Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Book Shelf: Part 2 of 4

A brief look at some of the books I have read over the last while, perhaps to help you with some Christmas shopping (for yourself):

Detroit: An American Autopsy – Wow! If you have ever wondered how it is that a city like Detroit ended up filing for bankruptcy, Charlie LeDuff has written a real eye-opener. This isn't a book full of numbers; it is a book loaded with anecdotes that will leave you shaking your head. Time after time, you will stare at the heavens in bewilderment. A good portion of the book is centred on Detroit's firefighters and the incredible conditions under which they were expected to work. Sheesh, they had to bring their own toilet paper to work. LeDuff is a former Los Angeles Times and New York Times reporter who returned home to Detroit to write for the News. I highly recommend this book. (The Penguin Press, 286 pages, Kindle)

Dream Team: The book’s subtitle almost says it all – How Michael, Magic, Larry Charles, and the greatest team of all time conquered the world and changed the game of basketball forever. . . . Yup, that about sums it up. Except that it doesn’t, because it doesn’t say enough. This is a terrific book, full of colourful anecdotes involving some of the greatest basketballers of our time. But it is so much more than that. Author Jack McCallum, he of Sports Illustrated fame, does a wonderful job of explaining how all of these huge egos came together to form a team in the truest sense of the word. (Ballantine Books, hard cover, 351 pages, Cdn$34.00, US$28.00)

A Drinking Life: A Memoir – Pete Hamill, a New York newspaperman with Irish in his blood, opens his book with this: “This is a book about my time in the drinking life. It tells the story of the way one human being became aware of alcohol, embraced it, struggled with it, was hurt by it, and finally left it behind. There is no hero.” There may not be a hero, but this is a wonderful read that paints a terrific picture of growing up in a hard-scrabbled area of New York when booze was the milk of the working man. It really is a book about coming of age and starting to grow old. (Kindle, $10.03)

Drunk on Sports – Tim Cowlishaw is a recognizable face on the sporting scene; after all, he is a sports columnist with the Dallas Morning News and also holds down a spot on ESPN’s popular show Around The Horn. This is his story, and it’s an interesting read. This is a man who had the world by the tail, with a dream job and all that goes with it, including booze, booze and more booze. He wrote about and talked about the Dallas Cowboys and drank with then-head coach Jimmy Johnson. He covered Super Bowls and drank. He covered NASCAR and drank. A lot. He covered the Dallas Stars and drank. Yes, he drank a lot. But he didn’t see that as a problem, until he ended up in hospital a couple of times, once with a fracture to his skull. It’s worth noting that Cowlishaw says the aforementioned A Drinking Life: A Memoir, by Pete Hamill, had quite an influence on his desire to be a sports writer. (Kindle, $9.73)

End Zones & Border Wars: The Era of American Expansion in the CFL – Written by Vancouver Province sports columnist Ed Willes, the title pretty much says it all. This is a decent overview of what had to have been the darkest and most hilarious days in the CFL's history. In all honesty, though, this book could have used more Pepper Rodgers. (Harbour Publishing, soft cover, 208 pages, $19.95)

Fall of Giants – This is the first of Welsh author Ken Follett’s expansive historical trilogy that follows five families through the 20th century. Fall of Giants takes the families, and the reader, through the First World War and the Russian Revolution. If you like good, long reads that are loaded with great characters, international intrigue, historical figures and some just plain folks who are trying to make their way in the world, you won’t want to miss this. Just be prepared to get hooked on the series. (Kindle, $12.82) (See Winter of the World further down here.)

419 – Anyone with a computer and an email account has received one of those Nigerian notes. And, surely, you have wondered what might happen were you to respond. This is the riveting story about all that and more. There is deceit and death and death and deceit and, in the end, the circle is unbroken. An award-winning work from author Will Ferguson, this is one of those MUST reads. I found it to be thoroughly engaging. (Penguin, Kindle, $15.99)

Gordon Lightfoot: The Man, The Music and the World in 1972 – Author/musician/man-about-Canada Dave Bidini, who is really good, set out to write a book about Canadian icon Gordon Lightfoot but the subject chose not to co-operate. Bidini forged ahead anyway, and has produced another gem. Like Stompin’ Tom Connors, Bidini writes about things Canadian, mostly hockey and music. In this book, he examines Lightfoot’s legacy in detail. In one aside to Lightfoot, Bidini writes: “Your music tapped into the very essence of the Canadian soul at a time when Canadians were just trying to figure out who they were and what they were about. You gave your people a voice. You gave them a musical hero.” Bidini wraps it all around the 1972 Mariposa Folk Festival. Ahh, 1972. Yes, Harry Sinden makes the odd appearance, and so do Bidini’s beloved Toronto Maple Leafs. At one point, he writes that Lightfoot records “most of your song ideas on a cassette recorder, often while you’re sitting around watching the Leafs play (you’ve done a lot of estimable things, Gord, but finding inspiration in the god-awful Leafs might be your greatest achievement.” If you haven’t met Bidini on the printed page, you should. (McClelland & Stewart, soft cover, 256 pages, US$18.99, Cdn$21.00)

The Innocent – I hadn't read anything written by David Baldacci prior to picking up this book. The central character is Will Robie, a hitman/assassin who is in essence a U.S. government employee. In this story, he gets tangled up in a web that involves a 14-year-old girl who has witnessed the murder of her parents. All in all, it was a good read over a couple of hotel days. (Vision, paperback, 543 pages, US$9.99, Cdn$10.99)

The Instigator: How Gary Bettman Remade the League and Change the Game Forever – Author Jonathon Gatehouse, who obviously knows his way around the National Hockey League, goes into great detail in explaining how the NHL has gotten from where it was when Gary Bettman moved into the commissioner's office to where it is today. You won't be surprised to read that this is Bettman's league and he wants/has total control. There really aren't any surprises here, but it is an interesting and valuable read, just the same. (Penguin, soft cover, 379 pages, Cdn$20.00)

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