Review: Dualed and Divided

Dualed, Elsie Chapman (Dualed #1)

Amanda

Published February 26th 2013 by Random House

292 pages

Source: ARC won from the amazing Cuddlebuggery

From Goodreads

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In the city of Kersh, everyone must eliminate their genetic Alternate twin, raised by another family, before their twentieth birthday. West Grayer, 15, has trained as a fighter, and has one month to hunt and kill her Alt. A tragic misstep shakes her confidence. Guilty, grieving, she feels unworthy, runs from her Alt and from love – both can destroy her.

This was an intense read!  First thing to know is that the people of Kersh are sterile.  To start a family a couple has to go to The Board where a test tube baby is created from this couple and from the next couple to come in.  Both mothers are then impregnated with a genetically identical baby.  So each child born has genetic Alternate –and each set of parents knows that their child will kill or be killed by this Alternate one day.  WTF.

I basically had to block that background out to be able to get into Dualed.  How could you choose to have a child that has to fight to his or her death before the age of 21?

So put all that aside and accept that 15 year-old West is just waiting for the day she is notified its time to kill her Alt- or be killed.  Kersh needs to have only the strongest survive so that if the city is attacked from The Surround the military is prepared.

This book was cold! Deaths were happening around West all the time and it seemed as though people never even looked up.  West is surrounded by ghosts.  Her parents are gone, her siblings have been dying off one at a time as well as her friends. You kind of have to feel for her right away because she has nearly no one else.  While West has lived her life knowing she has to fight to the death, she’s still not anything like a teenage assassin nun.  She’s a pretty normal girl who is just trying to figure out how to live.  She acts based on her feelings and she doesn’t always make the best decisions.

I struggled a little bit with the romance in this book.  I didn’t feel it at the beginning, then all of a sudden BAM – West is supposed to have this deep love for her brother’s best friend Chord.  I wanted something more to see where that love came from or some history.  I would have liked to see West’s Alt herself more. Maybe it would have humanized her too much?  It definitely would have made this a more emotional read.

In the end, I was totally invested in West and her fight to stay alive. I would give Dualed 3 stars, but I say suspend your disbelief and start reading.  I stayed up until midnight to read this just so I could start Divided, the sequel, on my morning commute. Divided was even better!  Stop now if you don’t want spoilers.

Here’s my review:

Divided, Elsie Chapman (Dualed #2)

Published May 27th 2014 by Random House Books for Young Readers

320 pages

Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads…

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The hunter becomes the hunted. . . .

West Grayer is done killing. She defeated her Alternate, a twin raised by another family, and proved she’s worthy of a future. She’s ready to move on with her life.

The Board has other plans. They want her to kill one last time, and offer her a deal worth killing for. But when West recognizes her target as a ghost from her past, she realizes she’s in over her head. The Board is lying, and West will have to uncover the truth of the past to secure her future.

How far will the Board go to keep their secrets safe? And how far will West go to save those she loves?

Wow.

While West hasn’t fully recovered from the experiences she had leading up to killing her Alt she does think she’s done with the Board.  She has a job and is living her dream of art school.  She’s also in therapy to try to close the door on what she’s done and find some peace to move forward.  She’s a much more mature character than we followed in Dualed.  West is done with killing-and then she gets an offer that she really can’t refuse.

West really tries to go it alone on this, but I was so glad she wasn’t as martyring as some heroines can be (cough cough Tris) and that she chose to go to Chord and to her friends for help.  I was so intrigued by Baer and Dire in Dualed so I was really glad to get their history and to see them in action. I was half in love with Chord myself by the end of this book! He was fantastic.  Not an overbearing love interest, just kick ass in his own way.

We finally get the history of Kersh so I while I still didn’t like what was going on in Chapman’s world, I felt a bit less confused while reading and I was better able to just read without questioning.  I still didn’t love that part of it-but it was easier to just go with it with some background.

The action did not stop until the book ended and I was tense the whole time.  Fans of the Divergent series or Hunger Games should definitely check these out.  West felt so much more more real than Katniss or Tris did to me.

4 stars!

Thank you Random House Children’s and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Here’s Looking At You

Here’s Looking At You, Mhairi McFarlane

Amanda

Published June 3rd 2014 by HarperCollins Publishers

400 pgs

Source: Edelweiss

From Goodreads..

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Anna Alessi – history expert, possessor of a lot of hair and an occasionally filthy mouth – seeks nice man for intelligent conversation and Harlequin romance moments.

Despite the oddballs that keep turning up on her dates, Anna couldn’t be happier. As a 30-something with a job she loves, life has turned out better than she dared dream. However, things weren’t always this way, and her years spent as the butt of schoolyard jokes are ones she’d rather forget.

So when James Fraser – the architect of Anna’s final humiliation at school – walks back into her life, her world is turned upside down. But James seems a changed man. Polite. Mature. Funny, even. People can change, right? So why does Anna feel like she’s a fool to trust him?

I really enjoyed McFarlane’s first book You Had Me at Hello, so I was excited to read her next novel.  Anna is the kind of heroine that you immediately are rooting for.  She was horribly bullied at school and the scene we get is heartbreaking.  Now though Anna has come through it and is educated, she has great friends and a great career; and she’s now a knock-out beauty even if she does not quite believe it herself.  James was Anna’s great love in high school and the chief tormentor in her worst experience.  When we meet adult James its kind of nice to see that he hates his job and his beautiful wife has left him.  He deserves it the jerk!

You can’t blame Anna when she meets James again for not coming out and telling him who she is.  You kind of can’t blame Anna for going along with a friendship with James as things progress.  He’s smart and funny and still wonderfully handsome.  But there was part of me that really didn’t want Anna to trust James too far.  Maybe I was the one that couldn’t get past what Anna went through at school?  Anna and James seemed so great together, I was just afraid he was still too good to be true at first.

McFarlane created a completely engaging cast of characters to both root for and against.  They were more than just foils for Anna and James and I felt invested in each of them.  I loved Anna’s friend Daniel absolutely.  This line given while describing a table he served at work had me snorting while reading on the train-always attractive-

    “We’re firmly in the era of the fussy fuck I’m afraid and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Too true!  I really think that’s a term I should be using more.  Aside from Daniel, I enjoyed Anna’s family-especially her sister- and their other friends.  I was enthralled with Anna’s love life and her internet dating.  I was so anxious for her to just have it out with James and get things in the open.  The great reveal of Anna’s identity to James was everything it should have been-honest and emotional and it led to a perfect conclusion for me.

I will definitely be waiting for McFarlane’s next book!

4 stars!

Thank you Harper Collins and Edelweiss for this advanced read copy in exchange for an honest review!

 

All quotes were taken from an uncorrected galley proof subject to change in the final edition

 

Babycakes Reviews 2 Books

The Mermaid and the Shoe, K.G. Campbell

Amanda & Babycakes

Published April 1st 2014 by Kids Can Press

32 Pages

Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads..

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Each of King Neptune’s 50 mermaid daughters boasts a special talent, except for little Minnow, who seems to be good only at asking questions. When she finds a strange object, Minnow follows her questions to a wondrous place and finds answers, including the answer to the most important question of all: Who am I? A gorgeously illustrated story about finding one’s purpose.

What a pretty book!  We’re definitely shoe girls at our house, so this lovely red shoe floating through the sea was perfect for Babycakes and I to read together.  The language was beautiful as well which I really appreciate in a kids book.  I want my child to have both the easy reading books and the ones where I know she’s going to to use adult words.

Poor Minnow doesn’t think she has a special talent like her 49 sisters, but she is really good at asking questions.   Like another little girl I know!  She does have one really mean older sister who tells Minnow that she’s useless which was so sad to read.  Thankfully Minnow doesn’t listen!

Minnow bravely goes exploring to see what this red shoe could be and where it comes from.  I love for my daughter to read about brave little girls and I loved how King Neptune praised Minnow in the end.

Babycakes loved the colors and the sea life and we immediately read this one a second time.  I will happily keep reading this for my daughter to hear about a smart little mermaid who asks good questions and explores the world.

5 stars!

Thank you NetGalley and Kids Can Press for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

And

There’s a Mouse Hiding In This Book

To be published September 1, 2014 by Capstone Young Readers

Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads..

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This Tom and Jerry interactive picture book holds a surprise on each page! Where is Jerry hiding? On the title page, on the back cover, or somewhere in between? Little readers will howl with delight each time they open the covers and try helping Tom find the mischievous mouse. Perfect for storytime.

This was great for a little reader! This was interactive for my daughter-count before turning the page, turn the page sloooowly, shake the book…  She made me read it 4 times in a row! Tom is chasing Jerry through his book and asks the reader for help.  Even not knowing who Tom & Jerry are my 3 1/2 year old enjoyed this.

As a parent this was a cute flashback to Tom & Jerry.  I love reading books with Babycakes that get her active and talking back to the characters.

4 stars!

Thank you NetGalley and Capstone Young Readers for this advance read copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Review: Then and Always

Then and Always, Dani Atkins

Amanda

Published May 20th 2014 by Ballantine Books

320 Pages

Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads

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Rachel’s life is perfect. A handsome boyfriend, great friends and the prospect of starting at university in a few weeks means she’s never been happier. But in a single heartbeat her world falls apart forever.

Five years later, Rachel is still struggling to come to terms with the tragedy that changed everything. Returning to her hometown for the first time in years, she finds herself consumed by thoughts of the life that could have been. But when a sudden fall lands her in hospital, Rachel awakes to discover that the life she had dreamed about just might be real after all.

Unable to trust her own memories, Rachel begins to be drawn further into this new world where the man she lost is alive and well but where she is engaged to be married to someone else…

Then and Always begins at a farewell celebration.  Rachel and her best friends are having a dinner party before they begin to split off to university.  Rachel’s life is pretty perfect right now.  Her boyfriend is gorgeous, her friends are loyal and she’s on her way to become a journalist.  Rachel is trying to take this night all in as she knows that her life is totally about to change.  Then the group sees a car speeding toward the restaurant window; everything changes but not in any way that could have been anticipated.

We flash forward five years and meet an extremely different Rachel.  She’s never recovered from the emotional wounds of the car accident and has significant physical injuries still.  The friendships that were so important haven’t been able to survive the aftermath, with the exception of Rachel’s best friend Sarah.  Rachel returns home for Sarah’s wedding and faces her former friends for the first time in years.  

Rachel blacks out after Sarah’s rehearsal dinner and when she wakes up an entirely different five years have passed.  These five years have been much happier and the future Rachel wakes to is much more promising.  Yet Rachel wants her old life back with its depressing familiarity.  She also wants to know she isn’t completely going crazy.  In this future Rachel has not just Sarah but her dad, a fiance, and her dear friend Jimmy to help her try to find answers.  

This was kind of frustrating because the alternative reality Rachel wakes up to is so perfect–why would she want to change things?  I wanted her to just accept it and go along with things.  Take the great life and just live it girl!  I was so hopeful for her future in this life. Why would you want to be miserable?  I wanted her to have more spunk!  

I wanted to know what made Rachel so incredible that she had this amazing boyfriend, a friend clearly in love with her, and the best friend who can do no wrong.  What about her led her to this perfect life?  I wish we had more history with her.  Rachel’s friends were kind of stock characters- doting male best friend, the cruel beautiful girl, the boyfriend who is too good to be true-and I wished there had been more depth to them.  I think it would have made both scenarios better had they been more fleshed out. Don’t get me wrong, I did like the story overall, I just wanted MORE.  

I read Then and Always in one night because I was so determined to find out what was happening to Rachel.  Was this magic? Was it a delusion?  Would we even get an answer?   I picked up some hints of what Atkins was leading to, but wow that ending was not at all what I expected.  I sat on the couch with tears at the end of this book trying to put it all together in my mind.  This book will make you think about second chances at life in a new way.  I will definitely check out Atkins’ next book to see where she goes from this debut.

3 stars

Thank you Ballentine Books and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Addendum from Holly: I haven’t read this book, but, reading this review I was immediately reminded of a recent story on This American Life, about a woman who woke up from a coma and had forgotten that she was divorced. This made everything kind of awkward with her ex-husband and her family! If you don’t listen to TAL, you are missing out. Check out Episode 526 for the coma story. And then you’ll have something like 525 more to catch up on…

Review: I am Zlatan: My Story On and Off the Field

I Am Zlatan: My Story On and Off the Field, by Zlatan Ibrahimović, Ruth Urbom (Translator), David Lagercrantz

Amanda

Published June 3rd 2014 by Random House Trade Paperbacks

400 pages

Source: NetGalley

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From Goodreads:

Daring, flashy, innovative, volatile—no matter what they call him, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of soccer’s brightest stars. A top-scoring striker with Paris Saint-Germain and captain of the Swedish national team, he has dominated the world’s most storied teams, including Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, and AC Milan. But his life wasn’t always so charmed.

Born to Balkan immigrants who divorced when he was a toddler, Zlatan learned self-reliance from his rough-and-tumble neighborhood. While his father, a Bosnian Muslim, drank to forget the war back home, his mother’s household was engulfed in chaos. Soccer was Zlatan’s release. Mixing in street moves and trick plays, Zlatan was a wild talent who rode to practice on stolen bikes and relished showing up the rich kids—opponents and teammates alike. Goal by astonishing goal, the brash young outsider grew into an unlikely prodigy and, by his early twenties, an international phenomenon.

Told as only the man himself could tell it, featuring stories of friendships and feuds with the biggest names in the sport, I Am Zlatan is a wrenching, uproarious, and ultimately redemptive tale for underdogs everywhere.

My husband is an insane soccer fan-to clarify he’s an insane Barcelona fan.  As a result I watch a fair amount of footie at home.  I became familiar with Zlatan Ibrahimovic when he played for Barcelona a few years ago.  He is compelling to watch on the field and his quotes to the media can be pretty outrageous.  In homage to the 2014 World Cup I thought I’d read Zlatan’s story.

This book read very quickly, almost like a magazine article.  No deep truths are uncovered, but there are some good stories.  Zlatan is honest about his unconventional upbringing as an immigrant in a rough neighborhood in Sweden.  He admits he had some wild experiences and could have ended up with a different life.  But he also comes across as thankful first for his family and then for the beautiful game that he’s able to excel at.

The guy clearly has an ego, and I understand that as an elite athlete you’re allowed that to a point.  This might be my favorite Zlatan story from after he became engaged for the first time.  A reporter asks “What did she get for an engagement present?”

    “Whaddaya mean, present?  She got Zlatan.”

She got Zlatan?  Amazing.  Zlatan is just such a fun name to say.  I’d throw out lines like that too if I were him.   

It was interesting for me to realize that its not just young American sports stars that are so underprepared for the contracts they sign and the salaries they earn.  I really appreciated Zlatan’s openness about how he had been hurt by the coach and mentor that he considered a second father and about how he never took things so lightly again.

This book definitely left me wanting to head to youtube to watch some of the plays Zlatan describes!  Read this to go along with the World Cup!

3 stars.

Thank you Random House and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

All quotes were taken from an uncorrected galley proof subject to change in the final edition

Review: Hollow City

Hollow City, Ransom Riggs (Miss Peregrine #2)

Amanda

Published January 14th 2014 by Quirk Books

396 Pages, Hardcover

Source: Publisher

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From Goodreads…

The extraordinary journey that began in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children continues as Jacob Portman and his new found friends journey to London the peculiar capital of the world. But in this war-torn city, hideous surprises lurk around every corner. Like its predecessor, this second novel in the Peculiar Children series blends thrilling fantasy with never-before-published vintage photography to create a one-of-a-kind reacting experience.

Hollow City takes off right where Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children left us and the action really doesn’t stop at all.  Jacob and his peculiar friends are trying to help the injured Miss Peregrine transform from her bird form and are fleeing the wights and hollowgasts who attacked their island safe haven.  That must sound totally bizarre if you didn’t read Miss Peregrine!  If you haven’t go get it!

First thing, the photos.  If you’re reading this post and you haven’t read Miss Peregrine’ Home, the text is interspersed with incredible black and white photos the author collected over the years.   Ransom Riggs has such a gift find these amazingly creepy photos and then build the story around them.  Its so impressive to me how well the narrative flows despite the fact that you’re stopping reading to look at these photos and try to figure out what the heck exactly could have been going on.  Its even more impressive to me in book two because he had to fit the photos to the narrative this time, rather than build his characters entirely around their photos.

Photos like these…

But when you’re reading these bizarre photos completely make sense in context and you totally buy the story of the Emu-raffe (photo on the right) from Riggs.  The book begins with a photo cast of characters of Jacob and the familiars he starts out with which I loved.  It has been a while since I read Miss Peregrine so the refresher was perfect for me to get the names and peculiarities straight.

Hollow City is a novel of action.  Jacob and his companions find their way into other Loops and we meet some amazing new peculiar characters like the emu-raffe above.  I love that all the peculiars are given a chance to shine and use their peculiarities to help the fight.  I also liked that the peculiars are all individuals-Jacob is not a hero who is blindly followed by the group.  Its hard to remember the characters just look like children and they have opinions and experience far beyond their appearance.  They were a great group to read about.  As for Jacob, he does start to come into his own as he understands how he too is peculiar and what that means for his life.

The only thing I really don’t love about this series is the romance.  Jacob is in love with Emma, who was also his grandfather’s girlfriend.  This is something I tried to forget as I was reading, but this is really icky if you think too much about it. I really like Emma so its hard to not feel good about the romance.

This book is haunting and creepy, but still funny and touching in its own way.   Check it out and tell me if you’re as delightfully creeped out by the pictures as I am.

4.5 stars!

Thank you Quirk Books for this review copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

And now, for something completely different

Did anyone else notice that Feedly was down for a couple days last week?

I was really distressed by this. You see, as much as I love when people click “follow” (hint hint to the right) here on Gun In Act One, I don’t like to get blog posts from others in my inbox. As you’ll learn in a minute, that place is already sort of clogged up.

Anyway, I like to read blogs through Feedly (RIP Google Reader), because I can click one place on my phone and they’re all there, waiting for me to flip through. I catch up while I’m eating breakfast and I usually finish reading with my phone in one hand and carrying a cup of coffee in the other, walking up the stairs to my office. (Note: this has the potential for catastrophe written all over it, but that’s not what this post is about. Well, not directly.)

So, with Feedly down, I suppose I could have clicked on all the blogs I read individually, but that seemed sort of a daunting task. Instead, I headed to the very bottom of my email inbox, where I knew that was an article that a friend had sent me to read. On May 10.

Of 2011.

This is what happens to things in my inbox – sometimes they sit there until I’m ready to deal with them. Sometimes that takes an obscenely long amount of time.

The article was “The String Theory,” by David Foster Wallace, published in Esquire in 1996.

Some of you surely know exactly who DFW is. I didn’t until roughly May 9, 2011. DFW was a writer, most notably of Infinite Jest, who committed suicide in 2008. He wrote nonfiction and fiction pieces both, including this piece which I swear I’m getting to. He also grew up in central Illinois, in Champaign-Urbana, and was a competitive junior tennis player. My introduction to DFW was via my tennis buddies in CU – one of whom sent me the link to this article the day after we talked about it.

Since then, I’ve heard references to Infinite Jest now and again, usually in reference to how long it is – like, really long.  Like, I found a whole website devoted to helping people buck up and read this book over the course of a summer.

For this reason, I just wasn’t sure about diving into “The String Theory.” Would I enjoy it? Would I get it? Why should I spend my time on this article when I could be looking up cannoli recipes or buying shoes on the internet?

So, I just didn’t do it, until the great Feedly shutdown of 2014.

Finally, last week, I clicked. I started reading. And honestly, I read this slowly throughout the day – I’d read a section, do some work, come back and read a bit more when I needed to stop staring at Excel, back to work, back to reading. It’s not an unreasonably long piece, but I found it best digested in small bites.

Clearly I am in no place to tell you that you must go read this article right now, considering that it took me 3 years and all day to read. But, you should at least consider reading it – especially if you have a passing interest in tennis, or in athletics at all, or in life and reality and beautifully constructed sentences. In other words, you really should go read this. (For further incentive, there is a movie in the works with Jason Segel as DFW, so you should probably get in on this now so you can be informed when everyone starts talking about him.)

So, “The String Theory.” This is a non-fiction piece, an in-depth journalistic account of one man’s performance at a 1995 professional tennis tournament in the qualifying round. Michael T. Joyce was an American player, then ranked #79 in the world, vying for a spot in the Canadian Open.

Gratuitous pic from the trip Amanda and I recently took to watch tennis. (2014 Paris not 1995 Canada

Gratuitous pic from the trip Amanda and I recently took to watch tennis. (2014 Paris not 1995 Canada) 

DFW writes about the match – who’s playing, who is in the stands, what the ball sounds like, and what is on the line for both players. He writes about what has led up to the match – the mathematics and the politics and of earning a spot in pro tournaments, as well as the evolution of the sport, and how it came to be that the guys he is watching are playing the way they’re playing. He talks about what it means to be world-class:

“Watching Hlasek practice is probably the first time it really strikes me how good these professionals are, because even just fucking around Hlasek is the most impressive tennis player I’ve ever seen.”

and what it takes to get to the top:

“Somebody playing the qualies in Montreal is an undeniably world-class tennis player, but he’s not quite at the level where the serious TV and money are. In the main draw of the du Maurier Omnium Ltée, a first-round loser will earn $5,400, and a second-round loser $10,300. In the Montreal qualies, a player will receive $560 for losing in the second round and an even $0.00 for losing in the first. This might not be so bad if a lot of the entrants for the qualies hadn’t flown thousands of miles to get here. Plus, there’s the matter of supporting themselves in Montreal. The tournament pays the hotel and meal expenses of players in the main draw but not of those in the qualies. The seven survivors of the qualies, however, will get their hotel expenses retroactively picked up by the tournament. So there’s rather a lot at stake — some of the players in the qualies are literally playing for their supper or for the money to make airfare home or to the site of the next qualie.”

Though he also notes the presence of a lot of hot girlfriends:

Footnote: “Most of the girlfriends have something indefinable about them that suggests extremely wealthy parents whom the girls are pissing off by hooking up with an obscure professional tennis player.”

And then – boom – he calls us out for our complicity as spectators:

“Americans revere athletic excellence, competitive success, and it’s more than lip service we pay; we vote with our wallets. We’ll pay large sums to watch a truly great athlete; we’ll reward him with celebrity and adulation and will even go so far as to buy products and services he endorses.

But it’s better for us not to know the kinds of sacrifices the professional-grade athlete has made to get so very good at one particular thing. Oh, we’ll invoke lush clichés about the lonely heroism of Olympic athletes, the pain and analgesia of football, the early rising and hours of practice and restricted diets, the preflight celibacy, et cetera. But the actual facts of the sacrifices repel us when we see them: basketball geniuses who cannot read, sprinters who dope themselves, defensive tackles who shoot up with bovine hormones until they collapse or explode. We prefer not to consider closely the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews or to consider what impoverishments in one’s mental life would allow people actually to think the way great athletes seem to think. Note the way “up close and personal” profiles of professional athletes strain so hard to find evidence of a rounded human life — outside interests and activities, values beyond the sport. We ignore what’s obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It’s farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one area of excellence.”

Damn.

At the same time, he closes with more details on Michael Joyce, who is the main focus throughout, emphasizing what Joyce wants and what he’s willing to do to get there:

“He wants to be the best, to have his name known, to hold professional trophies over his head as he patiently turns in all four directions for the media. He wants this and will pay to have it — to pursue it, let it define him — and will pay up with the regretless cheer of a man for whom issues of choice became irrelevant a long time ago. Already, for Joyce, at twenty-two, it’s too late for anything else; he’s invested too much, is in too deep. I think he’s both lucky and unlucky. He will say he is happy and mean it. Wish him well.”

And so, he’s written both this commentary on professional sports and culture and expectations and what’s behind all those stories of greatness – and a really insightful look at one young athlete’s dreams and commitment.

It’s worth reading – and don’t skip the footnotes.

[Spoiler alert: Michael Joyce reached his highest world ranking of #64 in April 1996, just nine months after DFW watched him in Canada and wrote this piece.]

It might take another few years, but I’m far less intimidated by Infinte Jest after making it through this article.