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Quarterback is king in the NFL.

Strong quarterback play has always been an important part of success on the football field. But in today’s pass-prominent game, a high level of performance from the QB has become even more vital. One could make the argument – and plenty do – that the quarterback is the most important single player in professional team sports. You need a good one, if not a great one.

But how do you find one?

Brian Billick is a former NFL head coach with a Super Bowl ring and a current gig as an analyst for the NFL Network – certainly someone with some insight into the importance of having a great QB and what goes into developing such greatness. His new book – co-authored with James Dale – is “The Q Factor: The Elusive Search for the Next Great NFL Quarterback” (Twelve Books, $28), an in-depth exploration of what goes into finding and developing QB excellence.

Using the QB-heavy draft of 2018 as a jumping-off point – five passers were selected in the first round – Billick delves into the specifics of quarterback greatness and some of the tools evaluators can use to determine if the guy they see now can become what they need him to be later. With plenty of attention to detail and some great macro and micro perspectives, Billick deconstructs the path to greatness and how a little improvement in determining that path can go a long way.

Published in Sports

What does it mean to be a sports hero? There are so many different arenas in which athletes can excel and become part of the story of their sport, whether we’re talking about professional championships or individual records or Olympic glory or some combination therein. Athletic prowess has been turning ordinary men and women into legends for centuries.

But while some heroes become ensconced, forever part of the story of their sport, others fade into the margins of history. No matter how highly celebrated and decorated in their day, they don’t maintain their spot in the popular imagination. But those athletes and their feats still matter, even if they’ve been forgotten … and their stories still deserve to be told.

Kevin Martin’s “The Irish Whales: Olympians of Old New York” (Rowman & Littlefield, $32) relates the tale of one such group of forgotten heroes. These men, a collection of Irish immigrants to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were athletic sensations during that stretch. As a group, these men thoroughly dominated the world of field events through the early days of the modern Olympics, becoming sensations on both sides of the Atlantic and bringing great pride to both their native country and their adopted homeland.

Through a meticulously detailed and researched exploration of these men, a new appreciation can be gained for these athletic marvels who, despite global fame in their day, ultimately faded into relative obscurity. Their greatness is undeniable; this book proves a worthwhile introduction to that greatness.

Published in Sports

Food as entertainment has become big business in the 21st century. Food-based television programming and celebrity chefs are major parts of the culinary landscape, with their importance spiraling upward as each enhances the other. Food TV makes more famous chefs and famous chefs make more TV.

One of the beneficiaries of this development is David Chang. Founder of the Momofuku restaurant empire and host of Netflix’s “Ugly Delicious,” he could be considered one of the poster children for this new chef culture … though it’s not necessarily a distinction that he ever really wanted.

In his new memoir “Eat a Peach” (Clarkson Potter, $28) – co-written with Gabe Ulla – Chang walks readers through his unusual and checkered journey to the top of his profession. From his early days in a strict and religious Korean-American family to his start in restaurant kitchens to the early uneasiness of his Momofuku endeavors to his ultimate ascendance to the upper echelons of the food world, we’re given insight into how he got to where he is.

But that’s just half the story. We also learn about a life lived in constant fear of failure. Chang is brutally honest and forthcoming about his up-and-down fight against depression and his ongoing struggles with anger management. It’s a success story that features plenty of misfires. The one constant throughout is a deep-seated and genuine love of cooking, both in terms of culinary exploration and cultural storytelling.

Published in Style

Parts of who we are tend to be defined by the places we’re from. We are more than our hometowns, but forever OF our hometowns. And telling our own stories of those places can be far more complicated than we anticipate.

Kerri Arsenault’s “Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains” (St. Martin’s Press, $27.99) is her story, a story about her hometown and her family’s life there. It is also about the place in a grander sense, defined as it is by the presence of industry and the town’s risk/reward relationship with it. Telling the tale of her family is inextricably entangled with the story of the town – and you can’t tell the story of the town without telling the story of the mill.

What follows is a memoir, yes, a remembrance of a small-town childhood. But it is also a thorough look at the lasting impact – positives and negatives alike – that the town’s reliance on and acceptance of the mill has had on those who live there. It’s a story of the compromises we’re willing to make – and the untruths we’re willing to tell ourselves – in the name of perceived prosperity.

Published in Style

Mill towns. There are plenty of them here in the state of Maine, towns that sprang up around the paper mills that dotted the landscape for decades. These towns have uniquely symbiotic relationships with the mills at their centers – relationships that aren’t always fully healthy.

Author Kerri Arsenault’s new book “Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains” (St. Martin's Press, $27.99) takes the reader inside one such Maine town. Mexico and neighboring Rumford have been defined for over 100 years by the paper mill. Over that time, the mill has been the primary employer, providing a good living to generations of residents and serving as the economic backbone of the town.

But there are other aspects of these relationships as well, caveats and consequences that spring from the realities of the bargain being struck.

Arsenault was kind enough to answer some questions about “Mill Town,” the process of writing it and what the many complexities that come with telling a story about where you come from.

Published in Cover Story

They say that history is written by the victors. But so too are the victors most often the ones written into history.

That fact is even truer in the sporting realm than it is elsewhere. By its very nature, sport is concerned with winners and losers. And while those who win are celebrated and lauded in the years that follow, their victory burnished by the sheer volume of memory – what of those who fall short? What of those who reach the pinnacle, only to be stopped just short.

“Losers: Dispatches from the Other Side of the Scorecard” (Penguin, $17) is a collection of pieces devoted to looking at those who never quite reached the top of the mountain. Edited by Mary Pilon and Louisa Thomas – both of whom also have work included within – this assemblage of essays spans more than a century of athletic near-misses.

All told, there are 22 pieces here, 14 of which are previously unpublished. Every one of them is devoted to exploring what it means to lose, to be beaten. The reasons behind their shortfalls vary – some are faced with legendary opposition, while others simply deal with a bad day or bad luck – but all of them find ways to reflect the impact of almost. Some of these stories are funny, while others are sad and still others inspire, but all of them together paint a portrait of the truth behind loss. It’s a compelling journey through the competitive landscape, with all manner of sport and athlete represented.

Published in Sports

It’s a reality of life that nothing lasts forever. All things are transient. Everything that begins must eventually end.

And I do mean EVERYTHING.

Even the universe itself will eventually come to an end. Entire fields of study are devoted to beginnings and endings on a cosmic scale, with brilliant scientists spending their professional lives staring out into the universe and deep into the atom in an effort to understand not just how everything works, but how it might eventually stop working.

Astrophysicist Katie Mack’s new book “The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking)” (Scribner, $26) is a smart, surprisingly funny look at some of the ways that cosmologists believe the universe could potentially end. Don’t worry – it probably isn’t taking place anytime soon. Most of these endings won’t happen tomorrow. Probably.

It’s an accessible and engaging work of pop science, one that finds a way to strike a balance between the intricate physics and mathematics that go into these explorations and an easy narrative tonality that allows even those without PhDs to wrap their heads around these big-by-definition ideas. Consider this a crash course in cosmic eschatology, a sort of End Of It All 101. It is informative and entertaining in the way that only the very best science writing can be.

Published in Tekk

Celebrity memoirs are generally a tough sell for me. The notion that a famous person is going to tell me anything of substance about themselves – particularly in a book – seems unlikely. So often, these books are baldly self-celebratory with nary a hint of genuine introspection.

Colin Jost’s “A Very Punchable Face” (Crown, $27) isn’t the worst celebrity autobiography you’ll find. Jost, a longtime writer and “Weekend Update” host for “Saturday Night Live,” knows how to write and is unafraid to look foolish – a solid combination for someone presenting a book about their own life. While it might not be as thoughtful or reflective as you might like, Jost does pull back the curtain a little bit, particularly when it comes to his family and his Staten Island roots.

Again, it’s not some sort of soul search, but nor is it merely a wad of rehashed “SNL” backstage anecdotes (though it’s closer to the latter). Instead, we get a pleasant, perfectly cromulent memoir – one that focuses largely on the goofy stories, but still leaves room to talk a little bit about the stuff that matters.

Published in Style

Anyone who has worked the same job for a long time likely has their share of stories. And if that job involves regular interactions with the public, they probably have even more. And if said public isn’t always thrilled about those interactions, well … you get the point. Stories. Lots of them.

Tim Cotton certainly has all of those bases covered as a veteran police officer, having served for more than three decades in a variety of capacities. He’s got the stories for sure. But unlike the majority of his peers, he’s taken the time to write some of them down.

That writing started in earnest with Cotton’s assumption of the position of Public Information Officer for the Bangor PD, a job whose duties included updating and maintaining the department’s Facebook page. He started sharing his thoughts and stories about the job on that page (along with a healthy helping of the Duck of Justice, an old stuffed duck whose origin has become the stuff of legend), as well as a delightful regular feature titled “Got Warrants?” where he related the week’s particularly ridiculous incidents.

Before long, literally hundreds of thousands of people – nearly 10 times the city’s population – were following the page, all of them eagerly anticipating TC’s latest bit of homespun hilarity. Soon, Cotton’s writing was appearing elsewhere, popping up in newspapers and on various websites.

The logical next step? Write a book!

Hence, we get “The Detective in the Dooryard: Reflections of a Maine Cop” (Down East, $24.95), a collection of thoughts, musings and anecdotes about the world as seen through the eyes of one particular (and kind of peculiar) police officer. These tales are brief, breezy reads that embrace the idea of sharing stories that might not make their way into the local paper’s police beat, but warrant (see what I did there?) telling nevertheless.

Published in Buzz
Tuesday, 23 June 2020 12:07

‘The Biggest Bluff’ is the nuts

Play the man, not the cards. It’s an adage that has been circulating in the poker world since there has been a poker world in which it could circulate. But how true is it?

That’s one of the fundamental questions explored in Maria Konnikova’s new book “The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win” (Penguin Press, $28). Konnikova is the perfect person to explore such a question, combining a longtime study of psychology and human behavior and a complete lack of knowledge regarding poker. Through answering that question, she sought to get a firmer grasp on the role of chance in the way our worlds operate.

She gained that understanding, to be sure, but that was far from all.

The pitch was simple – go from utter neophyte to the World Series of Poker in one year. But while she achieved her goal, Konnikova also wound up completely changing the trajectory of her life, both personally and professionally. Her voyage through the poker world opened her eyes to a number of truths about herself and her perceptions and proclivities.

It also turned her into a hell of a player. A good player … and a surprisingly successful one.

Published in Sports
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