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Memphis Grizzlies Book Club: Part 2

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In which I recommend Zach Randolph read a post-apocalyptic novel, Jon Leuer read poetry, and Coach Joerger read a series that may never be completed.

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In Part 1, I recommended books for the Grizzlies guards and wings. In Part 2, we cover the bigs:

Marc Gasol - "Atlas Shrugged", Ayn Rand -

Best line: "Atlas Shrugged."

This isn't the best book ever written, but it is the worst book ever written. The best two words of the book are, in fact, the title. Intrigues us by riffing on a mythos we are vaguely familiar with, while also connecting the book to the grand idea that there are people who hold the world in the palm of their hand.

The title is also the only time Rand chooses to use two words instead of four thousand.

"Atlas Shrugged" is referred to as a novel, but it actually isn't.  To explain: when I was a child I played with Legos. The bad guys were the Lego men whose eyebrows were pointed upwards - pirates, dark knights riding dragons, the occasional creature constructed completely out of Legos. This overwhelming horde would attack the good guys. All would seem lost. But then, against all odds, the good guys would win.

This is the basic structure of Atlas Shrugged. The good guys are the rich people. And the bad guys, rather than owners of upturned eyebrows, are owners of nothing.

Spoiler alert: the good guys, despite harrowingly small numbers and hordes of lazy people threatening to beat down their doors, prevail in Rand's book. They win by creating a secret utopia where only rich people are allowed. The lazy people can't find this secret utopia because, again, they are too busy being lazy and dumb. Left to their own devices, the poor people eventually die (the final scene depicts the protagonists [read: rich folk] looking over the dark, ruined America they've abandoned: "The road is cleared," said Galt. "We are going back to the world." He raised his hand and over the desolate earth he traced in space the sign of the dollar.")

Actually, maybe Atlas Shrugged is a comedy...

So why do I want Marc Gasol to read the worst book ever written?  Because reading this book will piss him off.  Setting aside the non-novel's message, just the specter of wasting entire days of your life reading a book (my copy was well over 1,000 pages) whose characters preach at their readers for sometimes dozens of uninterrupted pages will be enough to stoke the anger inside Gasol. He will never get those days back. He could have done so much with that time. But it is gone, wasted, and it is Rand's fault. Angry Gasol is the best Gasol. His anger will burn bright into the playoffs. He will bring us the heads of many foes, and raise them on pikes around the FedEx Forum.

Otherwise reading this book is a waste.

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Zach Randolph - "The Road," Cormac McCarthy -

Best line: "Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through ash, each the other's world entire."

Randolph has made his share of mistakes, but they have largely been a thing of the past. The picture we have today of Z-Bo is that of a hardworking player, who puts team before self, and family above all.

"The Road" follows a father and his boy "each the other's world entire" as they struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic world whose population has turned to cannibalism when they can't find food.

This may not be McCarthy's best book - I don't have the patience for his sparse writing style to find out - but it is perhaps the one best suited for a wider audience. "The Road" takes the best parts of McCarthy - his ability to write violence as if blood leaks from the page, his blank language leaving gaps for the readers to fill in - and stuffs them into a world with the simple goal of staying alive until the end of the book.

"The Road" deeply affects. The boy and his father, neither given even the gift of a name, will have ZBo wishing he could leap into their plight, shepherd them through it, use those fists he can't use on an NBA court.

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Kosta Koufos - "A Farewell to Arms," Ernest Hemingway -

Best line: "There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity.... Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and dates."

The recently engaged Koufos gets another love story recommendation. The last half dozen or so attempt to rip your heart out. Reader beware.

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Jarnell Stokes - "The Art of War," Sun Tzu -

Best line: "Warfare is the way of deception."

Dude is twenty years old, about to play basketball with grown-ass men. He needs as much wisdom (amongst other things) as he can get. "The Art of War" is a quick read - again, we want our man on the court not in his recliner, feet vertical, reading a several thousand year old Asian talk about the virtues of capturing the high ground before a fight.

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Jon Leuer - "The Second Coming," W.B. Yeats -

Best line: "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

Leuer gets off easy. I picked the shortest brilliant poem I could think of because every second Leuer spends reading is one less second he isn't shooting corner threes.

Random aside. Poetry gets a bad knock, mostly because people still think of it as something lovestruck Englishmen did to win the hand of their fair maiden of choice (even the love poets of today, aka Pablo Neruda, are badasses). Poetry rocks. T.S Eliot, Derek Walcott, Neruda, Yeats - all awesome.

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Coach Joerger - "A Song of Ice and Fire," George R. R. Martin -

Best line: "Never forget who you are for surely the world won't. Make it your strength, then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it and, it can never be used to hurt you."

If you know me, you know I'm not making it through this list without recommending these books.  Martin's fantasy series from which HBO's popular "Game of Thrones" springs is, in short, a masterpiece. This cycle contains unforgettable characters, crackling dialogue and, of course, a few thousand metric shit tons of blood and sex.

But one theme Martin's books obsess over is what it takes to lead, how tenuous a King's grasp over his realm truly is. We watch a parade of Kings, would-be Kings, Queens, rightful heirs, usurpers, and Masters of Whispers all take their turns climbing to the top of a ladder. The higher they get, the easier it is, they find, to be knocked from their perch.

Joerger's rookie season was truly a tight rope act. Joerger learned on the job while battling injuries and expectations. I'm not sure we can confidently say he is a good leader (though we can probably say he's not a bad one). Still, if Joerger learns nothing from the "aSoIaF" series, he will, at the very least, learn to never trust a Frey.

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In closing, quite a few of these books are amongst my favorites. Life's too short to read every book, let alone the books you can't put down; just read the ones that make you put them down.