It’s 1947. A young woman is sunning herself in a bathing suit with the top rolled down. The future author of Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins is but an adolescent struggling in vain not to stare at her breasts. A young GI comes, makes love to the girl in the grass and then teaches the boy how to play Ping-Pong. Thus begins a table-tennis epic, a collection of short stories that’s part history book, part memoir and all fascinating. Jerome Charyn, amateur player and professional writer, tells about his charmed life around a game that seems much more insignificant than his account ultimately reveals.
This book is lush. It talks about the important role Ping-Pong once played in international diplomacy. It relates mathematics and Zen to the game. It’s about the human struggle against aging. There are parts about writing, philosophy and history, and even how technology has affected this seemingly silly hobby. It’s funny how encompassing the sport is in these tales, but it’s not boring at all.
In one of the stories, Charyn describes the game as a way to stay out of “Hemingway’s Room,” a place where old age and depression drive you mad enough to blow your brains out. The narrator is a guy over 60 and ignoring doctor’s orders not to play competitively because he can’t live without it.
It’s easy not to give a damn about sports in a time when multimillionaire athletes are traipsing around in uniforms with advertisements on them. But this book reminds us how someone can really be in love with a game. The author’s heroes, Marty Reisman and Dick Miles, weren’t raking in millions (or even hundreds) of dollars, but Ping-Pong was their life. They hustled people, traveled around the world and spent hours on end, anywhere, playing and playing.
You don’t have to like or know anything about table tennis to have fun reading Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins. What could have easily been rambling, rehashing and name-dropping is morphed by Charyn’s lust for life into an exciting, brilliant story.
Mike Savage is a Metro Times intern. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.
Email us at email@example.com.
Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.
Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.
Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.
Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.