Stopped short.

January 5, 2011

So the reading count ended up at 47. My head cold turned into bronchitis and I couldn’t muster the energy to forge any closer to 50.

So for 2011, I’m changing the formula. I’m going away from new books. Well, sort of. I still have plenty of books I’ve bought and haven’t gotten to, and I look forward to them. But I’m going to, in the words of Paul Simon, lean on old, familiar ways. For one thing, I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction, and while I enjoy that, I miss novels. I’m going to try for a classic favorite every month– Huck Finn, Grapes of Wrath, Sound and the Fury, One Hundred Years of Solitude, etc. I may experiment with audio books too… not sure on that front, but I’m considering it… just because I drive about an hour each day and because I do enjoy them.

I’ll try to post a bit more regularly, and am going into some different directions with that. Hopefully, 2011 is a great year for everybody and I can give you a few recommendations or laughs or just some diversion.

Joe

46.3

December 30, 2010

Added a little more. Stupid head cold may be the biggest obstacle.

3.7 books in two days?

45.8

December 29, 2010

Managed about another half book last night. Up to about 15,200 pages. 4.2 books in three days? We’ll see…

Joe

The Race to 50?

December 28, 2010

So another year is winding down and I’m again stuck trying to complete my goal of 50 new books in a year… and/or 20,000 pages. Well, unless the last book is a multi-volume encyclopedia, 20,000 pages isn’t happening. Here’s where we stand on books.

39) Lennon & McCartney: Together Alone by John Blaney. This is a critical evaluation of the solo careers of the two most famous Beatles. Blaney isn’t always dead on, but his analysis is usually pretty good. He does lose me a bit when he gets into how “Tug of War” was released in a special edition with a yellow ring around the outside rim of the B side sticker, but only in Columbia and with serial numbers ending in 4. For an overview of the solo careers, it isn’t bad at all. Blaney tends to heap praise on Lennon and gripe about early McCartney, but he cuts him a wide berth on things like his classical music (yawn). Worth reading, but only if you’re a fairly serious fan. 304 pages.

40) William Faulkner: Lives & Legacies by Carolyn Porter. An excellent biography and critical sketch of the life and works of my favorite American novelist. Porter does a good job of diving deep enough into Faulkner’s life and works to extract a meaningful portrait of both, without bogging down in overly academic jargon. Very readable and quite good. 224 pages.

41) Our Endangered Values by Jimmy Carter. In 224 pages, Carter takes on what it means to be a Democrat and a born-again Christian. As I share these characteristics, I wanted the former President’s explanation and clarification. Both are well delivered. It’s not a book for policy wonks as much as for regular people. This one falls into the essential category for me.

42) The Office and Philosophy by Jeremy Wisnewski. This is a volume of essays concerning various philosophical issues and the television show “The Office”. As a series of essays, they can be uneven, but occasionally very interesting and/or though provoking. About 2/3 of the essays deal with the American edition of the show, but the writing was solid enough that I could usually follow even the essays on the British version. If you’re a fan of “The Office” and philosophy, then it’s certainly worth a browse. 328 pages.

43) Greetings From E Street by Robert Santelli. This is one of those memorabilia books with tear out copies of famous documents, photos, etc, in this case in regard to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Santelli’s text is a bare-bones history of the Jersey scene and the King of same. 98 pages.

44) Don’t Quit Your Day Job by Sonny Brewer. Brewer edits a collection of essays of Southern writers on the jobs they left behind. Sometimes poignant, sometimes hysterical, but almost invariable interesting, this book was a pleasant surprise. 272 pages.

45) American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham. A fat biography of President Jackson that ultimately disappoints. Meacham does a mediocre job of telling us just what it all meant. Jackson was a fascinating multi-faceted individual, but one who would be better served by more analysis and less fact recounting. 512 pages.

Books in progress: five more (with a total of about 1.1 books finished among them)

So there we are. 3 1/2 days to go. Due to my first fragmentary book (book 1 was just finished in 2010, but was mostly read in 2009, ergo it counts as .2 books) and the ones I’m currently reading, the total count is:
45.3 books
Approximately 15,000 pages (14,660 on books finished)

Can I read 4.7 books in 3 1/2 days? Probably not. I will keep trying and see if I can make it interesting. I do have Friday off, so if I could get to say 48 by then, a Friday reading marathon could ensue.
Can I read 5,000 pages in 3 1/2 days? No. Not a chance. Finishing the five books I’m working on entails about another 1400 pages.

I will continue to post, particularly if I continue to make some sort of substantial progress.

Still reading books

October 27, 2010

So yeah, it’s been a few months. But I’m still reading– trying to reach 50 books and/or 20,000 pages.

29) The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn. Kahn, who was a kid sportswriter covering the 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers, wrote a book about the team he covered after they were all no longer playing. The resulting book, first published in the early ’70s, is a poignant, humanizing look at old baseball players, and at the journalist who covered them. They may make more money now, but they’re definitely not the boys of summer. 512 pages.

30) Gloria’s Miracle by Jerry Brewer. Jerry, who is a friend of mine, published this story of Gloria Strauss, a remarkable young girl, who was diagnosed with incurable cancer at age seven, and eventually succumbed at age eleven. Along the way, Gloria and her family’s remarkable poise, strength, and faith inspired Jerry reconsider his own life, and to become a Christian. Jerry is a brilliant writer and this is a story that he tells as well as it deserves. 256 pages.

31) Invictus by John Carlin. Carlin chronicles Nelson Mandela’s rise to power and his embracing of the Springboks, white South Africa’s favorite team, to help unite his divided nation into a single force. I am embarassed that I did not know more about Mandela, but I plan to read more, and his use of sports as cultural bonding agent is nothing shy of brilliant. Quick and enjoyable reading. 288 pages.

32) Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman. Klosterman writes an apparently true-life “High Fidelity” without the happy ending. Even when Chuck is bad, he’s good. But he’s not on his A game here. Skip this and try another of his books. 272 pages.

33) Dream Season by Bob Cowser Jr. Cowser is a college professor with a wife and a new baby. He decides to play semi-pro football and chronicles his season. Since Cowser is a good writer and an apparently none-too-brilliant player, the book works pretty well. Nothing too deep here, but a good chronicle of men who enjoy sport for sport’s sake. 240 pages.

34) God and Football by Chad Gibbs. Gibbs, who is a born-again Christian and a fervent Auburn Tiger fan, goes around the SEC in a season, trying to balance football fanaticism which devotion to Christ. The resulting book is at times wry and at times poignant, but is never dull. Gibbs has a bright future as a sort of sports-loving Donald Miller. He is an incredibly funny writer and an excellent Christian role model if a Saturday has ever made you “lose your religion”, so to speak. 240 pages.

35) Paperback Writer by Mark Shipper. In 1978, Shipper wrote a fictional biography of the Beatles– and their reunion. Since the reunion never came, Shipper’s is that much more odd, but interesting. He ultimately concludes, as we all probably know, that the magic of the Beatles would’ve never struck twice. 254 pages.

36) Eli the Good by Silas House. House, who has spent most of his career crafting amazing Appalachian women, finally writes a young man’s story. Set in the Vietnam era, it represents a collision of the influences of the day on a young life. As with all of House’s books, stop reading and go get it. It’s another good one. 304 pages.

37) Crossroads by Tom Graves. Tom is yet another author who goes searching for Robert Johnson. While there’s not much to say, Graves says it in an interesting, and fairly balanced way. 151 pages.

38) Curse of the Bambino by Dan Shaughnessy. Now that the 2004 Red Sox killed the curse, you can find this for perhaps $2, like I did. Good baseball history book, although I could do without a bit of the babble as to how important baseball is (apparently only) to Red Sox fans. 256 pages.

Two more underway– one is about 120 pages in, and the other is about 60.

So at the moment… 37.9 books, 12,878 pages.
To be on point for my goal… 41.1 books, 16,438 pages.

So I’m three books behind and about 3,500 pages. Obviously, the page count won’t be remedied, even though I do have a few longer books to go. Looks like it’s 50 books or bust.

Continuing the reading project

August 3, 2010

In case you care, and even if you don’t…

21) Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman. Klosterman is probably my favorite curmudgeonly pop culture critic. In this, his first book, he writes of his love for ’80s metal. The music isn’t my favorite, but Klosterman brings it to life, arguably much more than it deserves. I enjoyed this, in part because Klosterman doesn’t come off as quite as conceited as he does now. 288 pages.

22) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. This is pretty much exactly what you would think it would be. Pride and Prejudice with zombies and associated mayhem. Grahame-Smith makes it fun, writing in a deadpan Austen imitation, and yet including horrific gore and intense violence. It’s kind of like Hayseed Dixie’s bluegrass covers of KISS or AC/DC songs. Maybe. 320 pages.

23) Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas. This biography of William Wilberforce discusses his campaign to end British slavery. As the British abolition predated the American abolition, the importance of Wilberforce would be hard to understate. He was a weak little man, who married very late in life, but who used his considerable talents and deep faith to improve the station of others. I came away most impressed, not so much by Wilberforce’s moral fiber, which was impressive, but by his intelligence in bringing about change in others. 320 pages.

24) Odd Man Out by Matt McCarthy. McCarthy was a minor league prospect who just happened to have graduated from Yale University. He spends a year in Provo, Utah, trying to become a major league baseball player. He fails, but his accounts of the trials and tribulations of minor league baseball players does not. Uncomfortable sexual humor, interracial interaction, horrible pay (even by normal people standards), it’s all here. Worth reading, although some of McCarthy’s “facts” have subsequently been called into question. 304 pages.

25) The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose. Roose, a Brown University sophomore, spends a semester at Liberty University, the educational institution of Jerry Falwell. Hijinks ensue. Actually, there’s a lot going on here. Roose, born as a Quaker, but agnostic, has to confront his stereotypes and fallacies toward Evangelical Christians and their educational lives. The book is well written, and fair to all involved. I would recommend this one. 336 pages.

26) April 1865 by Jay Winik. Winik examines the month that included the end of the American Civil War, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the beginning of reconstruction. It is hard to avoid Winik’s point, that there were so many places and ways that America’s development could have gone horribly wrong. However, Winik explains why it didn’t, taking long looks at Lincoln, Grant, Lee, Davis, et al. 512 pages.

27) Cardboard Gods by Josh Wilker. I could say this is a book about baseball cards, and that would be sort of true. But it’s a book about growing up, about transitioning from a boy to a screw-up to a man… and how the minutia of baseball makes the journey with you, if you want it. Wilker did and writes about it with great poignancy. 243 pages.

28) True Adventures with the King of Bluegrass by Tom Piazza. Piazza spent some time with the late, great Jimmy Martin. He chronicles how real, unrestrained, and sometimes, batcrap crazy Martin was. Highly entertaining, if unfortunately quite thin. 112 pages.

* Two current books– One about 220 pages in, the other about 80.
As of now… 28.4 books, 10,225 pages.
To be on pace… 29.3 books, 11,726 pages.

So there we are… almost one book and 1500 pages behind pace. The book count is still manageable, but 20,000 pages is looking pretty tough at this time.

Update on the reading project

June 1, 2010

The attempts to read 50 new books and/or 20,000 pages of new books in 2010 continues. The latest on the endeavor.

18. John Lennon– The Life by Phillip Norman.

Norman provides an interesting, and relatively balanced biography of Lennon. Less gossipy than Alfred Goldman’s Lennon book, less worshipful than Ray Coleman’s, this is about as good as it gets. Not that it’s perfect. Norman has clearly deferred greatly to Yoko Ono, in order to get her cooperation. Accordingly, we’re left with passages which try to make it sound normal that if John travelled somewhere, he might return in some weird out of the way manner, because of Yoko’s astrologers.

Lennon was a great musician and a fairly screwed-up person. The historical insight here is very good, and Norman does delve out some tasty morsels of knowledge– like the actual inspiration for “Norwegian Wood”.

19. The Draft by Pete Williams

This was a fairly dry account of the lead-up to the NFL Draft. Few surprises here. Agents are big business, and players go to absurd lengths in workouts to share time off their 40 yard dash or increase their vertical leaps. Not the worst book in town, but not worth recommending either.

20. Come On Down by Stan Blits

Yes, this is a book (official at that) about The Price is Right. Since it’s official, it’s sanitized and trivial, but has some interesting stories. If you love the pricing games, it’s worth a quick scan if you find it cheap.

PROGRESS UPDATE

Pages
Lennon: 864
The Draft: 360
Come on Down: 208
New book, not yet listed (in progress): 40

So as of now… 19.4 books, 7,530 pages
To be on pace… 20.7 books, 8,274 pages

Oh no– 1.3 books and 744 pages behind pace. Let’s see if June can be a good reading month!

Positivity 4: Parenthood

May 11, 2010

Today, I want to talk about my daughter, Natalie. While I always thought I would like to someday have children, I was never terribly sure about when. My own father was 25 when I was born, and in recent years, he once confided in me that he was vastly unprepared to be a parent. This had the effect of making me even more cautious.

Still by early 2007, with my schooling over, we were ready (or so we thought) to plunge toward the world of parenthood. At the end of August/beginning of September 2007, we lost our first baby. It couldn’t have been more than about six weeks of gestation, but its tiny cells ceased developing. The loneliness of losing a child is something that you can only understand by going through it, I’m afraid. Fortunately, I was shocked by how many people HAD gone through it, and told us so. The sadness at the loss of that baby gave way to a certainty that parenthood was something that we definitely wanted to do.

So it was doubly difficult when we lost another baby in March/April 2008. On a Saturday night, Julie and I stood in Cincinnati and I watched Bruce Springsteen sing a song called “Magic”. It’s a song of foreboding, and darkness, and Julie had already begun to experience the symptoms which would culminate in miscarriage two days later. “This is what will be” goes the tag line of the song, and I’d never felt quite as sure that somebody was singing to me.

Losing one baby was just bad luck. Losing two worried us. Would we ever have babies? At least one concerned family member started to broadly hint that adoption was not a bad thing. The uncertainty and worry could be overburdening. We had a drawer with our pictures of our two tiny little balls of humanity, which had never advanced beyond that stage. It had other baby artifacts that people bought. There was a yellow Dumbo sleeper, and I would sometimes take it out and hold it and cry, thinking of the babies who never got to grow to fill that tiny garment.

In late November 2008, my friend Ryan Clark and I collaborated on one of our UK sports weekends. Ryan bought basketball tickets and we watched Billy Gillispie’s team open its season by losing to VMI. The next night, my football tickets landed us in the freezing cold, watching Vanderbilt beat Kentucky, and thus clench their first bowl appearance in a quarter century.

Sometime around the very same time, though, my wife and I collaborated on a much more important event, which delivered a victory bigger than any ball games.

Our daughter, Natalie, was born in August 2009. We worried through nine months, but felt better as the little fetal ball of cells grew into a person. In April 2009, we learned that she would be a girl, and I went to Target from the doctor’s office and bought her a little green sun dress that she would wear home.

Anyway, I apologize for the clouds on the posts of positivity. I bring these things up to point out that the difficulties of parenting, and they are not insubstantial, are always much less to me than those frustrated months of not parenting.

I also wanted to share this story because I want other people to know that these things do happen, and that the grief is intense and excruciating, but that it isn’t everything.

I thank my wife for her selflessness and patience– and for giving me her permission to share the intimate details of our story today. I thank God for the miracle that finally did happen, and even for the journey that led us here.

Natalie is nine months old. She likes to laugh and hop in her Johnny-Jump-Up toy. She will sometimes reach out and grab my face and pull it toward hers and slowly, deliberately, put her mouth onto my nose. She bit it a little yesterday.

If you have your own child(ren), I don’t need to tell you that I think she is the smartest, funniest, most beautiful and wonderful little person ever. I have so many hopes and wishes for her and her future– and a determination to enjoy every day I share with her. Life is sacred and mysterious and precious. I am reminded of it every day. Even when it bites my nose.

Positivity 3: William Faulkner

May 11, 2010

My apologies for the 30 days not necessarily being calendar days. Time spent helping a friend move and celebrating mothers got in the way of a new post. In any case, I assure you I haven’t stopped being positive.

When I was 21, I took a class on Hemingway and Faulkner under the phenomenal Mr. Walker Rutledge up on the green hills of WKU. I had read Hemingway before, and knew I liked his work– sparse, athletic, muscular writing that was easy to dip into. Faulkner, well, he was some Southern weirdo who wrote bizarre short stories.

Over the course of the semester, Mr. Rutledge, as he has a profound gift for doing, brought Faulkner first out into our world, and us then into his. We traveled to Oxford, visiting the venerable square, with the watchful eye of its old Rebel soldier, and its statue of Mr. Faulkner, looking out enigmatically across the square as if to wonder how John Grisham would become Oxford’s best selling writer. We ate catfish and later enjoyed the hospitality of the venerable Dr. Noyes, who told us tales from the days when James Meredith struggled valiantly to integrate the University of Mississippi.We traveled to Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak, where at outline of one novel is written on a study wall, and his telephone cabinet features the numbers of various family and friends, similarly inscribed in pencil on the wall itself.

Somewhere in there, I realized that Faulkner was crazy like a religious prophet. He spoke in shadowy rambling phrases, because the mind works in such turns. He wrote about people and places that were more real than the truth itself. I started to stretch out my own phrases into sentences and sentences into paragraphs. William Faulkner was a man whose words reached to the heart of the human soul, and what he brought back, while sometimes lacking in literal sense, stands alone.

Why?

I’ll let him speak for himself.

(paste portion of 1949 Nobel Prize acceptance speech)

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Positivity 2: Hot Chicken

May 11, 2010

And so, the plan continues. Another day, another target of positivity and gratitude.

Lest I offend my wife by following up her entry with hot chicken, I would point out that I’m trying to keep it somewhat light here– following the sacred with the profane, if you will.

Sometime around the 1940s, Thornton Prince stayed out too late one night. When he came home the next morning, his girlfriend/spouse/significant other decided that she would have revenge. She fried Thornton some fried chicken for breakfast (sounds good to me)… and then doused it with some manner of fire peppers (Cayenne maybe, who knows?).

Thornton Prince liked it. And eventually opened a store selling it. And this very day in the north end of Nashville, his niece, Andre Prince Jeffries is selling hot chicken. You take chicken and fry it in a cast iron skillet with a liberal helping of lard… and you add SOMETHING. Who knows what? Crack, plutonium, liquid fire, I’m not sure. But whatever it is, it is GOOOOOD.

Picture the best fried chicken you ever had, made into the spiciest thing you’ve ever eaten. And then multiply it by 10… and you might be close.

I started eating Prince’s back around 2008, and for a period, I couldn’t go to Nashville without my hot chicken fix. Julie has eventually prevailed on me to cut back, so it’s just an occasional treat. But I’m still grateful for its existence and the chance to enjoy Nashville hot chicken.

A few tips, if you’re curious:

1) There are three or four places in Nashville that make hot chicken. Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack on Ewing Drive is apparently the gold standard. It’s not the nicest part of town and the chicken takes a looooong time to fix, particularly when they’re busy (basically, when they’re open).

2) Approach the heat cautiously. Prince’s serves the chicken in mild, medium, hot, and extra hot. I’ve never made it above medium, which will cause you to shed tears and turn red. Go above that only either with experience or an iron stomach.

3) If you want a sample of the hot chicken culture, Nashville has an annual hot chicken festival on the 4th of July. It’s a good time, although the lines are long.

Peace and chicken grease. Possibly literally.

Joe


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