Posted by: Gregg | December 28, 2007

The Kings of New York – Michael Weinreb

One of things I’m learning as a new parent is to find time to read – like some of my friends suggested when I broached this a while ago, I have to squeeze leisure reading in the corners of my new life, sometimes in places it doesn’t necessarily fit, which is something I found out the first time I tried to read while feeding Gavin and discovered that despite my careful planning, a book, a baby, and a bottle are three very separate things, and I only had two arms. But in the the few moments before bed, or when the kiddo naps, on break at work, on my lunch hour, in the waiting room of the doctor’s office – this is the new world that I find myself in when it comes to literature.

The first book I read as a dad was a fast one – a nonfiction account of a public high school chess team that happens to be the best in the nation, routinely beating out the most expensive and prestegious private schools, as well as giving the reader a peek into the world of competitive chess. “The Kings of New York” is similar in style to “Friday Night Lights” and “Mad Hot Ballroom”, following different students through an academic year leading up to the national tournament.

Weinreb, like the best sports writers, takes himself out of his own narrative and concentrates on the action, which can be followed even if – like me – the reader only has the barest glimmerings of how to play chess. Teens from all walks of life play on the Edward R. Murrow high school team – this is not a team of sheltered Ukrainian immigrant prodigies, although there are some here, but rather neighborhood kids who use their mathematical minds towards the moves of bishops and rooks when they’re not throwing dice with the guys around the corner or playing Texas Hold ‘Em online for money. Weinreb never tries to figure out the whys of the people he writes about; they play for their own reasons.

“Kings” also takes a look at the larger world of competitive chess, filling us in on some of the bigger names of the sport, which is, of course, filled with eccentric and bizarrely competitive personalities. Great fun and an absolutely absorbing read.

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