Monday, May 4, 2015

Competition Stories for the Non Sporting

As a non-sports fan, I sometimes think I miss out on the thrills my sports loving friends have while following their favourite competitions. All that patriot exuberance during the Olympics - didn't grab me. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are on? Oh, I hadn't noticed. But surely I don't have to miss out on the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat just because I prefer to cuddle up with a book rather than cozy up to a televised sporting event?

Evidently not. Human beings seem to find the capacity for competition in the quirkiest places. For me, the quirkier the better - these are the types of competition stories that take first place in my books.

First off - did you know that you can competitively grow things? Okay probably - we do live in Nova Scotia, home of Howard Dill who was a world famous giant pumpkin grower. Did you know there is a book about people who pursue this passion? Backyard Giants: the passionate, heartbreaking and glorious quest to grow the biggest pumpkin ever by Susan Warren. Warren's focus is on American growers, but the book could still find an audience here amongst pumpkin enthusiasts.

A plant I hadn't really considered in terms of competition growing is the rose. Otherwise Normal People: inside the thorny world of competitive rose gardening by Aurelia Scott. Her account of the people she meets at a national flower show is a delightful read for gardeners and those who don't possess a green thumb. Booklist magazine said "With a breezy, infectious enthusiasm, Scott offers a vividly engaging account of big-time rose competition and the seemingly average individuals who take leave of their senses in this addictively sensory pursuit."

Ballroom: culture and costume in competitive dance by Jonathan S. Marion: these people think they can dance, and they can. And they do - competitively. Marion takes a peek inside these high competition world, looking at the history and culture of competitive dance. Slightly more academic than some of the other titles in this post "[providing] an ethnographic picture of how dancers and others live their lives both on and off the dance floor" (publisher) but fascinating nonetheless.

Flowers and dance too refined for your tastes? How about food? Who knew that competitive eating was so popular that it warrants not one but two recent books. First up, a book that I've blogged about before (which maybe has my favourite book title in recent memory) Horsemen of the Esophagus: competitive eating and the big fat American dream by Jason Fagone.

Games are probably a logical place to turn for competitive action. Poker is an obvious choice and Positively Fifth Street: murders, cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker by James McManus takes a look at the top competition in a competitive circuit. Unlike many of the other authors mentioned here, McManus actually competes in the event he writes about, and intertwines his own story with some of the more scandalous history of the event.

Poker is an obvious choice for competition - but Scrabble? Yup. Word Freak: heartbreak, triumph, genius and obsession in the world of competitive Scrabble players by Stefan Fatsis is exactly what the title presents it as. Publishers Weekly praised its "journalistic, expressive prose [which] helps transform this potentially dry account of some word-obsessed oddballs into a funny... glimpse at one of America's quirkiest special-interest groups.

Scrabble seems a good segue into these last two titles, whose competition values cerebral powers over physical ones. Brainiac: adventures in the curious, competitive, compulsive world of trivia buffs by Ken Jennings is great for those of us who can't get enough Jeopardy! or wins at our local pub quiz. 

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