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Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter Hardcover – May 1, 2012
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"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
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*Starred Review* Deford went to work for Sports Illustrated in 1962, fresh out of college. Since then, in addition to magazine work, he’s won a Peabody and an Emmy, written 10 novels, and delivered more than 1,500 commentaries on NPR’s Morning Edition. His accomplishments are many, but in this wildly entertaining and informative memoir, he refers to himself only as the scrivener. His subjects are what matters, and he gives them their due, as in a poignant chapter on the late Wilt Chamberlain, which offers more insight into that enigmatic basketball icon than any half-dozen books. Fortunately, despite the self-deprecating tone, Deford does portray the highlights of his remarkable career, including his early stint covering the NBA at a time when players flew commercial, played doubleheaders to boost the gate, and hung out with sportswriters because they could expense the bar tab. He was also ahead of the pack in covering women’s sports, especially tennis, and he offers some insight into why women’s team sports have never moved beyond a niche level of popularity in the U.S. A lifetime sportswriter, he’s very aware of the history of his craft, and, along the way, he shares his thoughts on “then-and-now,” including pointed anecdotes on some sportswriting legends from the past. Put this one on the shelf alongside such other classic sportswriters’ memoirs as Robert Lipsyte’s An Accidental Sportswriter (2011), Roger Kahn’s Into My Own (2006), and Ira Berkow’s Full Swing (2006). --Wes Lukowsky
Deford is the Holy Grail. He's simply one of the greatest sportswriters of all time. ... [Over Time] has a little bit of everything -- great stories about interviewing everyone from Richard Nixon to Jerry Jones. Deford played with the Harlem Globetrotters, introduced the world to Bill Bradley, really disliked Rodney Dangerfield, edited the only national sports daily in our history (The National), and has great takes on the history and characters of Sports Illustrated in its formative years. . . . Deford's the best.”Peter King, SI.com
"Deford's cred is incredible, his accolades deserved... He does not pull a punch when it comes to boxing or even to the tastes-great, less-filling Miller Lite commercials he once made... [Deford] has long been the genuine article." Los Angeles Times
He sketches insightful remembrances of stars like Wilt Chamberlain and Billie Jean King and lavishes affection and admiration on Sports Illustrated colleagues Andre Laguerre, Dan Jenkins, and the tortured’ writer Mark Kram [Deford is] sports writing's Sinatra.” San Francisco Chronicle
Endearing... Over Time imparts a sense of a life well lived and fully enjoyed.”The New York Times
"The mixture of homage to sportswriters who came before him, such as Grantland Rice; sometimes wistful vignettes of sports figures like Arthur Ashe; and his own personal reflections on the evolution of sports journalism combine to offer a cultural perspective that transcends a mere job." Publishers Weekly (Top 10 in Sports)
Frank Deford is the best there is. His memoir Over Time is beautiful, funny, poignant and poetic.” Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights and Father's Day
A wonderful book. Over Time is both a treasure and a treasury.”Sally Jenkins, Washington Post columnist and New York Times bestselling author of It’s Not About the Bike
Frank Deford is the best sportswriter I’ve ever read. If there’s a Mount Rushmore of sportswriting, Deford is up there, purple ties and all.”Tony Kornheiser
Wonderful. [Deford is] the gold standard for modern sportswriting.”Frank Murtaugh, Memphis Flyer
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I'm not sure that Frank Deford's work ever received such a putdown. There's never been a better writer/reporter when it came to the long-form features that he used to do for Sports Illustrated. He usually wrote the type of stories that could be re-read days or weeks later, with the craftsmanship instead of the content jumping out.
As a result, the more literate of sports fans have tried to follow Deford's work over the years. He's done work on a variety of mediums over the years. In 2012 he got around to writing down some of his personal experiences in a memoir, "Over Time." Yes, Deford makes this look easy too.
One of the author's best qualities comes across loud and clear here. Yes, he's smart -- from Princeton, with a few cultural and historical references that will send you off to the nearest encyclopedia or search engine for explanations. Yes, he's been lucky to have had access to the greats and near-greats, as the words "Sports Illustrated" could get him in a few extra doors once upon a time. Besides the magazine was willing to spend money to capitalize on that access.
But mostly, Deford is a student of human behavior. He comes up with conclusions almost in passing, insights that the rest of us would probably consider worthy of the centerpiece of a sociology book. Deford starts every chapter in this book, and there are 46 of them, with such a quote from one of his stories.
For example, ponder this: "Perhaps no man is so haunted as the one who was once stunned by instant success, for he lives thereafter with the illusion that tomorrow is bound to bring one more bolt of good fortune." I read that shortly after writing a brief biography (five paragraphs, that's how brief) of Joe Charbonneau for my newspaper. Deford could have been talking about Joe, but he could have been talking about many people.
This almost reads like a series of essays, staying on one chapter with one particular theme and then moving on. As could be expected, his families, childhood and adult, get some coverage, as do his days at college. Then there are the jobs, and not just with Sports Illustrated -- even though SI gets more ink than anything else. Deford was the editor of "The National," a great editorial idea with an apparently unworkable business model. He's done radio commentaries for National Public Radio and feature stories for HBO's Real Sports. Then there are novels and screenplays, among other projects.
Naturally, there are good stories about people along the way. Bill Bradley. Bob Cousy. Don King. Bobby Orr. Bob Knight. And so on. Yet, this is that rare autobiography by a sports writer where the main attraction is not those he or she encountered along the way during a fine career. It's the author himself or herself.
The pages go by quickly, which almost comes across as a parlor trick. How could a book with this much insight seem to be so effortless? Must have something to do with the author.
"Over Time" ought to appeal to any student of the human condition, which should be just about anyone. It's a definite keeper.
On the other hand, Deford's admiration for tennis star Arthur Ashe shines through in what is perhaps the most memorable section of the book. Along the way, Deford weaves in the history of sports writing as a profession, his own family's riches to rags story, the world of the NBA in the early 1960s, the glories of being a tennis writer and even lets the reader in on a really funny tale about what happened on a long night of drinking with Dallas Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones.
In more serious moments, he poses thoughtful, if unanswerable questions, like why do we always think that the greatest all-time performers in sports are current stars while in other fields like music and literature the "greatest" are always the masters of the past. As someone who has written about sports history (HOOP CRAZY: COLLEGE BASKETBALL IN THE 1950S), I found Deford's book to be a thinking man's sports memoir filled with good writing, delightful stories and self-effacing humor.
In "Over Time", he reminds us of so many events and people he has been able to write about - in a classy, elegant style that makes everyone who aspired to be a writer envious.
Someone mentioned to me that DeFord spends a lot of time "praising" or elevating himself in this book and being a name dropper. They wanted more in-depth material on other people from him. Well, duh - It's his memoir!!! If you want to read essays, I suggest you start with the great "World's Tallest Midget: The Best of Frank De Ford" (if you can still find it).
You'll notice I have spelled his name three different ways in this review - I never did figure out what the correct way was from the book. Small complaint about a terrific read.