August 16, 2007

Book Review: Fanatic by Jim Gorant

When Jim Gorant emailed me and asked if I would review his book, I thought the subtitle (10 Things All Sports Fans Should Do Before They Die) marked it as one of those cutesy "list books" and I wondered why he was naming only ten.

Thankfully, Fanatic is much more thoughtful, humorous and enjoyable than a book of lists. While Gorant was covering the 2004 Masters for Sports Illustrated, a dinner conversation evolved into naming various must-see sporting events. A little later, he compiled a list from what he remembered from that night, did some more research, and decided he'd take a year and attend them all.

Gorant is not a passive observer. He wants to understand not only the main events, but the lure and history behind them. He hooks up with various people at every stop, mostly strangers, listening to their own tales of fandom and comparing them to his own. In that respect, the book is also part-memoir, as Gorant looks back, exploring how his own relationship to sports has changed as he has gotten older, from an obsessive who sulked all night after a loss to someone who still watches and cheers, but at an emotional distance.

Gorant begins at the 2005 Super Bowl in Florida with an old college roommate. He rents sleeping space in an RV inside the track at the Daytona 500, he embeds himself in different groups of highly-exuberant fans at the Final Four, and he attends an afternoon game at Wrigley Field with his sports-obsessed friend Billy. A trip to Wimbledon brings back a flood of memories of his mother, who had died recently of cancer.

(At the Cubs-Braves game, Gorant falls victim to the same silly myth that many people believed about the Red Sox prior to 2004 when he writes about the Cubs' "ritual of suffering. If the Cubs ever won, the team and its fans would lose their identity.")

Gorant ends the book at the 2006 home opener at Fenway Park (his year is really about 14 months). He had made plans to attend the game with Ignatius Giglio, a season ticket holder since 1935, but Giglio passed away the previous summer. Instead, Gorant reminisces with Giglio's widow (the talk invariably turns to 2003 and 2004) and goes to the game with his son.

Gorant is a perceptive writer and I would have liked each chapter to have been longer (the book totals 222 pages). If you're interested in how the complex relationship between fan and these "terribly important and unbearably trivial" games changes as the years go by, check out this passionate travelogue.

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