Just in time for Father's Day comes the ideal book: Father's Day.
Actually, the full title is Father's Day: A Journey into the Mind & Heart of MyExtraordinary Son, by Buzz Bissinger, best known for examining Texas' rabid high-school football culture in Friday Night Lights. That earlier book, which became a movieand a television series, demonstrated Bissinger's talent for writing about people, and hedisplays it again here in addressing his family -- especially his son Zach.
Born prematurely, Zach suffered brain damage and was left with an IQ of about 70.He grew up attending special schools and cannot live alone or drive a car. In searchof a closer bond with Zach, Bissinger embarked on a road trip with his son from theirhometown of Philadelphia to Los Angeles, re-visiting many of the places they had livedover 24 years.
The resulting book, detailing Zach's fascination with maps, his savant-like memory andthe toll that Bissinger's own quirks and career ambitions took on his family, is "rivetingand a bit frightening," writes reviewer Dwight Garner of The New York Times. Whatstarts out as a simple car trip becomes "a barely guided tour through Mr. Bissinger's ownroiling anxiety, his depression, his narcissism and his profound insecurity, not to mentionwhat he sees as his failings as a man, as a father, as a son and as a writer," Garner says.Still, he adds, it is "impossible to put down."
"If you're expecting a sentimental tale about a heroic dad who has always acceptedhis son's limitations, look on another shelf," says Deirdre Donahue, who reviewed thebook for USA Today. "What gives Father's Day its punch and power is Bissinger's honesty, particularly about fathers and sons."
Tim Whitaker, a writer for the blog thePhilly Post, says he knows from direct experience that Bissinger can be prickly anddifficult, but he praises the Pulitzer Prize-winner for owning up to his peccadilloes in anaccount that "never grows wearisome." By the journey's end, Whitaker writes, "Bissingerdiscovers a kindness and strength of character in his son" that's seldom found in normaladults, and it "touches us deeply."
Not every dad will crave a book that moving and intimate, so here are four other optionsfor Father's Day. These span the gamut from fatherhood to war and, of course, sports.
1. Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son by Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez and Hope Edelman. In alternating chapters, the Hollywood father, Sheen, and his actor and filmmaker son, Estevez, describe their special bond, formed in part while traveling inIndia during the filming of the movie, Gandhi. Later, they explored their family rootsin Spain and collaborated there on The Way, a film about a man's spritual pilgrimagefollowing his son's death, with Sheen starring and Estevez's directing.
Although the dualmemoir offers little insight into Sheen's bad-boy son Charlie, "it's a loving account that'salso very candid," says reviewer Jessica Gelt of the Los Angeles Times. The authorsvividly describe some "painful moments," Gelt says, "including Martin Sheen's alcohol-fueled psychotic breakdown on the set of Apocalypse Now."
2. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by LauraHillenbrand. It's likely that Dad has read this true-like tale -- it's been on The NewYork Times' best-seller list for more than 18 months -- but, just in case, remember thisdifficult-to-forget study in iron-willed resolve. Former Olympic miler Louis Zamperini,an Air Force lieutenant, was shot down during World War II and survived not only 47days adrift on the ocean, battling starvation and shark attacks, but also two years ofhardship and abuse in Japanese prison camps.
It's "a one-in-a-billion story," says reviewerSam Anderson of New York Magazine, who says, "It sucked me in and swept me away."James D. Hornfischer, who reviewed the book for The Wall Street Journal, compares thedramatic, inspiring tone of Unbroken to Hillenbrand's earlier bestseller, Seabiscuit, whilenoting that Zamperini also told his story in a fine previous book, Devil at My Heels: AHeroic Olympian's Astonishing Story of Survival as a Japanese POW in World War II,co-authored by David Rensin, which is also still in print.
3. West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life by Jerry West and Jonathan Coleman.West was one of basketball's greatest stars, a prolific scorer -- and later a top executive-- who helped to make the Lakers one of the sport's storied franchises. West's silhouettebecame part of the NBA's official logo, but his clean-cut image belied a deeply troubledindividual who never overcame the scars of his childhood in small-town West Virginia.
Usually, when celebrities write their life stories, they emphasize achievements, notesreviewer Rene A. Henry of the Huntington News in Huntington, W.V. Not so withWest. "As I was reading the book," Henry says, "I thought of myself as a therapistlistening to him talk and taking notes."
Mike Downey, who reviewed the book for theLos Angeles Times, also notes West's candor about even the most personal subjects. "Hewas physically abused in his youth, despising his father to the extent that young Jerrykept a gun under his bed and entertained thoughts of using it on the old man," Downeysays. "He suffers from a clinical depression so acute that even his daily Prozac doesn'talways keep him from feeling suicidal."
4. Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter by Frank Deford. Few journalists have coveredas much in the ever-changing world of sports as Deford, who joined the staff of Sports Illustrated in 1962, fresh out of Princeton, and became an icon.
Deford is responsiblefor "some of the best magazine writing of the second half of the 20th century," saysformer colleague Jay Jennings in a review of the memoir for the San FranciscoChronicle. While uneven, the book has insightful remembrances of stars such as WiltChamberlain and Billie Jean King, says Jennings, who also recommends reading Deford'searlier book, The World's Tallest Midget, and Gary Smith's collection, Going Deep, tofully appreciate the era.
Chris Tucker, reviewing for The Dallas Morning News, laments that Deford does not quote at length from his classic profiles. "The voicehere is...whip-smart...but necessarily concise," Tucker says. "If you want to see himstretch out in elegant long-form prose, grab a collection like 2000's The Best of FrankDeford or [his] sadly overlooked novel Everybody's All-American."
SecondAct asks: What books are you enjoying? Share your recent reads in the comment section below.