Wednesday, February 09, 2005

2004 Book Review

I finally got down to it. Here are all the books I've read in the past year, and just like the movie review, I've used a bit of pop culture past to rate the books. The reviews aren't going to be too long, and I promise that I won't use the line that I ended my sixth grade book report, "And if you want to know the rest, you have to read it yourself."

Quick story, when I was a kid I left a book report until the last minute (it was a Hardy Boys book). The thing was, I read a million Hardy Boy books and this time I just couldn't read that crap any more, despite the fact that I had an oral book report the next day. I decided to read the back cover and make up the rest. I ended up saying that famous line, fooling no one and received my first F.

So with out further adieu, the 2004 books:

The Secret Societies Handbook This was basically an encyclopedia of secret societies. They can't be much of a secret if I bought the book at Barnes and Noble and it didn't really tell me anything I didn't know.

Junky by William S. Burroughs. Very solid book, like "On the Road" I probably would've been more shocked if I read this in the 1950s, but it's almost 60 years later and I've seen all of this stuff on the evening news. Strong writing, strong characters, good book.

Fever Pitch by Nicholas Hornby. I liked this book a lot. I think I would've liked it more had I been an English soccer fan. Lots of stuff went over my head, but the overall message is the same on both sides of the pond. Hornby is a hell of a writer.

The Naked Olympics by Tony Perrottet. Even though I detest the Olympics, I liked this book. Pretty good account of what went on thousands of years ago in ancient Greece. I bought this book during the summer Olympics and it was a cool read.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo. Ok book. Too many characters, every time the action would pick up, he'd go into flashback mode (very annoying), but he does a tremendous job explaining the intracies of small town New England. Very vivid.

Straight Man Richard Russo. I'll give Russo credit, he's good at writing about depressing people that you sort of want to see how they turn out. Not easy to do. The thing is, I didn't give a shit about any of them. Quick read, not too bad. Sort of a carbon copy of "Empire Falls", though that was much better. Russo could've done better.

Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux. Excellent book. This guy went from Egypt to South Africa by train, bus or car. He gets a bit preachy now and again, but Theroux's travel books are great. I'd read this guy any where.

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken. Since I'm not a big Republican fan, I liked this book. He sort of goes off track and is not shy about smashing you over the head with his message, but for the most part I agree with him. It's sort of like a bizarro Fox News, which evens out the scales, I suppose.

Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich. Tremendous book. Just awesome. It's about a bunch of MIT students who figure out a way to beat the odds while playing poker. From start to finish a thrill-packed book. I think this would make an awesome movie. One of the best books I've read all year.

The Complete Peanuts 1950-52 by Charles Schulz. The BEST book I've read all year. Laugh all you want, but Schulz had a vision for his comic and damn if he didn't keep it going (until he had to kowtow to Madison Ave.) Do yourself a favor and pick this thing up. It inspired me to pick up the pencil and start drawing again.

The Boston Braves 1871-1953 by Harlod Keaese. It was cool to read about old Boston and the way it was when there were two teams vieing for the baseball attention of the Boston fan. Reads like a text book, so if you have no interest in the Braves, you may want to skip it.

Mr. Show, What Happened by Naomi Odenkirk. A little self-serving at times, Odenkirk is the wife of Mr. Show co-star Bob Odenkirk, so I doubt that it's too objective. The good thing is that this show kicks ass and there was a lot of trivia and other behind the scenes stuff.

A Civil War by John Feinstein. I'm glad I read it, because I've always been fascinated by military school life, but there was way too many characters. If Feinstein just focused on one or two guys from each team it would've been much better. He decided to go for the whole scope, which takes away from the book in the end.

The Beatles: Tell Me Why Album by Album, Song by Song by Tim Riley. Terrible book. Easily the worst I read all year. I was really looking forward to this and Riley just disappoints with tedious descriptions about each song. And this was stuff that most Beatle fans know. No behind the scene stuff, no reasons as to why the songs were written. Just a craptastic book. Read it if you want to hate the Beatles.

Black Mass by Dick Lehr and Gerald O'Neil. The FBI and the Irish Mob were in bed together through most of the 60s, 70s and 80s ... this is the story. The reporting in this book is top shelf and the way it is presented is awesome too. Leher and O'Neil were Globe writers who broke this story and they are the experts. Terrific tome.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis. Probably the most important sports book since "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton. Lewis goes inside the inner sanctum of Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane and sees how a "modern" franchise is run. Before he wrote this book, Lewis knew nothing about baseball (or very little), which might have been a detriment. Here it is a positive as he does not have any preconceived notions or old school prejudices.

Zodiac Unmasked by Robert Graysmith. For the better part of two years I was obsessed with this serial killer. I saw a show on the Discovery Channel about him and it completely blew my mind, it was almost like a movie. The book isn't too bad, though Graysmith does fall into the trap of having a hypothesis and making sure every single piece of evidence works with that hypothesis (even if it doesn't fit sometimes).

Storied Stadiums by Curt Smith. This book out and out sucked. Worse than the Beatles book. Smith attempts to chronicle baseball history by using stadiums as a conduit. Sounds like a great idea and if this guy knew how to write without going off on mindless tangents or dropping nonsensical and unexplained non sequitors in the middle of paragraphs, it may have worked.


The Family by Ed Sanders. I guess I was on a serial murders kick at the beginning of this year, eh? Sanders' book is the best one that I've ever read about the Manson Family, even better than "Helter Skelter". He doesn't just go over the court case against this merry band of pranksters, he delves into the history and even hung around with these guys to research the book. This dude has balls. You have to respect that.

A Right to Be Hostile by Aaron MacGruder. I love Boondocks. Whenever I get the paper, it's one of the first things I read. I like the art, I like the writing, I like the shout out to black pop culture and I like the fact that MacGruder is about my age. The one problem with this book is that like eating ice cream for every meal, it can be a bit too much. I found myself not getting outraged like I do every day, but becoming glazed over. Still, I'm glad I own this ... another inspiration.

Journals by Kurt Cobain. On the front cover of this book, which was made to look like a notebook, it says "If you read, you will judge." I felt very strange and dirty reading Cobain's personal diary. Courtney Love is a fucking bitch for publishing this. It should've been burnt or stored away. It was not meant for public consumption.

Big Book of Baseball Lineups by Rob Neyer. Neyer is one of my favorite writers, it sucks that charges you to read his daily stuff. This book is probably the best baseball book I got all year. He meticulously goes through each team and creates a bunch of different line-ups. Great idea. When I finished this book, I knew a lot more about the sport I love.

Faithful by Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King. Never have I looked forward to reading a book as I did with this one. I was seriously disappointed. King and O'Nan know their stuff, I guess, but there was no extra insight. They told me everything that I already knew. Why should I waste a few hours of my life reading a bunch of stuff I already know.

And O'Nan is one of the all time biggest geeks ever. He is 35-years-old and still brings a glove to games. Not only that but his insane quest for foul balls made him bring a net to a game. A fucking net! He also begged people for balls and autographs. He sucks. Seriously.

The King stuff was pretty good, but the O'Nan stuff was terrible.

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