Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Book Shelf: Part 3 of 4

A brief look at some of the books I have read over the last while:

Keepers of the Game: When the Baseball beat was the best job on the paper – Author Dennis D’Agostino has written a fascinating oral history of Major League Baseball and the newspaper business. D’Agostino has spoken with 23 men – including Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun – who either were or are on the baseball beat for daily newspapers. Some of these men are the greatest baseball writers of their time and their stories make for wonderful reading. The book opens with a wonderful forward by the legendary Dave Anderson. As an aside, D’Agostino is married to Los Angeles Times hockey writer/columnist Helene Elliott. (Potomac Books, Kindle, $16.25)

Last King of the Sports Page: The Life and Career of Jim Murray – Written by Ted Geltner, it is just that, a look at the life, times and career of Murray, the Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist who is mostly remembered for his work with the Los Angeles Times. But he was more than that because he also was a Hollywood-type reporter at one time – he covered the movie scene for Time magazine – and also was in on the ground floor when Sports Illustrated got started. (Kindle, $16.01)

League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth – Written by ESPN investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wade and Steve Fainaru, who are brothers, this book accompanies the two-hour Frontline special that appeared on PBS-TV in October. The TV special was heavy-hitting; the book is that and then some. The book opens with the devastating story of former Pittsburgh Steelers centre Mike Webster and goes from there. It details the moves the NFL made to keep concussion-related information from players, the battles between experts, especially those who were in the NFL's hip-pocket and those who weren't, and what would become the race between interested party to get their hands on the brains of deceased players. History will show that the TV show and this book played an important role in the concussion story. Read this book and you will never, ever look upon the NFL the same way again. (Crown Archetype, 416 pages, Kindle)

Live By Night – No one does Boston gangsters any better than Dennis Lehane. This one isn’t up there with his best – Mystic River; Gone, Baby, Gone – but it’s still pretty damn good. Start with Joe Coughlin, the son of a Boston police captain who takes the wrong fork in the road, and throw in South Florida and Cuba and you’ve got an entertaining read. Oh yes, there’s also a touch of baseball here. (William Morrow, soft cover, 402 pages, US$16.99, Cdn$18.99)

Mulligan’s Stew – The ubiquitous Terry David Mulligan tells his story and, yes, it’s interesting if a little shallow. Uhh, the book is shallow, as in thin, but his life has been anything but. Mulligan actually started out in the RCMP before heading off into radio and then TV and movies. Yes, there is some name dropping in here but, all in all, it’s a quick and interesting read. Glen Schaefer, an entertainment writer at the Vancouver Province, helped with the writing. (Heritage, soft cover, 221 pages, Cdn$19.95)

The Murder Room – The Vidocq Society was started by three men, each a crime fighter in his own way, and eventually grew to involve almost 200 members and associates. It would meet and attempt to solve cold cases. This is an intriguing look at the society, focussing primarily on two members – forensic artist Frank Bender and profiler Richard Walter. More than anything, though, this is a window in the evil that lives in our world. Author Michael Capuzzo tends to over-write at times, and the story jumps around a bit, but, still, this is an intriguing if scary read. (Gotham Books, soft cover, 439 pages, Cdn$19.50, US$17.00)

Northern Light: The enduring mystery of Tom Thomson and the woman who loved him – It somehow is only fitting that Roy MacGregor, one of our country's great essayists, has an obsession with Tom Thomson, the Group of Seven artist, and what happened to him in July 1917. MacGregor, who spent a lot of his young life in what had been some of Thomson’s haunts, explores Thomson's demise from every angle and then some in what is a thoroughly engrossing read. You don't have to know anything about Thomson or landscape art to enjoy this book, although, in the end, it will leave you wondering what really happened. (Vintage Canada, soft cover, 358 pages, US$19.50, Cda$22.00)

The Notorious Bacon Brothers: Inside Gang Warfare on Vancouver Streets – If you live in B.C., you are well aware of the Bacon brothers – Jamie, Jarrod and Jonathan. And you know full well of all the blood that has been shed as the various gangs, including the mighty Hells Angels, battled for control of the drug trade on the Lower Mainland, in Prince George, and in Kamloops and Kelowna. Author Jerry Langton does a good job of outlining the history of gangs in B.C., and all those involved. In fact, you really do need a scorecard in order to keep track of all the players. But he does make some logistical errors involving the location of some Lower Mainland areas; also, there isn’t a Tim Hortons within crawling distance of the Aberdeen Mall in Kamloops. And if you’re looking for a whole lot of background on the Bacon boys, including just how much their parents knew, that really isn’t here. Still, as a straight-up, easy-to-read book explaining all that’s gone down, including the Surrey Six shooting that really shook things up, this is a pretty good read. But if you are a follower of reporter Kim Dolan in the Vancouver Sun, there won't be much here that is new. (Wiley, Kindle)

Over The Line: Wrist Shots, Slap Shots, and Five-Minute Majors – The acerbic and colourful Al Strachan provides the reader with 265 pages of anecdotes, bon mots and tales from the world of the National Hockey League. . . . Of “radio people,” he writes: “They’re biased and proud of it. That’s why the continent is full of stations calling themselves The Fan or The Team. I don’t know an any called The Truth.” . . . Strachan thinks Don Cherry should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame and that Gary Bettman shouldn’t be the commissioner of the NHL. If you follow the NHL, you will enjoy this one. (McClelland & Stewart, soft cover, 265 pages, Cdn$19.99)

Pull Up a Chair: The Vin Scully Story – This apparently is the first biography of Vin Scully, the legendary radio voice of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, and it’s a fun and entertaining read. Author Curt Smith writes in something of a different voice, and it takes a bit to get used to it. But once you get into the rhythm, it’s great. “The sound of (Scully’s) voice,” actor Robert Wuhl once said, “like the sound of your dad coming home and throwing his keys on the kitchen table, is the sound of comfort and security for so many of us.” Ain’t that the truth. (Potomac Books, hard cover, 264 pages, US$29.95; actually found this one at a Walgreens in Bellingham, Wash., for $5. Perhaps my best buy of 2013)

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