Monday, February 3, 2014

Book Review: Down and Derby

A book review by Moonfight Sonata

I don't know about you, but when I discover something new and wonderful I go through an exciting period where I want to read, watch, see, and learn everything about it.  So when I started to feel a derby obsession growing in me during Fresh Meat training, I hopped on amazon and added Down and Derby to my wishlist.  And -woo nelly!- was I excited when I unwrapped it on Christmas day!

The subtitle says it all.  This is a relatively comprehensive, 260-page introduction to the world of Roller Derby.  Skaters Kasey Bomber and Axles of Evil of the L.A. Derby Dolls break it all down: What is this thing?  Who invented it?  How did it become what it is today?  What are the rules?  Where's derby going from here?

Down and Derby was published in 2010, and things have definitely changed a bit in the last four years.  Some of the flat-track rules have changed, and derby has grown so much; it's amusing how few leagues are on the WFTDA-member map on page 63 compared to how many there are nowadays.  But overall I think the book has stood the test of time well so far, partly because of its emphases on the storied history of the game and individual player spotlights.  I LOVED learning about the colorful people who started roller derby originally, how the sport evolved and struggled throughout the 20th century, and how it was revived, almost miraculously, by a handful of super strong people in Austin, TX in the early oughties.  The player spotlights break up the text nicely with lighthearted, interview-style sections; every skater/ref/NSO has a sort of derby narrative, and I really liked reading those.  Another thing that I liked was that the book was about BOTH banked and flat-track derby.  I'm new to all this, but I get the impression that derby peeps fall pretty solidly into one camp or the other.  So it was cool that Kasey and Axles kept a level head about it and kept both forms of the game in the picture.  

There's also a section at the end of the book that summarizes films and TV shows about Derby.  I'll probably refer to that section now and then- gotta see if I can find a copy of The Fireball (1950) with Mickey Rooney and Marilyn Monroe.  And I'm dying to watch Demon of the Derby, a documentary about an original roller girl, Ann Calvello, an amazing woman who played derby for SIX freaking DECADES.  And did you know there's an animated Addams Family derby episode from 1973?  Chyeah.

So yes.  I really enjoyed this book- I breezed through it in a few days but still learned lots.  I'd recommend it especially to Fresh Meat and other newbies as well as their loved ones.  It's a great way to get a mental handle on This Thing Called Derby, and it's a fun read to boot.

(And if you know of other good derby-related books, please recommend them to me in the comments!)

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