Wednesday, September 23, 2015


Whenever I have bouts of cynicism, periods of pervasive pessimism—and they’re not infrequent—I try to remedy the situation with occasional travel. That may mean physical forays into the American outback (setting a course for, say, Utopia, Texas) or fantastical forays into the literary realm (“After all, tomorrow is another day”).

Sometimes, it’s a combination of the two. My first travel memoir, States of Mind, chronicled a 314-day cross-country excursion in 1995-96 that essentially was a cynical Generation Xer’s attempt to find out if that cynicism was justified—did I reflect the state of the union, or merely misjudge it? So I turned that figurative notion into a literal search for virtue in America – in places like Pride (Alabama), Justice (West Virginia), Honor (Michigan) and Wisdom (Montana).
So it was a hopeful expedition.

I would say most literary travelers allow sanguinity to ride shotgun. As Mark Twain once declared, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” We journey in search of something better.

Well, most of us do. Then there’s Henry Miller.

He’s best known toeing the obscenity/literary line in novels like Tropic of Cancer, but he also wrote a cross-country travel memoir. And it was about as hopeful as a pothole. It was brimming with condescension and despair, grumpiness and gloom. “One’s destination is never a place,” he wrote, “but a new way of looking at things.” Yet he seemed to pack a suitcase full of old biases and mean-spirited generalities, which colored his view of the American scene (after a long stay in Europe) during one cross-country trip in 1940-41.

He called his travel memoir The Air-Conditioned Nightmare.

I’ve selected 28 cynical statements from his journey. There were far more to choose from:

1. “A great change had come over America… Everything was cock-eyed and getting more and more so. Maybe we would end up on all fours, gibbering like baboons.”

2. “The lack of resilience, the feeling of hopelessness, the resignation, the skepticism, the defeatism—I could scarcely believe my ears at first. And over it all that veneer of fatuous optimism—only now decidedly cracked.”

3. “I, on the other hand, always expect angels to pee in my beer.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


My favorite nonfiction books are the ones that examine oft-mined subjects from a new point of view, whether that means Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point or Jim Bouton’s Ball Four. So early in my career, I wrote one of my own. Twenty years ago, in 1995, I produced a book called THE SPORTS 100, published by Macmillan. It was a ranking and profile of the one hundred most important people in American sports history.

The book judges influence, not athletic prowess. If all you can say about someone was that he was the best quarterback or hit this many home runs or won that many U.S. Open titles, that isn’t enough. There are too many stars in the world of sports to have included people for star power alone. You won’t find Ted Williams or Joe Montana or Steffi Graf. But you will find jump shot pioneer Hank Luisetti and vilified baseball owner Walter O’Malley and influential bookmaker Charles McNeil. It is an attempt to show that there are relative unknowns who left more of an imprint than a great many legends.

Another aim of The Sports 100 is to put the games into historical perspective, to show how its cultural influence often manifests itself in a handful of significant individuals—from Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson to Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe. The book also highlights the many cases in which one person was largely responsible for introducing an eventually monumental element of sports—be it free agency, the point spread, the minor league farm system, or the forward pass. In fact, it is not only a study of 100 remarkable people, but also of 100 components of sport’s evolution. It is as much a history of the games as a profile of the participants.

In the end, the list is as diverse as sport itself. There are athletes and innovators, activists and academics, executives and inventors, journalists and judges, agents and outcasts, pioneers, producers, promoters and presidents—all of whom made a lasting impact, in one way or another, on American athletics. Of course, readers were bound to disagree with many of the selections and omissions. But like the old argument about New York’s greatest centerfielder, it’s all a matter of perspective.

Unfortunately, the book is long out of print. If you want a copy, you’ll just have to contact me personally. And if you want some interesting bits of trivia that I discovered along the way, well, there’s plenty of that.

Sunday, September 6, 2015


In the pantheon of the profound—Churchill and FDR, Shakespeare and Twain, even Will Rogers and Woody Allen (if you prefer mirth while musing), we at the Why Not 100 think Dr. Seuss belongs. Really. He did it through allegory and whimsy, substituting edifying imagination for speechifying exhortations, replacing rim-shot one-liners with Once-lers and wonders. Indeed, many of his most famous passages are designed just as much to enlighten as to entertain.

Most of them are life-affirming perspectives—every person counts and should try new things and can save the world one speck or tree at a time. They’re the kind of reminders that lodge firmly in a child’s psyche—brain-remainers, he might call them. Sometimes, too, Seuss tossed in some gentle barbs, kindly poking fun at the excesses of authority or income disparity or the diffusion of responsibility. And once in a while, he just comments on love or imagination or gratitude or 

We’ve chosen our 37 favorites:

1. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” (Oh, The Places You’ll Go!)

2. “Don’t give up! I believe in you all. A person’s a person, no matter how small!” (Horton Hears a Who)

3. “In the places I go there are things that I see that I never could spell if I stopped with a Z. I’m telling you this ‘cause you’re one of my friends. My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends.” (On Beyond Zebra)