BookBin2013: Sum It Up: A Thousand and Ninety-Eight Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective


What more could I possibly write about Tennessee Lady Vols Coach Pat Summitt? I first blogged about her right after she announced her diagnosis of early dementia, Alzheimer’s type. This heartbreaking news inspired me to revisit Summitt’s book Raise the Roof, all about her team’s 39-0 championship season in 1997-98. I enjoyed re-reading this book so much that I sought out and read her book Reach for the Summit, which I described as “equal parts business-minded motivational pep talkery, behind-the-scenes glimpses of Summitt’s coaching style, the extensive work and research that goes into each Lady Vol basketball season, and autobiographical side trips along the way.”

I must admit that I kind of assumed that Reach for the Summit would be the closest we would ever see from Coach Summitt to an autobiography. She’s always struck me as the type of person who has many more important things to do than consider the details of all she has already done. Then, just as she always does, she surprised us all with this memoir, Sum It Up: A Thousand and Ninety-Eight Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective. Teaming up once more with Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins, with whom Summitt wrote her previous two books, to pen this memoir.

Summitt’s logic for doing this? Because who would expect an Alzheimer’s patient to write a memoir?

You have to admit, she’s got us on that one. I also think it was Summitt’s way of making certain that all the women for whom she served as coach, mentor, mother, friend, commandant, and confidant knew what her thoughts were toward the game and the players she’s loved so much…before the memories were no longer there to share. She is pragmatic throughout, admitting errors in judgment; refusing to sling, stab, or vilify anyone who might not have shown her the same kindness; even confessing the areas of her memory that have already begun to dim and slip into the ether.

Interspersed throughout are conversation snippets from players, friends, family, other coaches, and her son, all helping to strengthen the sum of Summitt’s story and taking the opportunity to speak their own truths about her. Also, each chapter begins with snippets from various interviews that Jenkins must have conducted with Summitt in preparation for this book. Jenkins and Summitt have been friends for many years, so these inclusions show a contemplative poignancy from Summitt that I suspect was more forthcoming because she was speaking with someone she trusts.

It’s not really a secret that I’m a huge Summitt fan. Therefore, I cannot be objective about this book. I pre-ordered it the moment I learned Summitt was writing it. I started reading it the night it arrived. It’s already on my shelf of autobiographies and biographies. It’s not going anywhere. Again, I point out that I am not a sports fan. Yet I still cling to my admiration for Coach Summitt. For as non-objective as I admittedly am, I say to you that I think this book was worth every penny paid and every word read.

Final Verdict: I think I just answered that. One more thing, though: If you are so inclined, please consider making a donation to the Pat Summitt Foundation. We need more research. We need more hope that one day, someone will figure out how to halt this horrible disease. Too many good people have been taken by it. It needs to end.