If you’re searching for a gift for dear ol’ dad, two celebrity memoirs and two accounts of unusual personal quests are among our recommendations for a Father’s Day reading list.
It’s especially poignant to read Stuart Scott’s memoir, Every Day I Fight, knowing that not long after the book was finished, the ESPN anchor succumbed to appendiceal cancer at age 49. Writing in a conversational tone, his prose sprinkled with colloquialisms like “dude” and “brotha,” Scott never wavers in his candid account of the struggle with disease that dogged the final seven years of his life, describing how he “refused to curl up and just be a cancer patient,” when he’d head straight from chemotherapy treatments to the gym for a mixed martial arts workout.
Famous for trademark phrases like “boo-yah” and for bringing hip-hop culture to ESPN in the age of the “raplete,” Scott recounts the highlights of a career that saw him make his meteoric rise from a reporting job in Florence, South Carolina, to ESPN in a mere six years. In the two decades he spent at the network, he shed the perception that he was nothing more than a “catchphrase guy” and established himself as a dedicated, hard-working professional. What makes this memoir most appropriate for Father’s Day is Scott’s account of his fierce love for his two daughters. Even when he was honored with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award in 2014, Scott steadfastly avoided referring to his seven-year fight against cancer as “brave.” But after reading this revealing and courageous memoir, we can.
MOCKING MIDDLE AGE
If you’re offended by explicit language or jokes from a comedian who admits he’s “not very politically correct, nor do I have a very useful filter,” you may want to pass on Brad Garrett’s When the Balls Drop: How I Learned to Get Real and Embrace Life’s Second Half. But the many fans who enjoyed Garrett’s Emmy Award-winning nine-year role as the big brother on the hit series “Everybody Loves Raymond” will relish a book that blends memoir with pointed and often hilarious musings on the perilous passage through the shoals of middle age.
Garrett shares entertaining stories of his early days in comedy, as he moved from small-town clubs to opening in Las Vegas for performers like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. He frankly acknowledges his debt to comedian Don Rickles, something that’s evident in the book’s blunt humor.
When it comes to what might loosely be called the self-help portion of the book, Garrett takes dead aim at targets that include vegetarianism, plastic surgery and exercise. He confesses his aversion to monogamy, though at 55 he’s quite content with his 31-year-old girlfriend. “Ultimately, you have to live right for you,” is Garrett’s theme, and from the evidence he presents here, he seems to have done quite well in that regard.
REACHING FOR THE TOP
Austin newspaper reporter Asher Price’s decision, on the eve of his 34th birthday, to spend a year endeavoring to propel his 6-foot-2-inch, 203-pound frame high enough to dunk a basketball might seem to some a trivial pursuit. But in Price’s capable hands, Year of the Dunk: A Modest Defiance of Gravity, an exploration of what he calls the “limits of human talent,” is an informative, inspiring and often moving story of how life’s tough challenges can motivate us.
Price’s project takes him from a Texas gym, where he’s tutored by 1996 Olympic high jump gold medalist Charles Austin, to the Performance Lab of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York to the office of British zoologist Malcolm Burrows, an expert on the jumping characteristics of an insect known as the froghopper. While crisply explicating arcana like the difference between fast- and slow-twitch muscles, he documents a punishing exercise regimen that helped him shed pounds and gain vertical lift as he strained to reach his goal. He also describes unobtrusively his experience with an aggressive form of testicular cancer six years earlier.
Readers eager to learn whether Price’s project succeeded will have to look to the book for the answer. As is always the case, the outcome is far less interesting than the journey he recounts in this warmhearted story.
TRAVEL FOR THE DARING
Albert Podell’s Around the World in 50 Years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth is the extraordinary account of a much different personal journey, or rather a series of them: his successful quest to visit each of the world’s 196 countries (plus seven that no longer exist). Podell, who achieved his goal in December 2012, is an engaging and colorful storyteller, and the momentum of this memoir rarely flags.
If you’re looking for a guide to the best all-inclusive resorts of the Caribbean or Europe’s finest five-star restaurants, look elsewhere. Instead, Podell offers tips for eating monkey brains, advice on how to bribe your way past corrupt government officials and a system for comfort-ranking countries based on the quality of their toilet tissue. At heart, this is an adventure story, one that nearly came to a premature end at the hands of a lynch mob on his visit to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in the middle of the 1965 war between India and Pakistan. That’s only one of the brushes with death or serious injury that enlivened Podell’s travels.
Through all these occasionally nightmarish experiences and the daunting logistical challenges he surmounted, Podell never loses his sense of wonder or his dry, punning wit. What’s most impressive is that he logged nearly one-third of his country visits after reaching age 70, including perilous trips to countries like Somalia and North Korea.
Even if your desire for exotic travel never takes you out of your reading chair, you’ll find Podell a fascinating companion.
This article was originally published in the June 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.