Hanif Abdurraqib’s ‘There’s Always This Year’ book review : NPR

Cover of There's Always This Year

It’s a phrase familiar to any sports fan who realizes that a championship is not on the agenda this season: There’s always next year. This statement, mixing resignation and optimism, is sometimes formulated with sincerity and sometimes with irony: hope springs eternal, unless, of course, that is not the case.

Hanif Abdurraqib, who received praise for his books Go in the Rain: Quest Notes from a Tribe Called And A Little Devil in America: Praise of Black Performanceputs a new spin on the saying in its latest, There are still some this year: on basketball and the Ascension. As in his previous books, Abdurraqib uses a subject as a lens through which he views culture as a whole: it’s about hoops, sure, but it’s also so much more. This is another remarkable book from one of the country’s most brilliant cultural critics.

There are still some this year is structured like a basketball game, with four sections each time-stamped to mimic the elapsed 12 minutes of a quarter. In the first quarter, Abdurraqib explores the sense of place, writing about his childhood in Columbus, Ohio, and a 2002 game between the city’s Brookhaven Wildcats and the St. Vincent-St. Marie Les Lutins. The Wildcats were state champions the previous season, but the Leprechauns had a star player up their sleeve: a towering forward named LeBron James. Brookhaven was unable to secure the victory.

Abdurraqib’s chronicle of the game is fascinating, but it is his analysis of James – as a person, a football player, a phenomenon – that shines: “I have sat at the feet of poets who have told me that he there is power to hold. the parts of yourself that people are most eager to see. In LeBron James’ high school career, there was access to his dominance, but not always access to the struggles he might have had. And it proved difficult for people to remain fascinated by domination, especially if they were on the losing side, especially considering who was dominating.

Abdurraqib returns to James later in the book, writing about the star’s decision to leave his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, a decision that devastated Cavs fans who loved seeing their hometown legend carry the wine and gold. “And sometimes people leave because they have to survive,” he writes. “Sometimes people leave because staying has run its course, a journey strewn with failure. I know what it’s like to leave in the hope that what caused me to fail is not part of my own inner constitution, that it’s a place that drags me down, beckoning me to respond to all my worst impulses.

But Abdurraqib is not only interested in champions. He writes of the newly LeBron-less Cavaliers with insight and amused affection: “There was pleasure in watching this aimless disaster of a team. Abandoned veterans who had been abandoned, young players who seemed, for Most, disconcerted by the pace and intensity of the games, forced to play minutes because someone had to do it, after all. At one point, it seemed like anyone who could run on the field would do Abdurraqib knows well what Jim McKay called “the agony of defeat,” but he knows that losses – and the Cavs have had 63 this season – can tell us more about ourselves and the over each other than victories.

There is no doubt that basketball fans will find something to love here There are still some this year, but as good as Abdurraqib examines sport, he’s even better when exploring tangents. He writes astutely about films He has game, above the rimAnd White men can’t jumpblending analysis and memory, and the result is vulnerable and truly moving.

In a remarkable section, inspired by James’ departure from Cleveland, Abdurraqib – a lover of music – is led to reflect on songs about people leaving, whether by car, train or plane, evoking “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight and “Heads Carolina, Tails California” by Jo Dee Messina. “But it’s the planes we have to worry about,” writes Abdurraqib. “If someone in a song leaves on a plane, they won’t come back. You will suffer until the pain becomes so familiar that you forget to feel it at all.” He moves on to another genre – what he calls “the begging song”, citing Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and James Brown as expert practitioners. It’s a perfect example of what Abudrraqib knows how to do: moving from one subject to another without ever losing sight of what unites them.

There are still some this year is another brilliant book from Abdurraqib, who has established himself as one of the country’s most original and talented authors. It’s also a piercing look at how we view others, as well as ourselves: “We will leave our enemies behind and never turn to them again.” But it’s not a hero’s story either. Not everyone will die. No one will live forever. »


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