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Category: Chicago Review Press
If These Walls Could Talk by Reggie Brooks
“I wouldn’t have been so open if I had written my book five years ago,” says Reggie Brooks, author of the just released If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box (Triumph Books 2021, $17.95). “But Covid showed me how important it is to share. There were many people in my life who helped get me to where I am. I also learned that we’re here to serve others and not just ourselves.”
In many ways his book is a behind the scenes look at the Notre Dame Fighting Irish but for those who groan at the thought of another football book, Brooks wants you to know it’s more than that. He discusses both the highs and lows of his life and career, offering a human look at being a gridiron star as he takes us on his personal journey, often peppering his book with humorous anecdotes. That includes the time he scored a 20-yard touchdown against the University of Michigan in 1993 while unconscious.
“I didn’t even know I was knocked down,” says Brooks about the incident where, after catching a pass, he was able to break through six Wolverine tackles—the last knocking him out—and still managing to make it across the finish line before falling face first in the end zone.
“I didn’t really know about the play until I saw it on Sunday during our film session and team meeting,” he says.
Brooks, a Notre Dame tailback, ended his senior year with 1,372 rushing yards, averaging about 8 yards a carry and scoring 13 touchdowns. He was named an All-American, finished fifth in the voting that year for the Heisman Trophy and was selected in the second round of the 1993 NFL by the Washington Redskins. But after a stellar first year in the league, his career started stalling, in part, he believes by a disagreement he had with the management over the team’s use of his image.
Welcome to the NFL. For Brooks, it seemed that he had upset the wrong people and paid the price for doing so. But he’s self-aware of how he responded. Feeling as if he were drowning he retreated into himself and didn’t avail himself of the help he was offered. Brooks’ experiences in the NFL reinforced his realization of how important Notre Dame had been in his life.
“It allowed me to see more clearly how special my teammates at Notre Dame were and what it meant to be a college football player,” he writes. “It’s the maturity you have to develop and the care for the others—even if you do not consciously think about it.”
He also saw the power of the Notre Dame network and how it opened doors for him when he was struggling—how the kindness of those he knew there helped him find his way.
When I ask what impact he hopes his book will have on readers, Brooks responds that he wants to show how his life and Notre Dame intertwined.
“I also want to get people to realize the value of ‘you’ and what ‘you’ bring to the community,” he says.
His father was his first coach and taught him the importance of treating others well. The emphasis was not on football as a way make a lot of money (though no one is arguing that isn’t nice) but the impact you can have on others.
“I still struggle with fandom,” he says. And we laugh about the old saw about never believing in your own press clippings—in other words not letting the hype change who you are.
“Those who are just starting are as important as the most famous,” he says.
Married to his college sweetheart, Christina Brooks, the couple have five children. Until recently Reggie Brooks worked for Notre Dame as the university’s Director of Student-Athlete Alumni Relations/Engagement and participated in after game shows. Recently he accepted the position of executive director of Holtz’s Heroes Foundation which precipitated a move from South Bend, Indiana to Prairie View, Texas. But that move was in part participated with his wife getting a job in Fort Worth and it was time, he said, to support her as she had always supported his career and many moves.
Still there was a sense of loss about leaving. Brooks had followed his brother Tony, who also played football, to the university after high school, played there throughout college and then returned. He loves the school’s values. When I tell him my brother taught accountancy there for 30 years and never ever was pressured to give a break to an athlete, he laughs, saying “You go to class, you do the work, that’s what makes it Notre Dame.”
He makes sure to complement the university’s accounting program as if wanting to assure me that it’s just as glamorous and important as their fabled football program. It’s just what makes him Reggie Brooks.
What: Reggie Brooks book signing
When: Saturday, October 23 at 12:30pm CT
Where: Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore, 1 Eck Center on the Notre Dame Campus in South Bend, Indiana
TMI: My Life in Scandal by Perez Hilton
The phone call from Perez Hilton came two days earlier than planned.
“He can do it now instead,” his assistant emailed me on Wednesday.
I was totally unprepared. Hilton’s autobiography, “TMI: My Life in Scandal” (Chicago Review Press) — the one we’re supposed to talk about — sat unread on my desk.
Thinking “right now” might mean I had a few minutes to speed read, I reached for it. The phone rang.
“I love your book,” I said, just to start it off. That’s all it took.
“Thank you,” Hilton responded. “I was so afraid that people wouldn’t like it. There’s so much of me in it, I’m one of the most transparent and honest people there are. People like that, and they like nostalgia and that’s me, I’m a dinosaur.”
Jurassic throwbacks seem a little bit overdone. Hilton hit the scene 20 years ago, garnering almost instant attention with his blend of gossipy take on celebrity distilled through his blog, podcasts, personal appearances and general lifestyle. He didn’t just report of celebrities, he hung with them. If he didn’t like them or had a juicy story, he reported it. His blog quickly was dubbed the “most hated blog in the world,” though he garnered millions of followers.
But the more he talks about being a dinosaur, it starts to make sense. He was one of the first bloggers.
“I started in 2004,” he said. “There are 13-year-old kids who don’t know about blogging, they’re doing TikTok. There were names that were big that no one thinks about anymore. You may luck your way into celebrity, but you have to have perseverance to be a success. You have to learn to reinvent yourself. I reinvented by going into podcasts; I have two YouTube channels. I started Instagram way back in 2011 when it first came out. It’s about knowing when the next trend is coming, and I’ve always been good at that. I’ve outlasted a lot of the stars I wrote about.”
But Hilton is still worried. Sure, he’s constantly metamorphosing, but he’s learned some lessons and he wants to share a few with me, starting with how important it is to live below your means.
“I have three children, I have to save for their education, I have to take care of them,” he said. Does he know about that new purse I bought? I wonder, vowing to return it.
He also worries about the Kardashians. I should note that by this point, I realized Hilton doesn’t have a filter, which is one of the many characteristics that make him so delightful.
“People reach a tipping point,” he said, explaining why he’s concerned about these glamorous, fully-endowed women who seem to have the most beautiful jewelry, homes, children, clothes, husbands, ex-husbands and boyfriends and a fascinating jet-set lifestyle.
I know about the jet-setting because last year, when I was on Providenciales, one of the islands in the Turks and Caicos, we’d made reservations to have dinner at the Conch House, a beach joint where fisherman dive for conch right off the shore and the cooks turn the meat info fritters, stew and all sorts of conch delights. But then the restaurant called and canceled our reservations. Why? Well, the Kardashians had just flown in and wanted to eat there, and they didn’t want non-cool people around. Their evening was filmed for their show. I didn’t watch it. We went the following Kardashian-less night.
But Hilton knows about tipping points. He reached his own a while back and it taught him lessons even if the Kardaashians aren’t listening to his advice right now.
“Now I’m the cheapest person I know,” he said.
Born Mario Armando Lavandeira, Jr. and raised in Florida, he graduated from New York University, dabbled in acting and public relations but found career success in his ability to feed our celebrity fascination.
“I’m sharing stories in my new book,” he said, “because I want to make money.”
All the juicy escapades with and about stars that I read when I finally read his book are delightful, but they come at a price.
“I work 17 hours a day,” Hilton said. “I never rest. But that’s part of perseverance. The more you work, the more you notice the patterns and you can see how they’re coming together, and which ones will become trends. That’s how you know what the next thing is going to be.”
For your information
What: Perez Hilton Virtual Event
When: 7 p.m. Nov. 30
Cost: This is a ticketed event, and a purchase is required to attend. Anderson’s offers a variety of ticket options. Every book ticket will include a signed copy of “TMI: My Life in Scandal.”
FYI: To obtain tickets for the Perez Hilton virtual event, visit http://www.andersonsbookshop.com/event/perez-hilton.
CAPSIZED! The Forgotten Story of the SS Eastland Disaster
The SS Eastland was still tied to the pier about to take 2500 passengers and 70 crew members on an excursion across the southern edge of Lake Michigan to Michigan City and the dancing in the ballroom had already begun. It was all part of the fun on that July 24, 1915 when the ship started swaying side to side and dancers slid back and forth along the floor. But the last pitch didn’t stop at 35 degrees as it had earlier and instead, continued on past 40, then 45. The Eastland’s captain shouted for the gangways to be reconnected but it was too late, the boat capsized in the Chicago River, trapping many of its passengers below the deck. Though 15 feet from shore and in 20 feet of water, by the end of the rescue mission 844 bodies were recovered and 70% of those who perished were under 25.
“More people died on the Eastland than did on the Titantic,” says Patricia Sutton, author of CAPSIZED! The Forgotten Story of the SS Eastland Disaster (Chicago Review Press 2018; $17.99). “90% of those who died were women and children while on the Titanic, only 10% of the dead were women and children.”
Sutton, a former Chicago public school teacher, vaguely knew about the sinking of the Eastland but mentioned the disaster to her mentor at a writer’s workshop in Pennsylvania when they were talking about possible topics for a book.
“She said you need to write that and if you don’t, I will,” recalls Sutton, who interviewed relatives of those who were aboard and read news accounts from the time to take readers into the lives of those who survived and those who didn’t. The passengers, mostly first- and second-generation Polish and Czech immigrants were the employees of Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne Works and the excursion was supposed to be a wonderful outing for them. Instead, says Sutton, almost every block in the Hawthorn area lost at least one person; in one block, it was every house.
Written for children ages 10-14, it’s a compelling book for even adults. Because she’s a teacher, Sutton wants Capsized not only to be an educational lesson about the times (women wore long dresses, corsets and laced up boots which made escaping from the water so much more difficult and most people didn’t swim back then) but also to stir critical thinking and questioning.
“Children ask why do we remember the Titanic and not the Eastland,” she says. “So we discuss what the reasons could be—there were famous and wealthy people onboard the Titanic while those on the Eastland were poor working class mothers and children. Also, the Eastland happened when World War I was going on and though we hadn’t entered it yet, everyone’s attention was focused on that. I also tell them that it’s important know about the Eastland and those who were on the ship.”