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Black Shoe Diaries Q&A With Lou Prato, Part Two

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Enjoy part one here.

Yesterday Lou discussed this years Penn State team, NHL, Icers, Michigan State, and Nebraska.  Today he'll cover great Penn State books/authors and also technology in this generation, have kids really stopped reading newspapers?

QBsneak12: You seem to be the most prolific writer of books about Penn State football.  Besides your own, what other books would you recommend to BSD readers?

LP: There are so many good books out there, and some of the best are out of print.

If readers want to know more about the complete history of Penn State football, Ridge Riley's Road to Number One is the definitive book that not only covers the beginning of Penn State football in 1881 - yes, 1881, not 1887 - but also is a succinct overview on the birth of college football and the rules and changes in the game from the mid 1800s to 1975 when Ridge's book was published.  The book was fundamental in the research of my Penn State Football Encyclopedia.  Ridge was a long-time Penn State alumni executive and a really good guy, who, ironically, had a fatal heart attack in Joe Paterno's kitchen a few days after the1975 Sugar Bowl as he was gathering material for the weekly Alumni Football Newsletter he created in 1938.  John Black, who succeeded Ridge in writing the newsletter - and still does - also helped finish Ridge's book.

There are three books that I would recommend for a deeper insight into football in the Paterno years, and all for specific reasons.

For the Glory by Ken Denlinger may be the best book ever written about Penn State football because of its exclusive, candid and incisive behind the scenes look at how the football program really works.  Denlinger, a one-time Daily Collegian and Washington Post reporter, spent five years following the recruitting class of 1992 that would up being the last Penn State team to play as an independent.  Unlike my latest book, Game Changers: The Greatest Plays in Penn State Football History, or the What It Means to Be a Nittany Lion, that I wrote with Scott Brown, Denlinger's book is not one of those gung-ho; publications that fans crave.  Paterno never has given any writer the access he gave Denlinger and Denlinger didn't sugar coat anything.  The warts are there as well as the Kool-Aid but he is fair and honest all the way. 

I should add, here, that Scott Brown's first book about the undefeated 1994 team, Lion Kings: One of the Greatest Offenses in College Football History, which he wrote shortly after graduating from Penn State, is a good companion for Ken's book.  That's because many of the players in Denlinger's book also show up in Scott's since most of that great 1994 team was made up of recruits from the two classes that Ken followed.

Keith Dorney's Black and Honolulu Blue is the most unique of all the PSU football books because Dorney, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and a two-time first team All-American for Paterno's 1977-78 teams, wrote it himself, without the help of a ghost writer.  The book not only covers Dorney's recruiting and playing years with Penn State but also the years he spent with the Detroit Lions, thus, the "Honolulu Blue" in the title.  Because of my Detroit roots, the Detroit Lions are my favorite team after the Steelers.  There is an entertaining and revealing chapter in the book that goes to the heart of the ups and downs of pro football, and involves a snub by a former Penn State kicker.

The Lion in Autumn: A Season with Joe Paterno and Penn State Football by Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Frank Fitzpatrick is an in-depth look at Joe Paterno's legendary career as it draws to a close.  Unlike Denlinger, Fitzpatrick had limited access to the team and Paterno, but his book gives the reader a penetrating view of what it is to be a reporter covering the team in recent years.  The original hardcover version covers a period when Paterno's teams were at their lowest, the 2004 season, which was his fourth losing season in five years.  But, the paperback updates the book to include the turnaround 2005 season when the Lions lost just once and went to the BCS Orange Bowl.

Anyone wanting to know more about paterno must read his own autobiography, Paterno By the Book, and the two autobiographies written by outsiders, No Ordinary Joe by Michael O'Brien and Joe Paterno: Football My Way, by Merv Hyman and Gordon White.  This last one was the forerunner of all the Paterno era books.  It was published in 1971 and written by two reporters who covered the early Paterno teams, Hyman of Sports Illustrated and White of The New York Times.  You will not read a better book about Paterno's coach years with Rip Engle as well as his own early years than this Joe Paterno: Football My Way.

Several other books of various subject matter need to be mentioned briefly: The Hig by Rich O'Donnell, the biography of another legendary Penn State coach and player, Bob Higgins, the patriarch of the Suhey family; The Perfect Season, Mike Missanelli's excellent look back at the 1987 national championship team; Playing for Paterno, describing the lessons Charlie Pittman and his son, Tony, learned while playing on Paterno teams 25 years apart; the great Lenny Moore's autobiography, All Things Being Equal, which focuses on the racial situations he encountered in his era; The Coach From Byzantium, a frank "tell-all"; story of what it's like to be the brother of a legend by the late George Paterno; Miracle in the Making: The Adam Taliaferro Story by Scott Brown and Sam Carchaidi; Jerry Sandusky's autobiography, Touched, written with Kim Richel, who previously had authored, Welcome to the Big Ten; The Nittany Lions, by Ken Rappaport, which I believe is the first book about the history of Penn State football when it came out in 1973; and Frank Bilovsky's 1982 book Lion Country: Inside Penn State Football, which has in depth profiles of eleven Penn State players who have been a major influence on the team's history.

Finally, there are many books that publishers dub "bathroom books"; because of their format and subject matter that enables them to be read in spurts, a chapter or so at a time.  My Game Changers and What It Means books...are perfect examples.  There are too many "bathroom books" out there to name them all.  However, I strongly recommend the latest one just published, They Know Joe, written by Neil Rudel and Corgy Giger, the Penn State football guru's of the Altoona Mirror, and not just because there's a chapter on me.  Rudel and Giger interviewed 39 people who have known Paterno over thet decades and devote a chapter to each one telling their unusual and unique experiences with Paterno.  The forewords are written by President George H. W. Bush and Bobby Bowden, and includes chapters on everyone from Dan Rooney, Lou Holtz and Tom Osborne to Beano Cook, Chris Fowler and Matt Millen.  Even I learned some new things about Joe Paterno.  It is really a fun read.

QBsneak12: This last question relates to the previous one.  It's pretty well known that a lot of younger people following Penn State get their information off the Internet and specialty websites likes ours, as well as newspapers and other printed publications that have websites.  It's clear that the younger generation doesn't read newspapers and books as much as previous generations.  As someone who has already admitted to BSD readers that he doesn't use a Blackberry, iPhone, iPad or other such modern technology, why do you keep writing books and articles for the printed press?

LP: People are still buying books but the book industry is different nowadays.  My books go to a special audience - Penn State fans.  I'm not writing New York Times best sellers.  People don't buy books like mine just for themselves, but also to give as Christmas, birthday or Father's Day presents.  So, as long as there is a market there, I will continue writing.  However, I do think the economy is hurting the sales of books, even fan books like mine.  I signed books outside the stadium at the temple and Illinois game and it was slow.  One of the store officials said business has not been good for any of the books.  I will be signing at the Michigan game, and probably Michigan State because the MSU game will be closer to the Christmas buying period.  But a winning team will help, too.  It always does.

Newspapers and magazines are another matter.  But, again, I write for specialty publications like Blue White illustrated and Fight On State.  It's a well known fact that just about every daily newspaper in the country is losing circulation and they are cutting staff constantly.  That has changed the way football teams are covered by newspapers.  I wonder how many of your readers know that newspapers are now assigning many freelancers to help cover teams that use to be the "beat" of staffers.  This is happening at small newspapers as well as large ones.  A couple of years ago, Mark Viera was one of The Daily Collegian football writers.  Now, he is covering college and pro football for The New York Times - as a free lancer.

Newspapers seem to be a dying business, but who knows.  The experts were saying the same thing about magazines years ago but many magazines are thriving, at least what passes for thriving in this economy.  There are more specialty magazines today than ever before but the mass circulation magazines are having problems or going out of business.  Sports Illustrated and Sporting News have changed their format to keep up and ESPN The Magazine has only been around for a few years.  Back when I started freelance writing, some of the biggest outlets for guys like me were monthly specialty magazines like Sport, which was as important to sports readers in the late 1940s to 1970s, as SI was in the last several decades.  True was another.  Saturday Evening Post and Colliers were weekly mass circulation general news magazines that had great sports stories written by freelancers.  All are gone now.

What's most important to remember is reading isn't dying.  People are simply reading off computer screens from desktops and laptops to Blackberrys and Kindles, etc.  Some of the best known sportswriters are now writing more for the Internet than for the print press.  Those same writers and others from print and the Internet sites are often showing up in videos posted on various websites, too.  That takes me back to my former career in broadcast news and now it has all melded together.  I have print in my veins but nowadays one needs to have those invisible electronic signals that give us the Internet in their blood too.  Who knows what is in the future, but keep in mind that writing and reading has been with us sine the cavemen.

Wow.  Thanks again to Lou Prato.  An awesome Q&A sessions these past two days.  It's always nice to get an opinion on the state of the team, especially from someone who has such great knowledge of the history of the program.

Till next time...