Advertisements

Archive for the ‘Daniel James Brown’ Tag

Nothin’ But Net and Grit   Leave a comment

28110849

Dust Bowl Girls by Lydia Reeder focuses on a group of young women from various parts of rural Oklahoma in the early 1930s. It’s been call the counterpart to Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat in that it highlights overcoming adversity. Whereas the boys rowed their way to fame in the 1936 Olympics, the young women are basketball players. Their glory was limited to a championship season. As Reeder recounts, however, what a season it was!

In addition to profiles of the players and coach, the author provides vivid descriptions of the hardscrabble era, a history of women’s basketball, and attitudes toward women sports in general. For instance, the sport was considered unladylike. This was reflected in the rules governing uniforms and rules. Although it’s interesting, these aspects are frequently repeated, with little variation. Consequently, it appears as padding more than insightful content.

What may be most striking is that the women, most in their late teens, played for the Oklahoma Presbyterian College Cardinals on full scholarships. Many were farm girls, whose families would not otherwise have been able to afford to send them to college. Their basketball skills were often gleaned on dirt patches; these were strong, talented players.

During the Depression era, it was common for businesses to sponsor women’s teams as promotional enterprises. The Cardinals faced opponents from other small schools and non-academic teams. Olympic medalist, and later women’s golf pro, Babe Didrikson was a member of the latter. Hers was the team to beat.

Dust Bowl Girls
Three and three-quarter Bookmarks
Algonquin Books, 2017
286 pages, including epilogue and notes

Advertisements

Eclipsing Cliches   Leave a comment

16158542
The Boys in the Boat isn’t compelling as a title until considering the subtitle: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. That, believe it or not, provides just the amount of spark to pick up the book. Once in hand,  Daniel James Brown’s account is riveting. Sure there are a few spots where it catches a crab, in rowing vernacular where an oar doesn’t completely come out of the water and slows the pace of the shell (boat). Fortunately, Brown keeps a mostly steady tempo.

The narrative follows the unlikely evolution of nine young men who find their way to the University of Washington rowing crew. Much of the story follows Joe Rantz, a particularly poor young man with a heartbreaking past: his stepmother convinced his father to essentially abandon Joe. His history, along with that of his crewmates and their coaches, provide the book’s heart, literally and figuratively. Each chapter begins with a quote from George Yeoman Pocock the boat builder who served as a mentor to Joe and others.

Interspersed with descriptions of the men’s pasts, their grueling training and the exciting races — particularly those against California – Brown describes events in Germany before the world fully understood the atrocities occurring there.

Even though the outcome of the race is known from the start, how the American crew made it to Berlin is fascinating. It’s a story of indomitable spirit that demonstrates the power of hard work, friendship and the American dream.

The Boys in the Boat
Four Bookmarks
Viking Adult, 2013
416 pages