November 20, 2014
(+++) SERIOUS AMUSEMENTS
Scholastic Year in Sports 2015. By James Buckley, Jr. Scholastic. $9.99.
5 Seconds of Summer: Hey, Let’s Make a Band! Harper. $21.99.
Professional sports, college sports, Olympic sports, pop music – these are, above all, big businesses. But unlike other major businesses, they generally go out of their way to distract people’s attention from the fact that their primary reason for existence is moneymaking. Instead, they seek to develop the largest fan base possible for their activities and then encourage the fans to focus exclusively on the entertainment value of what they produce, not on the underlying motivation to produce it. And so we get books like these, which are 100% intended to pump up fans’ enthusiasm and get them to spend money not only on the books themselves but also on all sorts of ancillary products relating to the athletes and musicians portrayed in the books. Scholastic Year in Sports 2015 is, of course, really about the year 2014, and not all of it – anything after summer happened too late for inclusion. The basic information here has been known to fans ever since the events occurred, so what the book does is act as a sort of souvenir, packed with photos and statistics and as many “gee whiz” moments as possible for fans of particular sports. It is not and cannot be an in-depth coverage of anything, but it gives the once-over-lightly treatment to professional and college football, the 2014 Winter Olympics, soccer, baseball, professional and college basketball, NASCAR and other motor sports, “action sports” such as the X Games, golf, tennis, and miscellaneous sports such as the America’s Cup, horse racing and lacrosse. The target audience is young readers who are obsessed with sports in general, not focused on any specific sporting event – for that, they would turn to books covering a particular sport at greater length. The underlying assumption here is that all sorts of organized competitions will fascinate young people through bright and bouncy layouts, action photos, and lots of statistics: every World Series winner since 1903, NCAA Men’s Division champions since 1939, complete 2014 Winter Olympics medal counts for the top 10 countries, top fuel dragsters and funny cars of the 21st century, all-time men’s and women’s Grand Slam tennis champions, and much more. Narration is as brief and punchy as live play-by-play coverage, with paragraphs of just a few lines and complete stories lasting less than a page. As fast-paced and intense as the businesses it celebrates, Scholastic Year in Sports 2015 makes a great holiday gift for young readers who, the sports business hopes, will become long-term consumers of the events, people and products it promotes and sells.
Concerts, downloads and CDs; posters, outfits and instruments; these are among the things the pop-music business sells and wants to encourage preteens to buy in greater and greater quantities. And so there are thrown-together books about thrown-together bands such as Australia’s “5 Seconds of Summer.” These books are filled with photos and supposed behind-the-scenes information in which fans – who are thanked early and often for making the band a success, as if there were no packagers, impresarios or producers involved – get to find out lots of “in” things about the performers. In this case, frontman Luke Hemmings, guitarist Michael Clifford and bassist Calum Hood are 18, and drummer Ashton Irwin is 20 – all are likely older than the readers of “the official 5SOS book,” which is the subtitle of 5 Seconds of Summer: Hey, Let’s Make a Band! So what will readers find out here? Michael doesn’t like his signature! “It was awful, it looked like the MasterChef symbol and now I’m stuck with it and I hate the way it looks.” Luke loves the fans! “It hasn’t taken me long to realize that we’d be nothing without our fans – they’ve been behind us all the way, from the very first minute.” Ashton discovered how to handle arena performances! “We had to learn to be great in big venues and rock amazing shows.” Calum played paintball with a character dressed as the Predator from the movies! “If you saw him you weren’t allowed to move otherwise he’d shoot you. That was fun times.” Indeed, there are lots of “fun times” in this book, and very little introspection, difficulty, uncertainty or anything else negative – those things might make fans doubt the wonderfulness of the band, which would be totally unacceptable. The band members talk about learning to do better on stage, learning to make their music even more appealing to fans, and so on, but that is about as thoughtful as anything gets – or ought to get. The point of this book, after all, is to be a souvenir of the band, something brought home from a bookstore or purchased online that could well have been picked up at a “5 Seconds of Summer” concert. Fans who coo and “aww” at the grimacing-and-tongues-sticking-out front cover of this “100% official” book will find in its pages just what they want and just what they expect – and the pop-music business will chalk up another sale and, hopefully, bring fans of this band into its wonderful world of merchandise until the next band of the same type comes along with its many products.