If you haven't yet experienced the new wave of Roller Derby sweeping the nation at the moment, you are missing out on an absolutely mind-blowing experience. Girls of all shapes and sizes regularly send each other flying into padded railings in the name of good fun and great entertainment. Total disclosure: this bookseller is one of those hopeful young faces, trying her darndest to acquire some skills so that one day she too might compete in this exhilarating sport. And believe me, it is a sport. With less padding than football players, and nothing to hurl at opponents except your body, the hits are hard and the bruises numerous. But there's a kind of thrill that comes with getting your ribs smashed into a rail or leaving a trail of sweat down the bank of a smooth track.
As such, it is no surprise that writers, both fiction and non-fiction have taken this DIY, female-driven sport to the written page. Derby has always hovered around the periphery of the publishing industry (just run a search for roller derby on amazon books and you'll get pages of tell-all memoirs and who's who in derby books), but recently three books have hit the shelves that truly capture the camaraderie of this third, or is it fourth, wave of roller derby.
First is the book that sparked the movie: us being Angelenos, we do love our Hollywood representations. Shauna Cross, a.k.a. Maggie Mayhem of the LA Derby Dolls, wrote a book called Derby Girl back in 2007. Cut to 2009 when Drew Barrymore uses Derby Girl as her directorial debut called Whip It! If you haven't seen the movie, go do yourself a favor and rent it; it's a great film with a lot of heart and some good derby action. But this is a book blog and as such I will say that I absolutely loved the book. I could not put it down. The book, like the movie, just made me yearn to be a kid now, just so I could have something like derby to help me get through the horrors of adolescence. Bliss' story is one any of us can relate to. She's an outcast in a small town, her best friend is the only thing that keeps her sane, and then she stumbles on to this thing that totally transforms her life. This is my recommendation for any teenage girl, and for the older ones who remember what it's like.
Going in Circles, by Pamela Ribon, is the adult-centered version of Whip It! While going through a divorce, the main character, Charlotte Goodman, finds the healing power of some good bruises. The behind the scenes of derby fully flesh out in this novel, which delves into the exhaustion and the bruising and the broken bones that are just part of the experience. Also, what I loved about Going in Circles, is that it sifts through the psyche of a derby girl...as any derby girl knows, the number one question is why would you do this? But with a grace and poise, Ribon doesn't force the issue, instead exploring the factors that drive these women and the healing power of this sport. And really, does anyone ever ask football players why they play football? It's fun!
The third book in the great modern derby trilogy is my favorite. In fact, this bookseller stayed up way too late last night devouring the book that just hit our store yesterday. Full disclosure, one of my teachers, the amazing Axles of Evil, is one of the co-authors. But that's not why I love it. Down and Derby: The Insiders Guide to Roller Derby by Alex "Axles of Evil" Cohen and Jennifer "Kasey Bomber" Barbee is the bible for anyone interested in the history of derby, the roots of modern derby, the rules of derby, the unofficial rules of derby, and anything else derby you could possibly want to know. If reading Whip It! and Going in Circles convinces you that maybe this is a route your life should take, then Down and Derby provides all the information you could possibly need to be an expert on what this full-contact sport is all about.
And the thing I love most, it reads like a thriller. I found myself on the edge of my seat hoping that the TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls could help out the North Carolina burgeoning derby league. Just to give it away, they do. It also reads like a girl power how to guide. What happens when this group of (mostly) women bond together to help get modern derby on its feet is a testament to what a group of dedicated ladies can accomplish together. The love that the authors bring through their writing is palpable and infects the reader with the same enthusiasm for this sport that is usually reserved for a particularly close jam (read the book to figure out what the hell I'm talking about).
Between interviews with the founders of modern derby and a history of the sport that dates all the way back to the late 19th Century (who knew?), Down and Derby is the quintessential reader for any derby girl, wannabe derby girl or fan of watching tattooed ladies with witty names ram into each other at very high speeds while wearing skirts and fishnets.
Really, what more could you want from a trilogy....laughs, tears, drinks, and some broken bones.