Soaring talent, a gift from the stars |

Soaring talent, a gift from the stars

Don Rogers

Last week I watched Kobe Bryant drop 51 points on the Nuggets, in less than three quarters. It looked effortless, though he said later that a blow to the jaw from Donnell Harvey set him off.

As a rec league role player, which means I nominally play the same game of basketball, in purer if far less skilled form since no one would pay to see me do whatever it is I think I’m doing, I at least have an understanding of how difficult this game is for mortals.

Up close at floor level, even the Nugs amazed with their grace, quickness, soft shooting touches and, of course, that height. Seeing the Kobe cut through and over them as if it were me trying to cover him was just all the more stunning. For this evening at least, he was as far above these fellas as they are above me.

I view astronauts with even more awe – contemplating their combination of astronomical bravery, flying skills and sheer number of Ph.D’s, of which I share nothing in common other than wonder at the stars. Closer to earth, there’s the occasional snowboarder who hops and spins from regular to goofy foot almost unconsciously, such is his or her easy confidence.

But intrigued as I am with basketball, like better men mull their golfing, and as impressed I am by gifted practitioners of other pastimes and careers, greatness at the core gets me the most.

I work with words. Here’s my profession, exposed in print. A part of this job involves writing myself, just as well as possible.

Evaluating oneself is a fool’s game. The high dreams are of the pantheon, the self-critique aimed at the gutter. I’m pretty sure writing isn’t the only realm where the author wonders how much longer he can keep fooling those judges, his employers. Best, like jumpshots, to fire away with confidence, feigned if need be. Then, that’s like life in general, too, isn’t it? Put yourself out there. Just do it. (The commercial slogan works so well because it’s the apt capsulation of American philosophy, perhaps to a fault in the case of our raring to pay a visit to Iraq.)

This is what I love and hate about habitual writing, the stuff of journalism and punditry. The expression, taking a grim joy in working out thoughts aloud through the tip-tap of fingers on keys, and some horror for the poor folks left to make sense of these thoughts, since the thinking never is clear or sharp enough to suit even the author.

Truth to tell, I’m fairly hard on my fellow practitioners, while appreciating the difficulty of their labors. Maybe it’s hubris, being a competitive fellow who must be best, to the point of scoffing at better work. More likely, it’s understanding the factories where our particular brand of sausage is ground out. The limits of deadlines, an ADD sufferer’s delight of duties, and smalltown intellect are formidable. The work, especially mine, almost never reaches even its humble potential, never mind scratching greatness.

I feel this way not only about columnists and reporters, but the authors of the other forms, as well. But when one of the tribe transcends, ala Kobe, it’s all the more inspiring.

So it is with this book by a public radio reporter in Minnesota, Leif Enger. “Peace Like a River,” his first novel, pierced me.

It had sat in a pile for months before I picked it up. Not my kind of story – asthmatic 11-year-old narrator in the early 1960s upper Midwest sees his teen brother shoot dead house intruders and escape, with family and lawmen in pursuit. Please.

Trust me, though, it’s an epic brimming beyond the confines of the story itself. The images are bold, feeding the imagination well past page and plot. Subtle observations uttered by a child narrator cut all the sharper for the reader being trusted to make out what the kid can’t know yet.

My awe started with Enger’s easy handling of the language, a perfect well-spring of sentences and dialogue, before the story itself swept over me. I could only gawk at the prose, like one of those poor Nuggets the other night while Kobe dribbled up, spun around and dunked on them as if no one were there.

I’m reduced to the gushing critic’s plethora of adjectives, I realize. Let me leave you with this: read the book. It’s a gift, truly.

Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or

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