Culture Corner: Book Review
"Coaching Ira" by Adam D. Shandler
Compiled by Audrey Shore
In all honesty, one of my chief delights as a writer has been tearing apart the less-than-impressive work of other authors. One of my first writing assignments for New Voices Magazine was a book review and I loved sinking my teeth into the book, only to sink my teeth into the author a few days later. This blood thirst was all but wasted as of late, as I read Adam D. Shandler’s "Coaching Ira" and must admit the truth to you:
I really, really liked it!
"Coaching Ira" tells the admittedly cliche story of a grown-up revisiting his youth. Ira Korbman, decades past high school, is conned into coaching a USY basketball team. You know the set up: the coach that had missed the championship free throws years before, the underdog team of relative weirdos, the side-story about love off the court. It would make sense for this formula to fizzle, but somehow Shandler makes it work! Even the ending is not the sticky-sweet warm-and-fuzzy one you’d expect. Shandler’s characters will remind you of high school because you were Shandler’s characters, with very real needs that sometimes are hard to discover, presented vis-a-vis "coming of age" scenarios that are not the stuff of ABC After School Specials. The interesting conceit for this, however, lies in Ira’s internal monologue and his battle to be who he is, and who he was, simultaneously.
My final verdict is this: "Coaching Ira" is a sweet book. In between reading for my six academic classes, I was very happy to be able to giggle and reminisce with Ira and the New Jersey kids.
If you surf over to www.adamdshandler.com you’ll be treated to a full array of "About The Author" biographical material, as well as great short stories and tons of fun tidbits for the basketball lover within. To reduce the redundant quality of my suggesting to visit his website and actually interviewing him, I asked a few questions that were slightly out-of-the-ordinary, targeted towards college students, and that also reflect my passion for writing.
So why did you become a writer?
Shandler: I've always written, ever since elementary school, but up until last year I didn't think I could afford to take time off from my "real" job to fully devote myself to a full-length work of fiction. In the sixth grade I wrote these little plays, and my teacher, Mrs. Walsh, let [me and my fellow classmates] act them out. It was quite a thrill for a 12-year-old boy to see his characters come to life. At the end of that school year, Mrs. Walsh wrote in my yearbook, "Writing, writing, writing. That's the way to be successful." I think about that line every day and it ultimately led to me taking time off from work for a year to write "Coaching Ira".
Is that why you love writing? Because of the positive reinforcement you received, even at an early age?
Shandler: Storytelling, even when just printed on paper, is a form of performance. Whether it's fiction or non-fiction, the story is meant to incite a response, much like a movie, play or song. That response can be emotional or motivational, and I like being able to connect with people on that level. I can't act or sing, so I guess this is the way I'll have to express myself on the creative level.
Writing for me is oxygen. Everyone has hobbies they love, but this is more than just model airplanes or sewing for me. There is just an instinctive need to tell stories, to get them all out on paper. I do have other jobs that are more lucrative, but they aren't as fulfilling as giving life to people, places and situations that have been trapped in your head for so long.
What compelled you to write "Coaching Ira"?
Shandler: I loved USY basketball when I was in high school. We had a great cross section of kids on the team -- one guy was our senior class president, another was an all-state saxophonist, another was a great actor -- but we were all the best of friends on the basketball court even though we didn't hang out that much in school. Over time I thought that this would make a great story. It's about a Jewish sports team, sure, and there seems to be a hunger for Jewish sports books, but this is really a story about a bunch of high school kids, with different interests, who learn about themselves and come together to achieve a goal.
Were you active in Jewish life while in college (at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York)?
Shandler: I went to Hillel here and there, but in hindsight, I wish I had been more involved. Since Hofstra was only an hour and a half from my home in Jersey, I would go home for [the high holidays and such.] I was also on the road a lot covering Hofstra sporting events on radio and TV, so I missed a lot of great Hillel events. In college my priorities were a little skewed. I was a workaholic and wanted to party when I had the time, which was rare. Judaism is more a major component of my life now. And as you get older and start to raise a family, it should be. I just got married so I look forward to starting a family that will be active in the Jewish community.
As a man who followed his dream, can you pass along some advice to the over stressed college community of today?
Shandler: Don't worry if you get out of college and take a job that has nothing to do with what you've majored in. I majored in TV Production and haven't set foot in a studio in six years. Your goals and interests will change over time so be willing to explore. And you know yourself best -- your abilities, your limitations -- so do what you want to do while setting realistic goals for yourself.
(Editor’s note: You can purchase your own copy of "Coaching Ira" on-line at http://www.adamdshandler.com/ira.asp.
Do you have a book that made you weepy for your USY glory days? Have you read a book with "Jewish content" that was fabulous? Email me at so we can discuss review / discussion opportunities for KOC!)