As the author himself notes, a fair number of people of a distinctly literary bent seem to be attracted to tennis, so what does he have to add to a slAs the author himself notes, a fair number of people of a distinctly literary bent seem to be attracted to tennis, so what does he have to add to a slew of books by writers about tennis? At first glance the author's experience seeing Federer live once at Halle, and a few times at one Wimbledon tournament and asking him two interview questions in person seems rather meager fodder for a book length work. And there have been no shortage of people who have waxed lyrical about Roger (not least David Foster Wallace whom Skidelsky quotes liberally from).
One way is through his keen observations of the more technical aspects of the sport gleaned from being an obsessive junior player and a keen amateur once he took up the sport again post University (the reasons why he lost his love of tennis is one of the less interesting and slightly tortuous parts of the book). Perhaps the most interesting section of the book was his analysis of how tennis styles have evolved, in part due to changes in racquet technology, particularly in the introduction of composite materials for racquet frames. This allowed players to not necessarily hit harder, but to do so with much greater accuracy.
I also enjoyed his analysis of why Federer's tennis is often seen as bordering on aesthetic perfection, mixing as he does the power and baseline domination that is a prerequisite of success in the modern game with throwback style like a single handed backhand and an unorthodox grip that allows for cleaning hitting on his forehand. In part, Skidelsky thinks it is partly an illusion of elegance, or more generously a superb blend of raw aggression with sublime grace.
Unfortunately, the book is titled "Federer and Me" and it is the autobiographical aspects that are less than interesting, especially when Skidelsky deviates from tennis. Pages are devoted to his rather miserable and isolated time at Eton, then Oxford; to his abandoning tennis for cricket (and occasionally squash); to details as personal as depression, and him losing his virginity and the pressures of being the son of famous Keynes biographer and a highly intelligent brother.
In sum, this is largely for tennis fans only - and feel free to skip the bits that aren't related to tennis.
The impetus to read this book came from the fact that my wife and I are on the cusp of moving into our own home for the first time - an apartment compThe impetus to read this book came from the fact that my wife and I are on the cusp of moving into our own home for the first time - an apartment complex with 500 or so other families. Beyond setting up a home of our own I very much want to us to feel part of a community we can belong to, and make the place we're in somewhere we are deeply connected too.
Melody Warnick took on the project of finding ways to help her family feel deeply attached to their new home in Virginia after her sixth move post College. She looks at a growing body of research encompassing sociology, urban studies and geography looking at 'place-making' about not only how where we live can have a significant effect on our emotional and physical well-being, but the social capital derived from having a community that is deeply attached to and proud of the place they live.
She does a good job looking at existing research, sharing stories from other communities and throwing in some heartwarming personal anecdotes of her attempts to put some of these ideas into practice. Like any good journalist she does a good job of simplifying a wide range of sources (including academic research) and making it accessible and interesting.
Are some of her conclusions rather obvious? Of course they are. Buying and eating local, going for walks and appreciating nature, volunteering, saying hi to neighbours - these are hardly novel ideas and she risks preaching to the converted. While I enjoyed some of the stories she shared from a couple setting up a food van in Maine; her attempts to find her own local restaurant, or how residents of Prattsville (population 450) brought their community together by building a community arts center I must admit to skimming over quite a few pages. The author could have made her point a little more concisely and given the effectiveness of many of her stories, her own commentary and self-reflections could occasionally be a bit tedious.
That said, reading this book has inspired me to be more mindful of the small ways I can enjoy my future home and community more. I plan to walk around my neighborhood, shop at a local wet market instead of automatically heading to a big supermarket. I want to try to make good use of the nearby lake and gardens and explore their nature spots like the Southern Ridges and Labrador Park nearby. Most of all I want to redouble my efforts to get to know my neighbours, organize block parties and set up community interest groups at my new Condominium. Because as Warnick has shown us, it is possible to come to love a place and belong to a community but that ultimately starts with us....more