Clubs get funding at emergency UTSU meeting

At an emergency meeting on Dec. 3, the clubs committee of the U of T Students’ Union granted funding to the French Club (EFUT), the U of T Italian-Canadian Association, and the North American Model UN student group.

EFUT, which in November had their budget request tabled, was given $8,000. The club had requested $17,020.64 in their October application. Last year, they received $10,000. Sitelle Cheskey, EFUT’s president, says the club will appeal the decision.

According to Vita Carlino, UTSU’s clubs and events coordinator, EFUT will have to submit a written statement expressing their concerns, which will be addressed once the tabled funding requests are resolved. UTSU warns clubs that if they do submit a statement of appeal, there is the possibility that they will receive no funding at all.

Clubs have expressed dissatisfaction over limited funding. WATCH, a student-run charity that serves children, asked for $500 to help cover costs for their annual holiday dinner at Hart House. UTSU gave them $400 and recommended that they search for a less expensive venue. “We are mostly unhappy with the reason they indicated for not giving us [the funding],” said Fei He, a WATCH member and former president. “What better way to inspire all these inner-city children to go to university or college than to give them a taste of the best at U of T—Hart House.”

The budgeting calendar is a primary concern. Clubs submit budgets to UTSU in October and receive the verdict in November. Rejected clubs were told their budgets would not be reconsidered until January. UTSU awards funding on a 40-30-30 schedule. For clubs that are granted over $2,000, the first 40 per cent of their grant is given immediately, with two remaining instalments of 30 per cent forwarded once clubs submit receipts to UTSU. The schedule effectively gives clubs five months to spend what their applications have budgeted as a year’s worth of money and forces clubs to draw from reserves or pay out of pocket for events in the first semester.

“I’m not an enthusiast [of the funding schedule],” said Mueen Hakak, UTSU’s professional faculties representative and former clubs committee member. “I’ve been a clubs member and I’ve seen that it causes a delay, as clubs find out how much they are going to get very late in the semester. By that time, half of their activities are already done.”

Club leaders echoed the sentiment. “Our biggest problem now is that we’re having trouble reimbursing our executives for the expenses they’ve paid themselves,” Fei He said.

“There needs to be a profound change in the clubs funding process, since we had to fund all of EFUT’s activities out-of-pocket up until now,” said Cheskey. “It is unacceptable for [the students running a club] to have to take such financial risks.”

In an email to The Varsity, UTSU’s VP campus life Danielle Sandhu said she has not heard from any clubs that the budgeting calendar was flawed. “All feedback I have received thus far regarding funding allocations has been positive,” she wrote.

UTSU informed Cheskey that the club’s application was incomplete, as they did not submit a membership list. EFUT maintains that they held back on the information out of consideration for student privacy. Alumni chair and former president Antonin Mongeau said that the clubs committee ignored an invitation to examine membership lists at EFUT’s office.

“EFUT will not likely be able to host all the events we had hoped to,” Cheskey said. “We feel that a 20 per cent cut [in funding] from last year is not consistent with our efforts.” She said EFUT had around 1,300 students on their mailing list last year, and over 1,700 this year.

Hakak said that complaints are of little significance when applications are incomplete. “We have to as clubs make sure that what we do is complete before we can make complaints or point fingers,” said Hakak. “If EFUT was the only club denied because they did not have membership lists, then it would be a problem. From what I can tell, the rules were applied across the board.” The African Students Association also had their funding delayed because of an incomplete membership list.

With the $8,000, EFUT plans to continue with most of their regular programming, which includes a tutoring program, regular movie and pub nights, and conversation clubs for students seeking to polish their French language skills. Among the events that are likely to be cancelled are a large academic conference and a trip to New Orleans.

Body Worlds and The Story of the Heart arrive at the Ontario Science Centre

Did you know that there is such a thing as dying from a broken heart? Termed broken heart syndrome, the condition involves a weakening of the heart muscle triggered by severe emotional stress, such as the death of a loved one. This is just one of many facts about the heart that can be learned at Gunther Von Hagens’ new exhibit, Body Worlds and The Story of the Heart, now open at the Ontario Science Centre.

Four years after the Canadian premiere of Body Worlds II at the Science Centre, Dr. Von Hagens is back with a brand new chapter in his Body Worlds saga. The current exhibit presents an integrated view of the heart using anatomy, cardiology, psychology, and culture to explain how this four-chambered muscle regulates and sustains life.

Through the life-like and dramatic poses of full-body specimens and the detailed presentation of organs and body parts, guests obtain in-depth insight into the structure and function of healthy and unhealthy bodies. These captivating displays use real human bodies that have been preserved through a technique called plastination.
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The organs and whole-body plastinates in the exhibition came from people who generously donated their bodies to Von Hagens’ Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg, Germany, specifically to be used in Body Worlds exhibitions for educational purposes. Today, more than 10,000 donors have bequeathed their bodies for plastination, 68 of whom are Canadian.

Plastination was developed by Von Hagens in 1977 to enhance the education of medical students. It is a technique that removes water and fat tissues from deceased specimens and replaces them with curable plastic polymers to halt decomposition. Today, it is used at more than 40 medical and dental schools throughout the world as a supplement to anatomical
dissection.

There are four steps to the plastination process: fixation, dehydration, force impregnation in a vacuum, and hardening. The first step entails embalming a body in formaldehyde to halt decomposition. After the necessary dissections, the dehydration step involves placing the specimen in an acetone bath, then exposing it to freezing conditions. This allows the acetone to draw out and replace all the water from the body’s cells. In the third step, the specimen is then placed in a liquid polymer bath, such as silicone rubber, epoxy resin, or polyester. When placed in a vacuum, the acetone in the cells boils at a low temperature. As it evaporates and leaves the cells, it draws the liquid polymer in behind it, leaving a cell filled with liquid plastic. The plastic must then be cured in the last step using gas, heat, or ultraviolet light to give the specimen rigidity and permanence.

Once plastinated, specimens can be manipulated and positioned. These preserved specimens retain their natural structure and are identical to their pre-preservation states, even down to the microscopic level. The new exhibition includes over 200 human specimens including whole-body plastinates, organs, and translucent body slices. Of particular interest are a full sized (15-foot) sliced giraffe (a personal favourite) and a full-body plastinate in a delicate yoga position.

Visitors are provided with profound insight into the human body, health and disease, and the physical ramifications of unhealthy habits and lifestyle choices. The exhibit juxtaposed plastinates depicting healthy bodies against those that deteriorated due to common conditions such as arteriosclerosis, smoking, and obesity. It also provides fascinating displays featuring up-to-date research in cardiology, including preventive care and state of the art treatment options such as artificial hearts and angioplasty techniques.

The exhibit also includes a powerful emotional element that explores the heart’s significance in art, history, and religion. A striking and memorable example is a full body plastinate named “star warrior,” posed in mid-prayer holding a perfectly preserved human heart up to the sky, a poignant image representing the historical and cultural significance of the heart.

Body Worlds and the Story of the Heart is designed to appeal to an extremely diverse audience, from health nuts, to parents with small children wanting to learn more about the importance of healthy life choices, to university students of all disciplines. No previous medical knowledge is required and the exhibit acts as a fascinating aggregate for information and discovery into your own body. One U of T life science student remarked on her experience: “It’s like rereading all your notes on PSL302 [Human Physiology] again, but it’s fun and interesting because there’s no test!”

It is a must-see for anyone with a passing interest in anatomy and the human body. The exhibit inspires a sense of awe at the intricacies of our physiology. The displays motivate visitors to learn more about the human body and empower them to make healthier life choices.

Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds & The Story of the Heart runs until February 28, 2010 and offers a special discounted price for students (with ID). Photos are not allowed.

Migrant workers have right to unionize: protestors

Two activist groups are going to the Supreme Court over unionizing rights for migrant workers.

Justicia for Migrant Workers and the Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario presented oral arguments on Dec. 17. The arguments were presented as a part of the ongoing case Fraser vs. Attorney General of Ontario to give Ontario’s 100,000 agricultural workers the right to bargain collectively.

Ontario’s Agricultural Employees Protection Act gives agricultural workers who come to Canada yearly with temporary visas the right to form associations but not to bargain collectively. The Fraser case is a legal challenge to that exclusion.

Justicia’s main organizers are Tzazna Miranda Leal, an undergrad at U of T, and Chris Ramsaroop, a former president of the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students at U of T.

Supporters, including 15 U of T students and alumni, travelled to Ottawa to attend the trial. They also demonstrated at the house of Stephen Harper and held a vigil at the Chinese Railroad Monument.

“We were interveners in the case, meaning we were a party to the proceedings. We brought forth arguments relating to the particular experiences of migrant workers,” Ramsaroop stated in an e-mail to The Varsity. Ramsaroop was present for the court proceedings.

Intervention is a legal procedure that allows outside parties to join and contribute to ongoing litigation. Justicia was included in the intervention because of the organization’s affiliation with migrant workers.

After being awarded intervener status, Justicia and IAVGO jointly raised nearly $5,000 to cover the cost of buses, food, and demonstration materials. Legal representation was pro bono.

Justicia argued that uncertain employment compounded by the lack of immigration status denies migrant workers the ability to exercise their rights.

Arguments that Justicia and IAVGO developed were delivered by Selwyn Pieters, who told the court that the current model of labor relations in Ontario is insufficient to protect workers and results in systematic discrimination.

Ramsaroop said arguments also sought to capitalize on the history of discrimination in Canada. “We wanted to show how history has repeated itself through the exploitation faced by migrant workers,” he said.

Full proceedings of the Fraser case are expected take between six months and a year.

A public vigil will be held for four migrant construction workers on Thursday, Jan. 7 at 7 p.m, at 2757 Kipling Avenue. They died on Christmas Eve when the swing scaffolding they were working on broke in two pieces, plummeting them over 13 stories to the street below. With files from Naushad Ali Husein.

Crime and news in brief

Crime on campus

Campus police kept busy in December, investigating crimes from theft to arson.

There were 40 counts of trespassing, 32 thefts, 19 emergency calls, and one report of elevator entrapment. Out of thefts reported, six laptops were stolen.

There were several reports of mischief. On Dec. 14, campus police investigated damage inflicted on a door at the Graduate Students’ Union pub and damage to a vending machine.

On Dec. 1, campus police responded to a complaint of a suspicious package at 222 College St., which turned out to be a charging battery pack. They also investigated a report of arson at the Koffler Student Centre.

Campus police responded to two complaints of indecent acts, one at St. George and Hoskin, and the other at St. George and College.

The St. Basil’s Church parking lot on Bay St. had the highest number of reported incidents, followed by Robarts and the Bahen Centre.—Nikki Rozario

College students fear strike

A strike has been a possibility ever since talks between Colleges Ontario and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents 90,000 teachers, broke down in December. The union has set a strike vote for Jan. 13.

Mature students enrolled in Ontario’s Second Career program fear potential campus strikes across Ontario.

The program offers training and financial support to laid-off workers, and has approved 21,000 people since 2008. Now many of these people are worried about their situation should the strike take place.

“A lot of us, after getting laid off and going through all that uncertainty, looked to the education system as a place of safety,” said Don DeSchutter, 44, who is in his final year of a human resources program at Fanshawe College in London, Ont.

“People who are getting ready to get into second careers may not be able to do that now, [and] their life is in the balance.”—Ryan Tuzyk

Source: Canadian Press

Language changes how Canadians see university

A national poll of Canadians over whether a university degree is a minimum requirement for success shows a wide gap between French- and English-speakers.

The survey of 1,500 Canadians found that fewer than 20 per cent of French speakers between the ages of 18 and 24 said a degree was required, whereas 40 per cent of the English group maintained it was. Notably, more than two-thirds of respondents whose first language is neither French nor English agreed that a degree is necessary for success.

Michel Perron, a professor at the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi, pointed out that the results of the survey may be affected by the importance placed on technical degrees by many in the province. In a poll conducted this spring for the Ménard group, when college training was included as an option, nearly 90 per cent of respondents said post-secondary education was important.

Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies, worries that there will be a growing incongruity between the groups unless action is taken to change the attitude that education is insignificant to success.—Carolyn Arnett

Source: Globe and Mail

Separation of church and philosophy

Plans at the University of Winnipeg to merge the philosophy, classics, and religious studies departments into a singular humanities department have been postponed. Dean of Arts David Fitzpatrick formally revealed the amalgamation plan early this November, arguing that amalgamating the departments would effectively save the school close to $30,000 in its Arts budget. He maintained that each program would still remain a separate unit within the merger to maintain its academic integrity. However, there was immediate backlash from the would-be affected communities, and the project has been moved back for at least another academic year. Nevertheless, students and faculty continue to express concern over the recent disintegration of the philosophy department in particular, and what the merger could mean for the department’s future at the university.—Gina Shin

Source: Winnipeg Free Press

Emergence, then withdrawal

In recent years, independent galleries have become an increasingly (although by no means overwhelmingly) common sight on the Toronto art scene. Still, when two young artists founded the Whippersnapper Gallery in 2005, it was a highly innovative project filling a significant void in Toronto’s artist community.

As young art students at the time, Luke Correia-Damude and Patrick Struys understood the difficulties of breaking into the commercial gallery circuit. According to Correia-Damude, they saw many of their friends become discouraged by the highly selective nature of commercial venues. “We realized that there was a need for independent galleries for young artists,” he says.

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Supported by friends and art lovers, the duo were able to establish the Whippersnapper Gallery. Currently located at 587A College Street, it provides emerging artists with an affordable space to display their work. The non-profit organization is run entirely by volunteer artists, and the gallery’s rental fees cover only the operational costs of exhibits. As a stark contrast to commercial galleries, which profit from steep commissions, Whippersnapper does not charge any commission on work sold from its displays. The gallery has also striven to nurture emerging talents. It grants artists extensive control over the exhibition of their work, allowing those just entering the gallery circuit to gain experience in a professional setting.

Given the gallery’s success, it comes as a surprise that the Whippersnapper staff intend to relocate to a smaller venue when the lease of the current location terminates in May. According to Correia-Damude, the move is part of a plan to restructure the gallery so that it can better meet the needs of young artists. “People are still emerging artists after the first exhibit,” he says, “[and we realized that] there wasn’t a lot of support for them.”

In order to provide emerging artists with more substantial support, the Whippersnapper staff is working to obtain “artist-run-centre status” from the provincial government. If formally recognized as such, the gallery will receive grants enabling the Whippersnapper to pay artists for their work. Government subsidies will also allow the gallery staff to concentrate on curatorial and artistic programming rather than administrative issues. They plan to narrow the focus of their exhibits and work more intensely with artists through in-house curating—a program that they believe is better suited to a smaller venue.

Whippersnapper’s relocation means that the gallery will no longer function as a rental space for the type of large-scale events that it has hosted in the past. Correia-Damude believes, however, that the gallery’s new program will prove to be of greater benefit to the artist community than the current one. “We’re not abandoning the community,” he says, “but we understand the need for subsidized programming […] we’re going from being more of a facility to being a critical support for artists.”

Whippersnapper’s latest show, the Emergence Exhibition Series, illustrates the type of elevated programming the staff intends to implement in the future. Curated entirely by the Whippersnapper collective, the series showcases the work of seven Canadian artists, all under the age of 30. “The Emergence Exhibits are a perfect example of the direction we would be going in,” says Correia-Damude. “[Their] focus is smaller, more intense.”

The second instalment of the series, scheduled to run today through Jan. 22, is thematically centred on the historical and contemporary implications of violence. It will display the work of two young artists, Amanda Nedham and Jannick Deslauriers. Nedham, an OCAD graduate whose work has been displayed in Toronto, New York, and Florence, will present the sculptural installation “Generals Always Die in Bed.” It features a custom-built torture device designed to hold an army general in place as he lies dying, forcing him to reflect on his career. Deslauriers, who teaches visual arts at Montreal’s Marie-Victorin College, will present the installation “Champs de Povot,” a large-scale war machine surrounded by a field of poppies.

In addition to the Emergence exhibits, Whippersnapper will host a final group exhibition in February, for which submissions are being accepted until Jan. 25. The gallery will continue to be available for rent until its doors close in May and the staff begin to fully pursue their plans for Whippersnapper’s new direction.

Series 2 of the Emergence Exhibition opens tonight from 7 to 11 p.m. Regular viewing hours are 1-6 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday. For more information, visit whippersnapper.ca.

Elvis lives!

It’s been more than 30 years since the death of Elvis Presley, one of most famous American cultural icons of the 20th century. Graceland remains a significant tourist site, and his music still evokes sentimental feelings among a generation who grew up with “All Shook Up” and The Ed Sullivan Show.

Still, his music can sound dated to those who came of age in a world of blogs and Barack Obama. That’s why Toronto five-piece Elvis Bossa Nova is radically re-imagining the Elvis catalogue, infusing classic tracks with Latin, country, and jazz to name only a few styles on their eclectic debut album, Hi, I’m Elvis Bossa Nova!

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Each member of Elvis Bossa Nova is well-travelled within the city’s independent music community. Guitarist and primary musical arranger James Robertson plays with drummer Jake Oelrichs in the energetic indie rock group Run With The Kittens, while bassist Brian Kobayakawa melds jazz, roots music, and bluegrass in The Creaking Tree String Quartet. Vibraphonist Michael Davidson and percussionist Roman Tome, who round out the group, are both heavily involved in Toronto’s jazz and experimental community.

Robertson explains that the Elvis Bossa Nova project was conceived through somewhat unconventional means:

“Back in 2007, Brian and I were playing together in another band, and we needed to quickly fill in some dates at The Dakota Tavern because our band leader was going out of town. We were staying up late trying to figure out what to do. As we were wracking our brains, ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’ came on the radio, so we thought we should do something with that. The idea kept growing and I recruited some musicians I had played with in the past and began arranging songs from there.”

Interestingly, the band members were not particularly large Elvis fans prior to the creation of the group.

“We were really into the idea when we started the band, but we didn’t think we’d still be playing together in three years’ time. It was designed to be a quick project, but it went so well from the get-go that we’re still doing it today,” explains Kobayakawa.

“We actually lucked out because Elvis obviously has a huge catalogue to draw from, but what I hadn’t realized is that it’s also really varied,” Robertson continues. “At first I had this image of him from the black and white days, just shaking his hips while all the songs had a similar rhythm and blues style. But since he had so many people writing music for him, there’s a huge variance in the material he released through the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.”

“Bossa nova” is a Portuguese term, meaning “new trend,” and refers to a short-lived movement in Brazilian samba and jazz music that took place between the late 1950s and the early ’60s. The band has arranged two songs in this unique style, but their catalogue of reinvented classics ambitiously blends a wide variety of styles with a flair for improvisation.

The basic familiarity with the Elvis legacy that many people possess has helped the band amass a considerable local following.

“Most people know a bunch of Elvis’ songs just because they’re everywhere—it’s impossible not to know some of them,” says Kobayakawa.

“It gives us the opportunity to do pretty out-there arrangements, our versions don’t sound too similar to the originals, but because the songs still have those familiar hooks, people will still recognize that we’re playing Elvis tunes,” adds Oelrichs.

Describing their sound as “out there” is an understatement. Their expansive version of “Viva Las Vegas” features a slow building percussion groove, accompanied by a deceptively laid-back guitar line. The speed increases steadily, and the track seems seconds away from flying off the rails until the classic melody, played through a slightly grungy, rockabilly guitar, finally enters the fray and stabilizes the group. The energy is relentless through multiple crescendos until the six-minute mark, when the band hits a barn-burning climax. And that is just one of eight songs that the band has transformed for their genre-bending, self-released debut.

Kobayakawa characterizes the band’s performances as heavily improvisational, ensuring that the energy present in each song never wanes.

“Our arrangements are never really set in stone—every song has an anchor that we use as a base, but improvisation in our music is always important. What we play can be drastically different from night to night,” he says.

The band plans on recording more reinvented Elvis material, as Robertson has arranged about 14 songs, not all of which appear on the band’s debut. For now, though, their wildly imaginative debut and unpredictable performances should pique the interest of the Toronto music community.

Elvis Bossa Nova hosts a CD release part for Hi, I’m Elvis Bossa Nova! on Jan. 8 at the Lula Lounge. For more information, visit elvisbossanova.com.

A matter of youthiness

Michael Cera has become such a ubiquitous and perhaps overexposed media presence in the last few years that I had forgotten how perfectly he can evoke awkward adolescence. There’s a moment early in Youth in Revolt where he is out for a walk with a beautiful young girl he has just met, and, wearing a nerdy beige polo t-shirt tucked into his slightly-too-short black pants, attempts to casually cross his arms. It doesn’t go well: his right hand lingers awkwardly outside his arm, as if he is not entirely confident that the whole arm-crossing thing is the approach he should be going for. In the presence of a pretty girl, this poor boy has forgotten the body language of normal people.

In Youth in Revolt, Cera ostensibly plays Nick Twisp, the hero of C.D. Payne’s much-loved teen novel, who when we first meet him is masturbating furiously under the covers of the tiny single bed he’s probably had since childhood. He is 16 years old, enjoys Frank Sinatra, rents Fellini movies, and considers himself an aspiring novelist. “Needless to say,” he adds, “I’m a virgin.” In his spare time, Nick hangs out with his even more awkward friend Lefty (Eric Knudsen), who has the slight advantage of owning an illicit book of exotic sexual positions, and who regales Nick with hearsay about what, exactly, one could do with one’s pinkie. I have not read C.D. Payne’s book, but I’ll bet this characterization owes a little bit more to Cera’s well-established teenage Woody Allen persona than to Payne’s protagonist.

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But something new has been added. Nick meets the above-mentioned beautiful girl, Sheeni (Portia Doubleday) during what can be best described as an impromptu summer holiday, and their resulting fling—particularly Nick’s “first undisputable make-out session”—has convinced him that he’s found his one and only love. Now separated in different towns and by Sheeni’s ultrareligious parents, Nick’s best chance at remaining in Sheeni’s affections is to take on the bad boy persona that she lusts after.

Here Cera takes on a dual role as Nick’s imaginary persona “Francois Dillinger”—or, Cera/Nick with white dress pants, ludicrous ’70s shoes, a Cesar Romero moustache and an ever-present cigarette, prone to making aggressively sexual advances around women and committing sizeable acts of arson. He also influences Nick to go to extreme lengths to reunite with his crush and lose his virginity, up to and including recruiting someone to put sleeping pills in her coffee so that she may be expelled from her boarding school.

Youth in Revolt is one of those rare teen movies like Superbad, Adventureland, or the better John Hughes efforts that actually understand what it’s like to be a teenager. Everything has the ring of truth: Nick’s repulsed fascination with the sex manual, the way he falls, and the unfortunate tendency of a teenage male to become easily—and visibly—aroused. Even the tiny details are right: I like Cera’s stiff, tentative way of walking. Plus, François’ clothing ensemble, with its Tony-Manero-shopping-at-Goodwill aesthetic, strikes me as exactly the type of ensemble that Nick would believe is smooth. Director Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck) keeps things moving at a rapid pace, and manages the split-personality device with tongue-in-cheek deftness.

Youth in Revolt regards Nick/Francois with sympathy but strict objectivity until its final act, when it stumbles badly with its too-tidy resolution. The double-persona keeps Nick fundamentally likeable by using François as a convenient scapegoat for some pretty unforgivable deeds. A movie this observant about teenage males, though, should be smart enough to show that Nick is motivated more out of selfishness (and horniness) than actual love. (The final scenes also suggest that while Arteta and company might know a lot about boys, girls require a lot of guesswork.) Incidentally, I could also have done without the scene where the uptight parents have an accidental mushroom high. After seeing this joke in a few dozen other movies, I’m starting to realize it never really goes anywhere.

Still, this is a witty and inventive film, and it takes Cera’s well-established comic persona into such dark and fascinating territory that I daresay it might be the ultimate Michael Cera film. Cera has become a master of teenage insecurity, but after Youth in Revolt, I think he would be wise to go in a different direction. He’s taken this as far as it can go.

Youth in Revolt opens on Jan. 8.

Agassi opens up

Pulling an all-nighter the night after having finished my last exam of the fall term may seem slightly unconventional, but stopping to put down tennis icon Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open is an even crazier thing to do. Having finally been granted the liberty of picking my own reading topics, I was excited to dive into the misunderstood world of Agassi and was grateful that I would have something to occupy my time on my long trek home for the holidays. The book was finished before I even boarded my plane; it’s just that good.

Open is an inspiring story about Agassi’s life on the court and his personal journey through torment and adversity to find himself. The book is told in a flashback of Agassi’s life that he experiences after a historic match in the 2006 U.S. Open. It’s written in the present tense from Agassi’s perspective at each time in his life.

Agassi recounts stories and matches from decades ago, accounting for every detail. His descriptions are so vivid and nearly photographic that while reading you feel as though you are there, experiencing Agassi’s life right along with him. You usually find yourself wishing that you could do something to help him.

Agassi, the only man to have ever won a “golden slam”—all four Grand Slam tournaments and an Olympic Gold Medal—admits in his book that he actually hates tennis. A shocking confession, considering his career choice, but we learn through his stories that he didn’t have much of a choice at all. He lives a life full of contradiction as he hates the game but drives himself to succeed for money.

As a young boy, Agassi is forced by his violent and aggressive father to play tennis as he sees it as being the shortest route to the American Dream. His father compromises all aspects of Andre’s young life in order to push him into tennis—even forcing him to skip school and ingest speed at a young age to enhance his play. At the age of 13, Agassi is stripped away from his best friend Perry and is sent to Florida to attend a tennis academy that he describes as nothing short of a prison camp. In Florida, Agassi struggles with school and begins to rebel by changing his image, drinking, and smoking pot. Being such a talented tennis player, Agassi is able to wheedle the head of the school, Nick Bollettieri, to let him drop out of his academic classes in grade nine. At this point, there is no option other than tennis. There is no turning back.

Agassi’s story continues into adulthood where his journey to find himself and create a personal identity begins. He depicts the continuous inner turmoil that he faces with his hairstyle, admitting that his signature “flow” was actually a head-piece, as well as his battle to play on with his treacherous back pain due to being born with spondylolisthesis. He describes all of the important and influential people in his life, including coaches, family, competitors, ex-wife Brooke Shields, and even Barbra Streisand and how they all either helped or added to his constant struggle and downfall. His trainer, Gil, is given the role of a father figure and is depicted as the hero in Agassi’s life.

After falling into depression, Agassi struggles on tour and is caught by the Association of Tennis Professionals for his use of crystal meth. After fabricating a story about his drug use, Agassi is given a second chance and makes a tremendous comeback, not only on the court but in his personal life as well. He is finally able to find peace through his wife Steffi Graf, his children, and his foundation school in Nevada, which raises money for underprivileged kids and gives them the education that he was so unjustly robbed of as a youth.

Open appeals to tennis fans and players alike, as Agassi vividly recounts numerous matches and offers up portraits of other star players that he encountered during his long career. Any competitive tennis player will be able to understand the solidarity and loneliness that Agassi depicts on the court, but all readers, tennis buffs or not, will be able to relate to the personal struggles that Agassi faces while trying to establish his identity and purpose in life.

The writing by ghostwriter J. R. Moehringer, is impeccable, and a huge factor in the books success. Every sentence is descriptive, to the point, creative, and often times funny. I often caught myself smiling while reading along because of the truly outstanding craftsmanship of sentences and how the stories are perfectly sewn together.

Tennis fan or not, this book is a must read—a masterpiece even, and I suggest picking it up before the semester gets heavy. Reading Week is much too far away to wait for this one.