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Grizzlies Book Club

This list has everything: superheroes, a child joining a war party, a man named Kvothe, and the only book I think everybody should read at least once.

Grizzlies Book Club Back! It's time for me to pretend everyone reads, and the fire emojis in prose form have been brought. Each novel on this list - save one - is an absolute banger. This list has everything: stream of consciousness, a child joining a war party, a man named Kvothe, and the only book I think everybody should read once.

Let's do this!

{Hrdlicka note: I'm way more excited about this than you are, and I also don't care. LEGGGGOOOO}

Marc Gasol - "The Sound and the Fury," William Faulkner -

Best line: I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire.

Thusly, in declining mental health, hurtling towards his own suicide, Quentin Compson remembers how his Father described a wristwatch.

I read that line in my bedroom in 1998, when I was doing what every junior in high school does: reading "The Sound and the Fury" for fun. I remember reading this line, putting the book down, muttering an expletive, and for the next few hours thinking about what it meant. Then I thought about a lot of other things, then my mind wandered for a while probably, but years later this is what I remember:

1). I am not as smart as I think I am.

2). It requires stones orders of magnitude larger than my own  to dare to write that something so small - a wristwatch - contains an idea as large as "the mausoleum of all hope and desire," not to mention talent I will never have to sound like a badass while writing it. This line humbled me. That's right. My eyes passed over ten words in a book and I was humbled.

3). I will remember this for the rest of my life as the moment I fell in love with literature.

And I did.

"The Sound and the Fury" isn't a book for everyone, or for anyone at every moment. It's ostentatious, and insular, and it doesn't really care about its readers. Had I read it a few years earlier, I would've never made it past the inscrutable first chapter.

But, in the exact moment that I cracked its pages, "The Sound and the Fury" was "for" me like few other things have ever been.

Enter Marc Gasol. I guess my recommendation is not that Marc read this book, but the act of watching Gasol play these last few years has been much like that moment, years ago, when I opened "The Sound and the Fury" and began reading about how screwed up the Compsons were.

My Gasol moment was this: in the 2013 playoffs vs a Westbrook-less Thunder team. Durant terrifies every time he touches the ball. He is at once lanky and smooth, plunging around his defender towards the paint, a danger to rise up, float above or around, hang two points on you at literally any moment.

Except Gasol is there. Every time. Durant plunges into what should have been open space, precious in the playoffs, but the way is blocked by a large, yet nimble, Spaniard who had discarded his defensive charge, the corpse of Kendrick Perkins,moments ago. He knew before Durant even made his move where he would go.

Instead of an open lane, Durant meets a seven foot tall Catalan wall.

This happened again and again, time flat-circling, so I stopped watching the game, and just watched Gasol, who never stopped moving, the gears in his head deconstructing what the other team was trying to do before they tried to do it, moving into space before it became open. Perhaps this was the plan - don't guard your man, Marc, just guard everything all the time - and if it was the plan it was one that only he could have accomplished.

For me, this series is the best Marc has ever played. He was playing the game so much better than everybody else on the court that he had stopped playing basketball and started doing - IDK - something else; just like Faulkner was writing so much better than everybody else that he wrote something other than a novel.

Anyway, that's a little history about me.

Mike Conley -   "A Visit From the Goon Squad," Jennifer Egan

Best line: We were waiting for the sun. It came up fast, small and bright and round. "Like a baby," Rolph said, and I started to cry. This fragile new sun in our arms.

The synopsis of the book is boring: the plot follows a few characters who float in and out of the music industry and each other's lives, stretching across decades in the past and the not-so-distant future.  Egan uses the familiar structure of the ensemble cast, writing from different perspectives to tell parts of a larger whole. But writers have been plunging into different perspectives to tell a story for nearly a hundred years now - William Faulkner again proves to be ahead of his time. Doing so now doesn't feel new anymore. You can either push structure to new heights - filming BOYHOOD over decades, or the unique Russian Doll structure of the novel "Cloud Atlas" - or you can rely on the oldest trick in the book.

Creating the most interesting and nuanced characters possible.

Egan pulls it off in spades. Her book is an absolute banger, on my short list for all-time favorites.  Scattered everywhere, like the quote above, are moments of poignancy, beauty and hilarity.

But the true genius of "Goon Squad" is not built around themes, or prose, or narrative innovation, but balance. Egan threads each chapter through the prior, balancing the absurdity of one character with the monstrosity of the next. The creation of all of this is impressive, but the balancing act to hold it all together is even more so.

The act of balancing so many voices is one a point guard like Mike Conley could really relate to.

Jeff Green - "Infinite Jest," David Foster Wallace

Best line: I don't know. This book is confusing.

You can't suit up until you finish reading. That's the rule. See you in ten months.

Jordan Adams - "The Name of the Wind," Patrick Roothfus

Best line: My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me.

For "A Song of Ice and Fire" fans who want a tighter story to tide them over for the next {insert large number} years until George R. R. Martin finishes "The Winds of Winter," Roothfus' trilogy is perfect.

Kvothe - pronounced like "quothe," he tells us - becomes the stuff of legend in his world. He is skilled in magic, music, but unlucky in love, and these three forces more or less shape his outsized life.

Enter Jordan Adams. If the Grizzlies are to challenge for the Western Conference, Adams needs to hit his stride, and it needs to happen soon. Kvothe's trajectory started with humble beginnings too. By book two though, he's banging Felurian, an immortal faerie, in the Woods Between Worlds... and he lives to tell the tale!

{Hrdlicka note: maybe three people get that reference. I am nothing if not esoteric)

All of that to say, this is a big year for young Jordan. He doesn't have to get with Felurian this year, but learning some Sympathy would be nice!

Brandan Wright -  "The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay," Michael Chabon

Best line: "The magician seemed to promise that something torn to bits might be mended without a seam, that what had vanished might reappear, that a scattered handful of doves or dust might be reunited by a word, that a paper rose consumed by fire could be made to bloom from a pile of ash. But everyone knew that it was only an illusion. The true magic of this broken world lay in the ability of things it contained to vanish, to become so thoroughly lost, that they might never have existed in the first place."

Chabon's prose just wash over you. Not a word wasted. The plot, too, is so tight not a drop escapes, and his dialogue often sounds as if you aren't reading it on a page, but hearing it boomed at you in a Multiplex. He is an extraordinarily gifted writer.

This book is about superheroes. Loosely tracing how comic books penetrated into the American zeitgeist, and postulating the rise of the superhero as a response to the atrocities of World War 2, Chabon blends the everyday heroism of his seemingly ordinary protagonsists, Kav and Klay, with the outsized exploits of the comic book characters they create.

Brandan Wright should read this because - I don't know, I'm getting lazy - he can jump high, and his attempts at flight might be the closest thing to superhero powers the Grizzlies have? I like this book, and you should read it.

Courtney Lee & Beno Udrih - "Blood Meridian," Cormac McCarthy

Best line: A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained wedding veil and some in headgear or cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a Spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or sabre done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses' ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse's whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen's faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of Christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.

I am not the biggest McCarthy fan. For long stretches he seems to write like a ten year old. Short sentences, sparsely populated with polysyllables and punctuation. But.

BUT.

When McCarthy drops the prose hammer, lhe can do so harder and swifter than anyone. You're left with the distinct idea that McCarthy could pull that fastball out any time he wanted, while understanding why he can't.

An entire book written as inscrutably as the above passage would be unreadable. Too great a chore. But then again, McCarthy isn't always, like he is above, describing a child's first encounter with an Indian war party, isn't imbuing his words with the fog and terror of war so that you don't realize what is happening until it is already upon the child and it's probably too late.

To enjoy McCarthy you have to accept his writing on his terms. He drags you through muck. He makes you Google words like "dragoons." His plots meander.

"Blood Meridian" is a book that is great in fits and starts and on it's own terms.

Much like the Grizzlies are when Courtney Lee plays well. I wish Lee would shoot more, just like I wish McCarthy wouldn't write like he hates the English language sometimes. But that sort of thinking disregards human beings being human.

Lee is a fantastic role player who is not comfortable being a high volume shooter. Random nights will strike like lightning, and Lee will score twenty points plus and look like he could rain threes until the clock hits 0.00.

Intrinsic in McCarthy's writing is a type of fatalism. His worlds are set. Characters rarely undergo change unless we count gruesome death, then it happens, like, always.

The NBA is much the same way. At a certain point, guys are what they are and banking on the contrary is a losing game. Just accept their flaws and enjoy their strengths.

Oh, and Beno should read this book too. I just sort of laugh at the idea of making Beno read a Western that follows a child whose best chance for survival is latching on with a government contracted war party which gets paid by the scalp.

Vince Carter, Matt Barnes - "The Bone Clocks," David Mitchell -

Best line: "Love is fusion in the sun's core. Love is a blurring of prounouns. Love is subject and object. The difference between its presence and its absence is the difference between life and death."

"The Bone Clocks" is Harry Potter written from the Muggle's perspective. This is not Mitchell's best book. In fact, it is my least favorite of the three I've read. But like much of Mitchell's work, it is pessimistic about the future. His works often span hundreds of years, finding their origins in the past, stopping in the present for a beat, before hurtling forward into the future he imagines for us which, to put it mildly, is not so great.

So do I imagine a bleak future for Vince and Matt? No, I offer an alternative. Because this book's plot revolves around people who have discovered how to live forever. There is a price, but rather than spoil the plot of the book, here just drink what's in this cup and have a great season!

Jarnell Stokes, Jarell Martin, Jamychal Green - "Never Let Me Go," Kazuo Ishiguro -

Best line: "Is she afraid of you? We're all afraid of you. I myself had to fight back my dread of you all almost every day..."

I don't generally like books written from limited perspectives. The Bran chapters of "A Song of Ice and Fire" became laborious, in part, because Bran couldn't do anything, and he sometimes didn't have much to say.

Having said that, Ishiguro uses the limited perspective of a child subtly, craftily, elegantly. Often the point of writing from a child's perspective is to withhold information, to give the audience the feeling that they are growing up alongside the child. You build towards a great reveal that hits the reader, and child, together over the head like an anvil.

The problem with this is that the reader often knows where the writer's trail of bread crumbs leads before he's ready to get there. What follows is a tedious dance - not unlike a Tayshaun Prince jump shot - where the reader knows what will happen long before the writer is ready to show it to you. Except reading takes a long time, and is tough work, and shouldn't be spent walking on ground you've already been.

Unless - and this is the tricky part - the great reveal doesn't matter. If Ishiguro's child narrator has charmed you with the depth of her perception; if she's spent so little time fretting about her own self; if she doesn't, not once, ask you to feel sorry for her - then you turn the last page and you realize that this book isn't telling you anything so much as making you feel it.

"Never Let Me Go" is about what every coming of age book is about: life just is not fair.

So why should all of these young guys read this book? Because they are all fighting for the same thing - playing time. In the case of Martin, the Grizzlies' shiny new toy, failure wont be the end of his tenure with the team, but Green and Stokes don't have the same guarantee.

Very likely, one of these guys will not end the year with the Grizzlies, and knowing that this early, like knowing the end of "Never Let Me Go" so early, is pretty sad.

Russ Smith -  "The Great Gatsby," F. Scott Fitzgerald  -

Best line: So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

"The Great Gatsby" is the only book I think every person should read. Gatsy has my vote for the most "American" book ever written {Hrdlicka note: I haven't read Moby Dick. I'll get to it one day}.

Smith's twitter handle is "Sir Saudade". Saudade, I recently found out, is a Portuguese word that has no direct English translation. The closest translation is sort of a feeling of nostalgia or melancholy for something you've lost, but tied with it is the hope that that thing will return.

In other words, "Saudade" is the plot of "The Great Gatsby," whose last line speaks to the transience of the present, the future we yearn for, the past we can't escape.

Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Dave Joerger, The MACHINE, Chris Wallace and Grizzlies fans  -  "Freedom," Jonathan Franzen

Best line: ...she'd been a standout athlete in high school and college and possessed a jock sort of fearlessness. From her first day in the neighborhood, she was helplessly conspicuous. Tall, ponytailed, absurdly young, pushing a stroller past stripped cars and broken beer bottles and barfed-upon old snow, she might have been carrying all the hours of her day in the string bags that hung from her stroller. Behind her you could see the baby-encumbered preparations for a morning of baby-encumbered errands; ahead of her, an afternoon of public radio, the Silver Palate Cookbook, cloth diapers, drywall compound, and latex paint; and then Goodnight Moon, then zinfandel. She was already fully the thing that was just starting to happen to the rest..."

{Hrdlicka note: the very best line is in the final few pages, but reveals too much about the fates of the main characters to be featured. If flame emojis took prose form, it would be that.}

Thusly, we meet Patty Berglund, the female character at the center of this book. "Freedom," is as great as a novel can be while focusing solely on what can be described, in the parlance of our times, as "White People Problems." In the above paragraph, Franzen captures the ennui of suburban life; of having just enough to realize you don't have everything; of surrounding yourself with enough good things that the perfect goodness eventually isn't good enough because it isn't great.

Franzen is often held up as the novelist that captures our cultural moment perfectly. I think, however, this view is misappropriated.

What I think Franzen does better than almost anybody else, is he satisfies the modern reader's need for everything. He gives you full access. He suffocates you in his character's identities. The intimacy with these people is so close, you get all of it - every blemish, every stray thought about, I don't know, the migration pattern of birds, or masturbation, or the track that played when they found out, for sure, that they were in love. You get everything, even the flaws, and there is no hiding.

And this is sort of a problem in "Freedom" because despite, for instance, Patty's half-lifetime desire to bang her husband's best friend, the Berglunds have it pretty good. What's the problem?

The problem is that good isn't good enough. You confront the idea that your life, while good, could be better. Maybe just tweak this, or buy that, or scratch this itch once, and things will be better. Because being good is fine except that it still requires work, and doing work is hard, and it makes you resent those you think aren't doing their part, and before you know it your sense of happiness is Don Draper's.

Sometimes I think this is where the Grizzlies are at. A really, really good team that, if one guy played just 1% better, if Courtney Lee just shot more, if Tony Allen would just do the good Tony Allen things all the time instead of the other things, if Zach Randolph were more versatile power forward, If Gasol were more aggressive, if the Grizzlies finally developed a young guy, iif Mike Conley just played a couple less minutes if if if....

The Grizzlies are a square peg fitting into an NBA, increasingly shaped, like a round hole. Good enough to pick at all the scabs keeping you from being great. Frustrated that it is still just as hard as it always was.

The path to winning an NBA title is incredibly tough to divine if Tony Allen and Zach Randolph are to play prominent roles. The Golden State Warriors gleam in the distance as the shiny, new archetype, the thing to chase, the green grass on the other side.

But this thinking forgets the last year. Before a second round pick, Draymond Green, went from decent rotation player to nominal Defensive Player of the Year. Before Steph Curry went from just one of the best offensive players in the NBA to one of its very best players period. Before Steve Kerr benched David Lee, before Klay Thompson took the next step and before all of them managed to stay healthy for a hundred games.

The Grizzlies aren't likely to see the same internal improvement as the Warriors. But that isn't the point. Any individual team winning the title is unlikely. It requires talent, yes, but talent paired with hard work, sacrifice and more than a modicum of luck.

The Grizzlies are on the periphery of that calculus, a planet orbiting the outer reaches of title contention.

Good is not the enemy of great. Good is hard. It is very, very hard.

The Grizzlies may not have a path to a title with this roster - emphasis on "may not" - but you won't be reading any "Trade ZBo" or "Trade TA" columns from this writer. Both are on great contracts they will outperform. Not unrelated, they are very clearly the third and fourth best players the Grizzlies have, and it is very tough to trade that type of player and get better.

Sometimes good is all you have. And you don't realize that other people would gladly take your problems, until they do, and you realize that your problems weren't problems at all. They were all you freaking had.