Hogs! A History
By George Schroeder, Fireside Books, Simon and Schuster, New York, hardcover, $22.
Why, year after year of average to sometimes better-than-expected football results, with a history of great days well in the rearview mirror, do passionate Arkansans in this small state look forward to every fall, gather by the thousands at two stadiums separated by 190 miles, and boisterously call the Hogs?
George Schroeder, who used to work in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sports department before moving on to the Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City, tries to explain it. He does a pretty good job, putting a solid reporter’s touch to this collection of stories about great players and great moments, enhanced by both color and black-and-white photography, all taking up 246 well-designed pages in a book that can sit right next to everybody’s “The Razorbacks” by Orville Henry and Jim Bailey.
Of the latter, Bailey had the historical knowledge and contacts, while Henry had the insight as well as the inside knowledge of the Frank Broyles years, sitting right beside Broyles on many occasions driving between Little Rock and Fayetteville, to make the “The Razorbacks” the definitive, chronological history of Hog football through the early 1970s. Henry and Bailey released updated versions of “The Razorbacks” over the next decade and a half. Photos were mostly an afterthought in “The Razorbacks.”
In later years, we’ve had quintessential Razorback “beat” sports reporter Nate Allen regale us with two editions of inside stories from the Razorback players and coaches he’s known over 30-plus years.
Schroeder approaches “Hogs!” as a mix of the two: a recap of the program’s history, covered in snappier fashion and focusing more on the modern-day happenings, blended with stories about the players — separated into the home-grown products and the imports who became Hog stars — and a chapter devoted to THE big game (need we spell it out which game that was?) as well as another chapter on the many other influential big games, most of them with much happier results and more enjoyable to relive than the crushing 15-14 defeat in 1969 against Texas that still seems to resonate painfully inside longtime Razorback fans.
Schroeder got several hours of sit-down time with Broyles, which resulted in a few more tales we’ve never heard before from the former coach and current athletic director, who turns 81 in December. Schroeder also interviews a horde of Razorbacks, not just the great stars but some of the contributors whose names may have faded over the years.
Schroeder’s writing style is smooth. It’s not as witty as perhaps Bailey might have tackled the subject, particularly the up-and-down latter-day stuff, without Henry lording over it as the Razorbacks’ bible, nor is it a Dan Jenkins-style Southwest region sports tome laced with humor on every page (Schroeder lets his subjects’ quotes do that). But it conveys what it’s supposed to: history in terms of Razorback football, with even the warts (Broyles’ friendship with Ted Harrod that led to an NCAA investigation, as well as Broyles’ hiring mistakes of the 1990s, to mention two), but still will warm up even the most jaded Hog fan’s feelings for where the program has been and where it might be going. And, if the year goes badly, it will provide enough reminiscing material to brighten the gloom.
We weren’t sure what to make of a dustcover featuring the current Hogs marketing logo, making it seem like the UA gave its endorsement or produced it. Chapters pages are laid out in a cutesy, maybe even cheesy, football-field look.
But the color photography and Schroeder’s approach — fan friendly but not homerism — makes this an excellent book for the devoted legion of supporters — seemingly a small readership for such a well-produced book.
Schroeder will visit Wordsworth Bookstore for a book-signing on Sept. 24, the same day Arkansas plays football at Alabama in a televised Southeastern Conference game.
-- By Jim Harris
Nora Jane: A Life in Stories
By Ellen Gilchrist, Back Bay Books, paper, $14.95.
While I’ve often found much to admire in the work of Ellen Gilchrist — even though her short stories are often magnolia blossoms of detail — I’ve never quite been a fan. As an old creative writing teacher of mine used to say, the writer sends out an arc of energy, the reader sends out an arc of energy, and the spot where they meet is the joy to be found in writing and reading. For me, Gilchrist’s stories — often so full of their pouty, spoiled, rich-kid protagonists — never made for that dazzling firework in the sky of my imagination. After awhile, though Gilchrist’s prose is often hypnotically beautiful in and of itself, I simply gave up on romance, offered ol’ Ellen a peck at the door and suggested we should see other people.
After being absent from Gilchrist’s literary embrace for going on 10 years now, I’ve come around again, however, mostly thanks to her newest collection: “Nora Jane: A Life in Stories.” Centering around the adventures and exploits of one of Gilchrist’s most frequently recurring characters, Nora Jane Whittington — a woman who is, for my money, much less of a trustfundifarian snot than most of Gilchrist’s protagonists — I found much to admire in these 14 stories and a novella. Enough, at least, that I’m ready to give the rest of Gilchrist another shot.
Like much of Gilchrist’s writing, the stories here deal with the bird’s nest of consequences that can result from the big choices in life, and the way those consequences play into the relationships we have with other people. The cycle of stories begins, for instance, when plain-Jane Nora sticks up a honky-tonk bar in New Orleans and flees to San Francisco. It only gets wilder and more dangerous from there, with Gilchrist exploring the dark recesses and hollows of Nora’s mind like a spelunker. Seen from nearly every approachable angle, Gilchrist’s Nora eventually manages to become one of the rare birds of literature: a character that’s pretty much as human as we can achieve with little black marks on white paper.
Overall, “Nora Jane: A Life is Stories” is the best of all possible worlds for the reader, especially the reader who is already a fan of Gilchrist. For the lover of short fiction, it is a book that’s perfectly happy be read out of order, with the audience discovering delicious chunks of Nora’s often screwed-up psyche and able to explore her right alongside Gilchrist. For the reader who likes to take a cover-to-cover approach, “Nora Jane” works just as well — maybe even more so — as a novel, allowing you to witness Gilchrist’s ever-impressive craftsmanship as she builds up a character stone by stone, maybe even surprising herself in the process.
-- By David Koon
By Mary Land, University Press of Mississippi, paperback, $20.
This reissue of a 1954 volume by a gun-toting cook, folklorist and poet is of more than archival interest.
Land’s collection is redolent of the swamps, sometimes unmentionable edibles and ethnic stew of Louisiana cookery. It’s fun to read if you’re a Pelican State lover, as we are. But it’s also practical.
Land crams five or six recipes on each page, from spiced crab canapes in the appetizers to Satsuma cordials in the beverage department. And most of them seem simple enough to duplicate without an overabundance of the technical instruction that marks modern cookbooks -– buy rice, open package, pour in pot, etc. Ingredients might be an occasional problem. Good luck finding squirrel heads for potpie. (That’s just one of a handful of intended oddities. Most of the food won’t scare you a bit; a few recipes even call for condensed soup.)
We can’t wait to go home, fire up our iron skillet and mix up some cornmeal, salt, lard, hot water, chopped green onions and an egg. We’ll then cook one big hoecake hush puppy and we can already imagine our satisfaction.
New Orleans fans will welcome the recipes from the late author’s friend Pascal Radosta, the operator of Pascal’s Manale Restaurant, an uptown eatery still turning out spaghetti and meat balls and barbecued shrimp after all these very good years. By the way, Land doesn’t settle the Oysters Rockefeller recipe question, but she gives four approaches to the topping on this quintessential starter.
Coot jambalaya we think we’ll pass, even if the fowl goes by its Cajun name, poule d’eau.
The preface is by Owen Brennan. Yes, that Brennan.
-- By Max Brantley