Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Reading. Lewis.

I discovered Michael Lewis in the late 90's, when my pop-culture-trained brain recognized him more for being the husband of MTV news-anchor Tabitha Soren and less for being the author of Liar's Poker. I read a series of essays that he had written about living in Paris with his wife and baby daughter for Slate magazine, another one about the birth of his second daughter (by now they were living in Berkeley), and a third about a trip he and his family took along the Mark Twain trail. At some point I remember reading a hilarious essay in Gourmet magazine involving his parents visiting them in Paris and the enormous amount of work involved in making a cassoulet. He was funny and self-mocking and witty and hilarious, particularly when his wife clearly has the upper hand over him in all matters, most of all intellectually, and his writing was completely addictive. Of course I had to read more.

When I first read Liar's Poker I was a college student studying Art History. By way of introduction Michael Lewis talks about how he went from Princeton, where he, too, had studied Art History, onto the London School of Economics, and then onto Wall Street. I saw no such future for myself, but I found his work incredibly interesting; he made economics and the completely foreign world of finance intriguing. Alas, I was not destined for a career in finance, and I soon forgot about Liar's Poker, but occasionally I would come across another article by Lewis and be drawn into worlds I had no previous interest in. Which brings me to Moneyball.

A few weeks ago an excerpt from Lewis' new book (The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game; I am waiting for the paperback before I read the whole thing) appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, a story about how several people managed to turn a teenager, who had basically no education, living on the streets, no family, nothing, into a top college left defensive tackle with a potentially brilliant football career ahead of him. (I think left tackle is the right term, but what I know about football is...absolutely nothing. What is this mysterious thing you call a field goal?). To say that I found the story moving undermines how deeply it affected me; what became clear to me by the end of the story was that Lewis had made a subject I knew nothing about, cared nothing about - football - and turned into something that I not only understood but found myself caring about. I wanted to know what happened to this boy whose life was completely changed by a series of interconnected people, I cheered these determined people on. And then I turned to Moneyball.

My earliest memory, besides food, is of watching baseball on the little tv in the kitchen. That is, I gazed blankly at the Cardinals playing against whatever team they were playing against (this was during our St. Louis years) while my father sat, transfixed. I will say that little has changed in the past twenty-odd years. But Moneyball is different. From the first page I was captivated. And this is the magic of Lewis, the magic of a really good non-fiction writer, the ability to take a subject, something, anything, and be so completely enamored of it, so completely immersed in it, and then - this is the difficult part - be able to express it in such a way that you, the reader, are transported into a place where you begin to understand, begin to care in a way you hadn't thought possible.

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