Saturday, February 11, 2017

Saturday Snaps: Book Reviews of Five Recent Readings

A handful of recent reads that I found stimulating.

Doc by Dwight Gooden

Doc is the story of Dwight Gooden, a phenom pitcher whose career was sidetracked by cocaine. I remember how Gooden and Darryl Strawberry made headlines both as prospects with promise and hugely self-destructive as a result of their personal struggles. This is Gooden's story and it's offers real insight into the challenges of success and the importance of character. More than once he would have been able to sing Dylan's "I threw it all away."

The story begins with Gooden's account of the Mets winning the World Series, but he himself missing the ticker tape parade that followed because he'd chosen instead to get coked up at a connection on Long Island. Instead of something beautiful, it proved to be indicative of more than two decades of living the pendulum life of promises and lies. Ultimately a good read.

Available here on Amazon.com.

Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

More than 25 years ago a client of mine introduced me to Michael Lewis' exposé of Wall Street shenanigans, Liars Poker. I don't know how far this book gained recognition in the popular culture, but I do know that his Moneyball achieved this and more, ultimately becoming a Hollywood big screen feature starring Brad Pitt and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Flash Boys is another meticulously researched book that zeroes in on the current state of Wall Street, especially as it pertains to the dark underbelly and the new phenomenon of high frequency traders.

The book is exceedingly well written, but it made me curious what prompted Mr. Lewis tell this story.  The subject is high frequency trading (HFT) and my guess is that very few people really understand that way things work on Wall Street enough to even be aware of this new twist in the game. It's a good read, especially if you have investments. I imagine that it's possible there are folks who will lose sleep after reading this. At the end of the day it feels like background for a story yet to be told.

Available here on Amazon.com.

Fiasco by James Robert Parish

There's something compelling about watching a train wreck, especially when it's massive in scale. Fiasco: A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops is a compilation of detailed snapshots of massive Tinsel Town disasters, from Cleopatra to Waterworld and more.

I remember when Ishtar, starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman, came and went. For most of us, our bad decisions seldom make the tabloids. Unfortunately, this debacle could not be hidden from the light of day. It's one thing when the stars coalesce to make art art film that has little pop appeal; it's totally other when these folks roll the dice on a 200 million dollar mess that has "blunder" emblazoned on its forehead.

Other familiar films skewered by James Robert Parish in this book include Cleopatra, Cutthroat Island, The Cotton Club, Showgirls and, among others, Popeye. This latter was indeed a dud, and no doubt an embarrassment in Robin Williams' sensational resume. What Parish brings out for readers is the backstory. How did anyone believe this could be pawned off as entertainment? When you consider the piles of cash at stake, and the egos involved, the real surprise might be that there aren't more such fiascos.

This book is here on Amazon.com.

The Letters of John Lennon

Whatever your take on John Lennon of the Beatles, The Letters of John Lennon is an insightful and intimate look at one of the profoundly influential people of our (Baby Boomer) generation. How ironic that I'd just finished reading this book when I was introduced to the notion that the Illuminati wrote the Beatles songs through a philosopher named Adorno. Get real, people.

The book is essential an overview of a life that we were familiar with publicly, but pretty much failed to understand in its complexity. Naturally we are all complicated, and the light only shines on the outer shell. The personal letters reveal much more. I listened to the audio version of this book, so I missed the illustrations and doodles that were part of the original volume. The author provides context for all, and it's a very special book, especially for those who appreciated the direction he went after the breakup of the team.

You will find it here on Amazon.com.

Hombre by Elmore Leonard

One of my favorite writers of the past 35 years, Elmore Leonard got his start writing Westerns. As a story teller the man is golden. I was introduced to his novels by Joe Soucheray over lunch at a writers conference in Mankato. He was attempting his own first novel and at the time was stuck in chapter six. In describing his malaise, he asked if i'd ever read Leonard and I acknowledged that I had not. At this point in time I've probably read 30 of his 60+ novels. When he passed away last year he was declared by some to be the "best writer of crime fiction of all time."

Hombre later became a film starring Paul Newman. His heroes are uncommon men, and memorable. I've seen the film twice and read the book twice as well. Here's what one Amazon.com review wrote regarding this book:

Elmore Leonard is not nearly as well known for his Westerns as his hardboiled crime dramas, but in fact he is one of the finest writers in the genre of the past fifty years. This is partly because he is simply one of the finest American writers period. He is famous for writing some of the hardest hitting, purest prose during his lifetime.

Hombre is a book about integrity in a world where people are afraid to a stand. In this sense, it is more inspirational than Western drama. Leonard is a master at crafting characters and placing them into settings that reveal what they are really made of.

Here is where you can find it. And see if you can find the movie as well. It's worthy of the story.

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Meantime... happy reading.

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