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Check It Out

Courier Article by David Locker
Sunday, June 23, 2002

Holding Out Hope: Best Is Yet to Come

One of the keys of happiness may be the belief that the best is yet to come.

How many of us are convinced of this? We have all had high points in our lives, but there is no reason why we can't expect to reach more in the future. The lessons to be learned from the three books reviewed today are that we should never stop learning, and that age is no barrier to either achievement or fulfillment.

Me and Shakespeare by Herman Gollob (Doubleday, 2002).

Herman Gollob had a great career as an editor, rising to editor-in-chief of Atheneum and Doubleday. One of the keys to his success was the capacity to make his dreams a reality. He combined vision and practicality with the ability to sell himself.

After graduating from Texas A&M University, he decided to study acting and talked his way into admission at the Pasadena (Calif.) Playhouse. While working on the side for an acting agency in Hollywood, he discovered that he had a gift for editing manuscripts. He then persuaded one of the most powerful agents in New York publishing to take him under her wing. He rose rapidly within the publishing ranks.

Upon retiring, Gollob saw a stage version of Hamlet, starring Ralph Fiennes. This experience ignited a latent interest in Shakespeare that soon developed into a case of full-blown Bardomania. He became obsessed with Shakespeare, watching instructional videos, visiting Shakespearean sites and finally teaching a class at a local college for lifetime learners.

Gollob's book is a blend of memoir and literary criticism. It is rarely dull, and reading it is a rewarding experience. For Gollob the best was truly yet to come.

Genes, Girls, and Gamow by James D. Watson (Knopf, 2002).

The problem facing James Watson, the co-discover of DNA, who earned his doctorate at Indiana University, was what to do after making one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time when he was only 25. But not to worry; Watson kept working hard. For one thing, he had to impress the girls, didn't he?

This book is a sequel to Watson's Double Helix, which appeared in 1968 and recounted the exciting race to discover the structure of the DNA molecule. I remember it as one of the best books of popular science I ever read, and this follow-up didn't disappoint, either.

In a way Genes, Girls, and Gamow is a recounting of the competition to discover RNA, but even if the chase this time lacks the suspense of the earlier DNA discovery, it makes up for this by providing glimpses into the personal lives of an outstanding group of intellectuals and scientists.

What Watson is really chasing here is a wife, and the gossipy nature of the book makes it a perfect beach read. Though he wasn't credited with discovering the structure of RNA, he went on to work at the frontiers of genetic science with the Human Genome Project as well as cancer research.

For a geek who couldn't drive, flunked the mechanical aptitude part of the armed services test and was uptight with women, he turned out to be a pretty cool guy.

You Cannot Be Serious by John McEnroe (Putnam's, 2002).

Hailed as one of the best sports books of the year, McEnroe's autobiography lives up to its billing.

McEnroe's grandfather was a hardworking Irish immigrant. His father pulled himself up by his bootstraps, working his way through law school and eventually becoming a partner of one of Manhattan's largest law firms. McEnroe was expected to work hard and make something of his life. Even though his parents pushed him into being a professional tennis player, he doesn't regret it.

John McEnroe (believe it or not) is something of an introvert and possessed of a good measure of self-awareness. Even if you hated him on ESPN, you'll probably grow to like him in these pages. The complicated champion explains his frequent meltdown on the tennis court as mostly the result of insecurity and fear of failure.

McEnroe was a guy who felt more relief that he didn't lose than joy that he won. Even when he was comfortably ahead in a match, he thought he was on the edge of losing. His years at the top of his profession were few, but his marketability earned him a lot of money anyway.

The dilemma of following up on great achievement is no more apparent than in the life of a champion athlete, but McEnroe continues to try new things. Television commentary, electric guitar, art and now politics are among his recent pursuits. I have a feeling Johnny Mac has yet to reach his highest point.

David Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.