Archive for the ‘General’ Category

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 Books

March 1, 2010

And on with the great literacy challenge of 2010.

7. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller.

Donald Miller is one unique cat. He would be my Christian theologian most likely to be seen in a bar. And in his latest book, he talks about what he learned in preparing one of his autobiographical/essay books to be a movie. Basically, he had to create himself in a movie. Which, admit it, we’ve all done 7,000 times in our head. I’ve even got the soundtrack to mine, even though I still have to figure out a scene which allows for a semi-random use of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love”.

From this premise, Miller hypothesizes that LIVING a life is, essentially, creating a story. We can sit on the couch and watch a lot of reality shows (or read Christian themed literature), or we can go out and DO something, something to strengthen our relationships with God, and with other people. And that juxtaposition isn’t coincidental. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is half of God’s own two most important commandments.

Miller reconnects with his father, rides a bicycle coast to coast for charity, falls into and out of love, and describes a renewed commitment to living life aggressively rather than passively. Which is a good focus for a Christian book. Most of your Christians aren’t out there lopping off heads and sodomizing animals. If they fail, they often fail for lack of initiative and involvement. And hopefully, Miller helps prevent that here. I dig it, as I have pretty much all of his books.

8. Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich.

From Christian spirituality to card counting. Mezrich recounts the story of a group of MIT math students who use an intricate team-playing system to bust casinos in games of blackjack. The book is so fun that it reads like a thriller. Unfortunately, the more I read about the book, the more I learned that Mezrich played hard and fast with the truth. Jeff Ma is the real name of Mezrich’s main subject… google him if you want some more info about all of this.

And if it all sounds familiar, the movie “21” was made from this book. I’d love to see it, if anybody wants to send me a belated Presidents Day gift.

9. (ongoing) Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs

Jacobs is a magazine writer who decided to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Wacky hijinks ensue. He had me in the earliest pages of the book when he confessed that this wasn’t the worst idea he’d had– that he once tried to write a screenplay about a President with Tourette’s syndrome, called Hail to the Freakin’ Chief.

Or when he recounted an article from an old edition of the EB, which stated that ex-President John Adams retired to a life of drinking a tankard of hard cider every morning before breakfast and admiring the size of his manure pile. Of course, you can insert your own President/hard drinking/piles of crap joke here, with the name of said President likely being indicative of your particular leanings. But if you say it about John Adams, it was apparently true.

So anyway, the page count…
2,250 +
A Milion Miles 288
Bringing Down the House 288
Know-It-All 200 (so far)
TOTAL 3,026/20,000
Books: 8.6/50

And correct pace through 59 days of 2010 would have been 3,233 pages and 8.1 books. So I’m a bit behind on my page count and a bit ahead on my book count. Or am I? I counted “Magic in the Night” as a full book, when I read about 80% of it in 2009. I did go back and only count 50 pages from the book… so that probably explains the disparity there. I’m actually probably a little behind on both fronts. But hey, there’s 10 months to go.

It Hurts Me Too

January 27, 2010

Cyberbullying.

I had never heard of it before yesterday. While I could guess at what it was thanks to the linguistic skills that a college degree should confer, the word was a new one. But in Boston, a pretty fifteen year old girl named Phoebe Prince apparently committed suicide due to cyberbullying.

The more I read yesterday, the more I learned. I read of an 11 year old boy who killed himself because he was taunted for being allegedly gay. I read of a 9 year old who hanged himself at school. I am just sick at this situation. It is a depressing thing to live in a world in which children, sweet, innocent children are driven to suicide by things on their computers.

Like Charlie Starkweather in Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska”, I end up being unable to account for the evil in our times, aside from a general meanness in this world.

And I remember when I was young.

I was bullied sometimes. One boy was so persistent that eventually my parents wormed it out of me, called the school, and involved them. Much to my own amazement, once the bully was confronted, he actually behaved himself from then on. That certainly seemed unlikely then and now. So I guess I was lucky. There were others, but never with that same scary intensity.

I also bullied sometimes. There are few things that I have done in my life that I would genuinely change, and that I really and truly regret. Bullying is one of them. I wish I could apologize to every person I ever taunted, persecuted or made uncomfortable.
When you’re 12 or 13 years old, calling each other names and insulting each other is just what boys do. Except when it isn’t. And those lines are often imperceptible to the persons doing the hurting. Until it’s too late, like it is for Phoebe Prince.

As a parent, there’s no easy way to say that this stuff scares the crap out of me. It scares me because I want to physically dismember anybody who says hurtful things about that little angel in my household. And it scares me because I don’t want her to be a tyrant to her own peers and contemporaries. Like I probably did a time or two.

#38– Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

November 11, 2009

Hornby has written another one. It’s brilliant, probably the best book he’s penned since “High Fidelity” and possible even better than it, although I’d like it better if the ending had felt a bit more resolved.

We follow Duncan, who is a manic fan of Tucker Crowe, a semi-Dylan, semi-Springsteen, semi-Leonard Cohen, semi-imaginary creation of Hornby. Crowe apparently experienced a life changing epiphany in a Minneapolis bathroom in 1986 and disappeared. Duncan runs an Internet site dedicated to studying Crowe’s every belch, whimper and fart, and the new rumors of same.

I have to break off here to say that yes, this does ring somewhat true in my own life. I am an equally semi-obsessive Dylan fan. Or maybe was. I can, or at one time could, listen to a few seconds of a version of “All Along the Watchtower” and probably tell you what year it was from. Maybe what tour. Probably who was playing on it. Likely even recommend a better specimen from the same time frame. I have a box of probably over 1,000 Dylan CD-Rs under a spare bed at my house. I certainly own all his albums, I’ve read a good deal of the meaningful books about him, have seen him live something like 16 times, and have spent way too many hours driving other perfectly sane people crazy about Bob Freaking Dylan.

Duncan’s longtime girlfriend and object of his Crowe-worship-torture, Annie, tries to tolerate his obsession. When Crowe releases a “new” album of old demos, it is Annie who hears what is really going on in the music. Partially to spite Duncan, she posts a review on the website. Lo and behold, about the time a cranky Duncan is taking up with a new woman, Tucker Crowe e-mails Annie and appreciates her insight into his work.

I won’t go through the rest of what happens. Even Crowe, who is Dylanish in his inability to take responsibility for his social failures (see Joan Baez, also secret marriage and child/ren, etc), comes off as an amazingly likeable character. I usually want to punch at least one of Hornby’s characters in the face. Not this time. And if I did, it would probably be Duncan.

Again, stepping back in, there was a big “guilty pleasure” factor in this book. I would laugh at the ridiculousness of Duncan’s behavior, and then think, “well, there was that one time when I dd such and such…” and realize that I wasn’t THAT much less ridiculous myself.

This was a very impressive book. Hornby just gets the male psyche. If we can’t BE Bob Dylan or Tom Brady or Barack Obama or whomever, we have to know EVERYTHING about them, and “understand” them completely. It’s utterly pathetic. And accurate. He also gets the female psyche. I like Annie as much as I like any character he has ever written. I’m heartbroken for her failures and problems and wish that just once, he’d broken out happily ever after for her. Maybe when they make it a movie.

Joe

#37- My Cold War by Tom Piazza

November 11, 2009

I’ve previously reviewed Piazza’s novel “City of Refuge” within the 50 new books for 2009. My wife and I heard him read from that book in Oxford, Mississippi last year, and were struck by the power of his story. “My Cold War” was his first novel and I picked up a remaindered copy from Barnes & Noble for a few bucks.

Piazza’s novel contemplates a middle aged history professor, who is failing in his efforts to work up a new book on America’s cold war heritage, and is failing in his marriage and his efforts to connect with his own painful history of his own family. I do give him mega props on one specific chapter in the book which is about Dylan plugging in at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. By far and away, this was my favorite part of the book, and makes me think that Piazza might be the one who should write the Cold War book.

Our hero eventually goes to Iowa to try to reconnect with his estranged brother, who ends up having befriended some lovely neo-Nazi style racists (sarcasm on the “lovely”, of course). This is where the book gets convoluted. I couldn’t help but feel like Piazza put his hero in a boat, rowed him out into the middle of lake and stopped the book right there.

I can’t recommend this one like I did “City of Refuge”. It’s certainly not a waste of time, as Piazza is an intense and skilled writer, but he’s improved with age. If he continues, the next one should be one for the ages.

Joe

7 1/2 weeks of parenting

September 28, 2009

Last week, my daughter slept through the night. She’s really and truly done this once, but we’ve had two more 11 PM to 6 AM sleepings, so she’s certainly doing well in that department. She’s also soiled herself mercilessly and cried a lot. She is showing signs of her own personality. Lots of smiling, starting to stick her tongue out if you put yours out at her, making very occasional happy baby noises, and starting to exert the sort of stubbornness that I don’t see how she can avoid, if biology or environment have any effect on us.

My insights are still limited to the fact that parenting is very difficult and very rewarding. Now that she’s starting to get interested in things, we’ve got to be a little more interactive. While she still likes “Radio Nowhere” a lot, I think it’s falling behind “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in the grand scale of things. Which is fine. I don’t want to end up with a pop culture junkie… just a happy little girl.

Back to work comes soon for Julie, so the time at home for her is winding down. Working with a kid, without usurping the mother’s role here because I certainly can’t speak for that, is a strange mixture of freedom and fret. It IS nice to get away from screaming and dirty diapers for a few hours. It’s bad to know that somewhere out there, your child is growing up, and you’ll get to see some more of it when the pile of papers on your desk disappears.

That said, as adults, we are destined to live our own lives, and our children are destined to live theirs. Maybe the shift comes at 9 1/2 weeks, when Mom goes back to work, or at five when little girl goes to school, or at 18 when “adult” girl goes to college. Whenever it is, it is a bittersweet time, as the world starts to interject itself and make us not the only important part of our daughter’s life. But I’m not that stressed about it. There are a million bonds already that will keep us an important part of her life. Hopefully, she’s as happy about that as I am.

Joe

Book #29- Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs

September 10, 2009

This is the first A.B. book I’ve read (after birth). Fortunately, Chuck Klosterman is basically an irrepressable smart ass who writes about pop culture in a funny, entertaining way. The book is a collection of essays. Some get a little ponderous (like his essay on Vanilla Sky), some are more than a little absurd (Saved by the Bell), and some are so dead on that you can’t help but agree (country music).

Klosterman is probably not for everybody. That said, if you’re between 25-40, have a strong interest in the pop culture of the ’70s and ’80s, and/or have strong opinions about things, you’d probably dig it. I think there’s something in here to offend the sensibilities of everybody, but also something that we can all remember and agree with. Plus, it does have a fun title.

Joe

An update from the land of parenting

September 10, 2009

So, I haven’t posted so much. Having a newborn baby and going back to work have taken up lots of time. We also just traded vehicles, callously abandoning Julie’s old Civic despite its 130 or so thousand miles of efficiency. Somewhat bizarrely, the new vehicle has a cassette deck. Yes, it’s a 2006, and I know I hadn’t bought a tape for many years before that. But oh well… I’ll be breaking my Hammer cassettes back out soon.

I have realized that the 50 new books is likely not happening, but I am still reading, and am not totally abandoning the project. I have finished one and have another in close proxymity to completion. Who knows- 40-45 might still happen.

Parenting is very intense and challenging, and very rewarding. I would say so far the hardest part is dealing with a crying baby who you know has no legitimate (i.e. hungry, dirty, sleepy) reason to cry. Chuck Berry and Springsteen seem to generally help my little girl. Which is good. God knows they’ve helped me too.

The best parts? I guess you really have to experience them. I am partial to when she nuzzles her head into my neck and tickles the crap out of me. Or her funny faces and smiles, which are becoming more regular these days.

I’ll post a little more… hope everybody out there hasn’t forgotten me and is getting along well.

Joe

She’s here.

August 10, 2009

On Friday morning at 6:19 AM, I became a Dad. She is a wonderful, healthy amazing little girl, and I am humbled and amazed by her. My wife went through pain that I can’t fathom and generally kept an astoundingly good attitude. I definitely married up, and am very much glad I did.

And I’m really sleepy and a complete emotional train wreck. Is there some kind of postpartum father’s thing? If not, some day sleep deprived, confused, weepy Dads everywhere may have Cox Disease.

It’s been great to experience the support and love of friends and family. It takes a village, and it probably takes a country when I’m the Dad, but know it is appreciated, folks. If you’re a facebook friend, I will have pictures up shortly. Crying baby has pretty much occupied the 26 or so hours since we’ve been home. Just wanted to pass the news along for those who might not have known. Thanks for your support, friendship, readership, and prayers. Don’t stop any of them; particularly the last.

All the Best,

Joe

A goodbye

August 4, 2009

I generally keep this blog very light. I like to tell funny stories, or talk about books or movies, or share restaurant tips or memories. Unfortunately, sometimes the real world interferes.

Lindsey McCoy passed away on Saturday. Lindsey was 25 years old. She was the sister of Dustin McCoy, a good friend of mine over the years. She was beautiful and vibrant and funny and so alive. I feel very much unequal to the task of trying to paint any kind of picture for anybody who didn’t know her. She was a very special young woman, and she beat cystic fibrosis for 25 years. I never even knew she had it.

It has been a very bittersweet last few days. My daughter is actually due today, and should be born anytime. I suppose it is only natural that the circle of human life takes away when it gives. I believe that God has a plan for all of us, and that when that plan seems uncertain or incomprehensible, we have to believe even more. I think of the worlds of a near death Johnny Cash, who when asked if he entertained religious doubt after his beloved wife’s death, said simply, “My arms are too short to box with God.” I think of the little girl I haven’t met yet, and how I hope and pray for her health and safety and happiness, and how I have to acknowledge that I can’t assure her of any of those things.

Life can be perilous and short. I hope that I, and you, and my unborn daughter, can find the strength and the faith to live our own lives in the shadow of our weaknesses and frailties as well as Lindsey McCoy did. It’s a great task, but I hope we can do it.

Joe