Seventy-eight-year-old Gay Talese is a strange combination of ire and grace. "It's one of those rare occasions where the writer of record didn't do much work," he answers when asked about his newest book, The Silent Season of a Hero.
Of course, Talese put a hell of a lot of work into the book's 38 pieces. But the work was produced over the course of 60 years. Surprisingly, that's the most rewarding aspect of Silent Season. Whereas most anthologies are a waste of time, this one is terrific charting Talese's evolution as a writer through the lens of sports. It begins with articles he wrote as a teenager and ends with some of the most famous, poignant essays on athletes ever written, including stories about Joe DiMaggio and Muhammad Ali.
"What makes sports special are their immediacy," Talese says. "If you're covering a war, you don't see the war. If you're covering politics, you don't see the intrigues in the backroom... You're getting it secondhand from some spokesperson, some spin artist, some flack. But in sports, you're actually there in the press box, on the sidelines."
In the modern-day world of sports media, though, do we still need 10,000-word articles about athletes? Talese believes so. His interest has always been in losers, or over-the-hill competitors anyway. In "The Loneliest Guy in Boxing," he profiles Ruby Goldstein, a failed boxer-cum-referee whose dedication to the sport has left him all alone. "And that's the most interesting thing of all," Talese says. "How can athletes move on when they can no longer compete in what they're trained to do?"
Sat., Nov. 20, 4 p.m., 2010