2 Loose Book Reviews

An editor in Philadelphia, my hometown, solicited two short book reviews from me a while back. Unfortunately, they got lost in a spam filter and never ran. As I did however get paid for them (and subsequently blew the check on such trivialities as rent and food), I didn’t bother trying to place them elsewhere. Here they are.

What is Sport?
By Roland Barthes
Translated by Richard Howard
University of Yale Press, 96 pages

What is sport? Well, if you’re a lifelong Phillies and Eagles fan, the answer is probably “torture.” But this year’s going to be different, right? Right? According to Roland Barthes, one of the twentieth century’s foremost philosophers and cultural critics, the function of sport is more than an outlet for our basest, battery-chucking instincts. “What is Sport” consists of the short, aphoristic text Barthes wrote for inclusion in a 1960 movie by Hubert Aquin. (Aquin, it should be noted, would go on to write several amazing novels and become an important figure in the Québec-sovereignty movement. Won’t somebody please republish “Neige noire” and “Prochain épisode” in translation?) In his commentary, Barthes focuses on five sports: bullfighting, auto racing, the Tour de France, ice hockey, soccer. He tells us that, “Ultimately man knows certain forces, certain conflicts, joys and agonies: sport expresses them, liberates them, consumes them without ever letting anything be destroyed.” That’s open to debate, I suppose, but when Barthes writes that sport is “the entire trajectory separating a combat from a riot,” you would almost think that he spent time with us up in the 700-level of the Vet.

All Over: Stories
By Roy Kesey
Dzanc Books, 145 pp., paper, $13

In “All Over,” Roy Kesey creates drama—real tension, I mean, not melodrama or bathos—seemingly out of thin air. Shiny pieces of plot and of character rotate around each other as in a kaleidoscope but, eventually and invariably, congeal into a vivid and unexpected image. In these nineteen stories, many of which bear one-word titles like “Cheese” and “Calisthenics” and “Interview,” his characters get attacked by llamas, give birth, build a structure out of ingredients from a Pizza Hut salad bar. “Scroll,” about a frustrated painter, takes a hard look at the distinctions between artistic, commercial, and popular success. In “Hat,” a personal favorite, a man learns to make a functioning airplane out of a paper clip. Quite a few of these have already turned up in some of our most respectable literary magazines and in one of those annual “Best American” anthologies, but having them all in one makes Kesey’s talents all the more obvious. The stories in “All Over” don’t represent anything, they just are. What they are, however, is what makes them so intriguing: terrifying, goofy, mesmerizing, discomforting, hilarious, terrifying again.