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KPCW invites members of the Friends of the Park City and Summit County libraries to review novels and non-fiction every month.

September 2022 Book Review - "Sidecountry: Tales of Death and Life from the Back Roads of Sports"

Cathy Lanigan reviews John Branch's book "Sidecountry" for the September book review
W.W. Norton and Company
Cathy Lanigan reviews John Branch's book "Sidecountry" for the September book review

Author and Pulitzer prize-winning journalist John Branch is the featured guest at this year's Park City Friends of the Library author luncheon.

From the Winter Olympics to Tour of Utah cycling to Ragnar racing, to the Little League World Series, Utahns live out of doors and engaged. With this wide variety of athletic pursuit, one may stop to ask what an athlete is, or even what a sport is. In his book, “Sidecountry: Tales of Death and Life from the Back Roads of Sports,” author and journalist John Branch introduces us to the people who pursue sports and help us understand why they do.

The opening story in the book takes the reader on a deadly ski trip in the Cascades with depth and detail about the people on Stephens Pass that fateful day about the precise timing and weather conditions and unflinching exposition of the gruesome result. Branch’s reporting on the avalanche and its deadly outcome is an absolute adrenaline rush.

But every bit as engaging and memorable are the many other stories like the one about the athlete with one of the highest winning percentages of all time. If you're guessing the names of baseball or basketball players, try horseshoes.

Or Mandy Stokes the champion alligator hunter who holds the record for the largest alligator kill in the annual hunt, or the especially poignant story of the girls basketball team in Huntington, Tennessee, whose epic losing streak is utterly beside the point.

Although each of these true stories is unique and uncommon, each is also unforgettable. In his story of climbers on Mount Everest, faced with extracting one of their dead, Branch writes so that we are on that track with the Sherpas, out of oxygen, freezing, at the limit of physical ability.

Ultimately, these are deeply personal tales of strength, commitment, endurance and dedication, which go a long way to defining what an athlete is, and even what a sport is.

On October 19, the Park City Education Foundation will sponsor Mr. Branch's presentation to Mr. Steve Cuttia’s Literature of Sport and Society class at Park City High School. Afterward, he will be addressing the Friends of the Park City Library at the annual author luncheon at Silver Lake Lodge.

Tickets for the luncheon are available now at the Park City Library information desk and on the library website. “Sidecountry: Tales of Death and Life from the Back Roads of Sports” is available now at your public library. For KPCW, this is Cathy Lanigan.

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