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The Throwback Special

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  2,028 ratings  ·  404 reviews
Finalist for the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction

A slyly profound and startlingly original novel about the psyche of the American male, The Throwback Special marks the return of one of the most acclaimed literary voices of his generation.

Here is the absorbing story of twenty-two men who gather every fall to painstakingly reenact what ESPN called “the most
Hardcover, 213 pages
Published March 14th 2016 by W. W. Norton Company (first published November 9th 2015)
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Average rating 3.52  · 
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 ·  2,028 ratings  ·  404 reviews

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Larry H
Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
I'm between 3.75 and 4 stars, so I'll round up...

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to NetGalley and W.W. Norton & Company for making it available!

One weekend every November, a group of 22 guys get together at a hotel. They aren't friends during the year, but there is rarely a question that they'll miss this weekend.

The purpose? They gather to reenact (although they hate t
Jessica Sullivan
This book is really something special. Truly one of the most amusing, entertaining and enjoyable books I’ve recently read. Don’t be discouraged by the plot description—there’s so much more to it than football, though the subject matter provides a fitting gateway into middle-aged manhood.

Every November, a group of 22 men gather at a 2-star suburban hotel to reenact “the most shocking play in NFL history,” a 1985 play dubbed the Throwback Special during which Redskins’ Joe Theismann su
Apr 29, 2018 rated it liked it
I’m not sure if I thought the writing in The Throwback Special was brilliant or irksome. I guess I altered between these two feelings as I read the book. I liked the way it was written - the sentence structure felt unusual compared to many modern books, and it seemed to work well here, yet I also felt it was too much at some points.

There are many men in The Throwback Special, a story about a group of men who get together one weekend every year to reenact the play that ended Joe Theismann’s football career, wh
Mar 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is not about football. This book is not about men. It happens to be set over a weekend when some men gather, as they have each year for many years, to enact an event that took place in a football game decades ago. And it's not really even a book about the kind of men who would do that or the event itself. It's about rituals we don't even realize we partake in; it's about wanting to fit in and wanting to be unique; it's about predictability and the inevitability of change. It's a book y ...more
Jan 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Well, this ended up feeling like a reading purgatory of my own making.

It's not that I particularly dislike sports books - I really enjoyed Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game but generally sports and the woes of middle aged men don't inspire me to pick up a book about them. However, as it so happened I needed a "sports book" for a reading challenge and The Throwback Special had also made it onto the Tournament of Books shortlist for this year.

This book started out as fun, lik
Oct 18, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2.5 stars

When this book landed on the National Book Award shortlist I had never heard of it. But I grew up in the DC area, I remember 1985 and I remember seeing the footage of Theismann's injury over and over.

In this novel Bachelder tells the story of 22 men who have gathered every year for the last 16 years to reenact "the most shocking play in NFL history" If you aren't familiar with what happened after a flea flicker gone wrong Theismann stepped into the pocket and was
Leo Walsh
Mar 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Chris Bachelder pulls a “full Hemingway” in The Throwback Special, a 2016 National Book Awards finalist, which puts him in a rare class of writers. And like the National Book Award winner The Underground Railroad, Throwback lives up to the hype.

First off, what does “full Hemingway” mean? Most writers aping Hemingway copy his terse style, which is great but easy to pull off. Others pull off the machismo, again easy. But most miss what made Hemingway great: his understanding that the machismo often empty bluster and Hemin
Mar 31, 2016 rated it did not like it
Read (or rather endured) in serialized form in Paris Review. The book covers a weekend getaway in which a group of whiny, insecure and neutered men gather to reenact a specific football play from the mid 80s. I lost count of the times the dialogue lost all touch with any semblance of authenticity - like Rachel Cusk's serialized novel last year in the PR this felt like some prized submission from an Iowa writer's workshop that garners plaudits for its style over its substance. Unfortunately it la ...more
One of the very few books I couldn't finish. I read 100+ pages. The reviews said you didn't have to like football to enjoy it. They neglected to say you have to like 20+ whiny and unhappy guys to enjoy it.

Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Definitely the kind of book where style is more prominent than substance. But, the style is thoroughly enjoyable, relatable, honest, and funny in its examination of middle-aged men and sublime traditions.

The humor is Seinfeld-esque, for lack of a better descriptor.
Tyler Goodson
Oct 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library
I love awards and lists because they compel me to read books I wouldn't have normally picked up. I had previously passed over this novel, which is ostensibly about a group of men who meet once a year to reenact a football play from 1985, but really about everything that makes them human. Absolutely surprising and completely wonderful.
Mar 13, 2016 rated it did not like it
This is a book about men and about deficiency. I found it to be bleak, frustrating, and overwhelmingly cynical. We get inside the heads of 20+ middle aged men, and we find them to be fearful, disappointed, stunted, vulnerable, confused, ashamed, and/or threatened. Everyone is worse than they seem.

I added this book to my "To Read" pile after I read this quote in the Minneapolis paper: "Chris Bachelder’s “The Throwback Special” is 2016’s first Great Book, and, despite being about football and bei
Jun 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
This just made the 2016 National Book Award nominations list and I'm really pleased. I read it in June and completely enjoyed this short novel about a group of American men who get together every year for a weekend at a hotel to recreate a football play. - It didn't matter that I don't like football - it's all about the characters. Funny and sad and very witty.
What at all was even the point of this book.
Oct 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Without a doubt the best book I've read this year. Funny and insightful, Bachelder accurately captures men of a certain age. These are men I know, the ones I admire and those I don't want to be. He gets the simple anxieties of how we present to each other, and how we present to ourselves. Well worth reading.
Daniel Sevitt
Apr 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
Funny book that reminds me how hard it is to do funny and how unlikely I probably am to enjoy a funny book without reservation even if it were unreservedly successful. This was on my radar since it was shortlisted in the Tournament of Books last year. It's the right length and it's refreshingly specific. The meandering POV reminded me of the first person plural narrator of Then We Came to the End and it still worked for me, mostly.
John Luiz
Mar 25, 2016 rated it liked it
Chris Bachelder has an amazing amount of talent, and other reviewers seemed to have a better understanding of what he was trying to do here, but for me the book proved to be a chore to read for several reasons.

1. There's a huge cast a characters, but they're difficult to tell apart -- only a few have traits - like "Fat Michael" who was really quite muscular, so his nickname was ironic -- that make them distinguishable in your head as you read along
2. A lot of the backstories th
Jaclyn Crupi
Sep 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
I avoided this book for a few reasons namely that the cover looked exactly like The Art of Fielding and I thought it would be a poor imitation of that excellent book and I'm an Australian with zero interest in or knowledge of American football (the exception being Friday Night Lights which, of course, is not about football at all). But when it was longlisted for the National Book Award I thought I'd give it a try. So glad I did or I would have missed out on this tender and joyful delight. This i ...more
Jan 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I always appreciate books that make me empathize with self-pitying middle-aged men (see also, George Saunders, Tenth of December). And I did! This is the story of a big group of men who come together every year to reenact a single devastating play from an NFL game that happened years (decades?) ago. They go through their weird rituals while trying (and often failing) to connect, and grapple with loneliness, aging, parenting, money, and cuts to library funding. The book does this interesting thin ...more
May 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
If you know a man and want him to read at least one novel this year, this is it. It’s not really a novel so much as an overlong novella, but that’s ok. The plot, such as it is, is completely absurd: A group of 22 men meet every year to re-enact the play where Lawrence Taylor broke Joe Thiesmann’s leg. It’s easy to poke holes in this setup – how did it start, how do they manage to keep doing it year after year, why would they do it when it only takes a couple of minutes to recreate? I’m usually a ...more
May 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Full disclosure: This book isn't really about football. It's deeper than that, and The Throwback Special, the infamous play the protagonists meet to reenact each year, is merely the blank canvas on which the author paints a fascinating character study about a very diverse group of men brought together by a single common interest. Bachelder's writing, from the clever word play to the understated humor to the poignant psychological observations about the group's private thoughts as individuals and ...more
Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
While I think I might have appreciated this book more if I understood or cared about football, I did really enjoy it because it made me chuckle out loud more than once. The book gets in the head of a handful of anxious, neurotic, middle aged men who meet once per year to re-enact, not Civil or Revolutionary War Battles, but (equally nutty to me) a football play, namely one which happened in 1985 during a Giants/Redskins game that ended Joe Theisemann’s career on the field. I don’t think I will r ...more
Feb 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: tob17
I'll give Bachelder credit: he's an interesting writer. There are moments, virtual flashes, of gripping brilliance to this novel: a man washing a stain out of shirt in the middle of the night in a hotel fountain; the rotating image of the hotel's sixteen security cameras; the reenactment seen through the eyes not of the men but of the young tech employees also staying at the hotel. But the point of this novel is one I just can't get behind. I don't need to read stories of declining ordinary midd ...more
Should be read in a single sitting, otherwise it slightly loses its charm. Nevertheless, it's a perfectly sized novel(-la) featuring an absurd male tradition based on a sports event of a particularly obscure kind (yep, that was the most indecipherable first page of all). It tells you shit about the men's past and future, only about their pretty awkward present, all in some very abrupt detail. Yet I found the story charming, and it might have worked even better, had I known anything about America ...more
Feb 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
Rave reviews from Michael Chabon, Lauren Groff, George Saunders? What were they smoking?!?!?
This book unnerved me in that a) I wasn't blown away by the story nor b) was I blown away by Bachelder's writing. The exact opposite really - Bachelder couldn't seem to fixate on anything long enough for you to care. None of the (2o some odd) characters felt fleshed out and very few of the details felt at all necessary, i.e. A full paragraph six sentences and at least a third of a page telling what room
Kasa Cotugno
Oct 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Early in this novel I wondered why it was shortlisted for the National Book Award, but then as it progressed, it drew me in. Twenty-two men meet yearly to reenact a devastating football play from 1985, but it is each individual story that is so compelling. Why they choose to do this thing may be puzzling, but their individual motivations are as distinct as they are. They don't seem to have any other connection besides this once a year event, and one man's delayed arrival doesn't even register un ...more
Jul 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Based on the beginning of this book I was so ready for **WHITE MALE MIDLIFE CRISES AHOY** but plowed onward anyway since it was short. I was actually pleasantly surprised. This was funny, insightful, and clever and extremely self aware as well.
Joachim Stoop
Nov 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Not bad at all! Sometimes very funny and true to life -altough sometimes a bit too American/Hollywood. The 5-star pieces and passages were just too few.
Sep 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
Weirdly, I liked this book!

And, I really didn't expect to.

But when I heard it compared to Rachel Cusk's Outline: A Novel, a book that I loved, I decided to take it on. Plus, it's nominated for the National Book Award in the US, so I went for it.

It's definitely got the taste of Cusk's book, and that's a compliment. It is introspective. Unique.

And while I was worried that it would be all manly-man -- sports, women, beer -- it really wasn't. It was more complex than that by a long shot. I thought it was ve
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it

But a unique book, for sure. Why reenact this play of all the plays in NFL history? Well, I suppose, in a book about all the difficulties that face men in and beyond mid life crisis, no one has been transitioned from youth to middle age so quickly and so efficiently symbolically as Joe Theismann. He begins the play as a star and ends the play as a has been. Can any of us middle age and older men identify the moment down to the second when one phase ended and one began?

This is Pixars Inside Out
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Chris Bachelder is the author of Bear V. Shark, U.S.!: Songs and Stories, Abbott Awaits, and The Throwback Special. His fiction and essays have appeared in McSweeney’s, The Believer, and the Paris Review. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Cincinnati, where he teaches at the University of Cincinnati.