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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Review: Straight Down the Middle

Every now and then I receive books to review. Often I don't review them right when I get them, primarily because reviews tend to pop up in clusters. Since I worked in the book industry for a couple of decades, I can tell you that publishers often give a new book massive publicity for a few months before dropping down their priority list in an unfairly quick manner. So I like to wait a while on my reviews and see if I can't give the book a boost after the initial excitement dies down.

Straight Down the Middle book coverOne such book is Josh Karp's Straight Down the Middle, which I confess I've had for a while. (If you click the cover to the right, you'll go to its BN.com page.) To tell you the truth, I haven't been quite sure how to review this one.

Don't get me wrong, SDTM isn't a bad book at all. It's a golf book that claims to be part instruction, part mental guide, and part memoir. Josh Karp is a journalist and pretty much a lifelong golfer who decided to try and improve his game, so he started exploring some of the different "paths" that are being touted as a way to improve your game. This book is his record of that journey.

When a golf instruction book is subtitled "Shivas Irons, Bagger Vance, and How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Golf Swing," you'd probably guess that journey didn't include guys like Harmon, Haney, or Foley... and you'd be right. And while Karp is clearly familiar with sports psychologists like Parent and Rotella... well, they weren't really on the trip either. Josh makes no bones about it:
"My quest, the quest that became this book, was one toward two goals -- better golf and a better life via the non-traditional Eastern route. I would sample various Eastern approaches to life -- meditation, martial arts, and all other manner of instruction both on the course and off -- hoping to lower my handicap and find my true, calm, happy self, or vice versa." (page 15)
Even as a Christian who has explored some Eastern mysticism -- and make no mistake, the roots of Christianity are at least partially Eastern -- as well as some martial arts, and as one who has found considerable help for my game in my faith, Josh's approach seems a bit "out there." So I can't really recommend his book as a golf instructional book.

However, SDTM is a good read. The blurb on the book flaps call it a "hilarious memoir," and I have to agree. If Dave Barry decided to write a book on how to become a "mystical golfer," I think he might have written this book! Josh Karp writes enjoyable prose. I don't know if he intended the book to be read this way, but I give it high marks as a very entertaining read. So if you enjoy personal stories, you may want to give Straight Down the Middle a look.

However, if you're looking to improve your golf game, you might want to look somewhere else. Personally, given a choice between Shivas Irons and a new set of Callaway RAZRs... no contest.

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