Read Everything That Dunks Must Converge

Read Everything That Dunks Must Converge
by Bryan Harvey

Truth & lies in Pixar's 'The Good Dinosaur'

Truth & lies in Pixar's 'The Good Dinosaur'
by Bryan Harvey

Previewing the ACC-Big Ten Challenge

Previewing the ACC-Big Ten Challenge
by Brendan Brody

To their own devices: Pablo Larrain's 'The Club'

To their own devices: Pablo Larrain's 'The Club'
by Bryan Harvey

Books I'll remember having read in 2016

January 4, 2017



Looking back at the books I read in 2016, these are the ones that left the greatest impressions:

Boys Among Men: How the Prep-to-pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution by Jonathan Abrams (2016)

Yes, the book is obviously about basketball, but it’s also about how individuals in the United States go about careening through the ephemeral dreamscape we call the American Dream. And it’s about basketball.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty (2015)

This novel is almost two years old. I read it a year ago. Since then, it has won the Man Booker Prize, so you probably don’t need me for an introduction to Beatty’s work. Still, the book reminded me some of Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo—there’s something not quite whole about it, even as it tucks joke after joke inside silhouettes of the Little Rascals and that time in the United States when the United States couldn’t decide what to do with or how to think about blackness. And then that laughter you hear when you’re reading a book all alone becomes altogether too real and too strange and you realize you shouldn’t be laughing because these funny circumstances aren’t so funny. They are keeping the past alive in ways that can’t be healthy. And you laugh. And you wonder why you’re laughing.

The Domino Diaries: My Decade Boxing with Olympic Champions and Chasing Hemingway’s Ghost in the Last Days of Castro’s Cuba by Brin-Jonathan Butler (2015)

Read the title and then ask, what isn’t this book about?

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown (1970)

For reasons I cannot explain, I read this book in the delivery room of my first child. Anyway, it later became the foundation of my AP and English 11 curriculums this past fall. I only regret not reading and teaching it sooner.

Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing along the Borderlands by Michael Chabon (2009)

Whether his projects succeed with daring or falter under the weight of his sentences, Chabon ultimately succeeds, at least for me, in his ability to inspire. After reading one of his novels, I always want to try and write something I haven’t quite tried before. Also, the essays in Maps and Legends definitely work, and the last essay in the bunch is ready made to sit beside Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” or Life of Pi in a high school English curriculum.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond (2016)


Walk a mile in other people’s shoes. Maybe it would be better to live a month in other people’s apartments. While I read Matthew Desmond dissection of urban America's ailments, specifically the traps of poverty and unaffordable housing, not once did I hear one of his proposed solutions mentioned in the course of the 2016 Presidential Debates between Clinton and Trump, as if both candidates existed on a stage divorced from the city streets, kitchen tables, and school desks that make up the American reality. Sadly, that’s something not likely to be remedied anytime soon, which makes Desmond’s work even more impressive: he’s finding solutions where most aren’t even seeing the problems.



Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know about Life I Learned from Watching ‘80s Movies by Jason Diamond (2016)

I really enjoyed reading Diamond speak about how he dedicated himself to a passion of his, and when his efforts failed him, he turned something into nothing. The keyword from the title really is “searching.” I took a lot away from this book on a personal level I hope to detail at some later time, possibly.

Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers (2016)

I always tell students how Eggers is a sneaky writer. He’s not writing confusing sentences. He isn’t loading up on SAT words. He doesn’t make obvious allusions. Instead, he presents what appears to be simple and lulls the reader into a sort of sleepy comfort. That is, unless one has already read Eggers or is naturally suspicious of narrators and human wisdom. If the latter is the case, then his characters become worthy of ridicule. What makes for an even better reading of his material is when we as readers share the traits of his subjects, fictive or not, because then our impulse to critique turns inward and we have to face our worst or at least most foolish selves. Aside from constantly finding new ways to play this game with his readers, Eggers continues to grow in his ability to create cinematic set pieces and Heroes of the Frontier contains some of his best.

Sudden Death by Àlvaro Enrigue (2016)

While I probably didn’t understand a lot of what Enrigue does in Sudden Death, this translation of his 2013 Spanish novel prompted and instructed me on how to finish Everything That Dunks Must Converge, especially the introductory chapters for Act One, Act Two, and Act Three.

Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy by Eri Hotta (2013)

I wouldn’t exactly describe this book as an entertaining read, but it fascinated and frightened me nonetheless. Essentially, it is a book about how a country can lose control of its capacities for reason by ignoring both credible sources of knowledge and the needs of its people, trading in these pillars of stability for pride and pettiness. Also, and perhaps just as interesting, is how Hotta’s depiction of prewar Japan casts the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as an act of desperation rather than as something simply cunning and militaristic. In other words, countries that can’t face their own weaknesses end up doing stupid shit they regret for decades.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (2015)

You pick up James’ novel and there’s heft to it. You read the description on the jacket and you latch onto the familiar, which also happens to be the iconic. You latch onto that name you know, Bob Marley. You hum part of a refrain. Then another. You hum fragments from Legend (it played at all the high school parties you vaguely remember). Then you wonder how a novel about him that’s not really about him but a place and a time that is really something else altogether could consist of so many heavy pages. What you hold in your hand—the literal weight of pulp and ink—is something akin to an island lost in time. You flip the pages back and forth. You reread passages. You’re searching. You’re hoping it doesn’t end, and you’re searching. In the end, you find yourself in a small New York diner. You’re reading the names of Jamaican foods. And by this time, they almost read with an old familiarity, like you can remember how they taste—and yet, you’ve never tasted them, never been to the island, never even left your snug living room. And so then you know Marlon James is a magician, and he has ripped out the center of your middle class life in the middle of the United States’ eastern seaboard and sunk it deep in the blue Caribbean tide. And you will never find your way back to believing Bob Marley is the whole of the story because the book will wake you with the weight of the worlds you never knew, that you failed to know, that you could not have known without this book or some other mother to hold you.  

The North Water by Ian McGuire (2016)


The book jacket makes comparisons to Herman Melville and Cormac McCarthy, and I get that. McGuire’s book, after all, contains a sea voyage and violence. But I also think critics and readers have started throwing around McCarthy comparisons a bit too lightly. In some ways, doing so is a compliment to the man, but it’s also kind of lazy. Other writers do exist. Ian McGuire might even be one of them, and his book’s journey from shipyard crime scene to polar bear cage is worth a read. It might remind you of McCarthy and Melville. It might remind you of Robert Louis Stevenson or Gary Paulsen. Maybe you’ll read those authors and think of Ian McGuire. 

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan (2016)

Morgan’s second novel is an ambitious one. The narrative essentially follows three generations in the Bluegrass state, which rather forcefully causes us to think of plotlines and bloodlines and people and horses as all being intertwined. In this sense, the book feels a bit like Steinbeck’s East of Eden, at least in the scope of the project. There are also passages that read like Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner (I guess I make lazy comparisons too). And, in a sense, the real jockey here is Morgan because she manages to stay on top of her ambitious narrative, steering and manipulating all of its unwieldy sinew and muscle and bone around the track, relaying a rather furious send up of genteel Southern honor and its eternal bedfellow, racism.

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor (1955)


What can I say here about Flannery O’Connor that hasn’t already been said? I read most of this book with my newborn daughter strapped to my chest. I want her to understand the south’s underpinnings, its deplorables and unmentionables, and how those cruelties are in her blood and therefore she need own up to them. God, I’m already ruining her life, aren’t I? 

Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy (2016)

I don’t read a lot of craft books, but this one made a lot of sense to me, plus the eyeball on the front cover hypnotized my infant daughter. What really clicked for me in Percy’s writing tips is how he aligns writing fiction with iconic moments in cinema. I used to teach creative writing, but I haven’t for a few years now. I have, however, started teaching a Film Studies class. Strangely, and unexpectedly so, I think the latter has helped me improve my writing more than the former. I could also be gravely mistaken. Anyway, Percy’s book, published via Graywolf Press, would make an excellent resource for either high school literature or creative writing teachers.

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones (2015)

This book takes on a lot. Its concerns traverse national borders as well as decades. It examines the fraying of family relationships, the disintegration of ethics in the medical profession, the vulnerabilities that come with having everything, and the desperation born from having nothing at all. Sometimes governments and institutions fail people because they cling too tightly to power. Sometimes they fail because they do nothing at all. This epidemic appears to be more of the latter, at least in terms of proportion. After all, humanity’s desire for easing its pain is nothing new, but once upon a time, doctors may not have so easily prescribed manufactured poisons to an entire generation. There is a lot here. You should read it. Then we should all figure out what might possibly be done to help those in need. America’s pain needs more than slogans and tax breaks: it needs professional help.  

The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic by Ginger Strand (2015)
Sometimes the world is a stranger place than anything the writer might imagine. The world in Kurt Vonnegut’s books, however, at least as far as I knew, always flaunted such maxims. The island in Cat’s Cradle is a weird place, as are the travel habits of Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five. Then you read Strand’s book and how it places Kurt’s literary work side by side with his brother’s scientific work at General Electric, and you find that the imagination of Kilgore Trout may not be strange enough to articulate the truth of it all.  

The Coyote’s Bicycle: The Untold Story of 7,000 Bicycles and the Rise of a Borderland Empire by Kimball Taylor (2016)

Place an obstacle in front of the human imagination. Tell a person that history and politics have decided a particular fate for them and their families—that parts of the world are forever roped off to them—unless they participate by certain imaginary rules, and they will invent new rules. They will build pathways over, under, and through the physical impediments that separate one side of a border from another. Borderlands are mysterious geographies, full of deceit and magic tricks. This book is a love story written to such places and the people who inhabit them. The games played there are really about more than life and death—they are about drawing substance from the dream. This book really is worth considering every time someone thinks or speaks on the certainty walls may or may not defend.

Authority by Jeff VanDerMeer (2014) 
                            
First, I’m not sure where the spaces and capitalizations should be for Jeff’s last name. I looked at the book and online and I’m not sure anyone’s spelling it consistently. Maybe there’s more than one Jeff Van Der Meer. Anyway—

it’s in how the last scene just allows all the tension and repression and running on a wheel to just uncoil into the great unknown of whatever the third book in his Southern Reach series holds in store. Well done.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (2011)

For me, the natural comparisons are to The Buest Eye, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Swamplandia! In that sense, this book belongs on high school reading lists. I want my own daughter (who is currently just shy of six months old) to read it, if only for the strength to be found in the last line.


Bryan Harvey tweets about books and basketball mostly @LawnChairBoys.

Previewing the ACC-Big Ten Challenge From A Skewed Perspective

November 29, 2016

Isaac Haas will look to be a beast on the block for Purdue against Louisville Wednesday night in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge (Getty).

My time as an ACC basketball fan started in the early 90's when I first arrived from Chicago to the wild and wonderful town of Fredericksburg Virginia. I followed the league heartily throughout my youth and fully embraced the Carolina-Duke rivalry as a fan of the squad in sky blue uniforms.

Flash forward to 2013 when I started writing for RushtheCourt. I initially wanted to write about the ACC, but spots were needed covering the Big Ten. I've been covering this league now for four years and have become much more familiar with this conference than the one I was obsessed with years ago. So this makes the ACC-Big Ten challenge strange for me.

In the past, I obviously would have ridden with the ACC and wanted them to win all 14 games. Now, while I'm still a Carolina fan, I'm fully rooting for the Big Ten to win the event. Monday's games left both leagues tied 1-1, with Florida State beating Minnesota and Northwestern taking down Wake Forest. These were merely an appetizer for the proceedings coming tonight and Wednesday. What follows is what to look for in the best six games to come, with an extra little prediction thrown in for good measure.

  • Syracuse at Wisconsin: This one has the makings of a classic, with both teams residing within the top 10 on KenPom. The Badgers are only shooting 31 percent from behind the arc and have a tendency to take way too many threes. So how they handle the Cuse zone may very well determine the outcome. Another troubling element for Wisconsin is that they actually have been really sloppy this season (20.4 percent turnover rate). One thing they do really well, however, is crash the glass on the offensive end. Defensive rebounding has never been a strong point for Jim Boeheim coached teams, and that's still the case. The Orange have started off the season really shooting well from the perimeter, though, with four of their primary five deep shooters hitting over 46 percent. Prediction: Wisconsin in a close one because road games and Syracuse really aren't a thing this early in the year. 

  • Michigan State at Duke: This is not a typical Michigan State team, at least not yet. They are painfully young, and they have almost no size except for Zach Randolph clone (Tom Izzo's words, not mine) Nick Ward. Duke is still Duke, even without the services of three absolute stud freshmen. Without going into a full-fledged breakdown on the numbers, I already know that Sparty has almost no chance here. The caveat, however, is whether or not Grayson Allen plays. If he's out of the mix, then I'd say the end result is a coin flip. My best guess is that everyone's favorite villain plays and the perimeter attack of Allen, Luke Kennard, and Frank Jackson prevails. No coin necessary. Prediction: Kind of made this clear already, but Duke wins by 15.

The somewhat hated Grayson Allen will lead Duke to a win over Michigan State tonight (Mark Dolejs, USATSI). 
  • Virginia Tech at Michigan: This one barely makes the cut as one of the six best games here, but should be a sneaky good game because both squads should end up as tournament teams in March. Dan Brody's favorite coach has a 5-1 team that is one blown lead against Texas A&M from being undefeated. They have a bunch of rangy guards that shoot the ball well and don't turn it over, coupled with Zach LeDay as the one banger in the post. Michigan is built a tad different than the teams of the past five years, because they actually have much more size than the Hokies with the trio of DJ Wilson, Marc Donnal, and German Moritz Wagner. They used this size to cripple Marquette, the former school of Buzz Williams, and a solid SMU team to win the 2K Classic. They can shoot it from deep, and the aforementioned bigs do a really good job in pick-and-roll situations where they casually saunter to the rim for dunks and layups. This should be a really close game that will come down to the last couple of possessions. Prediction: Michigan will use their size to barely pick up their third quality win on the year.

  •  Purdue at Lousiville: This one is another sneaky good game, but with a higher ceiling. Unlike the VT-Michigan matchup, both teams are ranked and both could be legitimate threats to win their respective conferences. This isn't the same defensive team for Purdue as last year, with the losses of the very large human AJ Hammons and perimeter pest Raphael Davis. They are better scoring the ball, however, due to the fact that they are simply much larger than most in the paint, with the tag-team of Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. They've surrounded the monsters in the paint with a bunch of shooters than can make it rain from distance. On the other side, Louisville boasts the number two most efficient defense in the land and could force the Boilers into a tough shooting night. The question here is will they develop anything remotely resembling  competence on the other side of the floor. Prediction: Ricky P and the Cards will frustrate Purdue and hold them in check with their defense. Louisville squeaks by.

  • Ohio State at Virginia: This one could get really ugly for two reasons. The first of which is that Ohio State has played only one semi-decent team, and haven't come close to seeing anything near what Virginia brings to the floor defensively. So they obviously could struggle to score points, which I hear is a problem when trying to win basketball games. The second reason is that the same core beat Kentucky last season, but lost to UT Arlington and Lousiana Tech at home. Whether or not this group has matured since, suffering the sting of not making the NCAA's in 2015-16 will be on display here as they travel to Charlottesville. Tony Bennett's team was insanely good when I watched them dismantle Iowa. They scored at will and did not allow the Hawkeyes to accomplish anything on offense. Despite a lack of star power, the system is working for the Cavs. Prediction: This one will be close for a half, but UVA will run away with it in the last ten minutes.

  • North Carolina at Indiana: If someone were to give me five dollars each time this game is referred to as a track meet, I wouldn't be living in a 350X350 studio apartment . Needless to say, pace has been mentioned quite a bit leading up to what arguably is the best game on paper of the Challenge's fourteen. Carolina and Indiana have both surprised pundits and fans alike by being a bit better than people expected out of the gate. Carolina is getting insanely stellar play from Joel Berry, and they are rebounding 46.6 percent of their misses thanks to Kennedy Meeks and freshman Tony Bradley. The two have absolutely owned the backboards. Indiana, meanwhile, shocked the college basketball world by beating Kansas early. But they then fell back to earth, losing to Fort Wayne last week. Both of these teams could easily win their leagues and could end up in the Final Four. If I were a betting man, I'd say the over is a safe play. Prediction: It's hard to go against Carolina with the way they've been playing, but I think Indiana playing at home will shoot the lights out much like they did against Kansas to get the win. 
That reverse jinx was brought to you by Bill Simmons. Enjoy the hoops.

Brendan Brody tweets @Berndon4.

Read Everything That Dunks Must Converge (a novel in 3 Acts) at You Can't Eat the Basketball

September 17, 2016

(Cover art by Todd Whitehead)
Things have really slowed down here at LCB, and I feel kind of bad for that. Posting here is a sentimental affair; aside from black and white marble journals, I’ve written here more often and longer than anywhere else. On the other hand, I’m not sad at all. In the last couple months, I worked to set up You Can’t Eat theBasketball

A world of child soldiers and cowboys: 'Beasts of No Nation's' Extended Family Tree

July 28, 2016


And AK-47s that they shooting into heaven
Like they're trying to kill The Jetsons
                                                  --Lupe Fiasco, "Little Weapon"

Cary Joji Fukunaga’s film Beasts of No Nation (2015) began its journey as a novel by Uzodinma Iweala. Published in 2006, the film’s hypotext appeared on bookshelves a year earlier than Ishmael Beah’s bestselling memoir A Long Way Gone, which, although categorized as nonfiction, also began as a novel in a creative writing workshop. Around that same time, in 2008, Emmanuel Jal released his album Warchild, which received critical acclaim from publications like Rolling Stone. In other words, a general discourse about boy soldiers, colonialism in a post-colonial world, the relationships between violence and natural resources arose in the middle of the twenty-first century’s first decade, and this discourse could be equally packaged as either an entertainment commodity or a curriculum for high schoolers and neighborhood book clubs.

Early summer reads: Paying urban rent, tennis balls made from hair, masked men, & stories I didn't understand

July 9, 2016

Image taken from the teaser for the book.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond (2016)

The most poignant aspect of Desmond’s writing is how he understands the conjoined relations between experience and data. The first 292 pages of Evicted focus primarily on the lives of tenants in Milwaukee’s urban neighborhoods. These tenants are mostly single mothers and the children for which they struggle to provide. These stories immerse the reader in the everyday lives of the urban poor, and their battles become more real and less imagined through Desmond’s prose. In these sections, he sprinkles statistics amidst the testimony, but the people are not lost in the numbers. And yet his epilogue “Home and Hope” is twenty or so pages of data-driven argumentation. The shift is beautiful and exactly as it should be. Moreover, Desmond does not hesitate to propose solutions to a crisis he has both recreated through story and sketched with numbers, and the result is the whole elephant in the room, not just a trunk, not just a tusk, but the entire, unavoidable beast.
 

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