Basketball is only the starting point for novelist John Edgar Wideman's meditations in this genre-defying book, which announces its difference in the opening paragraph. Some other author might have written the sentence, "Playing the game provided sanctuary, refuge from a hostile world." Only Wideman would follow it with, "Only trouble was, to reach the court we had left our women behind," and only Wideman would close a book about playground basketball with a letter to his grandmother. In between, he contrasts the sport with the craft of writing; mingles memories of learning to play with recollections of growing up in Pittsburgh; invokes the lover he found after his 30-year marriage broke up ("Turning this into a basketball game, aren't you, Mr. Hoopster?" she says at one point during their affair); talks about minstrel shows and African American music; and pits the purity and democracy of schoolyard ball against the professional sport, in which "a chosen few, players certified to be the very best, perform for pay as entertainers." You'll need to read it all to appreciate the way Wideman masterfully weaves together these diverse strands; suffice it to say that the importance of basketball to black men in a racist society, though a crucial subject here, is too straightforward to be the entire topic. "The deepest, simplest subject of this hoop book is pleasure," he writes, and he conveys that sensation to his readers on several different levels: the excitement of a superb description (men playing on a Greenwich Village court); the satisfaction of shrewd cultural analysis (why poor kids wear expensive clothes to play); the power of metaphor (the searing chapter titled "Who Invented the Jump Shot (A Fable)"); and most of all the thrill of watching an artist at the top of his game. --Wendy Smith
From Library Journal
How Wideman discovered basketball.
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