Thursday, September 30, 2010

Horse Whisperer

I have been in a serious rut of reading. In my last review I mentioned that I was reading a book that I was thinking of withdrawing from the library as well as the first draft of a novel a friend of mine wrote. Well, the book was withdrawn with my not finishing it. Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible could not withstand the onslaught of deselection. The book was just backstory about superheroes he created. Over and over. The actual story plodded along because the reader is constantly being told about what happened before. Horrible way to tell a story and I didn't finish it.

My friend Jason's book, Saving Anne, has been an enjoyable read but I'm reading it as a computer file and did not print it out. Not the best way to read but probably the best way to make comments. So I'm plodding along there for different reasons.

Meanwhile, I was continuing to search for something that struck my fancy. My mood has not been good (that changed with all this rain today. Six inches and counting. I love, love, love rain) and nothing has really grabbed my interest. I grabbed Nicholas Evans' The Horse Whisperer because the movie is one of my favorites and one of a select few I own.

As I read the book, I tried to read it without taking the movie into consideration. It wasn't all that difficult. There are probably more differences than similarities between the book and the movie.

The general gist is the same. Young girl goes horse riding with her friend after a snowfall. Horse slips, they slide down a hill in a tangled mass where they are hit by a tractor trailer. One girl and one horse die. The other girl loses her leg and the other horse is all messed up. Both survivors are traumatized.

The mother, Annie, a noted magazine editor, finds a fellow out in Montana who has a mystical way with horses. She forces her way into his life, without the approval of her daughter, to try and get him to fix the horse (Pilgrim), her life, her daughter (Grace), and anything else that comes to mind. Annie and Tom (the Horse Whisperer) fall in love despite a loving, caring father back home in New York.

Grace and Pilgrim turn out all right.

Those are the similarities. The differences are considerable. Tom is a bit of a ladies' man in the book but almost more of a monk in the movie. As such, I thought he was much more likable in the movie. Really, I didn't find myself liking any of the characters in the book that much which was a direct contrast to the movie. The book ending is horrible, filled with death and potential illegitimate children.

The author, Nicholas Evans, reminded me a lot of another Nicholas, Mr. Sparks. Same sort of sappy writing. Evans gets a little ridiculous with some paragraphs, breaking out the thesaurus to get some alliteration going here and there. Nothing special. No nice turns of phrases but a lot of cringe-worthy material.

Once I finished it, I found myself amazed at how well the movie turned out given this was the starting point. It turns out the fellow who did the screenplay, Eric Roth, also is doing the screenplay for Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, one of my favorite books. He also did the screenplay for the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a movie I was surprised was made since it was based on a short story.

I'm hoping my mood and reading selections turn around in the near future. I'm in the middle of a book I like right now and a book for which I have been waiting for six months to read will be on its way to me next week. In addition, we purchased a trio of books that are on my to read list including what may be the book I have anticipated reading the most in my lifetime; Tom McCarthy's C.

Cross your fingers for me and hope for some good reading.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Might I have a new favorite player?

Ask me and I'll tell you my favorite player is Adam Dunn. Says so right there in my profile. Big, strong hulking guy like myself. Plays his brand of game unapologetically, a game of walks, strikeouts and massive home runs. I once kept a blog about his pursuit of the career home run record until that record ceased to belong to Hank Aaron.

I've noticed, though, that when I check the boxscores each morning, I find myself looking forward to checking those of a team other than Dunn's Nationals and after last night, I really began to wonder if my allegiances have modified.

Last night, Dunn led off the bottom of the ninth against the Phillies with a game-winning home run off of Jose Contreras. Awesome. I was very glad to see that.

But over in the midwest, I check the boxscores of the Twins-Royals game and see that Kila Ka'aihue hit a pair of home runs and a triple. That made me give a bit of a cheer. His eleven total bases in a game is the second most ever by a native Hawaiian (Mike Lum's three home run game is tops). Great performance.

I'm not ready to say I like Kila more. One, with the Royals, you never know when he'll be back in Omaha. Two, because Kila finally is being given a chance, there is a bit of a novelty. It's easy to become jaded and say "Wow, another Adam Dunn home run. I've only seen that 353 other times." whereas Kila's were career numbers seven and eight.

And it's not like Kila's game is all that different from Dunn's. At 6'3", 221, Ka'aihue is dwarved by Dunn but they both are lefty sluggers with tremendous patience.

So I guess, no, I do not have a new favorite player but it is very nice to see Kila Ka'aihue have a great game like this and hope that there are many more to come in his big league career.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Never Tear Us Apart

I have fond memories of INXS' song, Never Tear Us Apart. My prom date smacked me during the playing of it. I have played the sax most of my life and when Kirk Pengilly's sax solo kicked in while we were dancing, I broke into song with him. I guess she thought it ruined the mood or something.

Record Club: INXS "Never Tear Us Apart" from Beck Hansen on Vimeo.

Apparently Beck has been remaking INXS songs and while I haven't liked the interpretations of most of them, I do like this one. It would have been nice if they had gone out and hired a fifth grader to play the violin so it sounded better but other than that, it's really nice.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Packing for Mars

Posted out of order. This is neither novel mentioned in the previous post.

I have enjoyed Mary Roach's writings for years and years. I first came across her as a writer for Reader's Digest. My parents have subscribed to RD for most of my life and when I would visit, I would grab any issues I hadn't read and look for her two page humor piece. She has always been extremely entertaining. If you want to read some of her pieces, Google her name and Reader's Digest.

When she published her first book, Stiff, I pounced on it. It was about cadavers and how they are used in scientific study.

I have not read her books on the afterlife (Spook) or sex (Bonk) but read a nice review of Packing for Mars in Book Page. The library got Packing for Mars in so I signed it out and read it.

Packing for Mars is about space travel, particularly the effects of space travel on the human body. This is not a topic that would normally interest me and if not for Roach writing it, I probably wouldn't have checked it out.

I have an issue with Mary Roach, though. She is really, really interested in body functions. I don't have the desire to read about defecation, urination, vomiting, etc. Swelling of organs also not high on my list of interests. Mary loves it. It's why I probably won't read Bonk. I'm afraid it'll turn me off of sex.

After reading Packing for Mars, I can safely say that I will not be participating in space flight any time soon. I actually enjoy showers and real food. I don't enjoy motion sickness and being in tiny places for long periods of time. It is plenty fascinating reading Roach's research into those who are willing and able to take part and even more fascinating reading about the preparations involved.

The research Roach does is excellent. She talks to folks from space programs around the world which I find quite remarkable given the secrecy of governments. If I had an interest in space or even science, this would probably be a two star book but it didn't quite appeal to me enough for me to give it such a rating.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cult of the Amateur

Before I delve into this horrible book, I want to mention that I couldn't finish another awful book. David Silver's book Smart Start-ups is dated despite being written only five years ago. Silver is an angel investor who funds entrepreneurial ventures. He says in the beginning that he is not an entrepreneur himself. Despite this, he spent most of the part I read throwing out different business ideas for people to launch using social media. Silver also makes it a point that these businesses can be started with just a little bit of capital. They can be successfully launched with as little as five million dollars in funds. Good to know.

Returning to The Cult of the Amateur, Andrew Keen has written a gigantic whinefest. Keen is a journalist who bemoans the changes that have taken place in the world because of technology. Most of the critics of this book consider Keen a Luddite or technophobe. i don't get that sense. My take on Keen and that the book is that Keen is an arrogant man who has spent a great part of his life employed as journalist and now it's harder for his work to be appreciated and paid for. He complains that the internet has created a society where amateurs can take the place of experts and write or talk about whatever they want.

Keen's book evoked anger from me. Upon completion of the book, I closed it and said "What an awful book that was". Here's a professional journalist, an "expert" in his parlance, who does not do a good job of reporting. His citations are haphazard, he only presents his side of the argument, and he will say one thing and then criticize opponents who do the same. For instance, he berates Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine for comparing intellectual property to razors ("books aren't razors") one page after he makes a comparison of the same property to automobiles. Keen cites specific examples and extrapolates them into generalizations. If one person has a problem with gambling addiction, then online gambling must be addictive.

Perhaps the thing that angered me the most about the book is that Keen thinks the majority of people in the world are idiots who can't think for themselves. There are certainly those folks. In the final chapter, which was added for the re-release of the book, Keen calls these people hedgehogs because they have one-track minds. The opposite of the hedgehog is a fox which Keen labels himself, despite not being able to accept viewpoints other than his own. A fox, Keen is not.

I like to think I am. I'm a critical thinker. I thank Robert Williams of Guilford College for leading me down that path in college. He was the first person I can recall who really stressed to me that there are biases everywhere. He had us read about the same current event in multiple newspapers to see how the newspapers differed in their perceptions and biases.

Keen suggests that all that matters is that the media are experts and we should only accept their word because they are the pros. People who keep blogs or post videos cannot possibly know as much as those who appear on television or write for newspapers and only those who have been anointed as such by their respective agencies can merit expert status.

So Keen would have me only read news about the Milwaukee Brewers from Milwaukee newspapers or perhaps national organizations like ESPN. The guys at Brew Crew Ball cannot possibly offer me anything.

As a matter of fact, this book review is garbage. I am not in the paid employ of any newspaper. My opinion of Keen's book is moot. Likewise my thoughts on baseball, cooking, wine, music, or really anything. According to Keen, I probably can write about libraries. Since no one is paying me to do statistics right now, I probably can't write anything worth reading about that topic.

That's why I mentioned my blog statistics a couple of posts ago. People read this blog. They read it for a variety of reasons. Some people might view me as an expert on certain matters. Some might find their tastes aligned with mine. Some people might find my writing entertaining. Some people might just like me and read my writings as an extension of that. There's lots of reasons to read this blog and reasons not to as well. It's up to the individual to make that decision.

Ultimately, that's what angers me the most about Keen. Expertise is all that matters to him. Quality doesn't. Taste doesn't. There are doctors, "experts" in the field of medicine, who diagnose things improperly or miss diagnoses altogether. Look at how the "experts" in the field of finance gave us Enron and the bank bailouts. "Experts" in entertainment give us schlock. Experts publish James Patterson's book of the month while good literature and/or research goes unpublished because it is not viable economically.

I really could go on and on. I would doubt that there was a page in this book about which I did not have an issue. It was truly horrible and could well be my least favorite non-fiction book ever (Don't worry, Audrey Niffenegger, your expert novel debut still has a stranglehold on worst book I've read). Perhaps if experts weren't so arrogant and full of themselves as Keen, he wouldn't have to worry as much.

Next on the reading agenda are two books which have not commanded attention. The one is a novel I had wanted to read that we were considering withdrawing from our collection because no one has read it. The other is the first novel of my friend Jason McClain. His novel has not been submitted for publication as of yet. I'm looking forward to it and hope that the experts in publishing find it worthy of their expertise.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics - Blogger edition

I keep this blog largely for myself. I like to write on occasion, it is something I continue to try and improve my skills at and I find it cathartic at times. As I write left-handed, a blog is a great alternative to running around with ink on the side of my hand all the time (you should see the pages of my handwritten journals over the years).

A handful of friends appreciate my tastes in various things, particularly books, and so they are my secondary audience.

I tried to become more involved with the baseball card online community and so the folks who are part of that world became my tertiary audience.

I point all this out because I don't try to cultivate an audience. I know from the comments and e-mails that people do read what I have to write and I am appreciative of that. It's nice to know that my opinions do matter. Until recently, though, if you had asked me what I write interests people, I would have assumed the order of topics would correlate to those of which I write. In other words, people come here to read my book reviews mostly or possibly baseball.

Blogger has started reporting stats and it turns out I'm wrong, hysterically so.

The most read post on this blog is my review of the Sherlock Holmes movie. Twice as many people have read that post than any of my other posts except one. What post comes in second? My review of the extraordinarily delicious 2007 Achaia Clauss Mavrodaphne of Patras.

Two more of the top ten are of food reviews of Oneonta/Cooperstown. Four are book reviews. Only one is on baseball (my recent post on Tim Collins).

A number of baseball card sites bring traffic here. Thanks for that, guys. What brings people here from Google? Wine. Go figure. Three posts are tagged wine and that's what bring people to my blog.

Am I going to change my approach? Of course not. Like I said, it doesn't matter all that much to me. I do find it interesting and it ties in with a book review (which apparently no one will read) that I will be posting this week. For that reason I'm sharing my findings.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Book Thief

"500 page book, set in Nazi Germany, the narrator's Death, and you think, "How do you recommend that to your friends?" - Markus Zusak

Let me try, Markus. This book, which has been on my "to read" list since it was published in 2006 (which says more about my adherence to reading lists than the length of my reading list), is the best book I've read in 2010.

The reason why this is the best book I've read is because Death is the narrator and Death is a poet. Or maybe an artist. You wouldn't think that an entity that extinguishes life could appreciate the beauty of what life has to offer but Zusak's Death does. Even in war-strewn Germany in the 1940's, Death is able to see that beauty can come from ugliness, good from evil.

The story is about a young girl named Leisel and begins with Leisel, her brother and mother traveling to a foster home. The mother is unable to care for her children. On the way there, however, the brother dies. While attending the burial of her brother, she picks up a book dropped by one of the gravediggers. Leisel cannot read despite being nine years old. She keeps the book as a reminder of her brother.

Upon reaching her foster parents, she discovers that her mother-to-be is a harsh acting, profanity spitting individual. The father, however, is my favorite character in the book. Hans Hubermann is a caring individual who treats everyone kindly.

Hans and his wife, Rosa, both dropped out of school at young ages and neither are good readers. Hans works to teach Leisel how to read after discovering her stolen book. Leisel continue to improve and learns the power and magic of words; an important lesson in Nazi Germany where Hitler relied greatly on his verbal strength to rally and unify the country.

Because this is Nazi Germany and because Hans is pretty close to sainthood, it isn't too surprising when Hans stashes a Jew in his basement. The Jew, Max, is the son of a man who saved Hans' life in World War I. Max and Leisel become good friends and over the course of the story, they each create a book for one another for different reasons. It is Death's encounter with Max's book which inspires him to tell this story.

There's so much that goes on in this story. Hans' son is devoted to the Nazi cause and is angry at Hans for not being supportive and joining the party. Leisel's best friend, Rudy, is inspired by Jesse Owens and becomes one of the best athletes in town as well as being a top student, a combination that is enticing to the Nazis. Leisel rescues a book from a book burning and then proceeds to swipe tomes from the mayor.

Given the book's length, it moves quickly. Zusak paints wonderful little stories that combine into an intricate masterpiece. It really is a beautiful book filled with emotion.

This is this year's book for the One Book, One Community project which is what prompted my reading this now. This was a great choice even though there is much debate over whether this is a Young Adult book or not. Too often, folks (myself included) dismiss Young Adult books as being "not adult enough". After reading The Book Thief, I'm definitely inclined to be more open-minded on such matters.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Death personified - question for readers

I'm reading The Book Thief right now and the narrator of the book is Death. The only other book I've read that comes to mind where Death is anthropomorphized is Piers Anthony's On A Pale Horse. In film, Brad Pitt plays Death in Meet Joe Black. Can anyone else think of instances in 20th Century literature (I know the concept is more frequent in older literature) or movies where Death is a being?