Sunday, August 31, 2008

Book Review: Paper Lion

The problem with reading old books is they're old. Sometimes, this isn't a major problem-Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is still apparently worth reading, as is Michael Howard's book on the Franco-Prussian War. If you're reading a book on the world as it was then, for a look at how the world is now, though, the value of reading the book is much more open to question. And so it is with Paper Lion by George Plimpton. Plimpton, a relatively well-known writer including for Sports Illustrated in a participatory manner, managed to convince the Detroit Lions it should was a good idea to let him go through training camp with them. If this hadn't just happened again, I would have said it was completely insane and there's no way an NFL team would ever waste a roster spot like this. Plimpton, though, went through training camp as a quarterback, despite never really playing the game on anything more than a recreational basis. Thankfully for the theory of "It's really hard to play in the NFL", he fails miserably, losing 29 yards on 5 plays (including an incompletion) in an intra-squad scrimmage.

The book itself? It's primarily stories, Plimpton's of going through training camp and his teammates' of their days in the NFL. But, remember that Paper Lion was based on Plimpton's expenses in the 1963 training camp. That's before Instant Replay, before Ball Four, so Plimpton's book was somewhat of a pioneering glimpse into the foibles and amusements of professional athletes. Stories which might have been revolutionary once upon a time, of rookies singing their songs or bawdy skits or getting rookies drunk, now seem pretty blase and lose any power to shock or even mildly surprise. The book is reasonably well-written and interesting, but I didn't really get much out of reading it. Hopefully Fatsis's book is better-I'll be reading it sometime in the next month or three, and will post a review when I do.

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