The story of Michael Oher’s intellectual development is also the story of his body type. Michael Oher is rare. Huge. A freak of nature. He’s also an anomaly of nurture and it has taken a village to raise him. The Blind Side by Michael Lewis chronicles Oher’s turbulent childhood, his unlikely ascent into professional football and the importance and evolution, largely monetary, of the left tackle position in the NFL. The position Oher would come to play in college for Old Miss and, currently, the Baltimore Ravens.
Using a mixture of stark language and deftly placed insight, Michael Lewis describes the evolution of the left tackle with the language and rationale of free market capitalism. In the early nineties, the N.F.L.’s free agency system meant that teams could “buy the players they needed,” but as would soon become obvious, not all positions were created equal. “The price of protecting quarterbacks was driven by the same forces that drove the price of other kinds of insurance,” Lewis writes. “It rose with the value of the asset insured, with the risk posed to that asset.”
The person charged with protecting that million-dollar golden boy needed strength, speed, agility and bodily bulk— a massive butt and legs as well as long arms—to give the quarterback a few extra seconds in the pocket was unlike the other offensive lineman. It’s rare for someone to have all these specific physical traits, and for the players who had them, the price was high. Very high.
This month we’ll be reading The Blind Side by Michael Lewis.
In an excerpt called “The Ballad of Big Mike,” Lewis tells the story of Michael Oher, an impoverished kid from Memphis who through a strange confluence of events ends up in the legal custody of a wealthy white family. At the time of his adoption at 16, Oher had an IQ of 80. With his adoptive parents’ resources and support from the Christian high school he attended, his I.Q. rose by 20 to 30 points. He went from foraging through the garbage for food to traveling on his father’s private jet. It’s also worth mentioning here Oher is also a behemoth —6’5, nearly 300 lbs. and boasting a basketball player’s physical grace — so by the time he graduated high school, he was on the wish list of every top college football recruiter in the country.
Now, the ballad comes to the big screen. The movie based on the book comes out November 20th, and the trailer seems to be focused on the relationship between Oher (Quinton Aaron) and his adoptive mother Leigh Ann Tuohy (Sandra Bullock), as well as the kid’s massive size. (Frankly, the trailer is worrisome and strikes me as an “Inner City Teacher Movie.”)
What the trailer and the NYT article barely mention is Lewis’ analysis of the “evolution of the game” — specifically the left tackle, whose job it is to protect right-handed quarterbacks’ blind side from rushing defenders (hence the title). As the N.F.L. has opened up for passing offenses, left tackles have grown in importance, and are now the highest paid players after quarterbacks. Oher, who was drafted in the first round out of Ole Miss, is an almost prototypical lineman: huge, strong and surprisingly agile.
The movie and book trailers are after the jump.
During dinner a friend of a friend foolishly told me he didn’t read. My confusion at the notion turned to heartbreak, then I tried to reserve my judgment. He couldn’t have possibly known he was having dinner with a girl who goes to bookstores for fun. Seeing the disappointment on my face, he quickly added that he has read one book he loved, Fortunate Son by Walter Mosley.
“That’s a real black man’s story,” he said.
“And a great read,” I replied.
I then inundated him with books and authors similar to Mosley and assured him that he didn’t have to relive his high school English syllabus to enjoy reading. My sister gently saved him from my soap box. “Don’t worry,” she said. “She’s a writer.”
In the essay “Dear Ms. Larsen, There’s a Mirror Looking Back,” Heidi W. Durrow writes that Nella Larsen’s writing gave her “the permission…to write the only stories [she] knew how to tell: of being black and Danish, and of being a white women’s child.” The need to establish your own personhood is imperative, but we all need permission to do so. If others are unwilling to grant it, I think literature can.
While rereading Quicksand, I was struck by the way space and experience change the perception of a book and why it’s so important to revisit the novels, poems, essays and articles which have, at one time, moved us.
Our monthly reading and discussion group, featuring All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America has started, and I just know you all have been busy reading. The author, Joel Berg, recently answered some questions about the book in an interview with yours truly for PostBourgie. We’ll use this post as a jumping off point for the discussion.
This month’s pick, All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America is a recommendation from shani-o who writes: “In the book, Berg touches on the role racism has played in starvation of both whites and blacks in the 60s, notes the varying policies presidential administrations have enacted to fight hunger, and gives an excellent primer on food stamps and welfare reform.
He goes on to challenge the notion that individuals and organized charities are the viable solutions, and insists that government programs are the only way to give poor people the stability they need to focus on education and work, so they can eventually enter the middle class. Berg also discussed the term ‘food insecurity’ (also known as ‘hunger’) in the U.S.”
An article on Berg in the Philadelphia Inquirer described ‘food insecurity’ as “the lack of access to enough nutritious food for an active, healthy life.”
Berg is the executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and previously worked for the Clinton Administration where he was the Community Coordinator of Community Food Security for the USDA.
We will be discussing the book on September 15. Check out Berg’s website and read an excerpt of the book.
from random house
It has been speculated that Uncle Tom’s Cabin aggravated the cultural conversation about slavery and planted the seeds for the Civil War. Whatever analysis is taken from the novel, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s serialized stories became relevant during a very particular time and place.
So, what set the cultural tone for an unknown West African man to publish the novel that would come to be seen as the seminal work from the African continent? Why was it important that this story be written in English?