I’ve dillied and dallied a bit on these, so some quick recaps of my four most recent books.
Beastie Boys Book – Michael Diamond and Adam Horowitz Simply one of the best music memoirs ever published. I’m being 100% honest, not funny at all. This book is equally hilarious, poignant, thoughtful, and moving. Mike D and Ad Rock tell the band’s story from their early days cruising the seedier parts of New York’s hardcore scene, through their transformation into rappers, and then through their massive, international success. They write of the good and the bad. And they give great respect to the one Beastie who isn’t around to tell his story anymore, MCA. A must read for Gen Xers who grew up on the Beasties and that first wave of hip hop.
How It Happened – Michael Koryta Another book by a local author I found on a list late last year, this is a terrific thriller. It is one of those mystery novels where most of the answers are given in the opening pages, but then Koryta jumbles up the parts and has you guessing if what you think happened really happened. Much of it is fairly standard, thriller fare, but done quite well.
Friday Black – Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah Adjei-Brenyah is a young author who is getting tremendous attention for his early works. Notably George Saunders, a giant in American literature, has championed this first collection.
It is difficult to describe or categorize this set of short stories. They are futuristic, but only pushed slightly into the future. Maybe even just months in the future. There are elements of fantasy in many of the stories. Not as in dragon and elves and whatnot, but simply in the broadness of possibility that Adjei-Brenyah introduces into his stories. There is a strong send of fatalism, and an equally healthy dose of farce and humor.
I struggled to connect with a couple of the stories. But most of them moved me. The only problem with the book is that he put what I believe to be the best story first, “The Finklestein 5.” It is a perfect example of the balance he builds into his stories. Parts of it are utterly ridiculous: the entire nation is on edge after a white man was acquitted of killing five black children with a chainsaw because he felt threatened by their presence. Not only was he acquitted, but the verdict came down in less than an hour. Parts of it are chilling, too, though. Based on several recent, notable trials, are we really that far away from something like this happening?
What sticks with you about the story, though, is the aftermath of the verdict. Black people are beginning to arm themselves and attack random white people, shouting out the names of the Finklestein 5 as they do so. Something about that feels very third world and primitive. But, given that there are many, many people in the highest seats of power in this country who seem intent on fanning the flames of racial hatred, I wonder how far are we from the point where personal violence moves from random to organized?
He resolves the story in a way that confirms our humanity. I hope that humanity is there in all of us if our country ever spirals too far down the path of madness.
Dream On – John Richardson I’m sick of winter. I want to be outside enjoying some good weather. I’d like to pick up that late summer/early fall re-ignition of my interest in golf. So I figured this book would be a good way to satisfy some of that.
Richardson grew up playing solid golf in Northern Ireland, getting to a 15 handicap as a teenager before school, career, and family turned his game to crap. For ten years he kicked around the idea that any golfer could spend a year practicing and playing hard and get to the point where they could shoot a single round under par. Single round is the key. This isn’t about getting your handicap to scratch. One round, one day, you break par.
He gives it a shot. He makes it, by the barest of margins: a one-under round in the final week of his year-long challenge. Along the way he nearly drove his wife insane, neglected his career and forced himself to step aside from the company he helped to build, and hit a shit-load of golf balls.
I have pretty reasonable goals if I begin to play regularly: get my game to the point where any of my friends who belong to a golf club would not be embarrassed to invite me along for a round. But Richardson’s process and progress still provided some guideposts to whatever plan I come up with for the spring and summer.
Reservoir 13 – John McGregor.
Just six weeks in and already an abandoned book. You may recall that I read the companion piece to this, The Reservoir Tapes, late last year and really enjoyed it. So I was really looking forward to this.
But, whoa, it was a total miss.
Both books relate to the disappearance of a teenage girl in a rural English town. Where Tapes were small sketches of the various characters from the original story, Reservoir 13 was all about the community in which the disappearance took place. Each chapter lays out dozens of small details in the life of the village over the course of a year. Everything from the search for the girl, to her family’s reactions, to how the town church vicar brings people together, to a crumbling marriage, to a lonely teacher, to the elements of nature, like foxes, badgers, and birds and how their lives adjust to the seasons. No facet of the story gets more than a couple paragraphs, and each chapter begins with the fireworks of New Year’s Eve.
It was strange. And then off-putting. And then I just had to quit. I stuck with it for four or five chapters, but when I got to another chapter and read about someone else’s NYE fireworks, I gave up.