Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Visit From the Goon Squad

The winner of last year's Pulitzer Prize, this is one of those rare books where I knew a lot of people who had read it before I did. Most of the people I talked to did not like this book but for most of those folk, the reason was because they didn't like the layout of the chapters. Each chapter takes place in a different point of time and involves different characters. There's really a lack of fluidity in that regard. It's almost like a collection of short stories. However, they all tie into one another and although it really takes until the end of the novel to tie them all together, I found it satisfying and actually enjoyed the style. To me it was a bit of a puzzle to figure out how what I was reading would tie in to what I had already read.

The book is primarily about people involved in the music industry. The book is about the people and music is the bond that ties them together. It's an interesting look at how people change, what the passing of time does to us, and the power of coincidence and luck in our lives. That final aspect, luck, could be really abused by the author since she tries to tie all the loose endings together. It would have been very easy to end this book in a very sappy way. To Egan's credit, she doesn't, which I found to be much more satisfying.

What prevents me from a two star rating is that it isn't a great story. The character development is the focus and Egan is really good in that regard. The style is unique and I liked it. I certainly recommend it. Despite the awards and hoopla, I wouldn't put it among the best books I've read.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


This book is one of those grey area books on my rating scale. It was spooky. A guy buys a house with a huge amount of land (over six hundred acres of woods) in the town where he grew up in upstate New York. The guy isn't all that friendly and not many people in town recognize him. When he interacts with folks, he seems to find a way to alienate them.

Despite growing up in the town, he doesn't have family there and the reader is left to wonder why on earth he came back. As he fixes his house up, he finds that he can see a giant rock outcropping out on his property. When he checks the property map, he is surprised to discover that where the outcropping is, smack in the middle of his land, is owned by someone else whose name has been removed from the records. There are no points of entry to this area. All is confuseded.

Upon investigating the outcropping, he discovers a castle. To talk about it anymore would ruin the story. The outcome involves the discovery of the narrator's past which is a wacky one indeed. As a matter of fact, it is so out there, it sort of ruins the story for me.

I liked the writing, though. I wanted to press on throughout the story. Everything is detailed well but still the story is mysterious. Who is this guy? Why did he come back? What's the castle all about? Why does this guy alienate everybody? You feel like you're getting a lot of information but you can't seem to piece it together. When the pieces are put together, you're left feeling like this was some other puzzle. It was just really unsatisfying for me.

Ultimately, I'm going no stars on this one. The writing style can't overcome a lousy denouement.

Monday, June 20, 2011

I Am the Market

Subtitled "How to Smuggle Cocaine by the Ton in Five Easy Lessons", I was hoping I might pick up some sort of business lesson, even if I'm not a drug dealer myself. At the very least I hoped for an interesting story. Hopes dashed all around.

By five easy lessons, the publisher and/or author mean in five chapters. Each chapter isn't really a lesson in and of itself. It's just a bunch of rambling about the drug trade from a former semi-big dealer who is in prison. The author of the book, an Italian journalist, interviewed him and then appears to not have edited the transcription in the least. Or maybe he did, which would be even more sad.

The book is a reliving of the guy's glory days and he talks about some of the ways he smuggled cocaine which are no longer valid because they've been shut down by law enforcement.

About the only thing good about this book are some of the interesting unsubstantiated claims the guy makes like the "fact" that the drug trade is keeping Florida's banks afloat or that law enforcement often buy drug sniffing dogs from the drug cartels themselves. If true, well yes, that is quite interesting. But how are you going to substantiate the claim?

Not worth the read, even though it is a very slim book and a quick read.

Update: Turns out I wrote a review of this before and didn't publish it. I like my writing better in this one:

Thought it might be fun to read a book about smuggling cocaine. Subtitled how to smuggle cocaine in five easy lessons, I thought I would soon be up and going importing coke and selling it to Amish kids. Or maybe hosting raves. Everyone likes Amish raves.

In all seriousness, I thought I might glean a business tip or two from the book. You never know where you might pick up something new. In this case, though, there wasn't much to be gleaned.

The book seems to be one extensive interview of a former semi-successful coke smuggler by an Italian journalist. The coke smuggler himself would tell you he was more than successful but being as he's saying that from prison, I'll disagree.

He was full of himself, the interview seemed as if it was lightly edited, and outside of some interesting tidbits (but not necessarily facts (like the claim that many drug sniffing dogs purchased by government drug enforcement agencies are bought from drug suppliers)) I didn't enjoy it that much. Given the lack of anything remotely concrete, the amount of braggadocio, and the fact that five chapters does not equate five lessons if there is no structure, I'm calling this a definite pass.

I also gave up on The Skeptic's Guide to Writers Houses. A more ostentatious author I have not encountered. I gave it three chapters and then returned it to the library.

John Lennon v. Jamaica Tourist Board - Copyright infringement 40 years later

Maybe it's me. You listen and decide. I woke up this morning with my usual inexplicable song in my head. Today's song was the old Jamaica tourist ad from the late 1970's. It's running through my head and all of a sudden it switches to John Lennon's So This Is Christmas, a song recorded several years before. Through the power of technology, I present both head to head.

YouTube Doubler

Sound pretty similar to me. What do you think? And did anyone or their families ever go to Jamaica as a result of those ads?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

First ballgame of the year - why I enjoy the Atlantic League

Friday night I went out to York to watch the York Revolution take on the Lancaster Barnstormers in the third game of this year's War of the Roses. Here it is mid-June and outside of Little League, I hadn't seen any baseball. Last summer, of course, I was enjoying New York Collegiate Baseball League action almost every night. Unfortunately, this year is more exemplary of my typical summer with regards to ballpark visitations.

The Atlantic League is a lot of fun for me to watch. The players on the teams can largely be lumped as want-to-bes and once-weres. It is an independent minor league which means that they are not affiliated with major league teams like your typical "farm team". Guys who play in the Atlantic League may have been released from organized baseball, been overlooked, suffered an injury and are working back. Something happened that makes them unwanted by big league clubs and most of the players are trying to show they still have something to contribute. All of them, though, are there because they love baseball. There's not much money to be made in the Atlantic League.

York's designated hitter I have written about before. I follow him and he had been released from the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs a few weeks ago. York signed him and he hit a couple of singles Friday night.

There were other familiar names (at least to me). Liu Rodriguez, Val Majewski and Fernando Seguignol are all former major leaguers. The son of future Hall of Famer Tommy Herr, Aaron, also played.

The game was a lot of fun. Lancaster got off to a 5-1 lead with the help of a three-run homer by Ben Copeland. York exploded in the fifth, though. Majewski hit a grand slam and York added four more runs in the inning. Scott Grimes, last year's co-MVP and graduate of my high school's archrival, hit his second homer of the game later on and the Revolution won the game 11-5.

Despite my being a fan of pitchers duels, this was a fun game. All four home runs were mighty blows. Sovereign Stadium in York has some fun quirks. They have a replica of the Green Monster in left field which is even larger than the Green Monster and also contains a manually operated scoreboard. There is also a cannon in rightfield that fires whenever a Revolution player hits a home run. I thought that was really cool. And though I am not a fan of ballpark-induced cheering, they play a recording of someone yelling "REVOLUUUUTIONNNNNNN!!!!" which gets everyone yelling in response. I would almost make that my ringtone if I knew where it came from.

Concessions were outrageous for this level of competition as was parking. I thought ticket prices were a little high too. Checked out the gift shop and it was ridiculously priced as well. The food wasn't particularly good either. The bathrooms were the tiniest I've ever seen which shocked the heck out of me given it is a new stadium. While there were several restrooms, the one I was in had but one stall and two urinals.

Having had the experience of going to York for a ballgame, would I go again? Maybe. It was a fun environment. I enjoyed myself enough that it made me want to cease my blogging hiatus and write about it. But outside of the cannon, Jose Herrera, and the Revolution chant, it's not much different than catching a lower-level minor league game anywhere else except that maybe it costs a bit more.

As for my continued blogging, we'll see. I think I'm going to try and catch up on book reviews (I think I have ten to write) and we'll go from there. My laptop is in for repair (this is being written on a borrowed laptop) and I am anxious to have it back.