Skip to content

Tag: books


Book Review: “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton

Ball FourBall Four by Jim Bouton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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.


Book Review: “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese FalconThe Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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.

View all my reviews


Books v. Movies: Not an Either/Or

Lithub alerted me to a fascinating statistic that in 2019, more Americans went to the library than to the movies.

That’s wonderful news but let’s bear in mind a few things;

1. Books are not superior to movies. There are brilliant movies and terrible books. And both are magic. Being forced to chose is a false choice no one really has. And if I had to chose between them, I’d chose a quick death by firing squad instead.

2. Going to the movies isn’t fun anymore. Movie studios are having a tough time getting people to come to theatres for all but the loudest splashiest movies. And this is not the citizenry’s fault. How often do you have a pleasant evening at the movies watching something where nothing blows up at a price point you can repeat more than say once a quarter? Unless every single person who likes going to the movies in America is a 14 year old boy, this is leaving a lot of the paying audience out in the cold. 

3. “That doesn’t mean people are reading at libraries.” This sentiment is elitist and historically wrong. Libraries since the beginning of their history have functioned as levelers between classes so the economically disadvantaged may have the same tools, resources and access to information as everyone else. Read Susan Orlean’s magisterial “The Library Book”. It turns out, the earliest public libraries loaned farm equipment, tools, livestock supplies, as well as newspapers and books. Now they also provide internet access, musical instruments, toys to kids who can’t afford them and vinyl records (hooray!)

4. The public good. Use of libraries for whatever reason equals belief in something called the public good, the commons, a nation we are all part of instead of “give me mine and screw you” they have changed so many lives for the better including mine. So have great movie theaters.

Our lives are better for both. Make them a part of yours!


Top 5 Books I Read in 2017:

This year I read 31 books. Bear in mind I don’t often read new books. So I won’t say then this is my “Top 5 of 2017” but instead my…

Top 5 Books Read in 2017

(which I’ve written in reverse order)

5. The March Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Ayon & Nate Powell (2017).

A three-volume graphic memoir of Congressman John Lewis. Starts with his youth in Alabama to his work as a young man in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement.

You’d have to work to muff this story. Simply put, John Lewis has led one of the great lives of the 20th Century. But here, he and his collaborators have done something, in stark, almost-wordless black & white–bold, epic and beautiful.

This book won the National Book Award in 2017 for Young People’s Literature.

With good reason.


4. The Odd Woman & The City by Vivian Gornick. (2015)

I only know Ms. Gornick’s name and her legendary standing as a critic and intellectual of the Second Wave Feminist movement. Then I picked up this short memoir/essay collection, released in 2015. Now I know a little of how sure and effortless her prose is, how conversationally perfect. Now I know how she seems, despite being pointed at times, like a marvelous traveling companion.

This book anchors itself to her late-in-life friendship with a man named Leonard. Her own relationship with New York City having grown up there nearly 80 years ago and gone to school there in the early Eisenhower era follows right behind.

Read if you simply love a writer at the very top of her game even after being at it for a good 40 years.


3. Animals Strike Curious Poses by Elena Passarello (2017)

One of my favorite writers’ new essay collection about famous animals throughout human history (including Jumbo the Elephant and the Starlings that colonized America). This fast little compendium plays funny, sweet, sad and ridiculously smart.

It’s fair to say that if you love animals, you’d missing out not to read this book. Afterwards, you’ll will never see them the same way again.


2. Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit (2005)

A short, indispensable essay collection that should be required reading by anyone who considers themselves politically left-of-center. Rebecca Solnit simply argues that to be progressive and to be cynical means living a stupid self-defeating contradiction. To be politically conscious and humorless makes an argument against being politically conscious in the first place.

The first must-read book of these insane political times.

And finally…

The Best Book I Read in 2017


1. Bluets by Maggie Nelson (2009)

A mediation on both the color blue and having your heart broken this is the kind of book where you say “OMG!” on every 3rd page. Maggie Nelson is so smart, so gifted and so good at what she does that I immediately spent the rest of the year binging on her books, one after the other, in a spirit of reading ecstasy and joy.



Something I’ve been trying out: “Reading Tri-Laterally”

To explain:

Lately I’ve been trying to read more than one book at a time, picking them up depending on my mood. And while my problem in the past has been losing track of what characters, which story, belonged where, this time it’s been working. Also, I don’t get confused if, among those multiple books, one is a novel, the other nonfiction, the third a poetry collection and so forth.

This means you may feel like you’re never going to finish a book and get to some future read you’ve been dying to get to. But what ends up happening is you finish your three books all about the same time, which then feels like your birthday because you get to restock three books at once.

Try it!