Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Books On My Nightstand

I haven't posted much in the last couple of months. Life has a way of kicking your butt sometimes. So here are some quick takes on the books I've been reading.

Striptease by Carl Hiaasen
Maybe I'm all Hiaasen-ed out, but Striptease is definitely not my fave by Hiaasen. I love this guy, but all the books have the same vague story lines and vaguely the same characters. Also, Erin, the leading lady/stripper, just seemed to be spouting Hiaasen's world view, rather than being a fully fleshed out character. Kind of reminded me of the ladies in Death Proof who, for the first 50 minutes of that movie, seemed nothing more than vehicles for Tarantino's witticism and world views.

More thoughts on Hiaasen can be found here. I hear the movie starring Demi Moore was a bit of a trainwreck. I may have to watch it anyway.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Maybe it will surprise you, or maybe it won’t, but I’ve never read High Fidelity (even though my beloved Motrobooty made a magazine rack cameo in the film). I must say I’m thoroughly enjoying it, though I’m finding it quite depressing. The stunning revelation for me is that Rob, the lead guy in the book, is the prototype for the Mark character in Peep Show. Take out the rock and pop culture references and what your left with is a deeply flawed character, both sanctimonious and smug, yet someone who is a totally unfulfilled basket case teeming with neurosis and plagued by doubts, especially when it comes to the ladies. In other words, MARK. I’m sure no one can back me up on this since you all probably read this book years before ever seeing Peep Show. But go to a bookstore, pick up High Fidelity, go to any section from the middle of the book and tell me you don’t hear Mark’s voice. And for that matter, I suppose you could pencil Jez in as the Barry character.

The Last Picture Show & Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
I have a new favorite author and he is Larry McMurtry. I loved the movie of The Last Picture Show, and I can not begin to tell you how blown away I was by the book. Simply unbelievable. Simultaneously so sad, angsty, moody and full of life. Every character so fully realized. An incredible portrait of a place and a group of people aching for something more out of life. One of the greatest coming of age novels ever. And there's a lot of mid-life crisis happening as well. So it's a great read for the whole family. Interestingly, I watched the movie again after reading the book, and you know what, the book blows it out of the water. The movie is faithful, perhaps to a fault. It's just like the book, but with sections cut out. Read this book.

I was so energized, I decided to tackle the epic Lonesome Dove. A couple of Texas Rangers no longer needed as the West has already been settled. They head off on one last adventure--a brutal cattle drive from Texas to Montana. It's so cliched at it's core, yet unbelievable as it plays out. Captain Call and Augustus Mcrae are two fantastic characters. So different, yet totally co-dependent. 900+ pages, but page turners, all of them. Death comes quickly on the plains, so be prepared. Can't wait to watch the 6 hour mini-series.

The Sound & The Fury by William Faulkner
After Lonesome Dove, I wanted something classic and satisfying. A good piece of writing with epic scope and grandeur. I decided to revisit Faulkner whom I hadn't read since high school--with mixed feelings, I might add. Here's my facebook status update that was inspired by my feeble attempt at reading this classic. "Could someone explain The Sound and the Fury to me. Why do people like that thing? It's insufferable and seems needlessly confusing. Am I wrong? When it does make sense, I find the characters irritating. I bailed after 100 pages. Is that so wrong? Help me, people. I wanted to sink my teeth into a classic, but yukkie poo poo." Well there you have it. A modern American classic dismissed so callously on Facebook. I've sunk to new lows.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Magic of Radio: RIP Ernie Harwell

I never really listen to the radio anymore. As a kid I listened to it all the time. The AM oldies stations, the FM top 40 stations, the Canadian stations floating in from north of the boarder and, of course, Tigers’ baseball on WJR. If you were a sports fan in the 70s, you listened to the radio. Sports didn’t dominate tv like it does today. Maybe there were 1 or 2 games on tv a week, but if you were a fan, you got the skinny from the radio. And was there ever a better radio broadcaster than the great Ernie Harwell? I doubt it. Harwell passed away yesterday after a year-long battle with cancer.

Harwell’s southern tinged drawl was part of the fabric of childhood. Graceful and engaging, Harwell brought life to one of the most moribund teams in the 70s. The Tigers were perennial losers, but Harwell breathed life into guys like Tom Veryzer, Gary Sutherland, Ron Leflore, and Joe Coleman. And he made great calls. When watching a game today, if someone takes a called 3rd strike, I still hear Harwell’s classic call, “He stood there like a house by the side of the road and watched that one go by.” Whenever a fan would catch a foul ball, Harwell would offer up, “A young man from Muskegon takes home a souvenir.” Every foul ball featured a fan from a different city. As a 10 year old, I couldn’t wait for someone from Southfield (my town) to catch one. I was fascinated and wondered how Harwell could know where everyone was from. The 12 year old in me knew that he couldn’t know where everyone was from and that he had to be making it up. But to this day there’s that sliver of doubt. Maybe he did know. He had that magical voice coming out of the radio. He was at every Tiger game, the place you wanted to be as a kid. He was such a commanding and compassionate presence, someone who all fans were connected to, that perhaps he could know something so unknowable.

I never listen to the radio anymore. But were there any better childhood moments than being tucked into bed, listening to the West Coast games on my clock radio? Ten-thirty pm start times. Hiding under the covers. Trying to stay awake as long as possible. The crackle of the AM lulling you to sleep sometime in the 3rd or 4th inning.

When Jonathan Richman sings “With the radio on!” in Roadrunner, I think of the AM, I think of the lazy Midwest summertime, I think of listening to Tiger baseball on the radio. I hear the hum of the radio as the signal fades and then gets stronger.

RIP Ernie Harwell.