July was one of my better reading months in recent memory. Nine books finished, and all were legit books. No graphic novels, manuals, photography collections, etc. mixed in. Here are some brief synopses.
Phil – Alan Shipnuck
The book that shook up the golf world when an excerpt was released earlier this year detailing Phil Mickleson’s thoughts about the Saudi-backed LIV golf tour, a tour he is now getting paid somewhere in the range of $200 million to play shitty golf on.
Mickelson is a complex dude – like most people in the public eye – and Shipnuck does a nice job laying out as many aspects of Phil’s character as possible. I’ve always thought Phil was a phony douche, a smart guy who thinks he’s a lot smarter than just smart. Much of that is confirmed in this book, but it is good to see he balances that with some genuine acts of kindness and sharing of his wealth. As one unnamed golfer described him in the book, “Yes, he’s a phony. But he’s a sincere phony.” Which is a super funny yet ideal label to slap onto Mickelson.
City on Fire – Don Winslow
The opening book of Winslow’s next crime series. It begins as a long era of peace between the Italian and Irish crime families of Providence, Rhode Island is shattered by a careless act of drunken stupidity. Once the peace is destroyed, there is no fixing it. And it seems to be moving to the west coast for the next volume.
Winslow takes a very different tack from his Mexican drug cartel novels. Those are dense, thick works that take awhile to get through. This book was written in a much breezier manner, more in the language that the wise guys at the center of the story would use. Which means I knocked it out in about 36 hours.
Six Bad Things – Charlie Huston
You may recall about a year ago I found an old email from a fellow lover of books who suggested Huston’s work to me, and I then read his first novel, Caught Stealing, an insanely violent yet thoroughly enjoyable book.
This serves as the sequel to Caught Stealing, with Henry Thompson living in anonymity on Mexico after escaping the many criminal forces in New York that attempted to kill him. He is discovered and a new series of slaughter is on as he attempts to secure his money and protect his family.
Not as compelling as Caught Stealing but a solid book for warm summer days.
How Lucky – Will Leitch
I’ve read tons of Leitch’s online/magazine work over the years, going way back to when he started Deadspin in the early 2000s. But this is the first time I’ve read a work of his fiction.
Here he writes about Daniel, a man with spinal muscular atrophy, a disease that slowly kills its victims. Daniel does social media relations for a small regional airline from his home in Athens, GA. He survives thanks to the help of some caretakers and his best friend. He cruises around town in a mechanized wheelchair, and communicates by using his one functioning hand to type into an iPad or computer. Every day is a battle to keep his body from shutting down.
One morning he sees a UGA student get abducted in front of his home. But because of his disability, the police don’t take him seriously. He manages to strike up a relationship with the kidnapper online, and their interaction eventually becomes violent.
The story is a little creepy but never terribly suspenseful. I found it to be more about Daniel and his disease than any of the plot elements. Which isn’t a bad thing when you’re telling the story of someone as remarkable as Daniel.
We Had to Remove This Post – Hanna Bervoets
A very slim novel based on Bervoets’ research about the stress that people who serve as content moderators for online forums and social media platforms face. When you watch violent, racist, or conspiracy laden content for 12 hours each day, you are bound to feel some effects. Here it turns people into employees who drink and use drugs on their break, spend every evening getting smashed at a local bar, and see their relationships torn apart.
I didn’t feel there was much weight to the book, or that any arguments that Bervoets was trying to make were very compelling. The main characters all had plenty of trauma before they went to work for her mythical social media company. Did what they looked at each day make those traumas worse? Or just prevent them from setting them aside and moving on? Or were they drawn to such work because of their existing issues? There’s no doubt these are terrible jobs with horrific effects on the people who do them. I didn’t walk away from the book thinking the job was responsible for
Depth Charge – Jason Heaton
I really wanted to like this book. Heaton is the co-host of one of my favorite podcasts, The Grey Nato. His cohost and several guests have talked up this since he released it earlier this year. Sadly, while a decent effort at a first novel, it needed another round of polishing and editing to make it work better.
The story, about an underwater archaeologist who discovers an effort to recover a nuclear weapon lost when a ship was sunk off Sri Lanka during World War II, has promise.
But Heaton’s language is a bit stiff. At times he overwrites simple conversations. I found the big moment of conflict had a rather obvious and much easier solution. Sure that would have denied Heaton his climactic battle but I also sat there thinking “This wouldn’t have been necessary if the guy had just done…”