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Book review: 'His Ownself: A Semi-Memoir', by Dan Jenkins

Posted by: Pat Sullivan

Monday, June 9, 2014 at 5:02 PM

Here's the good news: "His Ownself: A Semi-Memoir" by sportswriter and novelist Dan Jenkins isn't all about golf. And here's good news 2.0: there is no bad  news in this autobiography. It's as word perfect as it gets, and I don't mean spell check.

Some of the details are astounding, starting with Chapter 1, which is about the "fine art" of hanging out in "convivial'' bars, including Club XIX at the Pebble Beach Lodge. Jenkins writes: "It was from the same stool at the end of the bar in Club XIX that I covered four U.S. Opens, a PGA Championship and twelve Crosby tournaments."

He's being facetious, of course. That's where he spent the evenings, after the writing deadlines. No writer could cover sports for 65 years (Fort Worth Press, Dallas Times Herald, Sports Illustrated, Playboy, Golf Digest), write 11 novels and nine non-  fiction books while sloshed. His secret is in the sipping.

Jump to Chapter 2 for this astounding first sentence: "One of the best things that ever  happened to me was coming from a broken   home." He goes on to detail how he was  raised by his paternal grandmother and grandfather after his mother and father divorced  while he was still a pre-schooler.

"What is it with this mandatory law about grandmothers? They have to have names like Me-Me or Me-Maw or Mam-Maw. Mine was Mimmie," he writes.
Such throwaway lines produce chuckles and are sprinkled liberally throughout "His  Ownself," a trademark Jenkins writing style.

Astoundingly also is that Jenkins offers his favorite authors, favorite old-time radio  shows, and behind-the-scenes stories about the selling of his books and the Hollywood  nuttiness around his three books made into movies, "Semi-Tough," "Dead Solid  Perfect" and "Baja Oklahoma.''

One more "astoundingly'' and then I'll wrap it up – three tips on writing that he cherishes. (From Dorothy Parker): "Wit has truth in it. Jokes are simply calisthenics with words.''  (Elmore Leonard): "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.'' (Freddy Finklehoffe, on fiction-writing): "Get 'em up a tree. Throw rocks at 'em. Get 'em down again.''

Hooked On Golf readers and listeners can rest assured that "His Ownself's" 266 pages also are crammed with plenty of golf anecdotes, including Jenkins' own exploits on the  team at Texas Christian University; his relationship with and affection for Ben Hogan;  his love of college football; life as a writer in Dallas (with legendary sports editor  Blackie Sherrod), New York and Europe; his contempt for political correctness; the six presidents he has met – four before they became presidents.

Eight pages of photographs include one with his daughter Sally, the  Washington Post writer and book author with a San Francisco past – she held early- career   positions at both the Chronicle and the then-Examiner after graduation from Stanford. And – full disclosure – I'm proud she is my friend.

I read portions of this book on an Amtrak bus going, oh, 70-75 mph, in the fast lane on the 101 from San Jose to San Luis Obispo. My notes say: ". . . pages turn ownselves as miles fly by outside."

Golf and sports fans will find this a perfect book for travel days, Father's Day gifting and  for life-long learning days. If you want a cry read something else; if you want to learn – and laugh with Dan Jenkins -- read "His Ownself."


Pat Sullivan is a former San Francisco Chronicle golfwriter. His 2014 mini-book, "Pismo Beach: Hollywood Punchline," is available in a Kindle edition.  

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