I added a few books to the sidebar that I've read in the past ten days or so. Kings of New York, by sportswriter Michael Weinreb, is about the Edward R. Murrow high school chess team -- a public school that has somehow developed the best high school chess team in the country, made up mostly of kids who counter the stereotype (if this is in fact a stereotype) of chess champions as private school kids from wealthy backgrounds. The Murrow team is made up largely of kids who, without chess, might have gotten lost in the system -- kids for whom English isn't their first language, kids who aren't necessarily college-bound, kids who don't necessarily excel in academics generally but are able to uncover a passion and a sort-of genius when it comes to competitive chess. I don't play chess. I know how the pieces move, but that's about it -- I don't even really know how one wins a game of chess... I know it has to do with capturing the queen, but I have no idea what you do to put yourself in that position, and I've never actually played a game of chess at all. I found an online site yesterday and played one game, and lost pretty easily, probably to a three-year-old, because I just don't really know how to play. Nevertheless, or maybe because of that, I liked the book and found it pretty compelling. I found another review that criticized the book for not being able to get the reader too far into the heads of any of the chess players... because they're teenagers and not necessarily all that introspective... and that's a fair criticism. Weinreb also spreads his focus pretty thin -- there's sections on some former chess champions, chess teachers, Murrow High School administration... and some of the digressions work and some don't. I thought he did a great job connecting the fate of public high schools generally to the story of the chess team, and the battle to keep Murrow a desirable place to go to school was really interesting, although to some extent he demonizes the current adminstration as compared to the people who ran it in the recent past, and I'm not sure he provided enough evidence to be sure they deserve the criticism. I thought he did a good job making the reader care about a couple of the students, although the one he seems to be trying to build up as most sympathetic seems like he could have just as easily been cast the opposite way -- there's an anecdote tossed off that, bullied as a kid, he tried to kill the bully by putting a needle into a candy bar and giving it to him. That's pretty sinister, even for a kid. After reading that, I kind of lost a bunch of my sympathy. Weinreb absolutely does better than a lot of authors have done (recently) with similar subjects -- James Maguire's book about the spelling bee tries to do what Weinreb's doing, and Weinreb succeeds to a much greater extent, I think -- the narrative flows better, there's more of a story.... I liked the book. I recommend it. And hopefully it'll reach beyond the audience that cares about chess.
Also, check out "Ant Farm" by Simon Rich. I wrote a bunch about it in the sidebar, but the gist is this: it's funny. Lots of cool ideas, well executed. It's very short, but I totally enjoyed it, and didn't really expect to, or maybe even want to. But I was totally impressed.
...you'll like Blades of Glory. Saw the new Will Ferrell movie tonight. Liked it. Laughed out loud a few times, which I don't do all that much. Mostly at stuff going on in the background, which was in lots of places in the movie funnier than the stuff going on in the foreground. That's not a criticism. I liked the movie. Didn't expect to like Talladega Nights when I saw it last year, but I did... came into this one expecting it would be similar, and it was.
Not sure how long this has been around, but I just noticed it -- you can read about 10 pages of my Anonymous Lawyer book for free on Google Reader. Seems pretty cool -- I may poke around and see what other books are up there. There's something more appealing about getting to read actual sample pages instead of the web-formatted first chapters they sometimes have on the NYT or Washington Post sites.