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.