Sum It Up

The Book of the Week is “Sum It Up” by Pat Summitt with Sally Jenkins, published in 2012. This ebook is the autobiography of a long-time coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of Tennessee; Olympian, Olympic coach, daughter, wife, mother, etc., etc.

Summitt’s childhood consisted of doing hard labor on her family’s Tennessee farm, drag racing and playing aggressive basketball with her three older brothers. Her father was a gruff, hard worker who refrained completely from showing affection toward his family. Nevertheless, he had a passion for basketball. Therefore, in the mid 1960’s, he had the family move to a fixer-upper residence so that his daughter could play high school basketball on a very good team.

Unfortunately, the team was part of a pathetic interscholastic program that existed for girls at the time. There were many inequalities between male and female sports programs in Summitt’s generation. For one, she had to pay full college tuition, because “…athletic scholarships for women simply didn’t exist in 1970.”

At 22 years old in 1974, even when she was named head coach of the women’s basketball team at her alma mater, she was given a budget that was a fraction of the men’s team’s budget. Also, unlike a male coach, she had to play many roles in addition to coaching, such as serving as driver, laundress, ankle-taper, gym-floor cleaner, and bench assembler. Her office was at the top of five flights of stairs in a hot attic with no elevator and no air conditioning. At the same time, she was taking four master’s degree classes and was required to teach undergraduate classes.

Finally, in 1975, Title IX– which was supposed to “even the playing field” for male and female athletes– was signed into law by President Gerald Ford (according to the book). Summitt started to benefit from progress, but even in the late 1970’s, the men’s sports teams still had bigger marketing budgets and staffs than the women’s teams; plus the men traveled by airplane while the women had to drive hours and hours.

Summitt also discusses basketball as a metaphor for other aspects of life. She writes, “The point guard position in basketball is one of the great tutorials on leadership… they only follow you if they find you consistently credible… If there is a single ingredient in leadership, it’s emotional maturity.”

Read the book to learn about the coaching-career teams, victories, setbacks, comebacks and defeats; and family, health and retirement issues in the life of this overachiever.

My Guy Barbaro – Bonus Post

In honor of the Kentucky Derby, this blogger would like to report on “My Guy Barbaro” by Edgar Prado with John Eisenberg, published in 2008. This ebook tells the story of a horse named Barbaro, ridden by the author, a jockey.

Prado grew up in Lima, Peru in a poor household with seven brothers, three sisters, his mother, and a father who was a horse groomer. Two of his older brothers became jockeys. He had a natural rapport with horses, and became a licensed jockey at fifteen and a half. He graduated high school, and at eighteen, moved to Miami, Florida in 1986 for more challenging racing.

Prado rides on different horses in various states in races throughout the year. The Triple Crown is a trio of races very difficult to win. It consists of the Belmont Stakes on Long Island in New York State, the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, and the Preakness Stakes in Maryland. Up until 2008, race tracks in that third state suffered financially in the past decade, unlike those in Delaware and West Virginia, as it declined to allow cash-cow slot machines at its race tracks.

In the 2006 Kentucky Derby, Prado had the privilege of riding Barbaro, a horse that was a racing prodigy, owned by the late pop star Michael Jackson. Read the book to learn of Barbaro’s fate.

The Other Side of Me

The Book of the Week is “The Other Side of Me” by Sidney Sheldon, published in 2005. This ebook is Sheldon’s autobiography.

Born Sidney Schechtel in 1917, Sheldon showed a talent for writing at an early age. However, during the Depression, he was forced to work day and night at a series of dead-end, soul-killing jobs, such as courier in a gear factory and coat-check clerk at a hotel. Sheldon was unafraid to approach strangers, and at that time, low-skilled jobs could be obtained in a simple five-minute conversation.

One day, he went to a Chicago radio station to inquire about an amateur talent contest sponsored by a band leader, and by chance, was asked to be the show’s announcer. It was then that he changed his last name to Sheldon, thinking it sounded more show business-y. His excessive talking caused the show to go fifteen seconds overtime, so he was not asked back, but from that experience, he thought he wanted to become a radio announcer.

On another day, he wrote a song with the help of his family’s spinet piano. He went to a hotel to try to sell the song. “In that year, 1936, the major hotels in the country had orchestras in their ballrooms that broadcast [on radio] coast to coast.” He was introduced to a manager at a big-name music publisher who directed him to another hotel with a better-known band leader. Perhaps naively, he never signed a written contract. His song was played and aired, but was never published. He therefore never received a penny in royalties.

Sheldon encountered many more episodes similar to the above, in which he was at the mercy of powerful people who made arbitrary decisions on the use of his creative works– Broadway musicals, screenplays and TV scripts and novels. Read the book to learn more about his bipolar disorder that had a hand in his self-doubt and despair, baseless optimism and persistence, missed opportunities, failures and successes.

A Champion’s Mind – Bonus Post

Besides Andre Agassi’s ebook, there is Pete Sampras’: “A Champion’s Mind,” published in 2008.  This ebook’s author tends to be a bit narcissistic, as is evident from the title, and the fact that the passages describing the matches he won, outnumber those he lost, by a few.

Nevertheless, Sampras racked up bragging rights through becoming the number one ranked tennis player in the world for six years. He won fourteen Grand Slams. He overcame various problems, including the stress from unfortunate occurrences concerning a fellow pro tennis player and two of his coaches (deaths and crime), his illnesses and injuries, plus meeting the psychological challenges of playing many finals matches in major tournaments against Andre Agassi, a formidable rival, beating him more often than not.

Read the book to learn the details.

Open

The Book of the Week is “Open” by Andre Agassi published in 2009. This engaging ebook tells the life story (up until his mid-thirties) of a famous American tennis player.

The author’s traumatic childhood invites the reader’s sympathy and the entertaining writing keeps the reader enthralled. Although this is a first-person account and the book is all about him, he does not come off as narcissistic. He has bragging rights as a world-class tennis player, and has done some serious introspection– he shares with the reader his emotional states while recounting his life lessons.

Agassi’s childhood was tennis-obsessed, as his father ordained that he was going to grow up to be a professional tennis player. As a powerless child, he could not argue. Besides, he told himself that he loved his father, wanted his approval, didn’t want to make him mad. His father became even more tyrannical than usual when angry. So his tennis career became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Fortunately, during his journey to the top, Agassi met friends, mentors, lovers and even opponents, who helped him to become a better athlete and a better person. When he got his first taste of celebrity, Agassi writes, “Wimbledon has legitimized me, broadened and deepened my appeal, at least according to the agents and managers and marketing experts with whom I now regularly meet.”

Grateful for his fame and fortune, the author decided to give back. He wanted to create “… something to play for that’s larger than myself and yet still closely connected to me… but isn’t about me.” He co-founded a charter school called Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, located in Nevada.

Agassi proudly describes the school; a few aspects with which this blogger takes issue. He claims that pouring money into the school would make it a better school. He says Nevada is a state that spends less money per student on education than most other states. At least one study has shown that spending is not a factor in improving education quality.

Agassi also supplied the 26,000 square foot education complex with “everything the kids could want”– the very best entertainment and computer centers, athletic facilities, etc. On any given day, a famous politician, athlete or musician might drop by to teach the kids.

The author boasts, “Our educators are the best, plain and simple.” Yet, he goes on to write, because the school “… has a longer school day and a longer school year than other schools, our staff might earn less per hour than staffs elsewhere. But they have more resources at their fingertips and so they enjoy greater freedom to excel and make a difference in children’s lives.”

In other words, Agassi’s take on education is misguided in various ways. It seems he thinks kids will get a better education with quantity over quality when it comes to money and time. True, passionate teachers do not work solely for the money, but they value student enlightenment and recognition more than sparkling new classrooms. Admittedly, the author is a man of contradictions. Read the book to learn more about them.

Memories Before and After The Sound of Music

The Book of the Week is “Memories Before and After The Sound of Music” by Agathe von Trapp, published in 2002. This ebook describes the real lives of the members of the family depicted in the legendary movie and musical “The Sound of Music.” The shows were Hollywoodized versions meant to appeal to American audiences.

Agathe, born in 1913, was the second-oldest child, and oldest daughter of an Austrian family of seven children by the first wife of a WWI commander of a submarine in the Austrian navy. The wealthy, farm-owning family had ties to royalty, and so had plenty of household help. Nevertheless, the family encountered some hardships during the political, financial and social upheavals of the first half of the twentieth century.

The author tries to set the reader straight on her family history. For example, she writes, “… we did not flee over the mountains into Switzerland. There is no mountain pass that leads from Salzburg, Austria into Switzerland. We simply took the train to Italy.”

A nanny taught Agathe and her siblings German and English. They found low-tech ways to amuse themselves. “…We used our imaginations to turn a row of chairs into an express train and a sofa into a hospital.”

They enjoyed natural wonders during their daily walks. They visited relatives, such as their maternal grandmother, Gromi, who had a spacious garden along the lakeshore. Agathe took an interest in beekeeping, mentored by the headmaster of the local elementary school, on “how to catch a swarm and how to extract honey.” He provided her with the necessary equipment, including bee hood, gloves and smoker. She harvested twelve pounds of honey a few months later.

Agathe played the guitar, while her father and siblings played the violin and accordion. They formed an amateur Schrammel Quartet; if it had been professional, it would have played Viennese folk music in “… little restaurants in Grinzing, a suburb of Vienna, during the time of harvest when the new wine is served.”

The von Trapps became a famous traveling singing group by chance. In the 1930’s, they were encouraged to enter a yodeling competition, and they won. Then came singing on the radio. Austria’s chancellor just happened to be a regular listener of the show they appeared on, and the rest is history. The “Trapp Family Singers” sang in concerts all over the world into the early 1950’s.

Read the book to learn of the von Trapp family’s adventures through the years, among them– how most of the family members lost their Austrian citizenship but were automatically granted Italian citizenship, how they stayed alive even after refusing to comply with specific Nazi orders, and what led the family to start a lodging business and music camp.

All By My Selves

The Book of the Week is “All By My Selves” by Jeff Dunham, published in 2010. This is the autobiography of a politically incorrect, professional ventriloquist. He developed his career-passion as a child when, by chance, he was given a dummy as a gift.

Dunham auditioned to be a guest for The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson” nine times before he was finally accepted in April 1990. His striving to become famous took a toll on his family, but when he “made it” he was afforded an “entourage of management, agents and publicists.”

Read the book to learn of Dunham’s experiences as a professional ventriloquist, that include but are not limited to:  his decades-long struggles to achieve an act of sufficient quality to appear on television (prior to the advent of social media), his learning the hard way what not to do before performing, and being stiffed on compensation by night clubs.

Jokes My Father Never Taught Me

The Book of the Week is “Jokes My Father Never Taught Me” by Rain Pryor, published in 2006. The author is one of the daughters of the late Richard Pryor, the African American comedian; the only child of a Caucasian, Jewish mother.

During her childhood in the 1970’s, Rain struggled with her three identities:  black, white and Jewish. Her biracial appearance caused people to instantly develop biases, making it easy for them to practice tribal exclusion when it suited them. She found she could dispel the discrimination by making people laugh. Rain writes, “Comedy was about connecting with people in places so personal that it actually made them uncomfortable, and then showing the humor in it.”

Rain’s early-childhood circumstances did not allow her to develop a personal relationship with her father until she turned four. But when she finally did, he shamelessly exposed her to the birds and the bees. She commented that one redeeming trait of her father’s call girls, was that they were honest.

“They weren’t there because they loved my Daddy, and they didn’t pretend to love my Daddy… That was life with Richard Pryor. Sex and violence, puctuated by rare moments of family happiness.” In addition, over decades, her father went through five wives, who bore a total of seven children.

Although as a young child, Rain witnessed the seamy side of the adult world, she enjoyed a sense of love and belonging from a large family on both her parents’ sides. Another lucky aspect of her life was that of her father’s fame and fortune. He could afford to, and did take her and her siblings on various luxurious domestic and international trips.

Read the book to learn more about Rain’s issues with her own ethnicities, her father’s and her own addictions, his multiple sclerosis, and her family crises.

Maybe You Never Cry Again

The Book of the Week is “Maybe You Never Cry Again” by Bernie Mac with Pablo F. Fenjves, published in 2003. This is the autobiography of a man who heeded his mother’s wisdom in achieving his life’s dream of becoming a famous comedian.

Foremost, Mac’s mother taught him to be self-reliant. One of her sayings was, “If you want a helping hand, look at the end of your arm.”

Mac listed the four kinds of standup comedians:  mediocre joke tellers, political commentators, observers of human nature, and tellers of personal stories. He exemplified the fourth kind, making audiences of mostly his own ethnicity laugh by comparing his African American experience to that of Caucasians without mincing words. “The most personal is the most universal.”

For example, he told the reader that, as an adult, he became as excited as a kid in a candy store when he flew in a plane for the first time. He said, “White people wouldn’t understand that feeling. White people get on planes all the time. They born on planes. Same thing with photographs. White people, they got pictures of themselves every minute of their lives. Here’s little Libby…Black people, they lucky to have one or two pictures of themselves.”

Read how Mac put his mother’s teachings to use to get through the trials and tribulations he suffered on the way to stardom.