unique storytelling, easily, and at times recklessly shifting narratives (mostly in alternating first-person) to weave a story rich in texture and meaning. The sudden death of Lincoln's youngest son, Willie, sets off a chain of events that take place both in the real world and an underworld best described as purgatory. Using both real and imaginative narratives, Saunders gracefully ponders themes of love and loss, of letting go when it's never the right time. In doing so, Saunders demands from the reader an altered approach to how one reads a story; because "Lincoln at the Bardo" avoids a chapter and verse structure, the reader has to adapt to the shift in narratives that take place literally with every new sentence. Don't worry; the narrative is easy to follow. You just haven't read anything like this. ...more
The North American Soccer League evokes memories of fast-paced soccer played on Astroturf pitches, where fading legends like Pele, Johan Cruyff, FranzThe North American Soccer League evokes memories of fast-paced soccer played on Astroturf pitches, where fading legends like Pele, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, and George Best plied their considerable talents in locales like New York and Los Angeles and...Tulsa?
The general consensus of the NASL is that it was a league that bit off more than it could chew. With the lure of easy money and large crowds, deep-pocketed owners of teams like the New York Cosmos could build what amounted to an overpaid All-Star squad, but other teams like the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Minnesota Kicks had to rely on old-school razzle-dazzle to attract crowds. Cheerleaders, NFL-style tailgating parties, fireworks, giveaways, you name it. In time, the quality of the play on the pitch suffered; eventually, Pele retired, George Best, when healthy (and not hungover on another three-day bender), offered glimpses of his legendary talent, Johan Cruyff fought with management and teammates (no surprise), and owners threw too much money at overrated foreign talent who saw playing in America as nothing more than a paid vacation. Worse yet, the NASL's policy of rapid expansion - the NASL went from 12 teams in 1976 to 24 in 1978 - meant the majority of teams played in barely filled stadiums, and the promise of local TV contracts never came. Teams lost millions, and folded without notice.
In his book Rock 'n' Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League, author Ian Plenderleith chronicles the fast rise and even faster fall of the NASL with a clear eye. By focusing on more than just the Cosmos, the flagship squad of the NASL, Plenderleith paints the picture of a league that willfully ignored its growing pains, in which the league commissioner boasted of the NASL soon being the biggest league in the world, but having no real plan to attract investment or develop players. The irrational exuberance and plain ol' hubris lead to its swift demise.
Plenderleith, however, makes the convincing argument that for all its follies, the NASL proved to be more influential than it's given credit for. Player marketing, TV pre-games, audience participation, and the adjustment of the offsides rule (to help improve goal scoring) were later co-opted by the Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga, because while the purists howled at the bastardized soccer that was being played at the NASL, others were watching and taking notes on how the NASL were making improvements on a game that was quickly growing stale and unfriendly to the fans.
With colorful insight and objective reporting, Rock 'n' Roll Soccer is an entertaining read and the analysis of the NASL the league truly deserves. ...more