Friday, June 27, 2008

Books, Books, Books

As much as I wish I had more Tom Waits reviews to relay to the massive (relatively) readership I've attracted over the past few days, I do not.

I have, however, been much more active on the reading front. Since I finished David McCullough's John Adams (yes, I'd like to be able to underline these titles, but I have not been able to figure that out yet), I've read another three books and am about to embark on another, but I feel compelled to get these entries out of the way before I do so. Since this post is going to be covering what could in actuality be at least four long posts, I'm going to be fairly brief in my reviews/reflections on each book in the interest of keeping things moving forward here at Inconsiderate Prick.


John Adams
, by David McCullough

Obviously, this has gotten a lot of attention over the past few years, what with the Pulitzer and the HBO miniseries. For whatever reason (laziness, lack of motivation, alcoholism), it took me almost a year to finish that book. As such, my retention was probably not what I'd have hoped.

McCullough's prose is pretty accessible for history writing, and his painstaking research clearly paid off as the life of our Second President was one of rife with nuance and complexity. His exploration of the unwavering devotion and anachronistic equality within John and Abigail's relationship is largely informed by their own letters to one another and, as such, adds rich personal insight into their lives. Outside of the sphere of the family, the role John Adams played in leading the United States to independence is investigated in great detail with impartiality, thus allowing the reader to see Adams, warts and all.

Was John Adams the world's easiest read? No, but it was not insurmountable and certainly merits a read if solely to gain better insight as to his place in history.


The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neill's America
, by Joe Posnanski

There is very little impartiality going into my thoughts on this book, as Posnanski is probably my favorite sports writer, and his blog was the first to be entered into the links section here.

That being said, this book was great. It was an incredibly fast read dedicated to a great man, whose efforts to spread the word about the colorful history of Negro League Baseball and his crowning achievement--the Negro League Hall of Fame--drove him to the end. As much as his efforts to keep the memory of the largely forgotten and historically relegated Negro League alive in our collective consciousness started to define who Buck O'Neill was later on in life, it does not take long to see just how much of his success was the result of his kind heart, gentle disposition, and warmth of spirit.

The book is also teeming with great stories of baseball's yesteryear, like Buck O'Neill going to Billy Williams's home (Williams had left his minor league team following one in a series of many discriminatory episodes in his young career ) and staying with them for days, not mentioning baseball once, waiting for Billy to come back on his own terms--well, he also paid some neighborhood kids off to help his cause. His insight into the game was legendary, and his stories ranged from having seen Babe Ruth play when he was a child to hearing that same crack of the bat decades later when Bo Jackson played. He lived in Kansas City in its heyday, saw Charlie Parker playing on the streets as a child, and was close friends with Satchel Paige.

This really is a must-read for any baseball fan or anyone who has the desire to see what makes a man who holds no grudge against anyone, despite having what most would justifiably assume was ample reason to be mad at the world at large. Buck O'Neill's love for baseball and life shine through with ease, and Posnanski's love for his subject and baseball itself certainly do not hurt Buck's cause here. Oh, and the last two chapters are absolutely crushing.


A Drink Before the War, by Dennis Lehane

The first in the Kenzie-Gennaro series (whose later installment, Gone Baby Gone, was brought to the big screen last year), A Drink Before the War is brilliant. Its narration is great, with Patrick coming across as every bit the wry, hardened Bostonian that he is in the Affleck brothers' effort last year, and the action does not slow once it gets started. The plot is labyrinthine and some pretty dark recesses of the human experience are delved into without hesitation. Politicians are dubious, cops are slightly vengeful, abusive husbands get their comeuppance, and private investigators crack wise as well as Bogey ever did.

Upon first reading, Lehane seems to be a damn gifted writer, and his graying of the codes of morality are thought provoking to say the least. When you finish, you will find yourself wishing there were more. There are, and I certainly anticipate running through the rest of the series once I make some headway in the ever-accumulating stacks of books I have been acquiring.


Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This novel looks back at a puzzling murder that occurred years prior to the narrator's return to the scene crime. In historically investigating the murder of a friend, the inexplicable complicity of the entire village is pulled into the foreground and inspected with careful scrutiny.

As always, Garcia Marquez's prose is beautiful, and his knack for conjuring magical imagery is key to the beauty of the book. At a mere 120 pages, this is a book that could easily be read in an afternoon, and if you like Gabriel Garcia Marquez's other works, there's no reason not to dive right in.

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