Let me get this out of the way first: this post isn't really strictly related to soccer. Instead, it's intended to bring to your attention some very excellent writing and design. I assume most of you are aware of Grantland, the pet project of ESPN columnist Bill Simmons. It launched last summer to much fanfare, and includes writing on sports, pop culture, and more. There are some amazing articles on the site, and there are some that just don't really do much for me. In some ways, it's gotten a bit out of control; there are so many sub-blogs and different categories that it is impossible to read everything on the site in a given day. The result of this explosion of content is that I pretty quickly gave up on Grantland as a daily thing. I go to school, occasionally try to write for this blog, read other things, do homework, etc. I didn't have time to read everything on the site, and I didn't really have a good way to curate it either.
But the editors at Grantland did something that was pretty smart. They teamed up with esteemed publisher McSweeney's to produce a quarterly of their very best work. It had always been the plan, and it made sense too. The very best writing on the site was the sort of long-form journalism that would stand the test of time. Individual articles may have addressed something that happened that day, but they also touched on the larger impact that sports and (yes, sometimes) pop culture have on our lives. By having a quarterly, the editors could pick a few of these stories every three months and bring special attention to them.For example: many of you know Brian Phillips from his work at The Run of Play. There, he crafts and curates stories that transcend the boundaries of soccer fandom while at the same time delineating them. His work gets straight to what it means to be a fan. But did you know that he is also one of the best tennis writers alive? I sure didn't, but thanks to Grantland I do now. And I'm better off for having read his eloquent prose. Or that of Wright Thompson, who writes paeans to the South that are every bit as moving as those of Robert Penn Warren or William Faulkner.
Amidst everything happening at Grantland, it's easy to miss this. Had it not been for numerous retweets, for instance, I would have totally missed Phillips' insightful piece on why boredom is so integral to watching soccer. (Long story short: it makes the beautiful moments more beautiful by contrast.) But the (supposedly) best posts are collected in the quarterly. When it first came out, I balked at the idea of spending $48 for something I could get on the web. But then, for Christmas, Ms. Robert got me a one-year subscription that began with the first issue. And you know what? I'm hooked.
The stories, even those that I had already read, are compelling and well-written, they are given a new and more vivid life by the excellent graphic design that accompanies them, and, in reality, most of them are new to me! I missed so many the first time around that at least half of the book (because in reality, it is a hardcover book) is fresh. Plus, some of these stories just translate to the printed page better than they do the screen. A gigantic oral history of the famed sports daily The National? Too much scrolling, and I don't want to read it all at once on a computer. In book form though, it seems natural to put it down and come back to it later. With things on the Internet, I feel a compulsion to finish reading what I start, and sometimes that doesn't make for the most enjoyable experience. In print, I'm much more likely to read naturally. And as a bonus, there are a few pieces on soccer in the thing!
I'm not being paid to recommend the quarterly. It's a bit of an investment, I will admit that. And it is certainly a luxury - there was only one piece in the whole book that wasn't available for free online. But it's a luxury that is well worth it. Good writing is one of the best joys of life, and this subscription gets you a full year's worth of good writing. I can honestly say that I don't think anyone would regret subscribing to the Quarterly, and I imagine most of you would love it. I thought I'd write this, though, since I was on the fence about subscribing before it was given to me as a gift. If you're in the same position, give it a try. It's not much more than a tank of gas, and I promise you'll enjoy it far more. If you're intrigued, check it out here.
(As an aside: would anyone be interested in a sports-based reading discussion as a regular feature? We'd obviously do soccer, but we'd read about other sports as well. If it strayed too far from AVFC, we could do it in the FanPosts, or over at my now mostly-defunct book blog. But let me know. If this is something that interests people, I'd be happy to start it.)