Saturday, July 24, 2004

Book #68

To Be the Man, by Ric Flair, with Keith Elliot Greenberg, edited by Mark Madden.
2004:  WWE/Pocketbooks.

Begun:  July 23, 2004
Finished:  July 24, 2004

This is The Nature Boy's autobiography.  I'm not as bad as the Filthy Hippy, but I enjoy looks at the world of pro wrestling, especially at the eras that came before Vince McMahon and the the World Wrestling Federation started running the show.

But more than that, these guys have a non-typical job, and I enjoyed hearing what makes a guy who goes out and gets beaten up for a living tick.

As far as pro-wrestling autobiographies go, I rank Flair's right up there with Jerry Lawler's, and just below Mick Foley's.  Foley may not have been the strongest in-ring performer, but he's got the benefit of telling his own story, and lending his own brand of humor to his storytelling.  Plus, as wrestling personalities go, I think Mick is the one I'd jibe with most.

Flair's story begins in Minnesota.  He was a wildman to begin with, and Flair would prove himself to be a wild man in a profession filled with wildmen.

It's a good read, especially in looking at how the old National Wrestling Alliance worked to lord over the wrestling territories, and how Flair, as champion, worked in the capacity as NWA champion for years.

On the whole, I enjoyed the read.  A did note a little sadly that Flair, at times, comes off as a guy who didn't know how to shit or get off the pot.  And I was sorry to hear the couple of times he decided just to snipe at people, usually to even the score.  Shane Douglas gets the best brush off, though.  (I'm very sleepy in writing this, so it probably doesn't make a lot of sense.)

Books 63-67

I've not updated my readlist, like I said I would.  I'm a dirty, dirty liar.   What I've been reading lately:  
Book #63
Summerland by Michael Chabon.  (I enjoyed it, but felt like Chabon was writing down to an audience a little bit, rather than write the story for all ages that he wanted to write.)  

Book #64

Tales to Astonish by Ronin Ro.  (A biography of comics legend Jack Kirby.  Ultimately, I lost a lot of interest, so my thoughts probably aren't worth a lot on this one.  After a point, I ended up only lightly reading this one.  I dunno, my impressions of Kirby have been a little less rebellious and rockstarry than Ronin Ro seems to want to paint the man.  Maybe that's what biography's about, changing impressions.  But this one didn't work well for me.)  

Book #65

Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams.   (Funny.  I wish I could do something that's as broad in scope as the whole Hitchhiker's Guide, and as consistently as funny.)  

Book #66

Inside the Animal Mind by George Page.  (An examination of possible cognitive abilities of the other animals.   I'm still reading this one, and it's interesting.  Page has mentioned a couple of other books that I want to pick up and read, too.  I don't know enough yet on the subject to comment well on what Page has done, but I'd like to learn more.  I'll post more when I've finished this one).  

Book #67

A Death in the Family by James Agee.  (Just started this one, after picking it up at a used book store a while back.  So far, so good.)     

Books 58-62

I haven't been updating regularly.  Forgive me.

Book 62

Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer.

It's a look at Christopher McCandless, who gave up everything he owned to live the vagabond's life, in search of a Great Adventure. McCandless wandered into the Alaskan wilderness, and lost his life. Krakauer talks with those who knew Chris, especially in his last days. Krakauer lets the people of the story tell it as much as they are able. Krakauer has a role in the story, largely to explain his motivations in retracing Chris's journey. It's necessary, and it doesn't glare in its shifting the tone of the narrative. But it does break up the tone of the book, a little. I'm nitpicking, however. I read this in a couple of sittings. Krakauer has a style that lends itself to a quick but extremely engaging read.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

I just about got bludgeoned to death with the number of places and people wanting me to read this one. NPR, the Today Show (which made the book its Book Club selection), plus a couple of people I used to work with really liked this one. It's an interesting novel. Told in the first person by autistic Christopher Boone, it's a recounting of his attempt at detective work, following the death of a neighbor's dog. Christopher, obsessed with order and facts, tells his story in the only way he can.

Everything happens along a linear model. Simply, this happens, and this happens, and then another thing happens. Which is generally poor storytelling, but it's the only way Chris can understand and explain the world. He says himself that he views life along a single line. He can rewind his memory, he says and has a startlingly good memory, but in the course of his investigation, this is the best way for him to tell his story.

The style's interesting. I'll warn that at a couple of points, I put the book down because with Chris narrating, it gets a little monotonous. There were a couple of times I found myself getting thrown out of balance by the lack of passion in the telling of events. It works within the frame of the story, but a couple of times, I had to make myself stop, and go back and re-read something just to make sure I'd picked up on another character's nuance. Chris doesn't pick up on them, so you're often left to fill in the blanks that he didn't get. It's a neat device. I just got irked at having to stop my own freight train for a second.

Book 60

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

A creepy story for kids in the mold of Wizard of Oz and the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. With a nice little bit of Edmund Gorey thrown in for good measure. Coraline's a precocious girl who, in exploring her new flat, finds a secret door which leads to a world that is a twisted mirror image of her own.

The inhabitant(s) of that other world have taken someone very dear to Coraline. This book is her trying to get it back. It's written right around the same level as the Wizard of Oz. So it's for younger readers. But I enjoyed the flow of the book, and found the imagery sufficiently creepy.

Book 59

Savage Season by Joe Lansdale

The first of the Hap Collins and Leonard Pine novels. Very pulpy. Smartass buddies getting into trouble. I like Lansdale. He writes books for guys. Pulpy, like I said. Lots of action, lots of buddy comedy. With an odd bit of East Texas philosophy thrown in for good measure. Dark Tower VI:

Book 58

Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah by Stephen King

A really quick read. One of the interesting points of the book itself was the lack of substantial fore- or afterword. Mr. King likes to talk about what he's done in his books. But I think with this sixth book, he's interested in tightening the screws a bit, and just pushing you down the chute as we move toward the last book in the Dark Tower series, in the fall. In the last book (which we had to wait something like 8 years for), things got a little metaphysical, as Father Callahan recoils in horror to find that his story is told in a book he finds, Stephen King's Salem's Lot.

The sixth book dives deeper into that meta-type story, as King his own self becomes something of a character. I read these parts at first with a skeptical eye, but I liked how things worked out in the end.

Going back briefly to the wait between books. We had to wait seven or eight years between the fourth and fifth books, and then six months or so between the fifth and sixth. And then the last book in the series will appear in September. I appreciate Stephen wanting to finish the story at last, and maybe this is his way of recompense for the long waits up to this point between books. Not complaining, but it's an adjustment from 7 years to 3 months.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Book #57

Dave Eggers
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
2000, 2001: Vintage

Begun: May 27, 2004
Finished:  June 15, 2004

Picked it up at a yard sale a couple of weeks ago. I've heard about it, but never saw it for cheap. Because I'm a cheap so and so.

Pretty funny, so far.

Book #56

The House on Mango Street
Sandra Cisneros
1984: Cisneros...reading the 1991 Vintage edition

Begun: May 26, 2004
Finished: May 27, 2004

Re-reading it. It's extremely lyrical. When I read something like this, I can't help being a little jealous. Cisneros paints pictures with words.
Book #55

State by State, with the State: An Uninformed, Poorly reasearched guide to the United States
by, the cast of The State
1997: Hyperion

Begun: May 21, 2004
Finished: May 27, 2004

This was my bathroom reading.

Remember the State? Had a sketch comedy show on MTV in the mid 90's that kicked all kinds of ass? Had a CBS one-shot near Halloween in 1995?

I got the book a long time ago, but haven't picked it up for a couple of years.

Stuff on all 50 states. Good, short. Excellent for the toilet.

A bit on South Carolina:

For a taste of the Ol' South, try this quaint little bed n' breakfast just off I-95, Exit 17, which offers something truly unique: It's run by a family of ugly little trolls. Never dangerous but perpetually creppy, the trolls cater to your every need. Expect to see Ma Troll standing over you with a steaming plate of delicious biscuits and gray as soon as you open your eyes in the morning. And Junior Troll will be there, thwoel in hand, when you step out of the shower (don't worry, Junior's farsighted). With secret tunnels connecting every room and the trolls' blinding speed, service is yours at a moment's notice from anywhere in this vacation lair. Tourist info, laundry facilities, cable TV, free hard candy--all available. Pa Troll even carries your bags up to your room on his wide, hairy head, whistling away, before scampering under your bed. He's there until you leave, so don't be afraid to have him fetch you a midnight snack! The hospitality is truly southern, except that the staff doesn't talk and they're short mongrel-like creatures called "trolls."

Pets are welcome, but if you love them, we suggest you do not bring them anywhere near the house.

Book #54

The Twilight Zone: the Original Stories
edited by Martin Harry Greenberg, Richard Matheson and Charles G. Waugh.
1985: MJF Books

Started: May 17, 2004
Finished: May 25, 2004

A collection of short stories that inspired Twilight Zone episodes. I was reading this before I went to bed each afternoon.

Lots of Richard Matheson stories. Right around half. Which is cool, I guess, since I like Richard Matheson.

Probably the best (and most recognizable) stories are Ray Bradbury's "I Sing the Body Electric!", and my favorite short story of all time, Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." Also notable are Matheson's "Mute" and the story the became my favorite Twilight Zone episode, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet."
Book #53

David Ferrell
2003: William Morrow

Started: May 17, 2004
Finished: May 21, 2004

Screwball's a funny book. I'll say that first. There were a couple of times I laughed out loud. I enjoyed the book very much in that respect.

Screwball's a baseball book. David Ferrell's a newsman and a sportswriter. He has a lot of respect for the game, and doesn't let its players become one-dimensional, as someone not associated with the game might. I enjoyed the book very much in that respect, with a couple of exceptions.

I'm going to dwell on this. I liked the book. But these parts bugged me, and I'm going to spend an irrational amount of time on them.

The day-to-day goings on of the Boston Red Sox, in the pennant chase, are pretty entertaining. Watching manger Augie Sharkey deal with the many volatile, crazy personalities, and keep them moving forward, especially in the face of all the lunacy going on in the book, is entertaining.

But when big things start happening for the team, stuff that in the baseball world would be huge, huge news, it's just kind of given a three line paragraph, and left at that.

One of the characters, early on, pitches a perfect game. I don't know. The excitement and the rush of the accomplishment didn't seem to translate very well. It's telling was kind of like the reading of a grocery list. Didn't do a lot for me.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Book #52

Robert Cowley, ed.
The What Ifs? of American History: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been
2003: Putnam

Started: May 8, 2004
Finished: May 11, 2004

Read this while going to sleep. Essays, and a bit of speculative fiction, on what would have happened if certain historical figures had made different decision, or what would have happened if some particular event had not transpired.

My favorite bit was a look at what might have happened had communication during the Cuban Missle Crisis broken down, and nuclear war ensued. Essentially, a soviet sub commander fires a nuclear torpedo on his own authority, after a breakdown in communication. Missiles are then fired from Cuba, one of which explodes over Washington. In retaliation, America fires its arsenal at the Soviet Union, turning Russia into a wasteland.

The result is a ruined environment, and America becomes a pariah in the world community.

I also liked Jay Winik's speculation on what might have happened if Andrew Johnson had been assassinated along with President Lincoln, and also what might have transpired if the south had engaged in a full-on guerilla war, as Jefferson Davis wanted, instead of surrendering at Appomatox.

A fun read, and it's got the benefit of some quality minds putting their thoughts to paper for it.
Book #51

Stephen King
Skeleton Crew
1984: Putnam

Started: May 3, 2004
Finished: May 12, 2004

This is what I read on my lunch breaks at work. I picked something I'd already read before, because I'm constantly getting interrupted at work. This way, I won't lose my place.

A collection of short stories. "The Mist" and "The Jaunt" are a couple of my favorites, but I'd forgotten all about "Survivor Type," which is a nice cannibalism tale.

Book #50

Edward Wright
Clea's Moon
2003: Putnam

Started: May 1, 2004
Finished: May 6, 2004

A fun read. An obscure actor's search for redemption. Reminds me a lot of Elmore Leonard, only Clea's Moon isn't necessarily dialog put into prose form.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Book #49

Erik Larson
Devil in the White City
2003: Crown

Started: April 25, 2004

I picked this one up to start tonight. The Evil Hippy lent it to me.
Book #48

Warren Ellis
Come In Alone
2001: AIT/Planet Lar

Begun: April 22, 2004
Finished: April 25, 2004

Picked this one up at a comic show last weekend. It's a collection of 52 essays writer Warren Ellis did for Comic Book Resources over the course of a year.

Smart writing about a genre and medium that doesn't get a lot of respect (nor should it, given the way it's carried itself, especially lately, says Warren).

He recommends a lot of reading, too. Already had to add a couple of his recommendations to the wish list.

My favorite bit was an interview he did with Mark Waid, who throws himself into the superhero stories in a way Warren abhors. It's a good dialog.
Book #47

Pat Fitzhugh
The Bell Witch: the Full Account
2000: the Armand Press

Begun: April 22, 2004
Finished: April 24, 2004

A quick read. A nice overview and analysis of the Bell Witch, which was purported to have haunted the Bell family in Adams, Tennessee, in the early nineteenth century.

I bought it when it was first published, and read bits and pieces. But never read the whole thing.

A lot much of the stuff in the books I'd already read from other sources, though. Very little actual new information or insight. But a nice overview, if you've never read much about it.

William Gay had a piece in Oxford American about the legend, which would be a quicker starter.
Book #46

Alan Taylor
American Colonies
2001: Viking

Started: April 5, 2004

It's good reading, but it's dry. And like I said, my attention span's been suffereing lately. I'm still digging away.

Lots of great stuff in here, though. Never really thought about the sociological and economic structure of the North American colonies under Britain, France and the other European powers.
Book #45

James Thurber
The Thurber Carnival
Originally Collected in 1945, I read the 1999 Perenniel paperback.

Started: April 2, 2004
Finished: April 15, 2004

My attention span's not been really good lately. A short story binge will usually fix that. It didn't, but not for lack of trying.

Thurber's great. Think of an everyman absurdist play. "The Dog That Bit People" is still one of my favorites.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Book #44

Gaston Leroux
Phantom of the Opera

Begun: March 27, 2004

A few weeks ago, on my regular blog, I asked for recommendations on books I could read. You know. Despite the fact I have several dozen books at home I could be reading, none of what I had looked all that interesting.

I got several good suggestions.

Yesterday, I started reading a book Danielle, of Missives Anonymous, suggested: Phantom of the Opera.

I've never seen the stage version. There was a school trip to see the production which I couldn't attend. Other than the parody that the TV Show Alf did of the show, I actually know very little about the story.

I'm just a few pages in. We'll see how it goes.

(Note: It's been a while. I took this book with me to my folks' house a month ago, and left it up in my old room. I'm going next weekend, so I'll pick it up from there....)
Book #43

Clive Barker

Begun: March 12, 2004
Finished:March 29, 2004

Listening to the unabridged book on tape.

Somebody who will remain nameless called this cheating. But you actually pick up more of the book when you listen to an unabridged reading, because you don't have to contend with your eye being lazy and skimming over a word or rushing through particularly wordy passage--something that happens to me sometimes, especially if I'm reading before I go to sleep. But if the words are being read to you, you are forced to listen. So you pick up on little details, sometimes, that might go unnoticed with a reading.

Which is not to say one is better than the other. Only that if you're listening intently, it's not cheating.

As for the book itself, it's going well. Barker's books, those that I've read, tend to juxtapose innocence and absolute good in his heroes with the world of the dark and the horrifically grotesque in his villains. If not for a lot of the really intense imagery in his books, he'd be a pretty good kid's writer. Which is not to discount the couple of kids' books he's written.
Book #42

Ingmar Bergman
The Seventh Seal

Begun: March 23, 2004
Finished: March 23, 2004

I found an old tattered copy of Bergman's screenplay in a used bookstore. I just like comparing the concept with the finished product. So I'll have to watch the movie again at some point. Haven't seen it in four or five years.

I'm impressed with how prose-like the text of the play works out on the page. Very descriptive stage/screen directions. The imagery pops from the page into the mind (and to the screen) amazingly easily.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Book #41

Lowell Reidenbaugh, writer/Joe Hoppel, editor
Cooperstown: Where Legends Live Forever
The Sporting News/Gramercy: 1999

Begun: March 1, 2004
Finished: March 21, 2004

Just a capsule look at the folks in Baseball's Hall of Fame. It was an old Christmas present. I've made it my bathroom reading.
Book #40

David Mamet
On Directing Film
1991: Penguin Books

Begun: March 11, 2004
Finished: March 12, 2004

Mamet's discussion on storytelling and imagemaking, as it pertains to the medium.

Very little cursing.

But that's my only complaint. All in all, one of the more informative reads I've had in a while.
Book #39

Tom Robbins
Villa Incognito

Begun: March 4, 2004
Finished: March 21, 2004

I really didn't like this one. More thoughts later. It's preachy, and it seems to think it's a bit funnier than it actually is. I didn't give up on it. I probably should have.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Book #38

Shaun Assael and Mike Mooneyham
Sex, Lies and Headlocks: the Real Story of Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment
2002: Three Rivers Press (reading the 2004 PB edition)

Begun: February 26, 2004
Finished: February 29, 2004

Pretty nicely done, although it makes me feel dirty for watching pro wrestling at all. But, it's the gypsy nature of the business that drew (and still draws) quite a rough element.

I don't have many complaints, except that in the name of expediency, it glosses over a few things. Japan, which is only mentioned a couple of times, and is made to seem like the land where the freaks go to wrestle.

But on the whole, it's a nicely done look at Vince McMahon and the WWE, and the fights fought by the man and the company, especially over the last 20 years or so.
Book #37

Douglas Adams
Life, the Universe and Everything

Started: February 25, 2004
Finished:March 2, 2004

Very funny. I'd never read it before. Excellent.
Book #36

Douglas Adams
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Started: February 23, 2004
Finished: February 25, 2004

A funny, funny book. Don't know why it took me so long to get around to it after reading the Hitchhiker's Guide a while back The whole conversation with the Ruler of the Universe was comic gold.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Book #35

Stephen Jay Gould
Rock of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life
1999: Ballantine Books

Begun: February 18, 2004
Finished: February 23, 2004

Gould's essay on the religious/scientific conflict, which Gould states is largely conjured and is unneeded.

It's a throwaway comment, and Gould admits that it would be fodder for another essay for another time, but I liked this speculation on the human disposition to establish dichotomy:

Still, I want to raise serious poit about our usual approach to complex problems....Our minds tend to work by dichotomy--that is, by conceptualizing complex issues as "either/or" pairs, dictating a coice of one extrme or the other, with no middle ground (or golden mean) available for any alternative resolution. (I suspect that our apparently unavoidable tendency to dichotomize represents some powerful bagge from an evolutionary past, when lmited consciousness could not transcend "on or off," "yes or no," "fight or flee," "move or rest"--and the neurology of simpler brains became wired in accordance with such exigencies)....."

His basic standpoint is that no viewpoint or line of thinking should be all-encompassing, or actively be designed to disclude another line of thinking, and the frameworks of both scientific rationale and religious spirituality are both designed so that they might co-exist and even be used to support one another.

Gould's was a voice of reason. I think he left us too soon.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Book #34

William Faulkner
Light in August
1932....reading the October 1990 Vintage International Edition

Begun:February 8, 2004
Finished: February 16, 2004

Joe Christmas, ya'll.

More comments forthcoming...I'll just say that newspapers make us lazy. Newspapers are the one common thing that the greatest majority of Americans read. With their one inch paragraphs that contain 11 words. And these books with all the dialog. Makes the eye lazy. Can't let yourself be lazy. So you gotta read a little Faulkner, or maybe some Virginia Woolf, just to get your eyeballs back in shape.

Boy my eyes is tired.
Book #33

Will Brooker
Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon
2001: Continuum Books

Began: February 5, 2004
Finished: February 16, 2004

I didn't read this one as closely as I wanted to. It's dry, and it's repetitive.

You know, I've been reading Batman comic books for nigh on 20 years now. And never once was I so distracted by a homosexual interpretation of the book. And ever once did I believe that I was succumbing to the hegemonic interpretation of the character.

But apparently I have been.

That's not the entire message of Brooker's book. I'm oversimplifying and hyperbolizing all at once. But even in the sections Brooker focuses on some other aspect of the Batman character, he keeps coming back to it (Which is, Look how Gay Batman Is!)

I guess that's the trouble...I pick up an analysis of a work of fiction whose mythos is the product of literally dozens, and even hundreds, of different minds....and I disagree with the over-riding analysis that any one idea at all is all-encompassing.

Let alone one that I don't agree with entirely. It's kind of like working a geometric theorem, when you believe that the second step in the proof is incorrect.

I'll give Brooker praise, however, for his look at Batman and the impact the comics code/anti-red raiders had on his character in the 1950's. That was the most interesting reading of the book, to me.

I'll maybe go into it later. I'd have to write my own book, I guess.
Book #32

Erich Maria Remarque
All Quiet on the Western Front

Read the August 1982 MMPB Fawcett printing.

Begun: February 2, 2004
Finished: February 3, 2004

I really ought not read war books before I go to sleep. The Stephen Ambrose did it to me, and the Ferrol Sams WW2 book did it to me. This one did it to me, too.
Book #31

Lemony Snicket
A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the First: the Bad Beginning

Begun: January 30, 2004
Finished: February 1, 2004

A bit twisted in the Gorey vein.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Book #30

Dan Brown
The Da Vinci Code

Started: January 18, 2004
Finished: January 27, 2004

Borrowed this from my father. I'm about a third of the way through it right now. It's not too bad, though the dialogue is pretty rough, and so far, there's not a whole lot to distinguish Robert Langdon from a Jack Ryan or a Bourne.

But it's rolling along easily, like a pot boiler should.

I understand that the Catholic Church didn't care much for the book. I can see a little bit what they might have gotten riled about, but if I were the most powerful religion on the planet, I wouldn't have worried too much about it.....

Reminds me a lot of Michael Crichton, after finishing it, except that Brown's created himself a serial character, like a Jack Ryan or a Bourne.

The dialog in it's pretty weak. But on the whole, I kind of liked it. It's light reading.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Book #29

Flannery O'Connor
The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor

Started: January 15, 2004
Finished: January 28, 2004

There is no real start or finish date. I've been picking and choosing stories as I go....I've read half of the stories either in school or on my own. I'm just finishing up what I haven't read....

Friday, January 09, 2004

Book #28

Jean Shepherd
In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash
1966: (Reading the 2000 Broadway Books printing)

Started: January 9, 2004
Finished: January 17, 2004

It was Shepherd's stories that the movie A Christmas Story were based upon. Not far in, but I'm finding the movie stayed true to Shepherd's tone, at least as far as the adventure with the Red Ryder B.B. Gun went.

Very funny. Shepherd spins a nice phrase. I wrote about it on the main blog. I also like the way the stories themselves are framed around the concept of the narrator (Ralphie) reflecting on his youth with childhood pal Flick.
Book #27

Pauline Kael
Movie Love: Complete Reviews 1988-1991
1991: Plume

Started: January 5, 2004
Finished: January 9, 2004

I was first introduced to Ms. Kael in a criticism class a few years back. Since then, any time I run across one of her books, I'll pick it up.

Found this one on the same dollar table I found the Bob Costas book on tape.

I read Ms. Kael as I was going to sleep the past few nights. Had a bout with insomnia day before yesterday, and ended up finishing it today.

I like Pauline Kael, because where Roger Ebert, or Peter Travers, or Leonard Maltin, and especially my generation of critics (and among them I count Richard Roeper and definitely Harry Knowles), were all raised on movies, Pauline Kael was not, it seems. And while they're not ignorant of the other artforms, those other artforms aren't their primary point of reference, like they seem to be Ms. Kael's.

Pauline Kael seems to look at movies from, I don't know. A more cultured viewpoint.

There's one part of me that's astounded at how Pauline seems to focus on what's wrong with a movie. Rain Man is Dustin Hoffman humping the same note on a piano.....Little Mermaid is, essentially, a very well done toy commercial.

But when something does catch her eye (and it's usually something subtle--the interplay between characters, or actors), and she is pleased, it's funny to read:

From her review of Avalon:

When Barry Levinson directs autobiographical material, he catches the rhythms of grouchiness, of irritation, in preening of the commonplace remarks that people make all the time. He's especially virtuosic at catching the sound of people who know each other all too well: they've bored each other and picked at each other for years, but they always stop short of drawing blood.....
Book #26

Bill Scheft
The Ringer

Started: January 7, 2004
Finished: February 21, 2004

Bill Scheft is a writer on the Late Show with David Letterman, and he's got a column in Sports Illustrated. He's a regular contributor to the Bob and Tom Show, and he's an all around funny guy.

This is my read-at-work book. If Iowa Baseball Confederacy was any indication, it'll be roughly June before I finish The Ringer.

I'm about 30 pages in, though. So far, it's made me laugh out loud twice....so it's got that going for it....

It's nicely done, but it's not exactly meant for me, I think. It's very much another generation's book....essentially a man finding himself late in life.

I think there's a very large part of Bill Scheft in College Boy.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Book #25

Bob Costas
Fair Ball: A Fan's Case for Baseball
2000: Broadway Books

Started: January 2, 2004
Finished: January 6, 2004

I picked up the unabridged book on tape off a dollar-table at a used book store in Chattanooga. Listening to it while I drive.

I'd always held off on picking this up to read it. Partly because I didn't want to pay $18, or even $10 for a book that it looked like would take me a couple of hours to read. And it's not at the library for me to check out.

I've always been a little annoyed by Bob Costas. I mean, I like (basically) his play calling, and his show on HBO always brought up good things, but something about him always seemed a bit disingenuous. Like he's trying to simultaneously ingratiate himself and talk down to you.

And he's very "popular stance" when it comes to anything but baseball....the man announced pro wrestling matches, and even was ring announcer for the "War to Settle the Score," between Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper....but has since emerged as one of the wrestling industry's biggest and most vocal critics.....

However, he is a baseball man, and I've always been willing to listen to his ideas about baseball, even if I haven't always agreed with him.

Fair Ball is, essentially, Bob's plan to get the great game back on track, especially since it's wandered so much even in the past ten years from the game it was.

More thoughts when I finish.

I liked Bob's views on the salary floor and salary ceiling, though I think that would ultimately cause more movement of players between teams, even with the safeguards he has in place. I'm really sick of mercenary baseball.

Bob hates the wild card. I'm kind of ambivalent, though he raises the excellent point: name one really good pennant race since the wild card started. So on that point, I'd be inclined to go along with him.

Most important was his point that both the players and a few of the owners are going to have to make sacrifices. The players are going to have to realize that making sure the highest possible salary is unimaginably huge isn't necessarily what's best for him. And some owners are going to have to realize that winning and competition don't necessarily entail destroying the competition (Mr. Steinbrenner).

Personally, I think one of the biggest problems is that too many corporations own teams and view them only as part of a larger entity. The owner of the Mariners has never been to a Mariners game. That's a travesty, to me. Too many of these clubs are taking the money they get in the luxury tax and just putting it in their pockets, and not using it to be competitive. Baseball is not their priority. Money is.

Stupid capitalism.

Give Bob a read. It's a short book, and he cares very much about what he's talking about.

Friday, January 02, 2004

Book #24

Karen Armstrong
Muhammed: a Biography of the Prophet
1993: HarperCollins

Started: December 30, 2003
Finished: January 18, 2004

I like Armstrong's writing, and her calm explanation of the histories of religion.

That said, this one's terribly dry. Not nearly as good as her history of Islam, or the Battle for God.
Book #23

Dom DeLillo
Pafko at the Wall: The Shot Heard Round the World
1997: Scribner

Started: December 30, 2003
Finished: January 1, 2004

It was originally published as the prologue to his novel Underworld, I picked this up off a remainder table. It's a look at the Polo Grounds on October 3, 1951, the day Bobby Thomson hit his home run to lead the New York Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers.

This is nice. I especially liked the interplay between Cotter, a black teenager who's sneaked into the game, and Bill Waterson, a white professional at the game, and then afterwards, when Cotter has wrested Thomson's home run ball from Waterson.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Book #22

Carrie Muskat (editor/compiler)
Banks to Sandberg to Grace: Five Decades of Love and Frustration with the Chicago Cubs
2001: Contemporary Books

Started: December 24, 2003
Finished: December 25, 2003

A Christmas gift from my friend, fellow-Cubs Fan Steven.

A surprisingly quick read. I'm a big fan of the Studs Terkel style of letting people tell their own story, and Muscat does that well here.

I especially liked the 80's section, with Leon Durham, Ryno, Jim Frey and the gang I watched when I was a little guy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Book #21

Harlan Ellison
Spider Kiss
1961 (Reading the 1997 White Wolf/Edgeworks Edition)

I like Harlan. I really wish the White Wolf Edgeworks Books had kept on. Especially since the Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat were going to be Volume 5.

Spider Kiss is one of Harlan's few novels. He's got three, I believe. I've never read his novel work. Short Stories. Columns. Comics. Rants. Hell Yeah.

But not the novels. Till now.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Book #20

R.D. Reynolds and Randy Baer
Wrestlecrap: The Very Worst of Professional Wrestling
2003: ECW Press

Started: December 10, 2003
Finished: December 13, 2003

I read this as I was going to sleep each night.

What a horrible book. I'm lying if I say I read every word of it. I read most of it, skipping over the parts that I knew already too well, or was frustrated too much by the sloppy nature of the writing and fact-checking.

A note to the writers: Even if your subject is professional wrestling, if you're going to included a bibliography/works cited page in a non-fiction work, you need to cite more than 5 sources for a book of your size and scope. Writing a retrospective on somebody else's work solely from your own memory isn't quite the best way to go about things.....

Of what's in it, I'd say I read about three quarters.

I'll say this: If there's a cheaper paperback version, I hope an extra chapter is added on at the end, chronicling the number of misrememberings, confusions, false assumptions, vendettas the writer(s) have with Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon and Vince Russo, as well as the number just plain mis-spellings of names throughout. Because this is real wreslecrap...and I'm not proud of myself for having read as much of it as I did....
Book #19

John Steinbeck
The Pearl
1945, 1947....read the 1979 Bantam Paperback edition

Started: December 9, 2003
Finished December 9, 2003

This is a great story, especially for the simple way it's told.
Book #18

John Steinbeck
Cannery Row
1945 (Read the 1972 Bantam Paperback Edition)

Started: December 7, 2003
Finished: December 8, 2003

I re-read this over the course of a couple of days. Any time I read Steinbeck, I'm struck by the poetic way many of the folks in his books see the world, especially those who don't intend to...yet the way those who should, or at least are the best equipped to, fail miserably in doing so.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Book #17

Larry McMurtry
Boone's Lick

Started: December 1, 2003
Finished: December 6, 2003

I picked this up off a remainder table not too long ago. I'm about 40 pages in so far. It's funny. I've already had a couple of laugh out loud moments, which is quite difficult to accomplish, so it's got that in its favor already.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Book #16

W.P. Kinsella
The Iowa Baseball Confederacy

Started: November 20, 2003
Finished: December 21, 2003

Same guy who wrote Shoeless Joe, the book upon which the movieField of Dreams was based.

Reading it at work.

It starts slowly.

Once Gideon gets back to see the Confederacy actually start playing, it gets interesting....and then the ending gets even more muddled and rushed and confused than the beginning.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Book #15

Stephen King
Dark Tower V: the Wolves of Calla
2003: Donald Grant

Started:: November 17, 2003
Finished:: November 30, 2003

The fifth book in the series. Borrowed the novel from my roommate. About a quarter of the way in, I'm noticing he's focusing a lot on Eddie Dean. I don't know if it's my imagination, necessarily. But he's looking at Eddie a lot harder so far than he's looked at any of the other characters.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Book #14

Chuck Palahniuk
2003: Doubleday

Started: November 12, 2003
Finished: November 14, 2003

I liked this one. I like Palahniuk because he seems most interested in stripping the layers of a person away, until only the most base material is left. But along the way, he'll study the layers with intense, almost maniacal scrutiny.

In Diary, what we read is the journey and the thoughts of Misty Tracy Wilmot, whose husband lies in a coma. Misty has given much up for Peter, her husband, and has forgotten very much who she is.

Or has she?

This reminded me a lot of Kurt Vonnegut's Bluebird, for a reason I can't quite put my finger on...even beyond the painting, which is a central element in both novels.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Book #13

Dennis Covington
Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia

(Reading the 1995 Penguin books printing)

Started: November 4, 2003
Finished: November 11, 2003

I started this one about a year ago, and put it down after getting 20 pages in, and promptly lost it for a little while. Actually, it got buried in the detritus of my existance (largely made up of old Wal-Mart Receipts). I didn't find it until a month later, and by then I'd moved on to other things.

So, I re-started it tonight. Got about 80 pages in. So far, I'm fairly impressed. Going by my mother's side, I'm just a couple or three generations out of the Appalachian mountains, myself. It's interesting because:

So far, Covington's classified snakehandling as a response to a world a lot of the rural folks didn't understand. It's an All-American microcosmic view of the agrarian society's struggle to acclimate itself to the industrial, and later, mechanized, and even now, the digital age.

It's fundamentalist at its roots, as snakehandlers draw inspiration from a line of scripture where it says the true believers will be shown to be the ones to handle the serpents, to drink poison without dying and to show healing powers by the laying on of hands.

And since Covington's story begins in Northeast Alabama, a little more than an hour's drive from Riceville, I vaguely remember a lot of the early incidents Covington describes, as far as court trials and snakebite incidents.

I should finish it this weekend.

Update: Well, I didn't finished it this weekend. I didn't read much of anything this weekend. But tonight, I did.

It's quite the read.
Book #12

Stephen King
Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass
1997, Plume

Started: November 5, 2003
Finished: November 19, 2003

Listening to the unabridged audio. While I drive, and whatnot.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Book #11

Tom Robbins
Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas

Started: October 31, 2003
Finished: November 3, 2003

Never read any Robbins, but I've always heard good things.

This was a pretty funny book, and I gotta say I really let myself fall into the whole idealistic pursuit of greater consciousness character Larry Diamond is trying to get Gwen Mati to follow.

Here's something interesting about the book:

It's written in second person. You are Gwen Mati, Filipino Stock Broker in Seattle, who has fallen victim and taken with you dozens if not hundreds of investors in a stock market crash that happens the Thursday before the 3-day Easter Weekend.

So, when Larry Diamond is speaking to Gwen, he's speaking to you.

The viewpoint is unique. I'll say that. And not as irritating as I initially thought it might be.

It's a bit preachy. I'll say that.

That's a big complaint I'm reading in a couple of reviews of the book.

I think I'll look for more Robbins.
Book #10

Jerry Lawler (with Doug Asheville)
It's Good to Be King...Sometimes

Started: October 29, 2003
Finished: October 31, 2003

Apparently Blogger lost this post from earlier.

An enjoyable read, if the ghost-writing is a little dry.

I particularly enjoyed the King's recounting of what it was like in the days of the NWA territories, especially in the face of the behemoth created by Vince McMahon Jr. His insight on how he (and nearly he alone) was able to stand up against the McMahon onslaught is important.

He does gloss over the fact that he and Jerry Jarrett were basically given an ultimatum by McMahon: Work with us, or we'll run you over. That's how Lawler and Jarrett's USWA become the forerunner of the OVW as the training ground for the WWF.

Also interesting, however, is the extent of Jerry's knowledge of the whole rub with Andy Kaufmann. That at times, Jerry didn't know whether Andy was trying to play him as much as he was playing the audience.

ON the whole, it's an informative read....but only if you're a rasslin' fan.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Book #9

Stephen King's Dark Tower III: the Wastelands.
1991, Plume

Started: October 25, 2003
Finished: November 5, 2003

Again, on tape. This is my favorite of the Dark Tower books, because it is here that you get to see Roland as a Gunslinger in his element, even more so than in the first book. I've read the book twice. Once in 1990 or so, and again about five years ago.

I'm just wanting to have it fresh in my mind for when the new Dark Tower books comes out in a week or so.

It's probably a good idea, since in the time since I'd last read Wastelands (which was probably 10 years ago), I'd forgotten little things. Like Susannah's possibly being pregant.

I could do without the constant reminders that "the World Has Moved on," and Eddie and Susannah look at Roland "with something like wonder" a bit too often.

But on the whole, it's an easy read. King has a good oral style. His writing (which is poohpoohed by many) lends itself to being listened to.
Book #8

Joe R. Lansdale's A Fine Dark Line
2003, Mysterious Press

Started: October 25, 2003
Finished: October 27, 2003

Can you imagine my shock to even have found one of Lansdale's books in a book store that isn't either The Bottoms or Bad Chili? And that's a bash on the book stores I have access to, who don't usually stock it if it's not Danielle Steele, John Grisham or Stephen King; and also against the readers who buy only those three.

The Barnes & Noble in Knoxville, lo and behold, had 7 copies on the shelf of Lansdale's book. They also had another, Captains Outrageous...but I didn't have enough money to get it.

Lansdale's a personal favorite. I read him in the comics, and followed him to his books.

Lansdale writes mainly in the first person. A lot of the time, that first person is a child. As such, many of the characters close to the child end up wearing halos in the eyes of the narrator.

That gets a little annoying every now and then. In the book, it does a little, since it seems like such a stretch for some of the characters to fit into the molds Lansdale wants to jam them into.

On the whole, though, I really enjoyed this one. Maybe I'm wearing my own rose-colored glasses. It's a quick read. It combines a few of Joe's favorite things: Drive-Ins, Kid Narrators, and chases that take place in the woods at night.

Thumbs up.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Book #7

Elmore Leonard's Tishomingo Blues
2002, William Morrow

Started: October 22, 2003
Finished: October 25, 2003

I like Elmore Leonard. I wish I could put out the mass and volume of stuff he puts out.

It turns out, though, that I didn't care that much for this one. No character stuck out as a favorite, as they usually do in a Leonard book. I don't recommend this one.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Book #6

Stephen King's The Dark Tower II: the Drawing of the Three
1987, Plume

Started: October 16, 2003
Finished: October 23, 2003

Same as Dark Tower I. Unabridged on tape. Listening to while I drive.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Book #5

Stephen King's The Dark Tower I: the Gunslinger
1982, Plume

Started: October 12, 2003
Finished: October 15, 2003

I hesitated to include this on the list, because I listened to the unabridged book on tape. I borrowed it (along with the next three Dark Tower books) on tape from my Dad, so I could catch myself up on the story by the time Wolves of Calla comes out next month.

But since its unabridged, and I'm occupying my mind during my drive time, (and since it's my list), I'll count it.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Book #4

Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven: a story of Violent Faith
2003, Doubleday

Started: October 13, 2003
Finished: October 20, 2003

Borrowed this from my roommate. I really enjoyed Into Thin Air, which I read back in the spring, so I tried this one.

Ultimately, there are two sides to the book. The first side is a history, and that's the most illuminating and rewarding part of this book.

The other side is a grim (and rather slow) recounting of the violent act perpetrated by brothers, and the subsequent trial and its consequences.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Book #3

Ferrol Sams' The Widow's Mite, and other stories
1987, Penguin Books

Started: October 10, 2003
Finished: October 14, 2003

I just like the way Ferrol Sams spins a phrase. I was turned on to him by an aunt who'd read a couple of my short stories, and said I reminded her of Sams. I had to find a few books to read them. If I'm a quarter as good as Sams at turning a phrase, then I feel like I've accomplished something. I just finished his Porter Osborne trilogy not long ago.

He reminds me quite a bit of Flannery O'Connor, only with a much larger enfatuation with bodily excretion.

Widow's Mite is a collection of his short stories.

I liked it in the same way I like Ferrol's other works. He spins a good phrase. The southerners in his stories (which take place in Georgia) are not all that different than the southerners I grew up with in Tennessee.

It's a good collection of stories.

And I think this finishes up his collection of work for me. I'll look around, but I think I've read every book he's published (With the exception of any medical journal work).

Friday, October 10, 2003

Book #2

Dennis Lehane's Mystic River
April 2002 printing, Harper Torch

Began October 4, 2003
Finished October 10, 2003

Picked up at a used book store. Wanted to read the book before the movie came out. Never read any Dennis Lehane before. Wanted to see what it's all about.

Final thoughts: A decent read, even if it involved a couple of leaps of faith in character action and it ends a little unsatisfyingly (which is a little bit of the point--but I'll bitch because I wanted closure).

On the whole, I'll give it a B or so. Lehane's not a bad writer. I'll read something else of his some time.
Book #1

Carl Sagan's The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. 1996, Ballantine.

Began September 30, 2003
Finished October 7, 2003

Yeah, I know I'm cheating already. I began the book one day early on my list, but I only read Carl's mission statement. I read 95 % of the book on or after October 1.

Sagan establishes science as religion in his tome. He fights off pseudo-science and bad reasoning, but also scientists who use science (especially bad and shoddy science) for monetary gain, and receive very little actual insight from their work.

A bit preachy, though. And for someone who chastises religion for so quickly so easily turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to science, and sings the virtues of science as accepting all possibilities until positively disproven, is terribly, terribly quick to dismiss religious thought in general as a viable means of personal support.
Okay. Here's the deal. This is just a minor goal I have.

From October 1, 2003 to September 30, 2004, I'm going to do my damnedest to read 100 books.

I like to read. But I also complain that I don't have enough time to read. Which is bullshit. I can't count the number of times I've sat on my ass and flipped through all the cable, knowing that there's nothing on, and eventually settled on something like an episode of Cosby Show or MASH or Andy Griffith that I've seen 11 times before.

So that's the goal.

Instead of watching all these TV shows or watching a movie that I've seen 19 times, I'm going to read.

I will say that if certain things get in the way, like employment or my actually getting a life, I'm not going to be all up in arms.

But definitely not going to do the TV thing anymore.

I'm starting the list retroactive to the beginning of this month.

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