Midwinter (2022) reads

Around July of each year, the temps absolutely plummet in Sydney. At the turn of winter, it was already freezing but July is traditionally the coldest month. It’s the perfect time to catch up on your reading. I begin this list with another book by Murakami. Sputnik Sweetheart is not among his best rated works but it remains enchanting. I followed this up with Mitch Albom’s The Fab Five. A chronicle of the Michigan Wolverines quintet, the five freshmen starters defied the status quo and created a legend.Finally, Total Recall, Schwarzenegger’s dense memoir, rounds out this month’s haul. The biography, full of bodybuilding and politics, was so far the year’s most challenging read. It took me the better part of three weeks and even then, I had to read other books simultaneously. In the end, this was a very worthwhile book and well deserving of the time invested. Two nonfiction works and one novel. As Alex Compton intoned, ‘makes sense to me.’

1. Sputnik Sweetheart (Murakami). Like Norwegian Wood, Sputnik is mostly a love story. This involves the two female leads, Sumire and Miu. The protanist, Sumire’s bestie, is secretly in love with her. However, Sumire wants a strictly platonic relationship. He then spends his time bedding married women. He works as a schoolteacher. The two of them have an odd connection. They are very open to each other, maybe too open. Though they had attended the same college, the guy is much further along in his career. He can afford the finer things and both is parents are alive. Sumire’s mother passed away when she was a child. Thankfully, her stepmother treated her like her own.

Sumire is a frustrated writer. She has tried to write many books but has not finished any of them. Her bestie is her only believer. She often comes to him for answers, whether big and small. She believes that he should know everything. These exchanges are sometimes philosophical. When Miu, a sommelier and publicist, marches into her life, she becomes smitten. She now works as Miu’s receptionist, eventually turning up each weekday. Suddenly, she accompanies her boss to Europe. They like it so much that they extend their visit a couple of times. Miu then contacts the pal, only saying that he must fly to Greece immediately. Once he gets to this small island, he understands that Sumire is missing. Miu needs his help to find her.

Miu shares that Sumire was spending long days working on a project. This was a shock since she wasn’t able to write anything since meeting Miu. Sumire had simply up and left one night after Miu rejected her advances. She was in her PJ’s and slippers. All her things were left in her room. With some luck, the bestie manages to open her luggage where he finds two documents. It were like polished, extended diary entries. As usual with Murakami, there was a touch of magical realism. A 39-year old with white hair? An out of body experience? A splitting of souls? These are hallmarks of the great novelist. In the end, he even has time to unpack a moral question. Sure, some of his prose isn’t that easy but ultimately, this book is better than purported.

Rating: 4.1/5

2. The Fab Five. (Mitch Albom). I’ve read most of the author’s work. As I’ve consistently stated, his are the easiest books to read. Fab is one of his early works, back when he was a sports writer. The title chronicles The Greatest Recruiting Class ever. The eponymous five freshmen changed the game forever. At this point, getting a quintet of the best college prospects was unheard of. Eventually, all five players would start for Michigan. Fab has some shade of Halberstam’s Breaks. Fab doesn’t deal purely with basketball action. The book provides profiles. Whether it’s Bobby Knight or Mike K; forward Rob Pelinka or the Webbers; Carmichael Auditorium or Seattle’s Kingdome; there’s something for everyone.

Fab also deals with the highs and lows of a hoops juggernaut. When the five gobbled all the minutes, the rest of the team was relegated to garbage time. The freshmen were cocky even though they had won nothing yet. They loved to talk trash and to show up their opponents. Like the rest of the team, each had been the star player on their high school squad. Three of them – Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, and Jimmy King – were the number ones at their position. As freshmen, they were notorious for their baggy shorts and bald heads. This later became a trend. Furthermore, their long black socks were also a hallmark of defiance.

Most of the quintet grew up impoverished, with Webber and Rose being local kids. Howard was from Chi-town and Jimmy and Ray Jackson were Texans. The five would lead Michigan to back to back runs in the chip match, only to come up short both times. They especially hated Duke, the one team they never beat. The Blue Devils were fundamentally sound, cohesive, and made the smart plays. For the Wolverines, they seemingly looked out for the outstanding move rather than the sure two. With Duke’s experience and camaraderie, the Wolverines proved no match. In year two, they got past some powerhouses, including UCLA and Kentucky. They played a close match against the Tar Heels before some brain cramps cost them in the end.

Fab talks about Sutherland hypocrisy of college basketball. Despite being household names, the fab five were unable to reap the rewards from their merchandise. Albom’s effort reminded me of Sooley (Grisham), although this was nonfiction. Michigan was the darlings of March Madness. I wouldn’t be surprised if Grisham drew some inspiration from Fab. This was an easy ebook to read, taking me six full days to knock back. Moreover, the title was divided into ten parts, with mostly short chapters. The one thing going against it was the nineties publication date. This was the era before smartphones and social media. Imagine how much further the fab five would take off had the technology been there.

Rating: 5/5

3. Total Recall (Schwarzenegger). As mentioned, this nonfiction title is the third leg of the tripod. I started reading this 618-page monster three weeks past. I’ve had it on my bookshelf for a while, purchased from Basement Books. Recall is the definitive look into Arnold’s amazing life. He talks about his humble beginnings in Austria, the second of two boys. His father was in law enforcement and Arnold took an interest in weight lifting. Soon, he’d be crowned Mr Universe, repeating as champ a record number of times. He would then move to the States, where he’d spend hours in the gym. While improving his physique, he studied in college part-time. He also became a real estate mogul.

After accomplishing all there was with bodybuilding, he set his sights on Hollywood. Initially, he was viewed as an oddity: the guy with the impossible surname; an imposing brick with an accent. After a flurry of box office hits, he gradually became the world’s biggest movie star. He teamed up with helmer Jim Cameron for Terminator, which is his most famous role. Arnold proved that he was equally adept in comedy as with action. In 1983, he became an American citizen. When he married Maria Schriver, he was part of the Kennedy clan. Over the years, he’s suffered his share of setbacks on set, which required hospitalisation. He was fortunate to meet the right people, who supported and nurtured his show biz career.

When a special ballot was announced for the California governorship, Arnold knew that he had to run. Eventually, he would have the support of everyone including his wife. This paved the way for a landslide victory. Before his win, he mentioned meeting Nelson Mandela. He was amazed that, despite being in goal for twenty seven years, the latter harboured no ill will. There are occasional typos in the book but is a solid effort on the whole. Be prepared for some dense prose; I had to skim a long chapter on politics. Arnold was a bit of everything. He was a champion athlete, a sharp businessman, a megastar, a model politician, a talented writer, a husband, and a father. Clearly, Arnold has the Midas touch. In the last chapter, the author urges his readers thus: ‘When someone tells you no, you should hear yes.’

‘So it’s not always obvious what you should celebrate. Sometimes, you have to appreciate the very people and circumstances that traumatised you.’

Rating: 4.1/5

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