Jim Bouton isn’t nearly as clever or funny as he thinks. Maybe he read that way in 1970 when BALL FOUR came out, but here in the present, it’s 500 pages of chit-chat with a conversation partner way too pleased with his own half of the occasion. As he grew though, so did his writing. Read the epilogues and you get a great sense of baseball, the book and its history and the man who wrote it. That’s really all you need.
Reading pulpy noir is so fun and seductive and delicious that you can whip right past how appallingly sexist and retrograde it can feel. Or you can not care about all of that and then I’d wonder if you hate women as much as Sam Spade clearly does.
Mr. Hammett spent the better part of his life romantically involved with Lillian Hellman, a mid-century force of nature, author of many of the greatest plays of the American theater and a survivor of the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s. I doubt Ms. Hellman would have put up with the kind of misogyny we see here in her lover’s protagonist: Sam Spade only sees women as objects to be kissed, banged, lectured to or slapped.
Ok, so know that gong in. Since this is perhaps the most famous noir novel of all time, you probably know the rest already: A murder, a femme fatale, men in black raincoats and shadowy glances across darkened streets. But its famous because it perfected most of those cliches and made them so tangible you feel as though you could visit the Stockton Tunnel in San Francisco and, at its base, find the body of the first victim of “Maltese Falcon” still lying on the pavement below.
If noir and its tics are your thing, this is the only place to start. And if you love San Francisco, that’s even better. The mystery and seduction of perhaps America’s most photographed city laid down in “The Maltese Falcon” holds on to us, nearly 100 years after Bridget O’Shaunessy walked into Sam Spade’s office that morning.
I do wish the scope of Mr. Godin’s heart and its philosophy matched that of his ability to express it. I love what he says but often don’t synch up with how he says it. Maybe this is preference. Maybe wiring. He means so well and “the practice” (I am two days in to trying it) in a useful one. But in keeping with his message of “keep going, don’t stop” maybe a sustained argument rather than a bound volume of 200 snippets, thoughts and anecdotes?
I don’t know. It’s working for him and I’m happy to report its working for me. Which ultimately is the point. As a reading experience though, I’d say apply the old AA philosophy of take what you like and leave the rest and the newer Seth Godin of whatevr you need to do to get started, pivot or make a real change to become your authentic creative self, do it. Even if it means picking up this book a page at a time, circling back, underlining, and not quite understanding how it all adds up.