Monday, September 21, 2009

Book Review: On Edge: Backroom Dealing, Cocktail Scheming, Triple Axels, and How Top Skaters Get Screwed

I picked up Jon Jackson’s book, On Edge: Backroom Dealing, Cocktail Scheming, Triple Axels, and How Top Skaters Get Screwed, to understand the backroom drama that happened around the 2002 Winter Olympic Games and the figure skating pairs judging. I’m just not in the know.

Full disclosure: I’m a writing snob.

That’s what I’ve been told, anyway. In my defense, I’ll accept all kinds of misspellings, subject/verb disagreements, and dangling participles. I used to teach English: I’ve read it all.

My one requirement: respect your reader.*

Jackson delivers his insider’s view of the 2002 Olympic Figure Skating judging scandal – starting on page 190. That’s not respecting my time – that’s just narcissism. Jackson assumes that I’m interested in what he wore to his first competition, why he dropped his coaches, or what events he judged. Honestly, Jon: if you’re going to give your book a bombshell title, you’d better bring in the bomb way before chapter 9.

Part of the book’s problem is that Jackson framed his book as a memoir, but titled it as an exposĂ©. It just doesn’t live up to that title. Eventually, Jackson writes about the scandals he witnessed. He names the folks involved and the ways they manipulated the system to protect their petty fiefdoms.

But, he also talks about what he ate, what he wore, and what others ate and wore. Much of the book doesn’t further the premise: high-level skating is corrupt. Much of the book, unfortunately, reads like a manual to Jackson’s life. Pereira, Jackson’s co-author, is a technical writer. The book’s not quite as dry as a technical manual, but the pair leave in too many details and not enough storyline.

To Jackson’s credit, he seems like a stand-up guy with a lot of integrity and a lot of courage. He recognized injustice and crusaded against it. There’s a lot of good stuff in chapters 9, 10, and 11.

I can’t speak intelligently about the judging scandal, Jackson’s alternative skating federation, or the ISU’s current judging system. I can tell you that I put this book down three times until I finally finished it.

Folks, that’s the kiss of death for a book review.

If you want to know about Jackson’s take on the scandal, follow my advice: start reading at page 190.

Let me catch you up to speed: Jon Jackson grew up in a non-practicing Mormon family in Utah. He came to skating late, but did well in it anyway, even with unqualified judges and spotty coaching. Skating’s expensive and time-consuming: Jackson’s parents’ marriage didn’t survive the strain. (They also don’t get another mention for the rest of the book.) Jackson went to college, struggled with his homosexuality, attended law school, and became a successful lawyer. While in college, he took steps to become a figure skating judge, despite a network of entrenched, inaccurate, luxury-loving, homophobic judges. Eventually, he started judging at a national and world level.

There. I just saved you three to five hours of your life you’d never get back. Ice Mom respects her readers.

Update: It's like our own book club in the comments! Readers Helicopter Mom, Season, Nancy, and nashvilledancer recommend The Second Mark by Joy Goodwin. I just ordered a used copy from Amazon.

*Respecting your reader means understanding your audience and its needs. Respecting your reader means keeping a tight focus on your subject and minimizing distractions.

Disagree with me? You know, I thought this review was pretty harsh when I wrote it, but a kind soul (A.H.) read it for me and said to go with it. If you read the book or have an opinion about the 2002 Winter Olympic Games and the judging scandal, feel free to share!


Ice Charades said...

Hi Ice Mom! I just received three skating books via Amazon, including the one you reviewed. Maybe I'll start with one of the others first. (But I've got a bit of reading time on my hands, so I'll give this one a go too.)

Thanks for the review!

Skittl1321 said...

I find LOTS of skating books ramble, a lot.

One I really enjoyed is "All the Sundays Yet to Come" by Kathryn Bertine. It is also a bit rambley, but since it is a memoir, I think she gets away with it.

Helicopter Mom said...

Thank you Ice Mom! I read this book early in the summer and felt cheated that it wasn't the book promoted by the title! I didn't mind reading his memoir - just wish I'd known that was what it was going to be before I started. Plus, by the end of the book I was so depressed about the future of skating... I wish I hadn't read it. On the other hand, INSIDE EDGE by Christine Brennan was excellent. Having not followed figure skating until my daughter took it up 3 years ago, I didn't know much about America's past champions and this book really filled me in. As I finished a chapter, I could watch the available videos on You Tube and I felt like I got a master class in figure skating history. But since it was written in 1995, it's certainly not remotely current. I'm about to start reading THE SECOND MARK -which is more about the Salt Lake City judging scandal - or that's what I'm expecting from the cover, anyway! I'll let you know how it is.

Anonymous said...

Helicoptermom thank you for mentioning "The Second Mark". I'm glad to hear that you are planning to read this book. I read it and it is fabulous. It gives a complete history of the three pairs teams that were involved in the scandel and behind the scenes information about the ISU president and all the major players (judges) involved in the scandel. Also an after math of what happened to the pairs teams after the Olympics. I feel that every skating parent should read this book. I loved it and I hope you and Icemom will also enjoy "The Second Mark". Please write a review on what you think of this book. I would love to hear a writers point of view. I think the author of this book is a reporter just thought you would like to know. Happy Reading! Season

Ice Mom said...

You guys are awesome! I just bought my used (library copy) of The Second Mark from Amazon.

nashvilledancer said...

I've read The Second Mark a couple of times. I also am a writing stickler and I recall liking this book very much. It's very clear and frankly fascinating. I have so much respect for all three teams, who went through so much to get to that point. It's also timely with Shen and Zhao competing this year.

THANK YOU for saving me from reading the other book. I know that I would have thrown it across the room. I have to read enough mangled prose from my college students and as a reviewer for scholarly journals--when I read for fun, it better be good.

Love the blog, by the way!

nashvilledancer said...

Two other books I highly recommend are "Boitano's Edge", and Sandra Bezic's "The Passion to Skate". Both are coffee table-format; both tell interesting life stories along with tidbits about some of the skating greats. Torvill and Dean's autobiography and a biography about them by John Hennessy are also fascinating.

Nancy said...

I've read both books and agree totally with your review of On Edge... The Second Mark is so much better. I'd also recommend Frozen in Time, the story of the plane crash that killed the 1961 national team.

I enjoy reading your blog! I'm an adult skater who is about to make her first skating dress so I have been re-reading your posts about sewing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ice Mom,

I love to read especially skating books and because there are so few out there I always look for new ones. I liked all the ones from Christine Brennan (Inside Edge was one of them) I like Biographies. Dorothy Hammil was a good one. I'm hoping after the olympics there will be new books coming out. I did not read the book you talked about. I did read "All the Sundays Yet to Come" it was good.
Again I enjoy your blog.

Aaron said...

While we're discussing memoirs/biographies...I was very touched by My Sergei.

Ice Charades said...

I've got to jump back in with my two cents - I really liked Kathryn's book, but as a show skater you could call me biased. She does go into a lot of detail in her amateur career so any skating parent can relate to that.

I also think Frozen In Time is amazing - it should be required reading for any skating fan/coach/performer. I just warn you, you will need tissues.

I caution on Christine Brennan's books. She played fast and loose with the truth and even got called out by Scott Hamilton in an open letter to the editor to the USA Today. She also had her press credentials taken away one year. Skate Web has a lot more on that.

Thanks to all who mentioned the other titles - I've got some reading to do!

Ice Mom said...

Thank you, Ice Charades, for letting me know about Christine Brennan's reputation. I can't tell you how fascinated I am now. I'm itching to research her further.

I have to tell you all: this has become one of my favorite comments sections. I just love it when people recommend books for me!

Anonymous said...

I agree Frozen In Time is well worth your time!

Anonymous said...

I also enjoyed Frozen In Time. Also, Scott Hamilton's book that came out about a year ago is good. It's more of self help book, but uses a lot of skating references. My daughter just found A Very Young Skater. It's about Katherine (I can't think of her last name) but it's kind of outdated. Still talks about figures etc... Not sure if you have read Figure Skating for Dummies by Kristie Yamaguchi. Another good book.

Nancy said...

A Very Young Skater is about Katherine Healy, who also excelled at ballet (she's in the movie Six Weeks, one of my very favorite movies about dance, but have a hanky ready!).

Helen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
rankpay said...

Hi Ice Mom! I read this book early in the winter and I found it very fantastic. Love your review.