Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ignore Everything I Say

When last we met, I was taking what I imagined was a calm, reasoned look at this business of being a fan. Because the heavens like a good jest, five days later I was watching Liverpool (minus ex-favorite player Fernando Torres) versus Chelsea (plus ex-favorite player Fernando Torres), and absolutely losing my shit as I contradicted everything in the aforementioned post.

I booed Torres when he left the field. I screamed and embraced my Liverpool-watching pal when Raul Meireles scored. When the final whistle blew, leaving Liverpool with a 1-0 win, I posted some frankly embarassing stuff about my devotion to the club on Twitter.

So much as I'd like to pretend otherwise, I'm just as stupid and irrational as anyone else. I apologize for the confusion.

* * *

That day seemed to herald a turnaround in my sporting (watching) life; not only did Liverpool win, but the Packers (representing good) defeated the Steelers in the Super Bowl, and it emerged that Peter Forsberg was returning to the Avalanche. Combined with an Evander Kane-fueled Thrashers win over the Rangers a few days later (with me in some posh seats, thanks to the Elk) and it looked like all sunshine and roses from here on out, up to the inevitable Thrashers-Avalanche Stanley Cup. Since then, though, the wheels have come off. Liverpool could only manage a draw against Wigan, Forsberg's retired and the Avalanche are tanking, I also saw the Thrashers in an uninspired loss to Carolina, and labor strife threatens the 2011 NFL season. Sports, man. They'll break your heart.

* * *

I have been reading, yes, yes.

#5 -- "The Ghost Map" by Steven Johnson

#6 -- "The Siege" by Ismail Kadare

#7 -- "War Without Death" by Mark Maske

"The Ghost Map" is an interesting book elevated to another level by the sheer enthusiasm (if that's the right word, given the subject matter) the author brings to it. Johnson -- a really good writer -- thinks this stuff is fascinating and he really wants to share it with you. It's hard not to be swept along. The book's about a 19th-century cholera outbreak in London and some non-traditional thinking by a few of the residents that led to a breakthrough in how the disease was viewed. It's good stuff.

I love Kadare, but "The Siege" didn't do a whole lot for me. It's actually an older book ("The Castle," which I can now scratch off my want list) repurposed. It's a metaphor for late-1960s Albania and it felt like it could've been half the length. Not bad but he's got a bunch that are better.

"War Without Death" eases me gently into the football offseason. Maske spent a year following the NFC East teams around and this is the result. I applaud him for breaking out of the "follow one team" thing, which has been done so many times before, but can't help but think that it would have been better if he'd just ... followed one team. As it is it jumps around a lot and some interesting threads are lost. It's good, but could've been much better.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

38

I spent much of my 38th birthday rather unspectacularly: waiting in a Toyota dealership, light rain outside, getting Twitter updates on the Fernando Torres saga while waiting for a few hundred bucks worth of work to get done on my car (and then finding out that a few hundred more will be necessary, just for kicks).

The Torres watch was a grim thing -- he was likely Liverpool's most valuable player, and unquestionably my favorite. But watching the fan reaction as the story played out over a week was instructive. When the rumblings first began in late January, anyone who recounted a rumor was savaged -- Fernando's a True Red, he'll never leave, etc. Writers were abused on Twitter for saying it was a possibility that he would go to Chelsea.

The rumors didn't go away, and eventually, obviously, they became fact. And then the fury turned on Fernando: he's not a true Liverpool player. He's a prima donna, he's lazy, he's petulant. He told us he was one of us and he wasn't. And now it's turned to a grim sort of satisfaction: he's going to fail miserably at Chelsea, he'll regret this eternally. Strange to watch, hero to pariah in the space of a week.

I'm obviously upset -- my two Torres jerseys are poignantly gathering dust now -- but this all highlighted just how bizarre sports fandom can be. Torres wants to win titles and wants to play in the Champions League. At least for the moment, Chelsea offers a much better shot at that. I wouldn't want Fernando to stand in the way of any career advancement on my end; who am I to tell him he shouldn't pursue what he wants?

Tapeleg had a good post a few weeks back about Evgeni Nabokov and the vitriol that came his way when he refused to go to the Islanders. Fans want the players to go out, perform well, and win. We don't want them to have any desires more complicated than that, and when they do, we shower them with abuse. We take it personally: it's not just the club he's rejecting. It's the city, it's us.

Life goes on (I'd say the sun came up today, but at least here in Atlanta it's been pouring like mad). As a Thrashers fan, I've survived Heatley then Hossa then Kovalchuk wanting their way out of town; as a Liverpool fan, I'll survive Fernando. Hell, I've already got my eye on a Raul Meireles shirt.

* * *

#4 -- "Albania: From Anarchy to a Modern Balkan Identity" by Miranda Vickers and James Pettifer

And this is #2 for the book challenge. Whew. I've been trying to get through this for a long while now; it's perhaps the most scholarly book I've read in a decade. It tracks Albania's emergence from Hoxha's dictatorship, and does it exhaustively.

It's very thorough, but anyone's interest in this will vary by need. If you're a hardcore Albania nerd (Albanerd?), like me, then it's must reading. If you want a primer on Albania's history, Vickers' excellent "The Albanians" is the place to go. If you don't want to read about Albania at all, why are you looking to me for recommendations?