This book is hilarious, particularly the second half. The first half is mostly the childhood of Tina Fey, which is entertaining enough, but the secondThis book is hilarious, particularly the second half. The first half is mostly the childhood of Tina Fey, which is entertaining enough, but the second half gets into her time at Second City, SNL, 30 Rock, and the whole thing with Sarah Palin. This portion is such a fast read, and amazing fun, insightful, and entertaining. It's interesting to see original scripts and rewrites of ideas, and I also like how Fey will examine her faults or assumptions, such as slipping into condescension when talking to Palin about New York backstage. It's nice to see anyone so willing to critically examine him or herself, and have the wit to make it a joy to read. Part of this is having the perspective that she has her dream job, and it, even at its most stressful, is way better than what most people have to deal with. At the end, Fey goes on a discourse of her thinking about whether to have a second child, and the balance between career and family. While this comes up in all manner of books, her thoughts on it were really nuanced and fascinating....more
This is the longest book I have read in quite some time, and the 1100 pages don't exactly fly by. Even though it is a fairly arduous read, the subjectThis is the longest book I have read in quite some time, and the 1100 pages don't exactly fly by. Even though it is a fairly arduous read, the subject matter is very engrossing, 150 years after the Civil War.
Being a biography, it covers the his upbringing, early military assignments, the Civil War, and his time as the highest ranking officer in the Army after the war. In addition to his thoughts, he includes letters and correspondence, and in various addenda, let's people who feel he has slightly misrepresented occurrences with a chance at rebuttal. Some of the highlights for me were his time in California during the Mexican-American War (for which there is a fine book Eagles and Empire: The United States, Mexico, and the Struggle for a Continent). It was interesting that right as Sherman arrived, the city of Yerba Buena was rebranding itself as San Francisco, to attract everyone who came to the bay of the same name to it, rather than other Bay-Area cities. Sherman also helped set up a seminary/military academy which would eventually become Louisiana State University. At the onset of the Civil War, Sherman left his post as superintendent of the school, but was slightly reluctant to rejoin the army since he felt that the Union wasn't committing the resources necessary to do the job.
During the war, the most action packed sequences are the campaigns from Tennessee to Atlanta, the March to the Sea, and the Carolina Campaign. One of the most interesting sections for me was how the military dealt with property issues in Memphis. For example, if your landlord was a rebel, to whom do you pay rent. There were all of these complicated property issues which an occupying army had to deal with. With that in mind, it makes sense why Sherman evacuated Atlanta of civilians after he conquered it.
Sherman also discusses what would more or less be called public relations mistakes. He had some contentious issues with various other generals, and especially Secretary of War (calling things like it is, not "Defense") Stanton. Sherman was not very savvy. Its understandable why he was not interested in elected office.
William Tecumseh Sherman is perhaps my favorite Ohioan, as I love his pragmatic/cynical view that war is hell, war is cruelty, and it can not be refined, et cetera. This gels well with the pacifist and curmudgeonly aspects of my personality, that war should not be taken lightly, and those who agitate for war should feel its consequences. I like to be an ardent Union man, considering there are still idiots who embrace the stars and bars of the Confederate flag. I am proud that an Ohioan made Georgia howl, and marched across South Carolina. The South started the war and deserved everything that it received.
That being said, it can not be ignored that William Tecumseh Sherman did not have enlightened views about African-Americans. He accepted slavery as a fact prior to the war, and was in no way an abolitionist. His views show a white supremacist sentiment, and he did not really embrace the use of African-American troops. However, at least according to Sherman and some letters from others, in personal interactions with freed slaves he was gracious and fair. Sherman is a complicated character, and probably shouldn't be lionized (as I like to do) or denigrated. Due to this, his autobiography is an extraordinary read for anyone with interest in American History and especially the Civil War....more
I really enjoyed reading this book. It's the first of what will be three volumes going into John Lewis' life. This installment covers his childhood anI really enjoyed reading this book. It's the first of what will be three volumes going into John Lewis' life. This installment covers his childhood and young life as a student in Nashville, Tennessee where he helped organize lunch counter sit-ins in 1960. The framing device of the story is interesting too, working in a flashback to the events of Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, when civil rights activists were marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. It also features Rep. Lewis preparing for the inauguration of Barack Obama in January 2009, and him recounting his life to some constituents who drop by his congressional office. The black and white illustration by Nate Powell are excellent as well.
John Robert Lewis, often called Bob in the story, has had an exceptional life. Seeing the way civil rights activists prepared themselves for the lunch counter sit-ins was very illuminating. How one would steel him or herself to all the hatred, venom, and vitriol was something that I had never considered and a description of this process was really interesting. It also delves into the divide between the NAACP and people like Justice Thurgood Marshall who were willing to take any concessions from the white power structure and the younger activists that would not be appeased by half-measures and formed SNCC.
This book also sadly reminds me how woefully undereducated I am about the intricacies of the civil rights movement in the 1950-1960s. Reflecting on the history curricula I had during high school, the last time I've had structured study of US History, we barely had time at the end of the year to focus on post-World War II America. With civil rights, the topic was essentially distilled to covering a few Supreme Court cases and Martin Luther King Jr. While I have gradually been remedying this situation (everyone should read Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama's Black Belt, there is still much work to be done on my part. ...more
Bill Russell really has a gift with stories. Especially when relating the stories of his family and early childhood in Louisiana, the way the family yBill Russell really has a gift with stories. Especially when relating the stories of his family and early childhood in Louisiana, the way the family yarns spin one into the other makes for a wonderfully fun start to the book.
For a book by a sports figure, Russell does not dwell too much on his successes. Considering he won two NCAA titles and 11 NBA titles as a player or player-coach, it is admirable restraint on his part. While he gives accounts of Red Auerbach, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, and K.C Jones, it never becomes a panegyric for Russell or the Celtics.
Bill Russell was strong advocate for civil rights, and it is understandable why. Racism played a large role in his and his family's life, motivating them to move to Oakland. This provides the launch point for his discursions into African colonies (where he is rather critical of Liberia among others) and American imperialism in Vietnam. Russell's perspective is interesting and informed (or at least I thought so, agreeing with him on most points). It's not too surprising considering how Russell has always wished to be seen as a human being first, and one who just happens to play basketball well. He has never wanted sports to be his whole identity. While most people will remember his for his athletic feats, this book shows how that is just one facet of his life.
I enjoy Steve Martin, particularly in "The Jerk." I am only slightly familiar with his stand-up (in that I have never listened to an entire album), anI enjoy Steve Martin, particularly in "The Jerk." I am only slightly familiar with his stand-up (in that I have never listened to an entire album), and relatively aware of his banjo skills. This book gives a brief story of his youth and working his way through various magic, acting, and music experience. It goes through his struggling start in stand-up and through his quick rise and his fairly abrupt exit.
The nice thing about this book is how Martin explains his experiences, and even bouts where he was really down, without it coming off as self-pitying. He's removed enough from the time the book covers (mostly 60s and 70s) that he gives a clear insight into what he felt, while still having the perspective that he has had a successful career and a fairly rewarding life.
This was an incredibly quick and engrossing read, and it was fascinating to see the random people Martin encountered in his youth, like Muhammad Ali signing his draft card, and running into director George Roy Hill at the house of his one girlfriend's parents. He was even a writer for the Smother's Brothers show where he worked with Bob Einstein, aka Marty Funkhouser from Curb Your Enthusiasm and Larry Middleman of Arrested Development. A fascinating life he's led....more
This book was really interesting, and a very well told tale. The author, Henry Box Brown, escaped slavery by packing himself in a very small box, 3x2.This book was really interesting, and a very well told tale. The author, Henry Box Brown, escaped slavery by packing himself in a very small box, 3x2.5x2 feet, and having some of his allies ship him from Richmond, VA, to Philadelphia. Brown admits that for much of his life his treatment was not too bad in the sprectrum of how owners treated their slave. Howver, he still as an adult had his wife and children taken away from him, the impetus for his escape. The story is elegantly told, particularly in conveying how the emotional scars from losing his family were far more painful than any physical torment he felt as a slave.
A wonderful Christmas gift from my brother, who realizes and encourages my being a huge nerd.
This is an interesting look at J.R.R. Tolkien's formativeA wonderful Christmas gift from my brother, who realizes and encourages my being a huge nerd.
This is an interesting look at J.R.R. Tolkien's formative years in public school, college, and being sent to the trenches of the Western Front and his participation in the Battle of the Somme. It is interesting how these periods just before and after his deployment were incredibly productive, especially in regards to honing his interests and creating the languages and mythologies which would be fleshed out with The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and the The Lord of the Rings.
This book does an extraordinary job explaining how the languages were systematically created using phonological and morphological elements which Tolkien learned in his study of archaic Germanic languages. After reading this, it is hardly a surprise that Tolkien was such a highly regarded scholar and linguist. It also goes into the close friendships Tolkien had with some of this schoolmates, and the tragedy that only one of his closest friends survived the war. ...more
This was a very fast read and an enjoyable one. It is interesting to think how much more of a fringe sport NBA basketball was when Larry Bird and ErviThis was a very fast read and an enjoyable one. It is interesting to think how much more of a fringe sport NBA basketball was when Larry Bird and Erving "Magic" Johnson entered the league in 1979. At that time the NBA Finals were shown on tape delay. Magic and Bird also helped the NBA help reduce the image problems that were related to player drug use in the 1970s and 1980s, probably exemplified by Len Bias dying days after being drafted (which really hurt Bird since the Celtics drafted Bias).
I really enjoyed how the book was framed, with each chapter featuring a date, such as the NCAA Championship Game between Michigan State and Indiana State in 1979. Then the chapter gives related events and background and wonderfully candid anecdotes and stories from Johnson and Bird. The two players are wonderful contrasts in personality, with Bird being more reserved and quiet, avoiding crowds, and Magic being more gregarious with an electric smile. However, they both are quite funny, and some of Bird's quotes really made me laugh out loud. This book does a good job of showing how Johnson and Bird's relationship evolved from adversarial antipathy, to begrudging respect which drove each player to get better and reach greater heights, finally to a mutual friendship and being forever linked in the public's mind.
One thing which I did not realize was how much resistance there was by some players to playing with Magic Johnson after his HIV diagnosis in 1991. He didn't play in the 1991-1992 season, but was chosen as an All-Star regardless. It was interesting how Dennis Rodman (in certain ways, unsurprisingly) took the initiative and treated Magic as another opponent, bodying up for rebounds and talking trash, rather than as a leper. One thing that saddened me was how years later when Johnson returned to the NBA, many players, including one of my favorite players as a kid, Mark Price of the Cleveland Cavaliers, were not really comfortable with it. Then, and sadly still today, there seem to be a lot of misconceptions about HIV transmission. Think about Senator Bill Frist, a doctor, and his 2004 comments about tears transmitting HIV.
I also never realized that Bird's father committed suicide while he was in college. However, Bird seems to keep most personal things close to the vest, so he probably has plenty of things that he doesn't actively share....more
Nikita Khrushchev seems like such an amazing and terrifying character. Journeying across the United States for two weeks in 1959, he seemed to oscillaNikita Khrushchev seems like such an amazing and terrifying character. Journeying across the United States for two weeks in 1959, he seemed to oscillate between manic episodes of hilarity, sullen withdrawal, and livid spurts of rage. Quite frightening considering he was at the helm of the USSR. Khrushchev comes across as smart and funny at his best, and insecure and unhinged at worst. The use of a shoe as a gavel at the United Nations a year later reinforces the later. This book shows his strengths and his weaknesses, from his quick wit and wicked humor to his red-faced apoplectic anger.
One reason why this book was so interesting was that this book struck home the absurdity and fear of the Cold War. Being a relatively young individual, the specter of communism has never been frightening during my life time, or at least what I remember. This book, and its vivid descriptions of Khrushchev's bluster, as well as some truly frightening tales about Stalin, make it seem far more understandable. When a head of state continually references his ability to obliterate the world, it makes sense that he and his nation would be feared. Somehow even the odd stories like the premier ranting about how he could not go to Disneyland drove home why the Soviet Union seemed like such an existential threat. ...more
I found this story to be very engaging. It was like a superhero origin story, but for a much more ordinary individual. I found it surprising what a roI found this story to be very engaging. It was like a superhero origin story, but for a much more ordinary individual. I found it surprising what a rough and tumble life Pekar lived, constantly getting into scrapes and acting like a neighborhood tough. It seems like for much of his early life he could not stop sabotaging himself. The book shows how he got turned onto things like jazz and comics that eventually allowed him to show his artistic side. The story also delves into how neighborhoods changed demographically and economically during the 1940s-1960s. This is especially illustrated for the declining business of green grocers and butcher shops. ...more
This true story is quite sad. An impoverished manners teacher from Michigan decides to pursue a dare-devil stunt to raise some money. She's successfulThis true story is quite sad. An impoverished manners teacher from Michigan decides to pursue a dare-devil stunt to raise some money. She's successful, but people care more about the barrel than her. Nobody seems to think that a 60-year old could have done this feat. Twice people even try to steal her famous barrel for themselves. The artwork is nice, the classic charcoal look that Chris Van Allsburg does so well. ...more
This book does an excellent job of showing how Bill Mauldin went from a war cartoonist to a prominent figure in the editorial pages, and how complicatThis book does an excellent job of showing how Bill Mauldin went from a war cartoonist to a prominent figure in the editorial pages, and how complicated his feelings were with his own fame and trying to be a voice for the common combat soldier while never truly being part of the infantry. It also delved into his often rocky personal life. Especially as he aged, he seemed to be prickly and not a terrible good spouse.
It starts with discussing Mauldin's rather itinerant upbringing in the southwest during the Great Depression and how he entered into the US Army. I had already seen a lot of Mauldin's work in Willie and Joe: The WWII Years and Willie and Joe: Back Home, so I was familiar with his work. This book was one of the first I've read to clearly explain how brutal and miserable the Italian front was in World War II.
It was interesting also of how Mauldin transferred back into civilian life and how he transitioned from Willie and Joe to an editorial cartoonist. His dislike of the American Legion made for very interesting reading. One of the most fascinating portions of the book was Mauldin's strong support of civil rights after the war and his complicated feelings towards the Vietnam War.
This was a really well framed book. Starting and ending with the Joe Louis-Max Schmeling rematch bout, it tells the story of how at that time the natiThis was a really well framed book. Starting and ending with the Joe Louis-Max Schmeling rematch bout, it tells the story of how at that time the nation united around an African-American athlete. While it may be seeing the past a bit rosier than it was, the story is so fascinating, and the illustrations recall the style of one of my favorite paintings, Stag at Sharky's by George Bellows (which resides in the incredible and free Cleveland Museum of Art....more
This book surprised me. The illustration was stylish and captured some Audrey Hepburn flair. More interesting, I had no idea how she was involved withThis book surprised me. The illustration was stylish and captured some Audrey Hepburn flair. More interesting, I had no idea how she was involved with UNICEF....more
The blurbs on the back of this book caught my eye. It featured quotes by Chris Rock, Chevy Chase, and Conan O'Brien. While I am not a gigantic fan ofThe blurbs on the back of this book caught my eye. It featured quotes by Chris Rock, Chevy Chase, and Conan O'Brien. While I am not a gigantic fan of Farley, it seemed like the interviews would make the book interesting, The authors, one of whom is Chris Farley's older brother, did a great job of getting interviews with a wide range of people in Chris Farley's life. It was interesting hearing from people who knew Farley from a young age, and hearing people who saw different sides of his personality.
The most enjoyable part of the movie was the section with all sorts of comedians, like Bob Odenkirk, Conan O'Brien, Chris Rock, Norm McDonald, Tim Meadows and many others. So many were just in awe of Farley's stage presence. At the same time, many of them saw the pitfalls of Farley getting typecast in the role of "fatty falls down" physical comedy. Chris Rock especially sees the Patrick Swayze-Farley Chippendale dancer sketch as a role that in some ways trapped Farley. Even with depressing parts, the comedians have such a great way of telling stories.
With a biography like this, everyone knows how the story ends. The part that surprised me the most was how Farley had a good three year stretch around his SNL-Tommy Boy years where he was able to keep sober. Describing the struggles, the authors talked to his sponsors and friends he met through his attempts at recovery. It was interesting to get their perspectives of Farley's life and his death spiral of addiction. It's a sad ending, but it was an interesting read. I do not think I will ever fully understand gravity of addiction, but this book makes it a visceral experience....more
It seems that I like biographies by comedians proportionally to how much I enjoy their acts. Thus I enjoyed Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, Bossypants, anIt seems that I like biographies by comedians proportionally to how much I enjoy their acts. Thus I enjoyed Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, Bossypants, and Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life a bit more. However, this book is still a fun breezy read. Aside from the bed-wetting, Sarah Silverman seemed to have a fairly routine childhood. The most enjoyable parts of the book were some stories involving Louis C.K. and about her eponymous Comedy Central show. I found it pleasant how she had a respect for and admiration for her censors. There seemed to be quite an interesting give and take between the two sides.
So, if you enjoy her comedy work, the book will probably be a quick, fun, read. If you don't, you are not going to gain any wonderful insight by reading this book, so it's probably advisable to not bother....more
I think I got interested in this book when Carrie Fisher appeared on an episode of 30 Rock. Also, at work I'm going to be responsible for biographies,I think I got interested in this book when Carrie Fisher appeared on an episode of 30 Rock. Also, at work I'm going to be responsible for biographies, so I thought, "why not read one?"
This is a very fast read, and it can be very funny at points. It is not terrible structured and is more an assortment of various anecdotes and family stories, but by and large, they are all quite entertaining. The scatter shot of the narrative is understandable, because Carrie Fisher underwent electroconvulsive therapy which can cause memory loss. There is a strong amount of humor and a refreshing amount of her realizing while my life might be strange, it has never been a tragedy. There was a lot of perspective in her account.
Lastly, I never knew she was married to Paul Simon. Very interesting....more
Pete Maravich is a mythic figure in the basketball pantheon, but I do not think I have seen too many clips of him playing the game. Prior to reading tPete Maravich is a mythic figure in the basketball pantheon, but I do not think I have seen too many clips of him playing the game. Prior to reading this book, I didn't have too good of an idea about the life of Maravich, besides his prolific scoring (especially at LSU) and an early death.
This book pours over news articles and personal letters of Maravich and his family. The reader gets a lot of information but the writing is a bit flat. Maravich is a player who had a unique "showtime" style, but the writing does not do a good job of capturing the art and beauty of Maravich's game (Another basketball book, The Art of a Beautiful Game: The Thinking Fan's Tour of the NBA, was much better at exciting the reader).
Some of the most fascinating parts of Maravich's life were how he helped his father get a coaching job at LSU by his sheer talent as a prospect. The two seemed to have an interesting relationship, with the father driving the son to excellence. Maravich's relationship with God and religion is also intriguing. He was quite dismissive of it early in his life, but became quite an adamant believer. When Pete Maravich's odd heart finally gave out, he was playing basketball at a church with James Dobson, of Focus on the Family. Quite an odd little story. ...more
This was a fun little mix of biographical essays and comedic thought exercises. I really love Patton Oswalt's stand-up, and he's made appearances in aThis was a fun little mix of biographical essays and comedic thought exercises. I really love Patton Oswalt's stand-up, and he's made appearances in a lot of stuff I love like Mr. Show, Home Movies, Venture Brothers, etc. This is not as good as his work in those realms, but it is interesting to get more perspective on the experiences that influenced his life as a comedian. The book also has a lot of humor which reminds me of The Areas of My Expertise, such as a hilarious skewering of the "typeface" explanation. ...more
Decided to pick this one up since my parents got me the second volume Glory Days: Bruce Springsteen in the 1980s. I figured I should read the first voDecided to pick this one up since my parents got me the second volume Glory Days: Bruce Springsteen in the 1980s. I figured I should read the first volume while I was at it, and have always liked Springsteen. I even got to see him, briefly, while he was stumping for John Kerry in 2004.
This book is fairly informative, and reading it made me listen to Springsteen albums that I had not listened to a whole lot like Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River. That was the best part of it. Seeing some of the lyrics written out I saw the continuity of a lot of his themes even more strongly.
The book only thoroughly covers up through the end of the Born in the U.S.A tours in the late 1980s. That's a bit of a shame, since I was hoping for more on The Ghost of Tom Joad. The author was obviously a fan, and ended up as a friend of Springsteen. He willingly admits this, since apparently he was criticized for it being a hagiography. That seems to be the case with most musician biographies, and it did not seem ridiculously fawning....more
This book was a somewhat informative look into the Ohio State basketball program just a few years ago. It's a very light read, and fairly entertainingThis book was a somewhat informative look into the Ohio State basketball program just a few years ago. It's a very light read, and fairly entertaining, although at times is extremely crass. Pretty much what I expected, having read a little bit of Mark Titus' blog. Titus can be at times quite interesting and insightful, and then bury that with a mountain of scatological humor. Sort of expected from a 20 something jock. Titus' style can probably best be summed up by the trick shot video, which has spawned some awesome t-shirts.
I think the best parts are when he's talking about Greg Oden, such as how when in high school for an AAU tournament, Oden and Titus decided to go see a matinee magic show, something which makes me like Greg Oden all the more. I also liked his joke attempt to declare for the NBA draft. I appreciate how he doesn't take sports too seriously and just enjoyed the rare opportunity he had. Titus has actually kept up his writing for Grantland, a sports website, and has had some solid articles for them. Hopefully he can mature as a writer, since he has had a unique perspective of college sports. ...more
This book was fairly underwhelming. While it was a short, breezy, read, for which the author deserves some credit, it also seemed to be mostly just aThis book was fairly underwhelming. While it was a short, breezy, read, for which the author deserves some credit, it also seemed to be mostly just a compilation of lists: people, places, and restaurants throughout Northeast Ohio. The descriptions were often too short to even be considered vignettes. Also, several times the same things were repeated in different chapters, and I found several typos, which always rub me the wrong way. This book could have used more editing and polish....more
Started reading this book for a book discussion, although I did not end up finishing it in time for the meeting. It gave me motivation to read an authStarted reading this book for a book discussion, although I did not end up finishing it in time for the meeting. It gave me motivation to read an author I probably would not have picked up otherwise.
The story of the author's life is a bit grim. Poverty and a latchkey childhood definitely took its toll and had rather drastic consequences. While I liked the writing style, the disposition of the author was not really relatable to me. Perhaps I will try some of his novels though, to see if I like those more. ...more