Sunday, September 23, 2012

Graveyard Special - Book Review

The first line of James Lileks' Graveyard Special is worth the price of admission alone:
I poured the coffee, Dick wrecked the eggs.
I've been a longtime fan of James Lileks and I'd go just about anywhere he'd take me.  Essentially a light mystery, it's really Lileks' fictional remembrance of his college days in late 1980 in Dinky Town in Minneapolis.  Interweaving actual events with his plot-line, Lileks takes us for a nice little tour of this special place and time in his life, casting off memorable one-liners like he does in his columns and blog.  Novelist isn't Lileks primary profession - yes, yes, I know, he's published novels before but that's been a long time and the samples I've ready show he had yet to develop his novelist skills -  and it shows it parts with some lagging action and only mildly confusing plot-age.  The first in a promised series of linked novels, he's bound to improve.  I liked his asides on pop culture - the music of the time, the transition from pinball to video games - and the portrait of his protagonists parents was especially loving.  All this and a smashing climax with a Zamboni.   What else could you ask for?

 (This was second experience with Kindle reading and, like my first Kindle experience, it was equally meh.  I'll blame it on using my iPhone Kindle - after all, thousands of Kindle users can't be wrong, can they? - because who wants to read a book on their phone?  I do, apparently, since I haven't yet sprung for an actual Kindle.  But my limited experiences with this e-reader technology have been underwhelming.  I frankly don't see what the Kindle fuss is all about.  Sure, I got Graveyard Special at a good price and I was able to carry it around with me wherever I carried my phone but it turns out I carry my phone to all the same places I would have carried a dead-tree book.  Now I'm stuck with it.  I can't toss it up in the attic where stacks of other books gather dust or sell it at a discount book store or give it away as a gift to someone.  It just sits there on my phone.  Now what?)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bob Greene's Quiet Comeback

I was a big fan of Bob Greene's before his fall 10 years ago but I'm glad to see he's quietly making a comeback.  (No, not Oprah's Bob Greene; this Bob Greene.)

Bob Greene thinks a lot these days about the colleagues he has lost — and probably about the career he lost, too.
Ten years ago this week, Greene’s public life crashed and burned on the front page of the Chicago Tribune. Readers awoke that Sunday morning in mid-September to the news that he’d been fired after more than three decades as one of the best known and most widely read columnists in America.
A spectacular ride that had taken a kid from Bexley, Ohio, to a starring role at the Sun-Times by age 23, then to the Tribune and syndication in more than 200 newspapers, was suddenly and completely over.
Greene had been fired, according to the Tribune’s version of events, because he had abused his position by engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a girl he met when she came to interview him for her high school newspaper. 

I first came across Greene's columns in the pages of Esquire in the '80s.  I greatly enjoyed his collections of columns from that magazine and his work on the Tribune.  Up to his time of his dismissal, he was a tireless advocate for abused children and his series on the Baby Richard case touched me deeply as an adoptive parent.  I hungrily re-read his Good Morning, Merry Sunshine in those heady first weeks of Rachel's infancy and so his writing remains a part of that very special time.

No doubt, Greene's actions were a serious breech of ethics and terrible lapse of judgement but count me as one of those who thought his punishment was too harsh.  Certainly some kind of reprimand was in order, a lengthy suspension as well would have been called for, but his body of work up to that point was evidence enough that this may have been an isolated occurrence.  Add the fact that his wife passed away four months after his dismissal - her death likely had more to do with her month-long respiratory illness than Greene's crash-and-burn but that probably didn't help - and you're looking at a man who more than paid the price for his transgression.

Since then he's managed to publish four books and now writes a weekly column at CNN.  I guess you'd call it a comeback if you could call 10 years in the wilderness "looking for stories and trying to do the best job I can reporting and writing them" a comeback.  Call it redemption through work.  I guess that's all you can do, the best you can do, and that's enough.  It certainly seems to be the case for Bob Greene.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Hemingway Slept Here

Paul Hendrickson, in his book, Hemingway's Boat, tells us Hemingway's regular stopover place in Miami was this hotel:


 Hendrickson says the hotel was 7 blocks from the railroad terminal with a view of Biscayne Bay but gives no address. The image above I found on a postcard auction site and the reverse of the card says its located "Facing beautiful Bayfront Park. Here's a seagull's eye view of Bayfront Park today:

View Larger Map

 There's no sign of the Miami Colonial; likely it was elbowed aside by the forest of high-rises that line Biscayne Boulevard across the street from Bayfront Park. (And from this view, Bayfront Park does look beautiful, doesn't it?)

 I'm not opposed to high-rises. They're beautiful in their own way, monuments to the ambition of the human race. But would it have killed developers to leave this lovely old hotel?

Friday, June 22, 2012

First Kindle Experience? Meh.

John Podhoretz recommended Rick Marin's Keep Swinging as a good read and since I had a couple of bucks left on a gift card and a Kindle App on my i-Phone, I thought, well, why not?  I've used the Kindle App before to download samples of books and I found it was all right but it really wasn't a substitute for the real thing - swishing my finger over a glass screen to turn pages just wasn't doing it for me.  Maybe I wasn't giving it a chance.

Well, I gave it a chance with Keep Swinging - a delightful book about fatherhood and sports, by the way, and well worth the couple of bucks - and I was underwhelmed with the whole Kindle experience.  Maybe it was because I was using the i-Phone App - the teeny tiny screen was readable enough and though it isn't any big deal to turn the page, you have to turn a lot of pages to read what I thought was a small amount of text.  Distracting.  And I'm not sure the formatting is the same on Kindle - some passages could have used a paragraph break to better indicate a transition of time but maybe that's how it was edited in the first place.  I don't know.  It just didn't feel right.

Who am I to stand in the way of progress?  E-books are the future and real books are the dusty past.  It'd be nice to have an entire library at my disposal and some of the e-book deals I come across - a buck a throw, even free! - would be hard to pass up.  But for now, I'm content to let this wave of new-newfangledness pass me by.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Soft Target - Book Review

Okay, so Soft Target is the last of the Stephen Hunter I haven't read and the real last of the series. So now I'm really disappointed to be finished - maybe I could start all over again? Nah. No point in treading over places I've already been. Gotta keep moving, reading-wise.

Soft Target is not so much a novel as a novel-length parable told in a feverish style. Hunter is at the top of his game here but it's a lightning quick read - about a hundred pages short of a typical thriller - because Hunter wants to get in, tell his story, make his point, and get the heck out. Ray Cruz carries on the Bob Lee Swagger story. Sure, it's a tired trope, Cruz being an unknown son of Swagger's, and so carries on the family sniper tradition but what're you gonna do? Get past that and Cruz is a great new series character to follow. Stoic, capable, flawed.  Everything you'd like to be.

But back to why Soft Target is more a parable than a story. Hunter thinly disguises his characters and they're obvious stand-ins for current politicians. (Heck, don't take my word for it. Take Hunter's.) His bad guys are the current crop of bad guys - radical Islamists - but there are also other bad guys, namely nihilist gamer youth, and so Hunter has a blast blasting away at what he sees are the biggest threats to civilized society. Don't agree? Write your own book then.

There's plenty of shooting and guns and 'splosions and helicopters to keep you amused and when the smoke clears the good guys are left standing and the bad guys have met their just reward. Can't ask for much more than that, can you?

Soft Target doesn't approach the epic grandeur of Hunter's finest but it'll do until the next one comes along.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Black Light - Book Review

Black Light is the second in Stephen Hunter's Bob Lee Swagger series though it's the last one for me and the first one, too. Some years back I'd tried to start the series and had picked up this book but set it aside after a hundred pages or so - at the time, it just wasn't my kinda book. Amazing what time can do.

Having introduced the story of the death of Bob Lee's father in his first book, Hunter now takes up that story in detail and ties it to the present time of the book. (Hunter's prior published book, Dirty White Boys, is also tied to this Black Light, forming a sort of trilogy of Time to Hunt, Dirty White Boys, and Black Light. I've no desire to read Dirty White Boys and there's no need since the essentials of that book are detailed here.) It's a what-happened-years-ago-is-now-very-important-to-the-present-and-must-be-kept-secret-at-all-costs kind of plot. Swagger and his side kick follow the clues and fight the bad guys and there's some gunplay but not on the scale of Hunter's other Swagger books. Justice is delivered and arrangements are made and everybody's ready to move on to the next adventure by the end of the book.

Not Hunter's best and not near the top of the series but a decent enough place holder until the next book. Glad I read it. Glad I'm finished with it.

So that just about finishes my Stephen Hunter reading jag. I've got one more to go - his latest - and than my mild case of reading OCD will allow me to move on. Oh, it's been fun all right but the bad thing about finishing a series is that you're finished with the series. I'll be glad to look for another series but I was perfectly happy with this one.