Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

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

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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.

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 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.

Yet more readings…

April 30, 2010

Just trying to catch up on the reading quest

15. The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

The crappy local mall bookstore went out of business many months back, and so, when the stock was getting priced lower and lower, I went and picked up a few books that looked interesting. This was one.

Henry VIII was an absolute giant in his own time. He solidified the English monarchy when it had bounced all over the place. And he had problems with women, specifically those he married. My father had taught me the basic story as a boy: six wives– divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. And in a nutshell, that’s it.

But there’s so much more depth here. The incredible scheming, the religious paranoia, and lots of humanizing touches– like the claim that Henry never consumated his marriage to Anne of Cleves because she smelled bad. Considering that this was the 1500s, I assume that everybody probably smelled like a garbage dump, so that Anne of Cleves must have been one noxious lady. I also enjoyed the story of Katherine Howard’s father, of whom little information survives, except a letter where he complained to someone that a medication he had taken had caused him to “bepiss my bed.”

Weir wrote a very interesting and fair look at a complicated time, and at six women and one man who would change the world. It was long… but enjoyable.

16. The Monkees: The Day-by-Day Story of the ’60s Pop Sensation by Andrew Sandoval

I had high hopes for this book. I dug the Monkees during their late 1980s rerunnings. I thought the book would be a nice chance to learn a little more about the Semi-Fab Four. Unfortunately, Sandoval’s book is only useful for the superfan. I don’t care that on July 18, 1968, Mike recorded a song called “Tapioca Pudding” with his friend, Bill Noname on backing vocals, and that the other Monkees didn’t like it, but after seven remixes, it was eventually placed on a 1990s Rhino album. Yeck. Slow, slow, slow reading… and by the end, I feel much less warm and kind toward the Monkees. They were handed pop success, and instead wanted to record their own rambling crapola.

17. A Lion Called Christian by Anthony Bourke and John Rendall

I can tell you about this book, or this story. Or just show you the video which put it in print. I’m not watching it again, because it seems like somebody keeps slicing up onions about 2/3 of the way through the video. At least, that must be what it is. Yeah.

And turn your speakers down, unless you want deafened by Whitney Houston.

Pages:
Henry VIII 656
Monkees 288
Christian 256

So now… my totals 16.2 books, 6,058 pages.
To be on pace for the goals of 50/20,000: 16.3 books, 6,521 pages.

Ouch. So the book count is almost right on, but I have fallen about 470 pages behind pace. Might be time for that giant John Lennon book, or the giant Abe Lincoln book.

More reading materials

April 5, 2010

Will see if I can remember these all… no promises.

11. Dave Barry’s Money Secrets by, you guessed it, Dave Barry.

Every so often, I get an itch for a good Dave Barry book. They’re lightweight reading, generally a lot of fun, and just pleasant all around. “Money Secrets” can’t hold a candle to “Dave Barry Slept Here”, which is on the short list of books that ALWAYS crack me up. But it’s still a fun book. If you like Dave’s irreverent humor, you’ll dig it.

12. The Card by Michael O’Keefe and Terri Thompson

A confession here: I was a terrific baseball card nerd as a kid. I still have a few cards left over, but fortunately, I left the hobby at least mostly behind. This book talks about a particular card– a 1910 T-206 Honus Wagner card, which is apparently in the best condition of the few such cards in existence. This is the card that people have paid literally millions of dollars for now. The book goes on to look at the massive amounts of fraud and unethical card doctoring which occur in the hobby. The long and short of it is that cards aren’t worth much anymore unless they are professionally graded. But the grading companies appear to be somewhat crooked, and some people get around them. It’s an interesting story if you like to read about baseball cards and/or consumer fraud. If not, just skip on.

13. The Ultimate Book of Sports Movies by Ray Didinger and Glen Macnow.

Just what is says. This book ranks and discusses the top 100 sports movies. Think of your favorites– they’re all here, along with a few you’ve probably forgotten, a few you’ll wish you had forgotten, and a few that sound worth checking out. By way of a complaint, Rudy is WAAAAAY too low at 50-somethingeth. You don’t need to be a sports nerd to enjoy the book– but being a movie nerd probably would help.

14. Bluegrass by William Van Meter

Van Meter’s book is a chronicle of the murder, investigation and associated trial in the Katie Autry killing. Autry, a freshman student at my alma mater of Western Kentucky University, was raped, beaten, and set on fire in her dorm room. The book focuses on Autry and on the two suspects in her murder– Stephen Soules and Lucas Goodrum, one of whom is in prison for life, and one of whom walked free. Van Meter doesn’t unveil any novel theories of the crime, or even point fingers, so much as he raises possibilities, and writes of three young lives that intertwined in a hideous moment. I won’t say I enjoyed it, but it was a careful and thoughtful book, and is one worth reading.

Total Books: 13.7/50 (counting 1st book, which was mostly read in 2009, and two books in progress, mentioned below)
Total Pages:
Last count 3,770
Dave Barry– 240
The Card– 256
Sports Movies– 352
Bluegrass– 240
Two more in progress– one at 140 pages in, the other at 75.
TOTAL: 5,073

Pace needed to meet goals of 50 books/20,000 pages: 12.9 books/5,151 pages.

So there we are: almost a full book ahead, but still about 80 pages behind. One of the two in progress is a nice 600 plus page monster, which should help balance these out.

Stay tuned.

More Readings

March 11, 2010

Finished 9. Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs

I enjoyed the book. Jacobs’s biggest talent is making himself appear as some sort of “just plain folks” normal guy. Truth is, he went to an elite private high school, graduated from an Ivy League University and is the spawn of well-to-do New Englanders. And yet, he manages to paint himself as just a normal guy. Well, a normal guy who reads the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. A good trick.

10. Living on the Black by John Feinstein

Feinstein is an utterly unlikeable human being who happens to write some solid books. He’s most famous for spending a year with a 1980s vintage Bob Knight to produce “A Season on the Brink”. But this time, he spends a year catching up with late career Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina. He provides some interesting insight into the art of pitching. HIS trick was that he actually humanized Glavine to the extent that I felt BAD for him that the mean old Atlanta Braves only wanted to pay him $9 million per year to pitch, instead of the $11 million that he plainly deserved. It was a difficult trick, as I wanted to beat Glavine and Feinstein about the head with this 500+ page book when I figured the trick out. Ah, if only I could’ve pitched. I could’ve had four days to blog in between my starts.

So there we are.
As of yesterday, March 10th (day 69 of the year)
Books: 9.2 (thus resolving the “Magic in the Night” 2009/10 controversy
Page Count: 3,770
Pace needed to meet goals of 50 books/20,000 pages: 9.5 books/3,781 pages

So there we are. ALMOST on proper pace. Dave Barry is next up, so that promises both fun and a quick book (although a low page count).