Another thing I thought I didn’t like

TPR_podcast_Hadada_whiteline1I’ve probably taken the opportunity to write here on this very blog that I don’t want to hear readings when I listen to a podcast.  I don’t know why I said that.  I’ve listened to audiobooks and enjoyed it on occasion.  So I don’t know why I didn’t want readings.  One thing is that I find it hard to listen to literary fiction in the car.  My audiobook tastes tended more toward John Sandford (who I met once and he made fun of my name) or biographies. With literary fiction, if you miss one sentence while you are working the turn signal you can miss the whole story.

Anyway, I was out and about this week and was listening to the Paris Review podcast.  And they promised a reading of Bangkok by James Salter.

This was of interest to me.  During my Valentine’s Day post I wrote about James Salter and A Sport and a Pastime, a filthy sexy literary book.  So this had potential.

Add to it that Dick Cavett was reading the story–a professional reader.  I was talking about this to Barb and she noted that readings can be good when they are done by readers, but they suck when done by authors.

So, I listened.  It was so good.  Cavett–along with some very judiciously used sound nighthawk_man_and_woman-300x172effects and background music–gave the whole thing a noir feel.  Honestly, both of the characters felt like they had stepped off an Edward Hopper painting.

The story is so good.  Salter was just the best.  His has the power of juxtaposition, to put two sentences next to each other in a way that makes 25 words turn into a million, an infinite set of feelings and understanding.

She had been coming out of a restaurant one time, down some steps long after lunch in a silk dress that clung around the hips and the wind pulled against her legs. The afternoons, he thought for a moment.

And how’s this for a “show don’t tell” plot advancement with a featherweight touch.

He was leaning back in the chair. For the first time she had the impression he might have been drinking a little more than usual these days.

You can’t do much better than that.  Just to let you know, the filthy quotient doesn’t get short-changed here either. (This is dialogue, FYI, without punctuation).

We’re going to stay in Bangkok for a couple of months, perhaps come back through Europe, Carol said. Molly has a lot of style. She was a dancer. What was Pam, wasn’t she a teacher or something? Well, you love Pam, you’d love Molly.

You don’t know her, but you would. She paused. Why don’t you come with us? she said.

Hollis smiled slightly.

Shareable, is she? he said.

You wouldn’t have to share.

It was meant to torment him, he knew.

Eeeesh.  Anyway, I’d recommend Salter and this story.  It is in the Paris Review archive, free to subscribers (yes, the whole thing).  It may be available elsewhere in a collection.  It is worth reading.  Or you could download the podcast and listen to Dick Cavett read it.  That’s free.

Happy birthday Maya Angelou!

unnamed-1I am trying to remember how I got interested in Maya Angelou – I am guessing that it was Oprah. I think Oprah was interviewing Ms Angelou and they were talking about her book ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. Being curious about literature and wanting to read new (as in new to me) things I got the book.

I remember being shook after reading it. It was hard for me to fathom that this was someone’s life since it was so far from my own. It opened my eyes to a lot of different issues: race, poverty, rape. And that’s what good books do, right? It’s also an uplifting story in a sense that the main character finds a way out through writing and love of literature.

And not for nothing, it’s one of the few books I’ve read multiple times.

Then there is ‘Phenomenal Woman’ – I mean, that poem blew me away. Poetry is something that felt foreign to me in terms of understanding it. This was one of the first poems that I read and went – wait, this is for me. I can see myself here:

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies,
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I mean, seriously. For a young woman (me) who was trying to find her way in the world, and felt on the outside of being traditionally beautiful – this poem hit me at the right time and in the right place. I could be strong and powerful and not be a size 2. Who knew? Maya Angelou did. She was one wise lady.

That is my Maya Angelou story. I know that she had a huge impact on many, many others by telling her story – I think she was a very brave, and wise woman.

Also, if you have a spare moment, stop on the google doodle today – your soul will thank me.



April Book Preview!

I have a lot of books in the queue for April! It’s going to be a hopping month! (HA! Hopping…like the easter bunny…see what I did there.)



Eventide by Therese Bohman (April 10)

According to the summary about the book: “Eventide is a perceptive novel of ideas about love, art, and solitude in our time, and the distorted standards to which women are held in their relationships and careers.”



Sophia of Silicon Valley by Anna Yen (April 10)

First of all, the cover looks cool. And I am a nerd for anything tech. Thought this would be an interesting read. It’s a fictional insider look at Silicon Valley.


Go Ask Fannie

Go Ask Fannie by Elisabeth Hyde (April 10)

I liked the cover. What can I say.



Noir by Christopher Moore (April 17)

I am SUPER pumped about this book. I am a huge Christopher Moore fan (his book Lamb is one of the funniest and most clever books I’ve read). I am also a bit scared – this is the first author that I am reviewing that I am a fan of. Stay tuned!



Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean (April 20)

This looked like an interesting read. It is a collection of short (ish) bios on women who have had something to say. I figure if it’s got Nora Ephron and Dorothy Parker in it, you can’t go wrong.


Whew….I’ve got a lot of reading ahead of me!

A sub-story from Grant

Everyone is aware that Ron Chernow’s Hamilton biography was adapted into Hamilton: The Musical, a transformative work of genius.  I’m not sure there’s a musical inside of Grant, but I’d like to suggest a novel/film which occurred to me from the lesser known parts of the Grant bio.

To be clear, there are enough movies about Gettysburg.

It would center on the massive swindle that Grant was involved in after his Presidency.  This is an incredible story, with huge implications for the economy.  Grant–and his entire family–were victims of an incredible Ponzi scheme.  Two banks closed because of it.  It was huge.

It is also a great story.  You have the angle of the Grants–who entered the Civil War the most pedestrian of families–being obsessed with money and the social status it brought.  They were desperate to retain their position they held in the White House and then on a two-year world tour where they dined in palaces.

Grant had a history of being too trustful and when that met the desire to be rich, the conditions were right for a con man.  His name was Ferdinand Ward.  Also driven by a childhood of poverty, Ward was an extremely effective con man who would make a great character on his own.  This is a story as fresh as today.  He created the illusion that he was making great profits, and people bought with great enthusiasm.

The story gets even better because an important part of the con was Grant’s involvement.  Ward would whisper to potential marks that Grant was using his influence to get government contracts.  Because Grant’s reputation was not the best, this seemed like it could be true, and the money flowed, even though there were never any contracts and no use of Grant’s influence.

ferdinand wardThe scheme not only brought down Grant–who was worth $18 when it was over–but also his children and their in-laws, as well as famous cartoonist Thomas Nast.

It’s 100% a story that stands on its own.

(Note that there is a book about Ward, written by Geoffrey Ward, his great-grandson.  Ward is an award-winning historian who principally wrote the Ken Burns Civil War series, among others).


Editors/producers…you know where to find me.

It’s been 6 months of book blogging!

6-mos-anniv-sqBJ and I started this blog in September (ish) so it’s been around 6 months that we have been posting about books. I thought I would take some time to reflect on what I have learned…and not learned.

It has been a very cool and interesting experience. For me, it was difficult to write book reviews since I don’t normally read reviews and really, who am I to tell people about books? When I was feeling self-conscious about it, BJ’s advice to me was to just be myself. I feel like I have been true to that and I have written reviews and posts that interest me. (Let’s be honest, I am not writing for the New York Times Review of Books so the pressure is off.) The process has made me think more about reading and for me, what makes a good reading experience. I was going to write, what makes a good book – but I think that’s different. I like to read for pleasure and to escape, and if a book doesn’t help me do that then it’s not a good read in my opinion. Doesn’t mean it’s not a good book. That has taken me a while to come to terms with.

I won’t lie, being able to review books prior them being released is still super cool. I get a thrill when I get an email that I have been approved for one. And I get a stupid grin on my face when I read the page in the book that says it’s a review copy. Maybe that will get old some day, but I doubt it. I do get that it’s a privilege to be able to do this and I take it seriously. I try to review books that I am approved for in the time allowed. There have been a few that have been archived before I have had a chance to get to them, but generally I have been pretty on top of it.

I have read books that I normally would not have. For me, that is the cool part of this. I have been exposed to books and authors that I never would have been before. I try to stick with reviewing books that I would normally pick out at the bookstore – I think it’s unfair to an author if I try to review a book that is outside of my ‘normal’. However, this has given me the opportunity to have a bit more of a risk-free approach to reading.

I have read more books since starting the blog than I would normally. The blog has been an ‘excuse’ to read. Not that I need one, really. But, like when I did the 50 book pledge a few years back, now I need to make choices – do I play Stardew Valley for an hour or do I read? It’s not a bad position to be in. (Mostly I choose reading….but I am addicted to Stardew, btw.)

On the downside of blogging – I was a bit obsessed with followers for a while. From what I have read from other bloggers, this is common. Getting followers takes work – and I give props to those of you who have managed to do it. What I realize is, we started this blog for fun and it’s not supposed to be a JOB. So I (mostly) have backed off on the obsession with followers.

The other downside is content. I guess this goes hand-in-hand with followers. I can only read so many books, and I like to try to get the reviews out around the release dates, which don’t always coincide with my blogging schedule. However, lives will not be lost if I don’t post on schedule and truthfully, it gives me something to think about.

Thanks for reading and following and liking and commenting! As much as I like doing the posts, it is really nice to know that people are reading and enjoying.


Opening Day: Baseball Fiction

celebrantSo with Spring Training underway and baseball games on TV and radio now, I thought it was good time to come out about a former reading obsession of mine, which was baseball writing and, mostly, baseball fiction.

My senior thesis at Bowling Green State University was called Huck Finn Plays Ball for Arcadia:  Social Criticism in American Baseball Literature.  (Italics added ironically).  The books were The Great American Novel by Philip Roth, The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh Prop, by Robert Coover, The Natural by Bernard Malamud and Shoeless Joe by WP Kinsella. My wife now reminds me that Kinsella would be under “Canadian Baseball Literature” but that point literally escaped all of us at the same time.

There’s a lot of baseball fiction, more than other sports, and people have thought a lot about why.  Among the reasons is that baseball is a game with a lot of spaces that require imagination and therefore attract writers.  Another reason is that baseball was at one time (believe it or not) considered to be hardwired in American culture.  Until the 1960s it was the only significant professional team sport in the US.  And because baseball represented American culture, it became a prism through which to examine the society and a good way to demythologize the US and tear down myths.

So it wasn’t always easy to find these books.  Before, I was known to pore over used bookstores looking for baseball fiction.  The books were hard to find and there was no master list to pore over.

Because of this perceived scarcity, I rationed my baseball reading for the long, cold winter–between the World Series and Opening Day.

So, what are some of the great baseball books I’ve read.  To start with, in my movies post, I mentioned The Celebrant and If I Never Get Back as examples of great baseball books that I ran across.   A few others include…

Things Invisible to See by Nancy Willard.  A fantastic novel set in Michigan where a man bets with Death on a sandlot baseball team.

The Dixie Association–Robert Hays.  Hilarious novel about a minor-league team in Arkansas that is filled with misfits and worse.

The Conduct of the Game.  John Hough Jr.  An incredibly beautiful novel about an umpire.

The Thrill of the Grass  More Kinsella.  Frankly, as good as his writing was, it did devolve into sort of the same thing over and over again.  On the other hand, his writing celebrated baseball and this story collection is very good.

A non-fiction book that deserves mention is The Prophet of the Sandlots.  Written by Mark Winegardner, it is a bio of Tony Lucadello, perhaps the greatest baseball scout who ever lived.  This is a truly tragic story but it a great read.

Also, yet I know about Art of Fielding.  It was great as well, but the other books are all of a certain era of my life.

Obviously, there are many others.  I’ve sort of evolved out of this and I don’t read as much in this genre as I once did.  But, if you love the game, literature is a great enhancer.

Should have been a movie…

leoOK, so the Oscars were Sunday.  I posted on Sunday about books that had been adapted into movies that won Oscars.  Now, I’d like to play Junior D-boy and suggest some books that I think would be great movies.

Should anyone in the actual movie development business be reading right now, you should hire me before dinner tonight.  I’d be awesome.

Also, I expect to be informed one of these actually was made into a movie and I didn’t know it.  Which would only prove I was right.

It isn’t as easy as you think.  You need some kind of conflict and a love story, typically.  It can’t just be a story.   There needs to be a bad guy.  Now, that’s what we were taught for all fiction, but it seems truer for movies.  A book can get away with a man against himself easier than a movie, I think.

Nonetheless, I would have loved to have seen Bill Murray or Robin Williams in their prime play the lead in A Confederacy of Dunces.

Other books I think would make great movies.

If I Never Get Back— Darryl Brock.  A classic time travel story of 19th Century baseball that includes an Irish insurrection from Canada as well as the undefeated Cincinnati Red Stockings.  There’s a love angle.  It’s a nearly perfect story.

The Celebrant–Erik Rolfe Greenberg.  Another baseball novel, this one related to a jewelry maker and his awestruck relationship with Christy Mathewson.  This is a great story about art and technique.  Would be a great Indie.  No bad guy, really.  Great chance to introduce America to Merkle’s Boner.

Blue Latitudes–by Tony Horwitz.  This is the story of Captain Cook’s journey around the world.  Would be incredibly visual, some creative license would need to be taken with a sabotaging crew member or financier to make a film, but would be captivating.

Tecumseh–by John Sugden.  Why this is not a movie, I do not understand.  The Prophet, Tecumseh’s mystical brother would be a great plot addition.

Darker than Night–by Tom Henderson.  A story of a brutal murder near Luzerne, Michigan…along with the long battle by a lonely state police officer to bring the killers to justice.  Lots of Winter’s Bone like characters combined with a chance for a Peter Falk like investigator.

Playing For Pizza–John Grisham.  The story of an American playing in a low-wattage semi-professional football league in Italy.  Would be perfect.  And there’s a love story.

The Sister Brothers–Patrick DeWitt.  Paging the Coen Brothers.

Heart of Darkness–Joseph Conrad.  HA HA.  I kid.

A Gentleman in Moscow–Amor Towles.  Well discussed on this here blog.  Would be an awesome movie.  Also, since it mostly takes place in one building, has potential as a stage play.

Caravaggio–Helen Langdon.  The pansexual art genius would be the hero for today’s times.  Also there’s a murder.

Five Days at Memorial-Sheri Fink.  The inside story of life and death in a hospital during Hurricane Katrina has Oscar potential and would ignite debates and have people talking.