Resolution update: Books 18-24

10 Nov

BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY

I had technically read – or at least started – this book many years ago, when I was about 12 and trying to impress my well-read uncle (now known as Cool Rut) and aunt with my budding hipster ideals. A few months ago I came across Bright Lights in a used bookstore, bought it, and devoured it in about two hours total. So short, so simple, so good.

It’s dated in a perfect sort of way – I’ve deemed it my favorite pop culture relic of the ‘80s, just ahead of The Breakfast Club, the moonwalk, and my first-day-of-fourth-grade outfit that consisted of a pair of flip-up glasses/sunglasses and one-strap overall shorts. Grade: A-

WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES

I’ll repeat a common critique of memoirists and their diminishing returns, which can be summed up by asking, “if this story is so great, why am I just hearing it now?” It seems Sedaris – once my favorite author – has cannonballed into the pool of ordinary. I read Engulfed, his latest, about two months ago, and besides a long essay about him trying to quit smoking, I can’t remember a single story. It’s a goddamn shame. Grade: C

THE SOUL OF BASEBALL

Everyone’s favorite baseball writer Joe Posnanski spent some time road-tripping with Buck O’Neil, an old but still with-it former Negro league player. Buck shares some insights about the game, mostly in a positive light, always entertaining. Enjoyable in its simplicity and love for the game; though I should mention that the first person I recommended this book to was my grandfather. Make do with that information what you will. Grade: B

THE NIGHT OF THE GUN

My obsession with the drug culture is admitted and ongoing, so I was a predetermined sucker for this book. Picture your standard drug memoir, strip out the chest-puffery, add in cold hard facts and the odd enjoyment of recognizing the names of local bars and neighborhoods you’ve actually visited, and there’s Night of the Gun for you.

No-nonsense, yet vivid writing from author David Carr, helps this transcend the tired genre into something both artistic and journalistically sound. Good stuff. Grade: B+

BALL FOUR

Noted by many as their all-time favorite baseball book, this goes on my list of “I can’t believe I’m just now getting into this” media. Ball Four is written by a former baseball player Jim Bouton in a diary format, detailing his 1970 season.

Ball Four was groundbreaking in that it wasn’t devoted to being an inspirational book for the kiddies, but rather a frank look at the life of a ballplayer in the late ‘60s. The hangovers, the fight with the general managers, the hopes of getting traded – it’s not fully devoted to the smut, but it still widened some eyes back in the day. (Though it doesn’t begin to compare with current tell-alls. Looking up women’s dresses? Where’s the heroin?) Grade: B

THE CONDITION

This is so not my kind of book. It’s an epic, generational family chronicle with nary a sarcastic comment to be found. No slick writing style, no jokes, no snark. That said, I have to admit: The Condition was damn near perfection. Not so much the writing – though it was flawless – but how the author so perfectly understands and describes the human condition. Family, relationships, jobs, sex, aging, disappointment – she just gets it, so perfectly, so profoundly, time and again.

A few excerpts hit so close to home I nearly got goosebumps. Like this one: “Their marriage was a sack of miseries he never sought to escape. She was insecure and jealous, vain and neurotic. Unmoved by logic, she judged him guilty of offenses he committed only in dreams.” Admit it, you’ve either dated someone like that, or know someone who has.

And this one, so familiar to me I immediately read it out loud to my bride-to-be and apologized for being such a loudmouth. Honestly. “This was her favorite part of the summer, these long, manless evenings. The children amused each other, leaving her free to drink wine with Anne and Martine. Had Frank and Roy been there – holding court on the patio, talking past each other, airing their opinions about nothing too interesting – the women would have retreated to the stuffy kitchen. They’d have turned dinner into more work than necessary, simply to have something to do.”

Pitch-perfect observations abound. Not my kind of book, but still, one of my favorites. Grade: A-

WHAT IS THE WHAT

I won’t go so far as to say everyone should be required to read this book about the wars in Sudan, but I will say the story – written by Dave Eggers from a true first-person account of a Sudan survivor – was educational, humbling, enlightening.

Achak, the main character, retells his life from a childhood escape from his hometown amidst bombs killing his family and friends, to waking across the desert with hundreds of other boys searching for salvation, many dying along the way, to his eventual miraculous acceptance to come to America.

The content is devastating, and while the descriptions were a bit long-winded (519 pages total), the overall product was a challenging book that I won’t soon forget. Grade: B+

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12 Responses to “Resolution update: Books 18-24”

  1. RandBall's Stu November 11, 2008 at 8:06 am #

    If you dig on Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is out in paperback now, I think. Highly recommended.

  2. Dave MN November 11, 2008 at 9:04 am #

    The Condition sounds good. I’ll pick it up.

    Have you read “Love is a Mixtape”? Seems like it would be up your alley.

  3. ms. mpls November 11, 2008 at 11:01 am #

    I agree with you about Sedaris … kinda. The opening story is great. With his germ-a-phobe older sister not realizing that Dave’s partner and mother had the African insect in their legs that had to eat its way out.

    Which since it’s the holiday spirit, prompted me to reread Holidays on Ice, my least favorite Seadaris, but I heart the first and the Dinah the Whore stories ……

    And I agree with Dave MN. Good read.

  4. Dave MN November 11, 2008 at 11:20 am #

    I just realized that I can listen to audiobooks from the Hennepin County Library site.

    They let you download music, too.

    Now I just need a library card. I haven’t had one in years

  5. BreAnne November 11, 2008 at 12:35 pm #

    As a person who’s on her umpteenth attempt to quit smoking, I know one sometimes has to go to great lengths to be successful. Even still, I found the idea of moving to another country a little much…I would assume they still sell cigarettes in Japan, no?

    I really enjoy these reviews, I’m always asking people for book suggestions, and I rarely get good responses. I’m seriously reading Twilight right now because I feel the need to relive my obsession with vampires as a 16-year-old girl.

    Please, for the health of my mind, keep these coming!

  6. A.B. November 11, 2008 at 2:07 pm #

    “Bride-to-be”? Congratulations!!!!!!

  7. Dave MN November 11, 2008 at 2:23 pm #

    Unmoved by logic, she judged him guilty of offenses he committed only in dreams.

    Oh, I’ll admit it. Talk about the worst conversations ever, having to defend yourself against something that she dreamed that you did.

    Jeebus.

    Glad that’s over.

    And then a year or so later I heard the song “Trusted” by Ben Folds, and yelled at the stereo, “Damn it, Ben! Where was this song two years ago?!”

  8. RandBall's Stu November 11, 2008 at 2:33 pm #

    You’re engaged? That’s a new development, innit? If so, congratulations. If not, sorry for not paying attention so well.

  9. B. November 11, 2008 at 10:49 pm #

    Indeed I am! ‘Preciate the kind words, internet friends.

  10. Stinger November 12, 2008 at 8:58 am #

    I really think that the Condition author should invest in a better proofreader. Clearly the writer meant Anne and Megan, not Martine–And while Frank and Roy are worthy nickname considerations for the real characters, Murph and Norm were the obvious participants airing their opinions about nothing.

  11. MN Julie November 13, 2008 at 1:49 pm #

    I read Ball 4 when I was in my teens. Scared the hell out of my dad when I started talking about “popping greenies.” To this day, that is the major impression I have of the book.

    I read you guys at Randball all the time but I never post. Cool rec site!

  12. RandBall's Stu November 13, 2008 at 3:21 pm #

    I read you guys at Randball all the time but I never post.

    Just like Rand!

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