This was the product of several factors:
a. Our shared Brookline backgrounds and sports obsessions.
b. His prodigious amounts of writing.
c. My brother Mike’s consideration and generosity in buying both books.
d. My desire to complete tasks and flickering desire to read more books this year than last year.
e. My wife’s indulgence of d.
These factors culminated in my reading all 700-plus pages of The Book of Basketball, Simmons’ new book about hoops, and Now I Can Die in Peace, a paperback and updated version of his baseball writings, which focus almost exclusively on the Red Sox.
They are different types of books. Now I Can Die is a chronological collection, with introductory essays for each of the five sections that roughly follow the narrative arc of a play, while The Book of Basketball is a full-fledged and largely original work.
The Red Sox book goes back to the late 90s and the Dan Duquette era at Fenway, while the basketball book covers the league’s entire history.
The basketball book’s focus is wider, too. Simmons writes about the entire game, rather than his understandably complicated relationship with the Red Sox, who at times provoke heartbreaking anguish, frustration, misery and, of course, in 2004, unprecedented and transcendent joy.
All in all, I liked, but did not love, Now I Can Die. While Sports Guy fans will find all the staples of his writing, and, in fact, can see the germination of some of the idea he develops in his most recent book-enter Keyser Soze here, among others-his knowledge of, and connection to, baseball is different than basketball.
While Simmons knows and understands baseball as much as any other rabid member of Red Sox Nation, he is a true student of the game in basketball. He saw more games at the Garden than he did at Fenway, the number of players and their roles are different and the Celtics had lots of success at numerous points during his youth, while the Red Sox were living through the final two decades of their 86-year drought. As a result, I felt I learned more from the basketball than the baseball book.
My preference may also reflect my own relationship with the Boston sports teams. While I lived and died, mostly the latter, with the Red Sox, the Celtics truly got into my guts and stayed there. Seeing the Celtics beat LA in Game 7 of the NBA Finals with Mike is a sports moment that will be hard ever to top.
So, while I enjoyed ploughing through Now I Can Die in Peace and felt only slightly like someone who had eaten a whole pepperoni and mushroom pizza compared to the usual five pieces, I preferred Simmons’ The Book of Basketball.
Of course, reasonable people may differ, and I welcome the conversation.