I was in the zone. I was crushing books, knocking them out at better than a book-a-week pace. Then I ran into a wall. I still got some things done last month.
The 80-Yard Run: A Twenty-Week, Coast-to-Coast Quest for the Heart of High School Football – Theron Hopkins. A buddy who is deeply involved in high school football recommended this awhile back. The author takes a trip around the country over the course of a fall, each week profiling a different high school football program.
It ends up being a closer look at the coaches and how they handle the time between games than the Friday nights when games are played. We see teams practice, deal with injuries and discipline issues, and all the other things that coaches cram into each Saturday through Thursday. The games are an afterthought, with only minor descriptions.
Alone, that would be fine. But the work is crippled by Hopkins’ writing style. The stories he tells are interesting, but the way he tells them gets in the way. He’s a big fan of putting phrases in quotation marks. For example, here’s one passage:
He’s known to start the game with the Z Reverse Pass not so much to catch the Panthers “off-guard” or to “gain an edge” as he is for the entertainment value and just to see what happens.
Every paragraph is littered with terms bracketed in quotation marks. Some may not mind that, but it drove me nuts.
Fresh Kills – Tales From the Kill Zone – Various. This is a collection of short stories about death. Some of them are creepy, some violent, most just dark explorations into the most dramatic of topics.
The Imperfectionists – Tom Rachman. A book that’s getting a lot of buzz, this is in the running for best book I’ve read this year. It tells the story of a once-popular but dying English newspaper based in Rome. Each chapter tells the story of someone directly connected with the paper: reporters, editors, management, ownership, readers, former employees. These sketches, which could stand alone as fine short stories, paint wonderfully detailed portraits of their subjects while shedding light on the history of the paper.
My favorite was probably the chapter about the mother of a former employee of the paper who is probably its most loyal reader. Since she discovered the paper, in the late 70s, she has worked to read every issue, from front page to back, working from left to right, top to bottom on each page. This detailed reading requires a huge investment in time. In fact, she is 20 years behind, with all the back issues carefully stacked away in a crawl space, waiting for their turn.
The main chapters are layered with small vignettes that lay out the story of the paper’s founding and key points in its history.
This is a fantastically written book. While we spend only a brief time with each character, Rachman uses that time wisely, building characters with depth that we care about. Even if you have no interest in the newspaper world, this is a fine book to add to your Must Read list.
Talking to Girls About Duran Duran – Rob Sheffield. I read Sheffield’s Love Is A Mixtape a few years back. It told the story of Sheffield and his wife Rene, a woman who changed his life dramatically before she died suddenly in 1997.
This is, more or less, a prequel to that book, in this case covering Sheffield’s coming-of-age in the 80s and the music that carried him through those years. While Duran Duran gets the title mention, and is a big part of the book, Sheffield writes about all the music that he listened to between the ages of 13 and 23. Music, as much as being a soundtrack for his life, was a tool for understanding the world around him, especially girls. As the only boy in a family of four, Sheffield had to both figure out how to deal with sisters and potential girlfriends. Music helped break down some of those mysteries.
Like his first book, this is a charming read, although he does write like a music journalist (Sheffield is a staff writer for Rolling Stone). There are a lot of exclamation marks. Maybe too many. That’s my only complaint, though.
Count Zero – William Gibson. Here is where I hit the wall. I’ve had mixed results with Gibson. The first book of his I read, I enjoyed. The second, I couldn’t get started on and gave up before I made it past page 30. I may well have given up on this had I not bought it. There are lots of interesting elements to it, but for the first 3/4, I had a difficult time keeping the different plot elements straight and finding the connections between them. In that last quarter, everything came together, but I still wasn’t absolutely certain what was going on. Gibson’s work has influenced a lot of other authors I enjoy, but i may have to give up on the original.