2012 Literature

January 2, 2013

In no particular order, here are the books I tackled during my leisure time in 2012.  There were also quite a few boring text books that I didn’t include.  I didn’t include a little review and/or synopsis because I’m lazy.  I enjoyed most of the books I read this year, especially the new Dark Tower story that Stephen King released.  It made my heart happy to continue the tale of Roland of Gilead.

So without further delay, here they are in no particular order.

Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

World War Z by Max Brooks

Death to the BCS by Jeff Passan

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

Black Hats by Patrick Culhane

Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem

Working at the Ballpark: The Fascinating Lives of Baseball People from Peanut Vendors and Broadcasters to Players and Managers by Tom Jones

Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver

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Editors of the world cringe

January 10, 2012

Last year I had a student in my classroom who was a huge baseball fan.  He watched the beginning of every Pirates game each night and then read about the end of the game the next morning.  I had legitimate baseball conversations with this kid just about every morning.  If I happened to miss the ending of a game, I could count on him to fill me in on the details.  His favorite player was Andrew McCutchen and he wanted to grow his hair in dreads just like Cutch.

Needless to say, I loved that kid.

During one of the book fairs our PTO held last year, I was browsing the nonfiction section and stumbled upon a book that was basically an encyclopedia of baseball.  ‘Baseball’ by James E. Kelley and distributed DK Eyewitness books featured sections dedicated to nearly every facet of the game and reviewed important baseball terminology and strategies amongst other things.

Baseball DK Eyewitness Book by James E. Kelley

This book is a great way to introduce kids to the game of baseball or get them interested in reading, if they don't want to ready anything else.

It was a pretty cool book.

Pablo Sandoval editing mistake Baseball DK Eyewitness book

Uh-oh, Pablo.

Upon closer inspection, you can see that Pedro Sandoval was manning the hot corner that day for the Giants.  Wait, who’s on third?  No, Who’s on first.

Pablo Sandoval editing mistake Baseball DK Eyewitness book

Why don't you quit playing paddy cake with your buddy Pedro?

Just contributing to the misinformation of America I see.

Pablo Sandoval; not Pedro Sandoval.

It's Pablo Sandoval; not Pedro Sandoval.


2011 Literature

December 31, 2011

Reading has been kind of slow as of late since graduate school consumes most of my leisure time I’d spend reading things that I’d enjoy.  However, I did manage to squeeze a few books in this year.  Here are a few that finished before the calendar changed to ’12.

If you’d like to compare 2010’s selections to 2011, feel free to click here and check ’em out.

Hero by Perry Moore

Hero by Perry Moore

Conservative people everywhere will not enjoy this story. But really, does anyone value their opinion anyways?

Growing up as a teenager can be a difficult learning experience.  Now imagine that you’re a teenager growing up and discovering that you have super powers.  Oh, and also you realize you’re gay.  Well, such is the life of Thom Creed who spends most of his days worrying about his father and how he can balance having a job, being a basketball star, and trying to join The League, a group of other Heroes.

And you thought your adolescence was complicated.

It was good coming-of-age story that would probably hold meaning to kids struggling with some of the same issues or a more mature adolescent audience.  If you still giggle whenever someone says ‘ejaculation’, you’re probably not the target audience for this book.

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max

I’d like to preface this review by stating that I don’t believe half the shit this ass-clown wrote about in his debut autobiography.  Tucker Max is a total turd who suffers from having parents who were too rich and too busy with their own fucked up lives to raise their kid.  And that’s where Tucker Max came from.

Based on the spectacular life of Mr. Tucker Max, Esq., this book relives, in explicit detail, the absurd adventures of a guy and his tag-along friends as they travel around the world.  Throughout this book, Tucker Max proves that, yes, there are people in this world sleazier than pedophiles.

That being said, I laughed out loud several times as I was reading.  And regardless of whether you believe any of this guy’s stories, they are pretty funny.  There was nothing clever or interesting about them, like a Bukowski.  However, for all the shortcomings of his personality and interpersonal skills, his total douchey-ness, and the shitty movie that will forever remain a genital wart on the history of American cinema as result of this book, Tucker Max can spin one helluva yarn.

Stranger Than Fiction by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk is an author that leaves me hanging on every word.  When I read this book of actual real life stories and interviews, I couldn’t put it down.  Palahniuk delves into the world of Marilyn Manson, the testicle festival, and the murder of his father by a crazy hillbilly.

If you ever wondered how his perspective on life could be so drastically different from yours, take a few days and read this one cover to cover.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

I came home after an evening out on the town one night and saw that amazon.com recommended this book for me:

Well needless to say after watching the trailer attached to the book, I had to preorder it!  All-in-all, it ended up being the most enjoyable read of 2011.

May Bird and the Ever After by Jodi Lynn Anderson

I read this book out loud to my class of fourth graders at the end of last year and they absolutely loved it.  While it’s no Harry Potter, it does a decent job of filling the fantasy void that children will inevitably run into once they’ve finished the Potter series.  It’s a little dense at times, but Anderson has created a memorable character that you care about by the end of the story.  I’ll be reading the rest of the books in the series in time, I’m sure.

Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero by Jeff Pearlman

One of my favorite sportswriters is Jeff Pearlman, who doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to telling the stories of athletes.  I can only imagine the hours Pearlman put into the research that went into writing this book about one of the most reclusive and polarizing athletes of my generation.  As a Pirates fan and a baseball fan in general, it is an absolute must read that helps you to better understand one of the most enigmatic figures in baseball history.

You’re Okay, It’s Just a Bruise: A Doctor’s Sideline Secrets About Pro Football’s Most Outrageous Team by Dr. Rob Huizenga

If you like to read books about dysfuntion in professional sports, this one would probably be a good place to start.  Crazy Al Davis (rest his insane little heart) was never afraid to take risks when it came to winning.  Sometimes they panned out (Howie Long, Dave Casper) and sometimes they didn’t (Todd Marinovich, Jamarcus Russell).  If you’d like an entertaining look into professional football from the perspective of someone who doesn’t smash into people from a living, Dr. Robert Huizenga has the right prescription for you.

I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan

I, Lucifer

The pain was banging away like an autistic kettle drummer and my heart… Oh, all right not my heart, but it was one of those weird days when I could barely concentrate on what I was doing, when the blood-spattered and corpse-littered wake of my busy life tugged at me like a conundrum.”

A very cleverly crafted tale, I, Lucifer follows Satan as he gets to take over the body of the underachieving writer Declan Gunn.  What is given to him as a shot at redemption turns into a month-long vacation in overindulgence as Lucifer gets to experience everything that we, as human beings take for granted.

This book was an enjoyable page-turner that frames life from the other perspective.  By the end of the book you’ll come to relate and have some sympathy for the devil.

We Can’t All be Rattlesnakes by Patrick Jennings

We Can't All Be Rattlesnakes

A great story for a classroom.

This is a fantastic book for kids.  I read it out loud to my class last year and they loved it.  I typically would end up reading an extra chapter or two from the book when we’d sit down and read just because they were so captivated by the story.

Well, that and it was the end of the year and I needed to kill some time.  This is a great story that highlights themes like friendship, accepting who you are, and bullying.  I’d recommend it to any classroom teacher, K-6.

Freakanomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

My friends who went to law school all told me that  the purpose of law school is to change the way you think.  I think the same could be said for Freakanomics.  Steven and Stephen do an excellent job connecting concepts and then supporting their theories using data.  The book is captivating, but written so that any schmo who didn’t know his wallet from a hole in the ground could understand it.  If I haven’t convinced you to rush to your nearest book distributor (which is probably amazon.com, since you’re on a computer), Levitt and Dubner also have some of the most clever chapter titles that will almost immediately pique your interest, such as “What Do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common?”


Top Ten Books of 2010

January 1, 2011

Sadly, 2010 was a slow year for my leisure reading.  I probably should have made this my Top Ten Text Books of 2010, because that list would have been much more extensive.  But between the graduate school reading and forced reading of an elementary teacher, I managed to fit in a few solid books before the dawn of the new decade.  If you’re interested, you can check out my 2009 list right here and see how much more fun I had reading last year.  If you’re not interested in my 2009 list, click here because it’s not an active link.

While you’re at it, click here to check out my brother’s favorite literature from this year.

Now without further delay, my top ten books of 2010.

The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French

Best children's book I read this year.

I try and keep up with at least one or two new children/young adult books a year, as children’s literature is a pretty big part of my vocation.  Last year’s discovery was The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  This year I found a story that, while not quite as prolific at Gaiman’s tale, was entertaining none-the-less.  The Robe of Skulls is the first book in the Five Kingdom series and focuses on the Cinderella-esque tale of Gracie Gillypot, who grows up under the abusive thumbs of her mean stepfather and wicked, but stunningly beautiful, stepsister.  This book is a fairly simple story and an incredibly quick read.  For the most part, it’s also a very lighthearted tale, contrasted only by the operatically evil family members and the main antagonist, Lady Lamorna.

Vivian French did a great job of creating some interesting and fun characters.  While not overly dynamic, they each have a unique voice and the story moves along fast enough that you don’t really care about the lack of depth.  The world she created to surround those characters is another interesting facet in this story.  It’s a place where werewolves roam and walkways behave like they’re man’s best friend.

In short, if you have no reason to delve into children’s literature in the first place, this book probably won’t keep you entertained with its arrow-straight plot.  However, I would highly recommend this book to anyone with kids or any other teachers looking for new, fun stories to share with their students.  If you’re a fan of Roald Dahl, Philip Ardagh, or Neil Gaiman, you’ll probably be a fan of Gracie Gillypot and her tale.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

If you don’t already know, Benjamin Franklin wrote his autobiography.  One of America’s most influential and interesting figures wrote this book as a letter to his son William to recollect and reflect on his life in the hopes that William (or others who read his work?) could see how a man who grew from such humble beginnings could rise to a level of esteem and prosperity.  I’ll give you a hint: it involves a lot of hard work.

It puts an interesting spin on the life of Franklin, and if you read very carefully, you get a taste of that razor-sharp Franklin wit that makes the story really enjoyable.

“For even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.”

Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary Wolf

Filled to the brim with noir clichés,  Who Censored Roger Rabbit? is a fun romp through a land of ‘noids (humans) and ‘toons (cartoons).  It sincerely is a stereotypical detective drama, with the added fun of dealing with comic strip characters like Dick Tracy and other elements that accompany the ‘toons, like how they talk through comic bubbles or how their eyes bulge out of their heads.

Oh, did I mention clichéd lines?

“Funerals, weddings, they’re all the same to me.  The only difference is whether you walk or ride down the aisle.  Either way you wind up six feet deep in misery.”

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

I really like the Showtime series ‘Dexter’, so I thought I’d go to the root of the television show and see just what Jeff Lindsay was cooking up.  It was an enjoyable read that I would recommend to anyone who’s a fan of the show.

“Whatever made me the way I am left me hollow, empty inside, unable to feel.  It doesn’t seem like a big deal.  I’m quite sure most people fake an awful lot of everyday human contact.  I just fake all of it.”

The Stand by Stephen King

One more important Stephen King novel taken down.  I was most interested to read this because I remembered the shitty made-for-TV movie with Rob Lowe.  The book was much better than the miniseries.  However, I was most interested to read this book because of its infamous Dark Tower reference.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: An Unauthorized Autobiography by Chuck Barris

If Chuck Barris’s life is half as interesting as he makes it out to be in this book, I wouldn’t be surprised if those Dos Equis commercials were based on his life.

Could those commercials be autobiographical too?

For those of you who may be too young or really don’t care, Chuck Barris was the host of a once popular talent show back in the ’70’s called The Gong Show.  If you take his word for it, he was also a man of international intrigue and a nefarious black ops agent.  Whether it’s true or not, I didn’t really care because, as far as narratives go, it was an incredibly entertaining and interesting story.

Factotum by Charles Bukowski

Sit down with the family some day, curl up next to the fireplace, and enjoy the tale of degenerate alcoholic, womanizer, and all-around low-life Henry Chinaski as he works his way across the country from cesspool to cesspool, living off of the few remaining dollars of his last paycheck.  Chinaski is an R-Rated Andy Capp with absolutely no moral or professional compass whatsoever.  That being said, once I picked up the book, I literally couldn’t put it down.  Bukowski weaved a tale of an amoral wanderlust that is incredibly captivating in its simplicity.  Chinaski is 100% id, and his take on life is almost refreshing, in a weird, sadistic way.

Oh, and once you’ve learned that Herny “Hank” Chinaski is the inspiration for Hank Moody, you realize that the book is certainly worth a read.

“Manny, what are you doing working in auto parts?”
“Resting.  My ambition is handicapped by laziness.”

The Mental Game of Baseball by Harvey Dorfman and Karl Kuel

This is the most influential of any book about baseball I have ever read.  Dorfman revolutionized the mental aspect of baseball and how to approach the game.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

I felt obligated to read this as Chabon started writing this story as an undergrad at Pitt before submitting it as his thesis for his Master’s and catapulting himself to literary fame.

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

A Halloween classic and a very quick read.  It’s light and fun and had an almost Terry Pratchett-like feel to it.  At one point I started looking around the pages for Rincewind.

The Trail of the Tramp by Leon Ray Livingston

If you only knew how interesting Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania was at one point…

Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan

My best and favorite read of the year.

My favorite book of the year.  It’s a modern day Bukowski.  This book truly is a work of art and I hope over time it’s appreciated for what it is: a tremendous story of a sarcastic, apathetic working stiff.  It literally had me laughing out loud at various points.

“I just wasn’t sure I could handle a deaf gangbang, all the howls and moaning like a bag of kittens drowning in a river.”


So that’s my 2010 list.  If you have any further recommendations, leave ’em in the comments below.


Ray Bradbury proves science fiction is cool.

August 21, 2010

Ray Bradbury is doing alright for a 90 year old dude.

He's doing all right for a 90 year old dude, as you're about to see.

The author of such novels as Fahrenheit 451, The Halloween Tree, and Something Wicked This Way Comes just had a not-so-subtle video dedicated to him by a super eager science fiction fan.  Actually, her name is comedian Rachel Bloom and you can check out an interesting interview with her here if you’d like.  Or not.  But you should definitely watch the music video because it’s hilarious.

Oh, and it’s definitely not anywhere near to being appropriate for the workplace.  Not even close.


Vagabondage

July 7, 2010
‘…[they] were lounging upon the velvety lawn in front of the ranch foreman’s residence, and while the silvery stars were peacefully twinkling in the heavens overhead, they were repeating stories of their checkered lives, which only too often brought back memories of those long-ago days, before they too had joined the flotsam of that class of the “underworld”, who, too proud to degrade themselves to the level of outright vagrancy while yet there was a chance to exchange long and weary hours of the hardest kind of labor for the right to earn an honorable existence, were nevertheless, included by critical society in that large clan of homeless drifters – “The Tramps”.’ – Leon Ray Livingston, “The Trail of the Tramp”

My little brother Jon is quite the historian.  This could stem from his college major in secondary education social studies or because he’s a little nerd.  Either way, he’s pretty good about remembering dates, and events, dictators and other things of that nature.  I prefer memorizing the league leaders in OPS during each baseball season, but to each their own.

A while back, Jon wrote a piece about the storied history of our home town, Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania, which you can check out here.  Cambridge Springs has a pretty interesting history.  Our town can boast about having a sitting President, William H. Taft, staying in it.  We have a bad-ass opening chess move that originated in our town, known as the Cambridge Springs Variation [Gambit].  Our town is also the halfway point between New York and Chicago via railroad, which used to be a big deal when dastardly villains were still tying maidens to the train tracks.

Enjoy the beautiful scenery of Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania.

And that is a perfect segway into today’s topic.  We all know what busy train tracks means: hobos.  Now, first off, I understand that everyone’s mental picture of a hobo is not the same.  A hobo, in the context of this writing piece, is simply a migrant worker.  Most people think of that kid in school who was too poor to afford a Halloween costume, so their parents dressed them up in a tattered old jacket and wrapped a handkerchief around their neck.  They still got to wear their shoes, which were appropriately enough full of holes.  Don’t cringe.  We all knew those kids in elementary school.  Hobos are nothing like this.

There is also a big difference between a homeless person who will give you a handjob for a cheeseburger and 3 cigarettes and a hobo.  Homeless people are disgusting.  A hobo is much more romantic, in the literary sense.  I suppose you could say that they would be the Jedi of homeless people.  Hobos are totally awesome.  Do you see the difference now?

Look at how baller being a hobo really is.

One of the more interesting pieces about the history of Cambridge Springs is Leon Ray Livingston, AKA – “A-No. 1”.  A quick Google search will teach you that this man is quite possibly the most famous hobo ever.  He invented and popularized hobo symbols, which are a series of symbols used to communicate to other hobos about important information and how they may be received in the community.  A self proclaimed wanderlust, Livingston embraced the drifter lifestyle and even paired up with Jack London for period of his travels.  While his hobo-ness began out of necessity, he quickly embraced the lifestyle and died, from all accounts, a wealthy man.

Try writing your next Christmas card with these.

Rumor also has it that A-No. 1 purchased a gravestone in Cambridge Springs because of how much he loved returning to our town.  Apparently it reads quite poignantly, “A-No. 1 – The Rambler At Rest as Last.” (I’m not 100% certain of the punctuation on the tombstone.  People on the internet cite it all kinds of different ways)

Because of Jon’s introduction to this incredibly interesting drifter, I hopped onto my amazon.com account and purchased ‘The Trail of the Tramp’, one of several autobiographical stories written by A-No. 1.  As previously mentioned, Cambridge Springs has an amazing wealth of history.  However, most of that history is kept alive through local community members and high school teachers.  Very rarely does one have an opportunity to learn through firsthand knowledge of life in that bustling metropolis in early 1900’s Northwestern Pennsylvania.

So I’ve dived in eagerly to ‘The Trail of the Tramp’ to see what life was like for Leon Ray Livingston.  A vagabond playboy of the highest caliber.  The hobo high roller.  He was like the Mick Jagger of hoboing.  After reading a few chapters, in all honesty, aside from watching all of his friends die from exposure or disease, it doesn’t seem like his way of life was all that bad.  Everyone he talked to had really cool nicknames, which seems like a definite plus to hoboing.  I personally have never had a really cool nickname, but it’s something I’ve always wanted.

Maybe it’s time for me to take to rails.

Take some time and check out Leon Ray Livingston at amazon.com.  Instead of going out on a Saturday night this weekend, spend that money on a book.  Nestle up and enjoy the weekend with everyone’s favorite hobo.


On Stephen King

February 17, 2010

My favorite working writer, Stephen King, took a break to stop by the Colbert Report on a segment called ‘Better Know a Stephen’. I’ve been uber-pumped since I heard that King is going back to work on another Dark Tower story tentatively titled The Wind Through the Keyhole (how bad ass is that?!).

Check out Better Know a Stephen here.

This just makes me like the guy even more.

 

Rolalnd Deschain will return.