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Memphis Grizzlies Book Club: Part 1

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In which I recommend, Mike Conley read a love story that is not; Tony Allen read the last in a series of fourteen fantasy books; and Vince Carter read Freedarko.

Elena Kharichkina

A few weeks ago, Fansided.com did a summer reading list for NBA players, and I really dug it. So I thought of doing the same. Before we start here are a couple rules:

1). This may be the most indulgent thing I've ever written. And that's saying something.

2). See above.

With that said, onto the list! We're doing the guards and wings in this piece:

Mike Conley -  "The Great Gatsby," by F. Scott Fitzgerald -

Best line: "He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable great, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips' touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete."

For the newly married man, a book that both trumpets and complicates our ideas of love. On the surface "The Great Gatsby" is a love story. Fitzgerald's prose sing of the 1920's.   Cover to cover there isn't a word wasted. The book reads like driving a sports car on an empty insterstate.

Digging a little deeper one sees that Gatsby's conception of Daisy, his long lost love, has as much to do with his grandiose ideas of himself as it does his love for her. Part of love - the part complicated by Gatsby's disappearance - is that you actually love the other person, not some idea of them that you've erected.

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Tony Allen - "A Memory of Light," by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson -

Best line: "Who are you?" Demandred asked.

"I am the man who will kill you."

This is the final book of Robert Jordan's expansive "Wheel of Time" series. I began reading this series when I was in middle school, and it was completed - post-humously by Sanderson - just last year. The fourteenth and final book in this fantasy cycle depicts the epic Final Battle between the world of men and The Dark One.

I don't recommend the previous thirteen books to Tony, just the last one. He won't know what's going on, but I assume that won't matter. The final book is nothing but fighting, heroes doing heroic things, and general badassery.... and I reckon I'll need all of it to hold his attention.

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Nick Calathes, "My Losing Season," by Pat Conroy -

Best line: "It was a fine East Carolina team we had manhandled and belittled, but they caught us on one of the only nights of that year where we played like the team I dreamed we could be."

Conroy tells the autobiographical account of his college career playing point guard at the Citadel. Compelling to look back with someone on a time in their life that both held an untapped hope, and ultimately, regret. The losses, the failure, the choices they make that cannot be unmade. The Greek in Calathes will appreciate tragedy. The point guard in him will appreciate obsessing upon the guts of a basketball team, each game, each player, each moment. We've all made mistakes; will look back with clear, older eyes and yearn for the chance to do things differently; will make them again.

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Jordan Adams - "Ghostwritten," by David Mitchell -

Best line: "Memories are their own descendants masquerading as the ancestors of the present."

The lesser known debut book from the author of "Cloud Atlas," which is on the very short list of best books written since the year 2000. "Ghostwritten" is fascinating, not particularly because of the plot, characters or "what it's about," but because, from the opening paragraph, it is clear you are in the presence of a genius.

And this genius doesn't have full control over his powers.

The book careens through first person perspectives which are only very, very loosely connected; a terrorist; a widowed hermit; and eventually a ghost that - Fallen-like - can inhabit any human it chooses.

It's a crazy book that ultimately falls short in binding its craziness together. But the seeds of Mitchell's later genius are evident here. The colossal prose, the unexpected moments of poignance, his singular ability to eradicate his voice from his characters'.

A future NBA star's rookie year is an artifact. You can see Anthony Davis, Tony Parker, Lebron James, wrestling with their ability, thrashing around the court in ways which, in the not-to-distant future, will be learned routine.

And while Jordan Adams won't be those guys, this season will be a kernel for... something else.

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Tayshaun Prince - "Old Yeller," by Fred Gipson - Let's just move on.

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Courtney Lee - "Jesus' Son," by Denis Johnson -

Best line: Mostly all of them, but this one in particular: "I save lives."

Lee has played with five teams in six years. For him, I recommend the ultimate story of dislocation, of wandering, of struggling for connection.

This collection of stories may or may not all follow the same character - he's only named once, a hilariously NSFW moniker - and he's so drunk, high, or hungover that asking him to remember what happened earlier in each story (let alone what happened in the story before) is asking for a miracle.

"Jesus' Son" ripped out plot and replaced it with unadulterated emotion. Rather than giving us plot, or resolution, or any idea of what is, you know, actually happening, Johnson prefers to devolve into poetry.  How else can you explain starting the story "The Other Man" with: "But I never finished telling you about the two men" (even though it is completely unclear which two men he's talking about, if he was telling us about the two men, or someone else, or if his narrator just got too high and is making this up as he goes); and ending this story that neither gets off the ground, nor intends to, by describing the moment after he kisses a stranger with: "It was there. It was. The long walk down the hall. The door opening. The beautiful stranger. The torn moon mended. Our fingers touching away the tears. It was there."

I guess you had to be there.

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Beno Udrih - "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," by Junot Diaz -

Best line: "She was the kind of girlfriend God gives you young, so you'll know loss the rest of your life."

Beno deserves a book that can look at misery and if not whistle a tune, at least smile. In telling the horrible history of the Cabral family, the narrator seems as concerned with getting his "Lord of the Rings" references juuuussstt right as he is the particulars of the Dominican Republic's bloody history. There is something endearing about the narrator guiding us through the terrible reign of Trujillo (constantly referred to as "Sauron"), and I can only imagine if Beno were Dominican and obsessed with fantasy/sci-fi books, he'd sound a lot like the narrator of this book.

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Vince Carter - "The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac," by FreeDarko -

Best line: "WHAT HE STANDS FOR: The disconnect between our expectations and athletes' inner lives."

Specifically, I'd like Vince Carter to read the Vince Carter chapter. It is a marker, a sign post, demarcating just how far he has come.

Written in 2008, Freedarko alternately mourns Vince Carter's inability to fully harness his otherworldly abilities, and mock him for it, which is pretty much the way most NBA fans felt.

But Freedarko never imagined Vince Carter's future. Carter is probably the only superstar who has fallen from grace, and willingly taken a bit part, re-structured his game to fit inside of his team, after he is no longer able to bend his team around his game.

Carter should be praised for this.

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Jamaal Franklin - "Outliers," by Malcolm Gladwell -

Best line: "They had to appreciate the idea that the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are."

I recommend this specifically for the 10,000 theory of greatness, as well as a whole slew of other motivational tactics to encourage Franklin to stay on that grind.

Check out Part 2 of the Grizzlies Summer Book Club!

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