What to Read Next (No. 164): a love letter to sports fandom + mystery of the month
Larry Olmsted’s new book, Margaret Truman, and more.
This week I continue my new Mystery of the Month feature with a fun, little-known book by the daughter of a president. I also have the pleasure of bringing you a review of Fans, a book that I know I’ll be recommending far and wide this year.
Finally, before jumping in, my dear friend Kayla Craig’s new book is available for pre-order. To Light Their Way is a collection of liturgies and prayers for parents. Parenting is a hard gig; this book is guaranteed to provide some relief along the way. It doesn’t come out until October, but pre-orders mean a lot for new books and new authors, so check it out! (She also has a dope IG feed.)
Alrighty — let’s do it.
Published: 2021 | Pages: 289
“Being a fan seems more than anything else to be a matter of managing responses to things one can’t control. Sports fans are inclined to respond to reminders of mortality with optimism, and to remember victories much more clearly than defeats. There are surely worse ways to live.”
Few books have been as unexpectedly fun for me as Larry Olmsted’s bingeable new book, Fans. The premise caught my attention right away, and it was the heartfelt combination of psychological research and powerful conversations that kept my attention.
Interestingly, Olmsted himself is not much of a sports fan, but he’s enamored with the idea of fandom—that unceasing devotion to a team which inspires the roller coaster of unmatched feelings of elation and despair.
I was actually hesitant to buy into Olmsted’s claims, but you can’t really argue with facts. Being a fan forges and fosters true community, offers normalcy in the face of chaos and tragedy, creates all-important foundational rituals, encourages physical activity, enhances cross-generational relationships and long-distance friendships, and offers a healing balm to hurting communities. Olmsted movingly covers the return of baseball after 9/11, the Astros’ championship after Hurricane Harvey, the Saints’ championship after Hurricane Katrina, the Golden Knights’ success after the Las Vegas shooting in 2017.
There is a multi-layered dark side to fandom too, which Olmsted addresses: is there any moral downside to being a sports fan? The NFL, in particular, went through some controversy with concussions a few years back (which has, remarkably, been greatly improved by helmet technology) and ongoing sexual and domestic assault problems. How is a fan to weigh those things against the benefits?
Most of all, Fans gave me the freedom to lean into my sports fandom. As Olmsted notes early on, fans are generally given short shrift. In pop culture, they’re always portrayed as bumbling bros and intellectually shallow. Anyone with any semblance of sophistication or intelligence couldn’t possibly be a die-hard, jersey-wearing fan. That just ain’t reality though.
As much as they pain me, I love my Minnesota Vikings. Though kids inevitably take time away from watching hours of games on Sundays, I eagerly follow their every move and can’t help but love the fantasy season (for baseball too). If you’re a sports fan, this is a must read. If you’re skeptical about sports in general, Fans may help you better understand folks like us.
This week I sent premium subscribers a smorgasbord of fun things: some links to book-related articles I’ve enjoyed in the last couple weeks, a sneak peek at the new Read More Books Logo, and a great interview with professor and psychologist Catherine Sanderson. Subscribe here:
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Mystery of the Month: Murder in the White House by Margaret Truman
Published: 1980 | Pages: 252
As a POTUS history nerd, I’ve long been intrigued by Margaret Truman’s writings. As the daughter of a president, she had a unique knowledge of the White House’s—and Washington, DC’s—inner workings. In addition to some biographical work on her parents, she also penned a mystery series called Capital Crimes, which focused on dastardly deeds set in our nation’s capital city. There’s not a recurring character, which almost makes the series easier to digest; it’s sometimes intimidating to jump into a long-running set of books, especially if you’re a completist like me.
Nonetheless, I insisted on starting with Book #1 of Capital Crimes. Though it wasn’t the most tightly-plotted mystery story, Murder in the White House was plenty entertaining for the couple days it took to plow through.
You can’t beat the intrigue of the premise, which really propelled me through the whole thing: in the upstairs of the White House, the Secretary of State is murdered. Given the restricted and highly monitored nature of that space, there’s only so many people who could have done it—is it possible that the president himself is a suspect?
I saw the ending coming, but how Truman got us there was still quite satisfying. There’s enough twists and turns to keep you interested, but not so many as to make your head spin.
Though there seems to be some mystery as to how much Truman actually wrote, I love the idea—no matter how mythic—of Margaret recalling her White House days while tapping away at the typewriter. Since her death in 2008, the series has been taken up by a couple other authors—the latest of which just hit my doorstep (which is what prompted my finding the first in the series).
If you need a fun political romp, Murder in the White House is a great pick.
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Have a great weekend everyone!