I’m don’t particularly like fiction novels. I’m not a fan of John Grisham. And I’m not particularly fond of football.
But I do like books about travel, and John Grisham’s Playing for Pizza is like a love letter to Italy. It’s a departure for Grisham in that it’s not about an attorney or the legal profession, but when you’re a best selling author with a huge following, you’re granted a lark.
Playing for Pizza tells the story of Rick Dockery, a third-string NFL quarterback who fails spectacularly as the book opens. With few options but little interest in getting out of football, he pursues a job as lead quarterback with the Parma Panthers in the Italian Football League. A 28-year-old native of Iowa, Dockery is hardly someone who would be called worldly. Before arriving there, he doesn’t even know where Parma is, he doesn’t speak Italian and he’s more familiar with cheeseburgers than the cheese for which Parma is world-famous.
But Dockery warms up to Parma and his Panther teammates as the book—and football games—unfold. The plot is unsurprising but compelling. The characters are many, and the experienced author fleshes them out with vigor and imagination. Of course, the football players are brutes and the women are beautiful, but what would you expect in this genre? I was a little astounded by how some characters are introduced and then summarily dismissed (get that? a legal reference) but this habit did not distract from my enjoyment. The villain, however, is a journalist and as a former journalist, I was less pleased with that plot point.
Grisham’s game descriptions read like the sports pages (which is fine for people who read game recaps in sports pages), but where he really shines are his descriptions of Parma’s food scene, Italian opera and Old World architecture. Now I want to visit Parma, too! Here’s a sample:
“This is my favorite,” Carlo began in English, then switched to a friendlier tongue. “It’s a stuffed pasta roll,” Sam was saying as they gawked at the delicacy before them. “It is stuffed with veal, pork, chicken livers, sausage, ricotta cheese, and spinach, and layered with fresh pasta.”
That was just the first course! After the appetizer! You simply cannot come away from this book without craving a glass of wine, an antipasti plate and a plate of pasta, and since I read this book while on a diet, food porn has fewer calories, so I was OK with it.
I read Playing for Pizza because it was suggested by my uncle for our family book club via Zoom. The point of any book club is to be introduced to books you might not ordinarily read, and my uncle’s choice certainly drove me down an unconventional path. His enthusiasm for Playing for Pizza was contagious, and our book discussion was lively (especially when we debated the merits—of lack thereof—of visiting Venice). This book would be a great diversion for fans of Grisham, football or Italy, and I can imagine binge-reading it on the beach to great delight. Prego! (That’s Italian for “you’re welcome.”)