The Book Shelf, Part II

Bookshelf

As most of you will be aware, my original site got hacked late in November and I have been idle since then.

Tonight, I have opened a new site that may be temporary. If the other site is repaired soon, I will move back there.

But I wanted a spot to post these book notes — Parts I, II and III.

I am sorry they are so late but, hey, stuff happens.

In the meantime, enjoy!

What follows is the second of three parts.

Enjoy, and please keep on reading!


Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis — Author J.D. Vance is a hillbilly and damn proud of it. He also is one of the fortunate sons who was able to escape before the vicious circle consumed him. He got out by joining the U.S. Marines and then going to Ohio State U, and followed that up by earning a law degree at Yale. In this telling book, he bares his family’s soul and, in the process, helps explain today’s political situation in his country.


Hockey Talk: Stories Behind the Voice — Dr. Gordon Hunter of the U of Lethbridge has put together a book in which 49 men tell their stories. Each of them is, or was, the play-by-play voice of a major junior or junior A hockey team. Each of them has a unique story, although almost all of them are at least in part about being in the right place at the right time. Hockey Talk is available from the U of Lethbridge bookstore, with all royalties going to Kid Sport Canada.


The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the Unlikely Ascent of Hallelujah — A song that received little exposure when it was first released by Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah has become an anthem of our times. Author Alan Light, a former editor-in-chief of Spin and Vibe magazines, examines the song, modifications and covers, and everything else around it. If you’ve heard the song — and you know you have — this is an engrossing read.


The Hot Line: How the Legendary Trio of Hull, Hedberg and Nilsson Transformed Hockey and Led the Winnipeg Jets to Greatness — Phew! That’s a title. . . . Author Geoff Kirbyson provides a real feel for what Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson went through when they joined the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets. Because of the beauty they brought to the North American game, it’s easy to forget the abuse they absorbed, but it’s all right here. Also here are plenty of well-deserved accolades from all kinds of hockey people. Thankfully, Kirbyson didn’t forget the other terrific Europeans who also were with the Jets, players like Lars-Erik Sjoberg, who quietly may have been the best of them all, Dan Labratten, Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson et all. . . . I read a Kindle edition and it really needed an editor as there were a number of spelling errors, especially when it came to names. I would hope they don’t appear in the print edition.


Indian Horse — Saul Indian Horse, an Ojibway survivor of the residential school system, finds escape from his nightmare on the ice as a hockey player. He is a dynamic player, too, but what happens when what he thinks is his game turns out to be white, just like the ice? Author Richard Wagamese has written a wonderful book, one that will drag you through a gamut of emotions and one that will stay with you for a long time. If you haven’t yet read Indian Horse, get a copy and put it on top of the pile. It is that good; in fact, I would go so far as to say this one is unforgettable. The movie is on its way and if it’s half as good as the book, well, look out.


Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI — Oh boy, did this one stay with me after I finished it! The Osage Indian nation of Oklahoma found itself awash — really, really awash — in oil money in the 1920s, but not one member of the tribe could have envisioned the blood bath that would follow. Author David Grann has investigated what went on and what he discovered is mind-boggling and heart-shattering. Countless members of the tribe were killed — the exact number never will be known — by white men after their fortunes. Most anyone who may have been charged with investigating seems to have been bought off, which brings us to J. Edgar Hoover. The FBI was in its infancy and this case, with a man named Tom White assigned to head it up, did wonders for its reputation. . . . This book is one of the best reads this year, without a doubt.


The Late Show — Michael Connelly, the author who brought us Harry Bosch, uses The Late Show to introduce us to Renée Ballard, a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. Due to an incident with a higher-up, Ballard works the night shift (aka The Late Show) and really doesn’t mind it. Like Bosch, she has an independent mind and doesn’t mind going around the speed bumps in order to get the job done. But while Bosch is a lone wolf trying, and struggling, to keep up with the times, Ballard is up to speed on everything in today’s world. She also sleeps on the beach, surfs and, well, if you like cop books give this one a read.


Leo Durocher: Baseball’s Prodigal Son — In baseball’s long and glorious history there may have been no figure who was more polarizing than Leo Durocher. Here was a manager who during his days with the Chicago Cubs chose to demean Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, perhaps the two most-loved figures in that franchise’s history. If you are like me and love the stories and anecdotes from our sporting history, you will enjoy author Paul Dickson’s in-depth look at Durocher and his life on and off the baseball diamond. Don’t forget that Durocher was great friends with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Danny Kaye and George Raft, and his third wife was Laraine Day, a big-name movie star back in the day. Yes, Dickson had lots to write about and he did it well.


Life — There is a meme kicking around the internet that reads: “We need to start worrying about the kind of world we are going to leave for Keith Richards.” Dig into Life, the memoir written by the Rolling Stones’ guitarist, singer and co-founder, and about halfway through you start to think that meme hits the nail squarely on the head. Richards, now 73, should have been dead a dozen times over, if not more. Oh boy, what a life this man has led, and he chronicles every inch of it between the covers of Life. The drugs, the women and, yes, his relationship with Mick Jagger . . . it’s all there.


The Miracle Mile: Stories of the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games — This truly is an important book, one that should take its place on the shelf with others that dig deeply into events that were important to Canada’s history. Author Jason Beck, who is curator and facility director at the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in Vancouver, started researching this book in August of 2006; it was published in 2016. The important thing to understand is that this work is about so much more than the Miracle Mile and its two primary participants — Roger Bannister and John Landy. It is full of the history of the 1954 BECG — how did they land in Vancouver, the decision-making process in selecting sites, what being the host city meant, etc. The research is impeccable and the stories about an untold number of athletes are invaluable. It also is the story of a city on the cusp of becoming an international showpiece. This book is, in a word, a masterpiece.


Mississippi Blood — This is book No. 3 in a trilogy that began with Natchez Burning and continued with The Bone Tree. If you read the first two, you won’t want to miss this one. If you like long reads that draw you in and give you a front row seat these are terrific, and Mississippi Blood doesn’t disappoint. Author Greg Iles tells the story of Penn Cage, the mayor of Natchez, Miss., his family — his father, Dr. Tom Cage, is much beloved in Natchez, especially by the black community — and so much more. Believe me when I say it’s all multi-layered and oh, so readable.

(Part 2 of 3)

The Book Shelf, Part I

Bookshelf

As most of you will be aware, my original site got hacked late in November and I have been idle since then.

Tonight, I have opened a new site that may be temporary. If the other site is repaired soon, I will move back there.

But I wanted a spot to post these book notes — Parts I, II and III.

I am sorry they are so late but, hey, stuff happens. I am stumbling along trying to get this stuff posted, so, at least for now, this site will be all about words. OK?

In the meantime, enjoy!


American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst — If you don’t remember, Patty Hearst —  yes, of that Hearst family — was kidnapped by a rag-tag outfit that called itself the Symbionese Liberation Army on Feb. 4, 1974. Author Jeffrey Toobin, who is a senior legal analyst with CNN and who also wrote The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, provides us with an engrossing tale of all that followed the kidnapping. It’s all here, from the bank robberies to the strangeness of attorney F. Lee Bailey to Hearst’s trial and everything in between. Remember as you read this book that there was nothing resembling social media in 1974, and the FBI, well, it couldn’t have found its butt with either hand.


Anatomy of a Song — Author/music historian Marc Myers has written columns for the Wall Street Journal that feature interviews with singers, song writers, musicians et al. In effect, he has been writing about the stories behind the songs. In this book, he expands on that theme to profile 45 songs, all of them big-time hits that live on. Why 45? Remember when you purchased music on 45s? Included are tunes by Otis Redding, Elvis Presley, Bonnie Raitt, Merle Haggard, The Neville Brothers, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Rod Stewart, Joni Mitchell and on and on. The stories behind these songs are mesmerizing.


Behind the Bench: Inside the Minds of Hockey’s Greatest Coaches — Craig Custance, a hockey writer with ESPN, sat down with 10 successful coaches — Mike Babcock, Dan Bylysma, Bob Hartley, Ken Hitchcock, Claude Julien, Todd McLellan, Joel Quenneville, Mike Sullivan and John Tortorella, and Ron Wilson — and watched video from a key game in each of their careers. Custance then wrote about what he witnessed and the chatter that went on in each session. You may not learn anything that really is earth-shattering, but this is interesting stuff. If you weren’t aware, successful coaches are intense individuals, something that really stands out here. . . . One word of caution: Best to read this book in six or more sittings so that the chapters don’t run together. . . . One other thing: I found it odd that Custance didn’t even make reference to McLellan’s six seasons as the general manager and head coach of the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos and how much that meant to his career. After all, McLellan, then 27, took over from the soon-to-be disgraced Graham James as the Broncos’ GM and head coach.


Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius — In the days when the New York Yankees seemed to be defined by the actions of George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin, Bill Pennington covered the American League team for the Bergen Record and The New York Times. That means that Pennington was an eyewitness to a lot of what happened in what came to be known as the Bronx Zoo. Pennington was in a lot of the bars that were frequented by Martin, who had a propensity for finishing scraps that he may not have started, and he was at most of the games in which Martin’s baseball genius was on display. This is an entertaining read, one that reads as though the author was there, which, of course, he was.


The Bone Tree — It started with Natchez Burning and author Greg Iles continues the story with The Bone Tree. If you like long reads, these two books are for you. But note that each runs more than 800 pages in paperback. Still, they are well worth it, with Iles bringing in JFK, the KKK, the FBI and a whole lot more as he explores what once was a way of life in the Deep South.


Born to Run — It took more than seven years for Bruce Springsteen to write his autobiography; it would have been worth the wait had it taken him 14 years to produce what is an extraordinary book. This is the story of a legendary music man who really is just like the rest of us. He had issues with a father, who obviously had his own problems, and there are battles with anxiety and depression. Springsteen writes of all that, along with life, death, love and, yes, the E Street Band, and he does it without any puffery. This is easily one of the top books that I read in 2017. In fact, this was so good it took me a month to read it. I didn’t want it to end, so I would pick it up, read a few pages, then put it down, savour it for a few days, and do it all again.


The Chemist — Her name is Alex — or is it Juliana? — and she is a seeker of truth by any chemical means necessary. She is well-educated and well-trained and really, really good at her job. But now the very government that employed her is hunting her down. Written by Stephenie Meyer — yes, that Stephenie Meyer, who wrote the Twilight franchise — this isn’t science fiction or fantasy, just good escapism.


The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse — Author Tom Verducci received an amazing amount of access to the Chicago Cubs as they won the franchise’s first World Series title in 108 years in 2016. He used that access to tell the story of how the championship roster was built, in the process telling the stories of many of the participants. This is an enjoyable read and one that provides a whole lot of insight, especially into manager Joe Maddon and how he looks at the game of baseball.


Burning Bright — If you like the Jason Bourne movies, or the Jack Reacher and Harry Bosch books, you will enjoy reading author Nick Petrie’s works that feature Peter Ash, an Afghanistan veteran who battles white noise — his PTSD includes claustrophobia — and bad guys. This is good escapism for those smoky summer days or chilly winter nights. . . . Burning Bright is the second book in the Ash series; The Drifter came before it..


Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador, and the Future of Hockey — This is a book about Steve Montador, who never was a top-end player on any of the teams on which he played. But he was the kind of player every team needs — one who does the dirty work and never complains. Montador died in 2015 and an examination of his brain showed CTE. Ken Dryden, who also wrote The Game, which is in the discussion as one of the best sports books ever written, has done it again. His examination of Montador’s life shows the stresses with which a depth player must learn to cope as he struggles to get to the NHL and then works to stay there. Everyone loved Montador and yet he was a loner, but Dryden is able to get close to him and give the reader a real feel for him. As the book nears its end, Dryden, a former NHL goaltender, offers up two ways — really simple ways — to save hockey from this kind of story. Unfortunately, the Gary Bettmans and Ron Robisons of the hockey world, the men who wield the power, won’t be impacted by books and stories of this nature. So the battle to lessen the number of brain injuries in hockey will continue.


A Gentleman in Moscow — It is 1922 and Count Alexander Rostov has been sentenced by a Bolshevik tribunal to house arrest in the Metropol, a hotel that just happens to be right by the Kremlin. But this is a grand hotel . . . as in really, really grand. That is the basis for a truly glorious book by Amor Towles, an author whose writing is rich and enjoyable and fun. The reader encounters twists and turns and glorious characters. My goodness, but this is a great book.


The Gray and Guilty Sea — This is the first in a series of Garrison Gage mysteries written by Scott William Carter. Gage is a private investigator who has retired to the coast of Oregon — to a town called Barnacle Bluffs — in a bid to escape from memories and lose himself where nobody knows his name. That lasts until the body of a young girl washes up on a beach. Gage is a likeable character, albeit with plenty of snark to him, and that makes it all work.

(Part 1 of 3)