A few books notes for you.
Northland: A 4000-Mile Journey Along America’s Forgotten Border – Porter Fox
Fox travels the border between the United States and Canada from east to west, beginning on the coast of Maine and ending on the beaches of Washington. Along the way he hitches rides with fishermen in Maine and on a cargo barge that travels the Great Lakes. He paddles a canoe through the St. Lawrence river area. He joins a seasoned explorer in the lake country of Minnesota. He drives the vast flat lands that stretch across the Dakotas and Montana. Through his trip he shares stories of the first Europeans to explore and settle the lands, the government workers who marked the border over the decades, and ties those stories to the current state of the lands and people who live on them.
Sabrina – Nick Drnaso
My first graphic novel of the year. I recall one review said that this book literally haunted the reviewer’s dreams, which set a certain expectation for what the book should be.
Drnaso centers his story on the disappearance of a young woman named Sabrina a few blocks from her home, her eventual death, and the impact that has on her boyfriend, the people who attempt to help him, and eventually on the entire country. It morphs into a much broader critique of the state of the world as he looks into conspiracy theories, the way we consume and spread information, and how the individual can get crushed by society.
It is a bleak and unsettling book. It also has some very strange sections that I, honestly, could not figure out. I wasn’t sure what to make of the end of the book. His art has an indistinct style, too, which made it tough at times to know which character was currently at the center of the panel. Or perhaps that was just because I don’t read a lot of graphic novels and if things aren’t very clear I can’t keep up with them.
The Parade – David Eggers
Oh, how I once enjoyed Eggers’ writing. He once offered us some of the most daring and interesting prose of anyone in his generation. He’s used his fame to push worthy causes and help others. However, along the way he lost his fastball and his recent work has come off as lazy and well below the heights of his early work. And yet, when I saw this at the library, I was drawn to it. It certainly helped that it is a rather thin book. “If it sucks, at least it won’t take me very long to get through it,” was my thought. Which ended up being the straight truth, Ruth.
Eggers writes about two contract workers who are sent to a fictional country somewhere in southeastern Europe that is coming out of a long civil war. The men are tasked with laying down the first paved road that connects the country’s southern hinterlands to the capital. Their work, it is promised, will allow the people in what were rebel strongholds the chance to access the bigger, better economy, education, culture, and healthcare of the nation’s capital.
The project lead is a sober, dedicated man who refuses to stray from the protocols placed upon the project. He spends his days piloting a state-of-the-art machine that can lay an asphalt road quicker than any other similar machine. His partner, on the other hand, sees little need for boundaries or regulations. His task is to clear the path in front of the machine of people, large impediments, and solve other mini-crises so that the asphalt can continue to get laid down unimpeded. He is more interested in jetting off on his motorcycle to explore strange areas and interact with the locals.
As you would expect, his journeys lead to trouble of various kinds, the lead is forced to jettison the schedule, which causes him to accept that there is more to life than following instructions. And his partner sees that there is danger in living life without boundaries.
All this leads to one of the most predictable endings I can remember. And, again, it came across as the lazy, easy choice for Eggers. I wondered if I had missed something so I skimmed a few reviews after I finished. One critic called the book’s final paragraph one of the most offensive things she had ever read. I think that’s a little extreme. But it is all the proof that I need that I don’t need to read another Eggers book.
Four Days in July: Tom Watson, the 2009 Open Championship, and a Tournament for the Ages – Jim Huber
I grabbed this – the tale of Tom Watson’s amazing run to nearly winning the 2009 British Open – as a book for our trip to San Diego. I started it the Sunday before we left and ended up blowing through it in about 36 hours.
That’s not to say it is a great book. Rather that it reads pretty quickly and isn’t that lengthy to begin with.
Many of you will remember Huber, who worked for CNN and the Turner networks for years as their resident “essayist.” He was the guy who rolled in for touchy-feely pieces in the midst of other sports coverage. The book reads exactly like an extended one of those essays. It’s schmaltzy and overly-dramatic, but given that it is about a nearly 60-year-old man coming within a shot of winning one of the biggest golf tournaments in the world, the tone fits the subject matter.
While the book focuses on that July weekend, Huber does offer background into both Watson’s life and that of Stewart Cink, who bested him in the playoff. There’s plenty of history of the tournament and how Watson came to be one of the Open’s greatest champions with his dominance there in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Huber’s dissection of Watson’s final hole of regulation, when he made a couple tough choices that both cost him, are deep and do well to show how Watson made the right choices. But I did like how Joe Posnanski handled what happened to Watson on the 72nd hole better than Huber.