Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Byron’s Belated Bookmobile

Quick note: if you're looking for the cartoon blog, it's right below this entry.

One of the things about life is that it gets in the way of other things. During the last six weeks I’ve had the whole wedding thing, the honeymoon, two classes, the comic strip, a search for a new home and other miscellaneous stuff that pops up. That really hasn’t left me a lot of time to write in my Blog, which, in the grand scheme of things, is ok because it’s better to live life than to just wish that you had a life to live.

An enjoyable part of blogging was writing about the books that I had just read and for the most part, I did a good job of keeping up with the writing with the reading. But, as I said, the last month and a half was a busy one, so I haven’t been. Because of the honeymoon and the relative ease of the subject matter of the books that I chose, I was able to burn through five in little over a month. The one book that I’m reading now is over 600 pages of meticulously researched book on the life of Howard Hughes. It’s really good stuff and I will be writing about it soon.

For now, I offer you the five things I’ve read since I last wrote a book review.

1. “Superstud” by Paul Feig.

If you’ve read “Kick Me”, seen “Freaks and Geeks” or “Undeclared” you know who Paul Feig is. He created and wrote the two TV shows as well as the book.

Basically this book is about Feig’s life as a teenager growing up in the early 80s in suburban Michigan. While “Kick Me” is more about his day-to-day trials with popularity, bullies and other teen age potholes, “Superstud” is about one thing, women. Specifically how Feig both loved and was afraid of them.

And for 90% of boys, that’s how it was growing up. Most of us didn’t take the fear as far as Paul did, he ended up having sex at 24, but guys always viewed girls with a mix of lust and mystery. He goes into cringe-worthy detail about his first time he masturbated, his first date, his first kiss, his first girlfriend and his first break up.

After rereading the last sentence, I thought, “Why would anyone want to know about this guy’s first anything, I don’t even know him.” But, it’s better than that because Feig is an expert story teller who is able to be self-effacing and damn funny in just about every story he tells. He also has a bit of wistful nostalgia and pocks his stories with that twinge of teenage uncertainty that pervades every person’s mind when they’re about to grow up.

Feig doesn’t sugar coat things and try to save face with the reader by making believe that his teenage years were ideal and that he enjoyed being a geek. He seems to be really embarrassed by some of his travails and in one chapter begs the reader to skip over the coming ten pages. All in all, it’s a terrific book and one can only wonder how many of these stories would’ve let up the small screen if FOX and NBC weren’t idiots and cancelled his brilliant shows after one season.

2. ”Hustle: The Myth, Life and Lies of Pete Rose” by Michael Sokolove.

There aren’t many people in the world that I dislike more than Peter Edward Rose. I think he’s a cheat, a narcissist and a total scam artist that has hurt baseball more than anyone in the last 50 years. This book does little to change my opinion, but it does bring me into a better understanding of a man whom I just don’t like.

Written in 1988 and updated in 2005, Sokolove did a tremendous job researching how Rose grew up and cut away the bullshit American myth of Pete Rose being all about, “Mom, baseball and apple pie”. About the only truth to that cliché is the baseball part. Aside from impressing his dad, Pete Rose didn’t give a shit about anyone except himself. Time after time after time, Sokolove shows how Rose would lie and manipulate everyone from his teammates to his family to the media to better Pete Rose’s life.

Essentially, he was a bullshitter’s bullshitter. You know most of the stories; the gambling, the not getting along with teammates, the never ending search for one more dollar. All of those stories are told here, though probably not for the first time.

There are three anecdotes that I took away from this book, two of them are surprisingly positive.

One was the way Rose stuck to his convictions when it came to hanging out with the black ball players when he was a rookie. Most of Rose’s teammates hated him, in fact the nickname “Charlie Hustle” was said by Mickey Mantle as a mean-spirited joke. The only clique in the clubhouse that liked Pete was Vada Pinson, Frank Robinson and the other black players, and they felt sorry for him.

As Pete became more and more famous, he was told by everyone; the manager, the general manager, his white teammates, even his father, not to hang around with the black guys … it just wasn’t the thing to do. Pete told them all to stick it and continued his friendship with them. This is one case where his stubbornness was a good thing.

Another interesting story is when Pete showed up to his first day of minor league ball. Basically he hopped off the train, showed up at the ballpark at 1 pm (the game was at night) and pretty much jumped the fence and began hitting. When his manager asked who the hell he was, he stuck out his hand and said, “I’m Pete Rose, your new second baseman.”

That kind of self-confidence is rare in a person and is something that I wish that I had. If there is one thing that I want to instill in my children, it’s that.

The third is an example of what a prick he was, but keeps the themes of self confidence and stubbornness. During the 70s, whenever a Red was selected as player of the game, he got a bonus from the radio station that covered the team. Every guy put the bonus in a pot and at the end of the year, the Reds had a pretty big party. Not Pete, as far as he was concerned, it was his money and he kept it.

Yes, there is something to say for individualism, but that has a time and a place. While baseball is the most individualized of team sports, it’s not golf or tennis. You need your teammates to pick you up. Pete never realized that and is one of the main reasons (along with his stubbornness and misplaced self confidence) why he still remains out of the game that he loves so much.

3. “Now I Can Die in Peace” by Bill Simmons

If you’re reading this and you don’t know who Bill Simmons in, than we don’t have much to talk about. For the uninitiated Simmons is a writer for’s Page 2 that is from Boston and has a supremely pro-Boston slant on things. I’ve been reading him since my old roommate Eddie, emailed me columns of his from back when he had a page on Digital Cities (an old AOL portal).

I know that back in June I swore that I’d never buy another thing about the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox. I just have spent way too much green on them and I was done, but since I have no willpower I didn’t stop and I probably won’t stop until I get this. By the way, that would make a great Christmas gift.

In any event, Simmons has gone through all of his old columns and picked out the best 30 or so and jammed them into this book. Most writers with a rabid fan base would probably call it a day and just sit back and count the dollars rolling in. Thankfully, Simmons isn’t like most writers as he jots down hundreds of notes on the sides of each column explaining what he was thinking when he wrote the pieces and when he was mistaken.

Like Simmons has said many times, it’s like a DVD commentary … except in book form. And he’s right. I can honestly say that I’ve read about 95% of everything that he’s written on and Digital Cities, so I’ve seen these articles before. But, it was a lot of fun to go back and read about how pumped he was when the Sox traded for Pedro, signed Manny, the Nomar experience took flight and the craptastic years of 2001 and 2002.

Simmons has always done a fine job of capturing what the every man thinks about sports without being condescending. Honestly, there isn’t much else to say about the book, if you’re a Sox fan, you should get it. If you’re a fan of humorous sports writing, you should pick it up. If you’re just a fan of writing in general (while Simmons does repeat certain ideas, he can turn a phrase), you should buy it … but wait until it comes out in paperback.

4 and 5 “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs” and “Fargo Rock City” by Chuck Klosterman

Ok. I think that I know a lot about pop culture, but I bow to the feet of the Master, Chuck Klosterman. The first book I read, “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs” completely blew my mind. Why? Because I didn’t think that it was possible for somebody to write a bunch of well thought out essays on seemingly trivial subjects and get them published.

Klosterman did. And do you know why he got them published? Two reasons: a. he’s passionate about his work (and he’s a hell of a writer) and b. he treated each subject with maturity (and he’s a hell of a writer). There are some hacks who bring up an interesting subject from their childhood, let’s just say the Snorks and will snidely make fun of it while attempting to lionize it.

Klosterman doesn’t do that. He will make fun of himself for liking the subject that he’s writing about, but he doesn’t make fun of the subject itself and that is why he is awesome at what he does and why there a million other Chuck Klosterman wannabes who don’t get it.

As I was reading this on the beach while lying on the beach in Hawaii (ok, I threw that last phrase in there to get you a bit jealous) I kept telling Aly about how this is one of the greatest books that I’ve ever read and how inspired I was by it. And it’s true. Klosterman is the shit. There, I said it. One of the great things about this book is that he doesn’t take any prisoners either. If you don’t get what he’s talking about, or can’t remember the name of Blair’s retarded cousin from “the Facts of Life” (Geri Jewell) too fucking bad, you’re not going to get the theme of the essay.

The best part about it is that much like a college professor who expects you to come to class knowing the material, Klosterman doesn’t care. With his books, you’re expected to bring something to the table. If you don’t, you’re going to be very hungry.

The other book I read, “Fargo Rock City” is a lot like SDACP, however instead of bouncing all over the place with essays on TV shows, books, movies, Klosterman sticks to writing about heavy metal. And he does a great job of lending the genre some sincerity and why it wasn’t as bad as many mainstream critics felt it was.

Basically his take is this, the music from his youth (heavy metal) defines his generation and if you trash the music, you’re really trashing his generation. He’s not about to take that lying down. He isn’t so naïve as to think that Slaughter or Firehouse or Krokus are the Beatles. What he says is that the music reflected the times and like it or not, that’s pretty much the way it is.

Like “Superstud”, Klosterman is able to weave his experiences through the music and is a masterful storyteller. He has another book that I can’t wait to read.