Cover Image: There's Always This Year

There's Always This Year

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Hanif has done it again. There's Always This Year is split into 4 quarters, just like a basketball game. It is a book about basketball, Ohio, and Lebron James. Don't worry if you don't have an interest in any of those things, it's also a book about himself. Hanif Abdurraqib has a way of making his interests your own and it gets me every time.

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I love how this book begins; immediately primed to feel like I’m in a huddle and Hanif is giving me the game plan. Listen, I could be here for this book for basketball reasons alone. But, the truth is that man can think and write like no other and I can honestly say that I’m here for anything Hanif has to share.
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Initially, I had the feeling that this book was some sort of allegory to how we learn to play the game given our faults and shortcomings. (Re: the courts of life are uneven, our drives and desires sometimes misguided, etc.) But it turned into this beautifully reflective story about Ohio, about racial inequality, about outrage, about hope. All through the lens of Hanif’s personal life.

Sure, there’s mention of The Fab Five, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James. But the real MVP in the end is the stunning command of language. Also, you won’t be disappointed in his vast knowledge of music. Definite recommendation.

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A truly original, beautiful, and poignant sports book. A fascinating blend of creative writing and poetry, this is a book grounded in basketball. This is also a book that ultimately is not about basketball, instead looking at the people and places that make us—joys and pains, misses and baskets, role models and fallen heroes—through an intimate look into the Cleveland neighborhoods Abdurraqib (and LeBron James) grew up in.

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I want to start this all by saying I think that Hanif Abdurraqib is one of the greatest writers of our time.

The thing about Abdurraqib’s writing is that, sure, you can pull a few lines here and there to quote and they’ll be rich, but you really have to sit in for the full story he’s telling. He is a weaver of words and the tapestry he creates is immaculate every single time.

There are so many things Aburraqib does well & that I love happening in this book. He talks about the Black culture he loves while critiquing the American society it’s birthed from. Also, he knows who his audience is, writes for them and doesn’t gaf about who else might be reading his words. This book is very clearly for lovers of basketball (both the game and the culture), Ohio, and Lebron James, topics I have very little connection to, but Hanif is dropping so many gems there’s no way I could put the book down. He’s just saying too many important things.

I think what draws me back to Hanif’s writing again and again though is not just the keen points about American society and popular culture, but it’s the self reflection. In telling so much about himself, he is revealing thoughts and feelings I’ve had about myself and situations I’ve been in— even though they’re so different than his own. That is so incredibly powerful to me.

There’s Always This Year releases on Mar. 26th and I hope y’all read it

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I’ve adored Abdurraqib’s writing for a while, and as a newfound sports fan, this book came at the perfect time.

The way the author is able to tie his personal experiences of both growth and loss into the things he loves, whether it’s music or basketball, makes his format of memoir even more compelling. There’s Always This Year is surely Abdurraqib’s most personal book yet, chronicling his complicated relationship with where he’s from while also observing the way a city shapes someone through the lens of Lebron James.

Abdurraqib’s poetic, often stream-of-consciousness writing style demands that the reader put trust in him as he guides them on an emotional journey. It’s easy to hang on his every line and every transitional moment, just as if you’re transfixed to a high-energy basketball game. The structure of the book, counting down quarters, minutes, and seconds, ultimately shows the impact of time on not just a game but on those who enter and exit the arena doors in their communities.

Alongside gaining a wealth of basketball knowledge from one of the most honest and charismatic writers in the game, the experiences described in the book have only made me look further into what exactly makes my own city so endearing, besides just being the backdrop of my entire life.

Thanks Random House and Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review :)

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This review was published in the Saturday/Sunday, January 27-28 edition of the Charleston (WV) Gazette Mail.

Basketball and the realities of life in the city - first as an economically disadvantaged black youth, then as a man - combine to paint vivid pictures in this wonderful book by Hanif Abdurraqib, author of the National Book Award finalist “A Little Devil in America.”

The author grew up in Columbus, Ohio, during the same period LeBron James was playing high school ball just up the road in Akron, then, later, during his two periods with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Abdurraqib and his friends went to see him play many times, so LeBron’s career is a theme throughout, especially the idea that when LeBron returned to Cleveland with the idea of winning a championship for the city (which, of course, he did) he brought the entire city together. The author cited a Nike commercial that brought him, exiled to Connecticut at the time, to tears.

He also highlights many excellent high school players in his own home city, a fact he loves “for how it opens the gates to dreaming and offers an everywhere.” And very few of them are LeBrons; most of them don’t make the NBA, but “of all the reasons I love the hood, the greatest reason is for how we honor our homecomings,” no matter whether it’s someone coming home from college or prison.

Abdurraqib lauds the pickup games to be found in any city, and decries the time when Columbus took its rims down during the COVID-19 pandemic. He recalls “…my pal who used to pull a heavy gold cross from his neck and pay the block kids some coin to hold on to it tight while he lit up the east side courts now wears a robe with a gold cross…my pal tells me there is no real difference between resurrection and revival ‘cept that the latter can sometime require a human intervention.”

He defines sports trash talk, on any level, as a kind of love, writing, “you are worthy of the time it takes to dismantle you.”

Pickup games are but one important rite of passage in the city. There are also sections on the importance of black men’s hair (and the decision to go bald) and cars (and their sound systems.)

It comes as no surprise that Abdurraqib is a poet, because the language here is magical, lyrical and has a rhythm - much like the back and forth sway of teams going up and down the court, taking their turns with the ball, singing the songs of young black men.

He recalls the first time he was in jail, when his first cellmate, years older than him, told him, “‘Don’t worry, man, whatever they do to you, they gonna do to all of us.’ At first I thought what he was saying was ‘We all got your back,’ but the more I thought about it, I think he was actually saying, ‘No one in here suffers alone,’ which is close to the same thing but also decidedly not.” And throughout, this is what Abdurraqib seems to be saying about the city. No one suffers alone.

During that first jail stay, he had nothing other than a spare pair of socks that a friendly guard gave him, and he guarded them with all he had…and at night pretended that rolled up pair was a basketball.

The year LeBron returned to Cleveland was also the year of the murder of Tamir Rice. The author notes that the police officers seemed unafraid and that “a city is a container for heartbreak,” stating “my heart, and perhaps yours, hums at the frequency of a low and ever-present breaking.”

However, Abdurraquib tried living away from Columbus and was constantly dissatisfied, and always looking for reasons to go home. The city was him and he was his city, “and there were no games like those games. To be an audience to that impossible miracle. This many good players in a radius of a mile or less.” Home.

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In his most personal book yet, Hanif invites us into his neighborhood where basketball is a through line for reflections on community, systems of oppression, growing up, and what it means to really be from a city. His lyrical writing is once again a beautiful feature of the narrative, and I learned a lot about my city. As I do with all of his books, I find myself putting the book down to look up clips, songs, maps, and photos he references with the ease of a cultural polyglot. This book is immersive and revealing.

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One of my favorite qualities about Hanif’s writing is his ability to draw the extraordinary out of the ordinary and often times overlooked. His writing is this invitation where he says, beloved, let me pull back the curtain and show you all the beauty and life that lies here.

Like the nobility of the dude who shows up to the park with bald, worn out basketball.

Or the way the hood honors homecomings; people pouring out to praise your return simply because it is a return.

Yes this is a book for people who love basketball, but it’s also a book for people who love people and the places that make them; people who admire the richness of the human, and more specifically black, experience—particularly when marginalization has sought to strip it of value.

Thanks to Penguin Randomhouse and NetGalley for the ARC. Excited to buy a copy for everyone in my life.

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There's Always This Year: On Basketball and Ascension by Hanif Abdurraqib is a memoir that intertwines moments in the author's life with references to basketball games and those who play it.

Spoilers, maybe. If you stop here, however, please read a Hanif Abdurraqib book. I'm begging.

Thanks.

Hanif Abdurraqib is one of my favorite writers and this book will undoubtedly be in my top books of the year (don't care if it's only January, I'm calling it now). His books have the great capacity to evoke feeling, and to me, this is something that not every writer is successful in acheiving with such complexity. When my chest physically hurts, that's when I know the writer has done their job. This book does that job. I felt that ache reading There's Always This Year. It may be the poetic writing and how beautifully the sentences flow, but it's in the way he describes love in darkness that shines the brightest - love for his city, community, and the people around him.

The writing is deft. Some of the basketball or sports references made transitioned into stories about his life and it wasn't noticable for me until I was deep in that new section and making connections between the two subjects he was writing about.

The book is formatted to reflect a basketball game, with four quarters with poetic interludes between each quarter. Each quarter is slowly winding its way to zero. To me, this highlights another theme in the book - death. Everything becomes so much more poignant as you realize that like in life and the game, time's running out.

But, I felt like this book was about love first and foremost and I loved this book.

Thank you to @randomhouse and @netgalley for the advanced copy. Could not be more greatful. I will be picking up a copy when this comes out in March to add to my physical collection.

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SIX STARS. and to think I thought the reviews were lying. I heard, and read, “I don’t care about basketball but I loved this!” so much, and I was skeptical. I knew I would like this because it’s Hanif, but I thought I’d have to force interest a little bit – push through a layer of basketball-jargon I didn’t care about to get to the meat of it. I was so wrong, and I’m so happy. This book is completely and entirely deserving of its overwhelming early praise, the vast-majority five star reviews, and the raving from friends. I am *not* the target audience for a book about 90s/00s basketball in Columbus, Ohio, but I am still saying with my whole chest that this is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

This book is divided into five sections: a pregame and four quarters. Each quarter starts with the clock at 12:00, and slowly counts its way down to the buzzer. By 11:30, you know what Hanif is talking about. By 10:00, you know what Hanif is really talking about. And by 2:00, you get what he was really, really talking about all along. And then by 0:00, you finally get it. Anyone who’s read Hanif knows what I’m talking about. Hanif writes in layers so closely, poetically, precisely intertwined that it looks like a single image until he starts slowly peeling them away, revealing metaphor after connection after insight. Which is why, for example, in the third quarter, Hanif speaks about Lebron leaving the Cavs for the Heat in 2010, while also talking about heartbreak, longing, begging, and desperation, and all the different ways these feelings have manifested in Hanif’s own life, in his friends’ lives, in his city, in great music.

Out of the three books of his I’ve read, this was easily my favourite, and that’s saying lots because I loved the other two. But out of them all, this is the most autobiographical. Through the book, you watch Hanif grow up from a boy at his kitchen table, staring at the beads of sweat on his dad’s bald head, to a high schooler chasing Kenny Gregory’s car down the street with his friends, to a young adult incarcerated watching the Cavs on the prison TV, to a grown man homesick, watching Lebron’s return to Cleveland from a city he doesn’t want to be in, crying because he wants to be home.

I could not speak more highly of this book. No one writes like Hanif.

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this recent release from essayist and poet, hanif abdurraqib, begs the question, "how well do we know the game?" as There's Always This Year delivers four quarters of inquiry. this text uses the structure of a 4 quarter contest to maneuver between prose and poetry. the work is a compelling example of creative writing where abdurraqib's form is an adaptive storytelling decision alongside a familiar athletic conceit.

reading the first half of this book was lovely. i enjoyed each story and recollection of Ohio history. the tales of aviators and local, hometown basketball phenoms were compelling and complimented abdurraqib's compelling reflection on childhood, adolescence, and the consequences of ascension. after the third quarter, i am yearning for a triumphant ending (as many are in print and in life). yet, the fourth quarter stings. i am reminded of death (meaning murder), the return of a King, and the role of fascism in constructing the terms of order. after three quarters of compelling storytelling, the fourth slows. we, a captivated audience, are left to contend with how we expected a story, beginning as this one does (with an explanation of the violent stipulations of the game), to end.

fans of hanif abdurraqib (and midwestern Black history) will enjoy the creative choices made concerning form that assist in the work feeling like a lesson in intimate craftsmanship and attention to Black geographies.

long-form review of this title will be coming in print and online.

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I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I was sent a link to review this book right before Christmas, and its pub date is my birthday. And what an amazing gift this is.

I don't know why Abdurraqib's work resonates so strongly with me. I know I'm definitely not the target audience. And yet. We are both from similar neighborhoods in Ohio, but that's it. We differ racially, in the religion we were raised in, and came up 8 years apart. But somehow the touchstones he writes on and around strike something achingly familiar. Those neighborhoods were enough to give us a similar appreciation for music and basketball at least, which made this book particularly accessible.

I laughed and cried and raged. It was even better than I have come to expect. A lot of this feels Dyson-influenced, but it is still fresh. Not one word about Bill and OJ, but that can be forgiven since Cincinnati doesn't feature much in this story anywhere.

Go put it on hold or order it and then clear a couple days at the end of March. You won't regret it.

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This was my first experience reading Hanif Abdurraqib, but it won't be my last. There's Always This year is a poetic, emotional study of a golden era of basketball, but of course, it's about so much more. I'm really looking forward to reading his previous title, They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us.

Thank you so much to the publisher and to NetGalley for the chance to read this ARC!

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I've been a fan of Hanif Abdurraqib's since I read They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us in 2018, and I've been looking forward to this book since he started giving sneak peeks on Instagram stories a couple of years ago. I was especially looking forward to this one because it felt somehow like the book he was "meant" to write (basketball, sadness, a sense of place). Fans of his other nonfiction will note the shift in form here, a departure from standalone essays: this book feels more like a circular labyrinth, always weaving back in on itself. The prose is beautifully poetic, always tethering and grounding itself at the right times to allow a sense of floating at others. I felt it was much more about Columbus (and Cleveland) than it was about basketball, but one doesn't need to be from or even familiar with Ohio to appreciate the way Abdurraqib writes about his city. My favourite parts were the "Odes to Legendary Ohio Aviators", and I really loved the introduction as well. Another stunner for Abdurraqib.

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More thorough review to come. For now I want to say that Hanif has made poetry out of basketball and the culture surrounding it. Given that I don't care too much about the sport, I am shocked by how grateful I am for this. I spent 2011-2016 in Ohio, and I see so much of Columbus and the people I love there reflected in this book.

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Good night I don't even understand basketball but this book wrapped me up in a hug and took me to grief, hope, reality, and dreaming. I have no idea how he created Cleveland as a living, breathing being that I got to know through his memories. Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for an early read in exchange for an honest review.

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I absolutely loved Hanif Abdurraqib’s new book “There’s Always This Year: On Basketball and Ascension.” It was a clear five-star read for me. This book does not require you to have any basketball knowledge to enjoy it; however, a working knowledge of LeBron James’s career and his relationship with Cleveland certainly enhances the experience. I found myself nodding my head when reading many of the passages. Abdurraqib is so wise, clever, and insightful in his writing.

The author and LeBron James have the shared experience of leaving their respective Ohio neighborhoods and experiencing success (James with basketball, Abdurraqib with writing) in places that were far from the places where they were raised. Abdurraqib does not pull any punches in his descriptions of experiencing poverty, unstable housing, and life behind bars. Abdurraqib uses a high-level description of James’s career (Cleveland to Miami to Cleveland) to drive home the feelings of success and “belonging” to a city. The author includes several mini vignettes of other Ohio natives who experienced remarkable success in other disciplines besides basketball and writing.

He also uses the juxtaposition of LeBron’s success with other local high school basketball players who did not make it out of their neighborhoods for one reason or another to highlight the importance of mentorship and the intangibles for someone to really “make it.” These passages were the most impactful for me.

To me, this book is about success, belonging and how it feels to be judged by outsiders. It is also about what it is like to leave a place: how you are perceived by the people you grew up beside; how you perceive the people that stayed in that place once you’ve left; and what it’s like to leave the places you grew up in because of success. He really nails the feeling that people get when someone “makes it” who is from where you are from, particularly in sports: this feeling of pride but also this expectation of unadulterated loyalty.

There are so many sentences and passages I have highlighted, and I know that this is a book that I will absolutely purchase in hardcover.

Many thanks to Net Galley for the eARC of this book that will be released on March 26, 2024.

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the best book sort of about basketball since jim carroll [ok, maybe that's not true, i don't read that many books about basketball (although when i do they all seem the be written by poets - paul beaty too)]. but the point is it's about so much more than basketball, or even the meaning of the game - or a team, or a championship - to a community and life. it is about that community and that life, about music and cars and hair and homelessness and gentrification and the american carceral system. about longing and loss and hope and what it is to love a place.

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I appreciated Hanif Abdurraqib sharing their story with the reader, it was a interesting read and worked with what I was hoping for. It was a unique concept in a sports book and I enjoyed what I read.

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Hanif Abdurraqib has to be one of the most talented writers in recent memory. A memoir that reads like poetry, pages and sentences where you are not sure how the story is going to link, where his next thought will take you.
While on the outside, this book is about how basketball changed his perspective on life, it's about how basketball can change the complete direction of where your life may turn.

Yes, it's about Lebron, but it's about so much more. It's about feeling connected to the universe, to find a passion where he feels included. It's about his family, feeling optimistic about life.

Can't wait to see what other thought of consciousness Hanif thinks up next.

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