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Hoop Roots: Basketball, Race, and Love Hardcover – October 10, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

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.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (October 10, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395857317
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395857311
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,553,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

JOHN EDGAR WIDEMAN is the author of more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, including the award-winning Brothers and Keepers, Philadelphia Fire, and most recently the story collection God's Gym. He is the recipient of two PEN/ Faulkner Awards and has been nominated for the National Book Award. He teaches at Brown University.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
OK, after reading the previously posted review, I admit that I am one of those readers who will read ANYTHING by John Wideman, regardless of subject- but I disagree that this book has too much roots and too little hoops. This book is fantastic. Wideman manages to discuss basketball- its history, its present, its future, and at the same time discuss race, love, music- all so eloquently that I often had to put the book down and absorb. The various stories of his family members make me wonder how John and his talented daughter Jamila managed to come out on top, when his brother and his son are so mired in tragedy. John Wideman is the best writer alive in America- I am convinced- and this book is an absolute masterpiece.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Joseph K. Konn on September 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
May be the best novel about the inner experience of an aging athlete. An autobiographical novel by an accomplished writer and a complex man, Hoop Roots is a challenging read. Wideman demands something of his audience, a rarity these days, and those looking for a mindless basketball book will likely not be up to the task. As in his other books, Wideman occasionally gets carried away with his command of complex language, and some passages are a struggle even for the most commited readers. However, overall this is a first rate novel, by a first rate writer, on a subject with which he is singularly expert.
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9 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Ed Marakovitz on February 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
If you think John Wideman's Hoop Roots is about playground basketball you may find yourself disappointed -- as I was.
Wideman is a wonderful writer. When he describes a player's drive to the basket, gliding into the air, checking out all around him, you can picture the action and feel the the excitement. When he describes the social protocols for the pick-up game he nails it When he describes the early days of the National Basketball Association, including the unique challenges for Black players, you can see it and feel it.
Unfortunately Hoop Roots contains far too few accounts like these. This book is about John Wideman growing up in a Black neighborhood in Pittsburgh, about his relationship to his family and in particular his grandmother, about Black athletes and Black men in America. Basketball, which has played such a key role in Wideman's life, is sprinkled throughout, often in bits and pieces that left me wanting much more.
Wideman was a star high school and college basketball player. He came the same neighborhood as NBA great Maurice Stokes and other noted stars. He played highly competitive playground basketball until he was 59, long after he had become an award-winning writer. I had so many questions for him. What was it like playing organized high school and college ball compared to the playgrounds? What were his own experiences as a playground player? What were some of his most memorable experiences in the playground game? How did he ever play until he was 59?!
Instead Wideman gives us long passages on the different routes he took to get to the playground as a youth, oversized shorts versus short shorts, and a fable about the Globe Trotters first road trip. It's all brilliantly written. It's just not about basketball.
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