“Playing for Pizza,” by John Grisham
Italy, and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy. –Bertrand Russell
A rare venture into humorous, light fiction by John Grisham, this novel is a delight for anyone who is a fan of football, or Italy, or happiness.
Rick Dockery feels like he is the gloomiest person. During this book, Rick experiences all that Bertrand Russell cites. He is Grisham’s fictional, third-string NFL quarterback, and he lost the AFC championship for the Cleveland Browns in the final 11 minutes. How? By throwing a record number of interceptions, he turned the 17-0 lead into a 21-17 final Browns loss. He’s quickly cut from the team, no other teams are calling, and the fans are vocal in their disappointment. That’s the makings of a gloomy person.
His agent is lucky to land him a place on the Panthers. That is, the Parma Panthers, one of the teams in Italy playing “football americano.” Rick has no idea that football is played in Italy, no idea where the city of Parma is, and knows no words of Italian. But he does know when it’s a good time to get out of town.
He lands in Italy in the spring feeling lost, but the people welcome him warmly. In Italy, he learns the satisfaction and happiness in doing something that you love. The Italians on the team are not paid; they are playing for pizza and beer after the games, for pride, and for their passion of football. They report to practice at night, after their day jobs. They play their games on the weekends. Their dream is to win the Italian Super Bowl, and to beat the Bergamo Lions, who are perennial champs.
You’ll laugh and delight at the descriptions of the animated Italians around Rick, and also his passionate experiences of Italian culture. There comes a time when Rick realizes “he no longer dreams of NFL glory and riches. Those dreams are behind him now; and fading fast. He is who he is, a Panther, and as he looks around the cramped and sweaty locker room, he is perfectly happy with himself.”
Do they go on to beat the Lions and win the Italian Super Bowl? Well, thereby hangs a tale . . . .
Why did I choose this book to review? It is one book of 32 that were chosen for this year’s World Book Night, April 23, the UNESCO International Day of the Book, as well as Shakespeare’s birthday and the day chosen to honor Miguel de Cervantes Spanish novelist, poet, and playwright who authored Don Quixote.
Volunteers celebrated by handing out free books to light or non-readers to encourage more people to read. In 2012, almost 80,000 people gave out over 2.5 million books in four different countries. Last week I was excited to meet other Book Givers in Edmonds when we all picked up our book copies. Everyone enthusiastically shared the highlights of their books, and their plans for distribution. On Tuesday, I was honored to give 20 copies of Playing for Pizza to Juanita Clifford who teaches English Language Learner Classes at the South Everett Neighborhood Center. Her students are adults working on their skills, in pursuit of happiness. Books are fun – and they can be life changing.
Reading for pleasure improves literacy, actively engaging emerging readers in their desire to read. Reading changes lives, improves employability, social interaction, enfranchisement, and can have a positive effect on mental health and happiness. Book readers are more likely to participate in positive activities such as volunteering, attending cultural events, and even physical exercise.