Whats everyone reading now and/or read lately

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
Another great review. I'm going to have to follow up on this one. Amazon offers it in both book and four star DVD version(s). Having read the book, do you have an opinion on whether reading the book and/or watching the movie would be preferable in this instance? ;)

I haven't seen the movie - but appreciate the heads up and will look for it now. I would encourage you to read the book as it's a fun page turner.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
Late last month, my ravenous eyes chewed through the third and possibly, final volume of David Baldacci's Atlee Pine series. Titled "Daylight," this book continues female FBI agent Atlee Pine's quest to discover the fate of her Twin sister, Mercy, kidnapped and possibly murdered more than 30 years ago. At this point the quest takes Atlee to Trenton, New Jersey the home of record of the brother of a mob enforcer whom Pine believes abducted and disposed of her sister, so many years ago. The bad guy is dead, but surviving members of his family are still living in the area and still involved in their lives of crime. By the time Atlee is done mucking around, all of the bad guys surviving relatives are dead, except for the man's Alzheimer stricken widow, confined in a nursing home. However Agent Pine is able to discover through the recently deceased that her sister was abducted, but not killed. She was given to a mentally disturbed couple of village idiots who raised Mercy to adulthood, chained like a mad dog, behind a heavy wooden door in a small cave on a wooded hillside. Mercy had eventually managed to escape and apparently killed her mentally ill keepers and, present day, appears to be on the run. Now if this isn't an opening for volume four of the Atlee Pine series, I don't know what is!

This is a good/fast read. Reading David Baldacci's writings is highly addictive...be careful! LOL. ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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February Hill by Victoria Lincoln originally published in 1934

What does a family look like from the worst part of the wrong side of the tracks? Victoria Lincoln pens a tale about an odd family - mother, father, grandmother, three daughters and a son - who live in a glorified shack supported by the mother's slightly upscaled prostitution, one daughter's job at the nearby cannery and the small-time larceny of another daughter.

The father is a completely non-functioning alcoholic while the son reads classic plays and books to escape his crazy world. The youngest, a grammar-school-aged daughter, somehow rarely goes to school, but instead spends her days learning how to curse and eat chocolate (seemingly just about the only food this family buys) from her "retired" prostitute grandmother.

After setting up these bowling pins, Lincoln then knocks down or scatters each one to see how the family will survive. One daughter, Dorothy, the cannery worker, can't stand her family, views her mother and, really, all of them with disgust and moves out of the house without warning when she gets married. She hopes they'll suffer without her income and even plots acts of revenge after she's left. Yes, she's a joy.

Middle daughter Jenny, the casual grifter (she does it occasionally when the family is short or she wants some small thing), loves her family and seems to only marginally realize how strange their existence is. But that reality is forced on her when she falls in love with a young man who, despite making his living as a rum runner during Prohibition, makes it clear he wants no part of, what is to him, her embarrassing and immoral family.

The son, Joel, is offered the "opportunity" to live with his paternal grandmother who has both money and position. While this seems auspicious on the surface, the alcoholic father believes his mother's meddling and moralizing drove him to alcoholism. Despite this fear, and despite some real problems with the grandmother, the family sends Joel, who is clearly a book-smart kid, to her as they realize it is his one shot at a real education.

Finally, we have the glue of the family, the prostitute mother, Minna, who is worried about aging out of her "profession," but somehow is the cheeriest of the lot. In her own way, she is a super mom and wife who keeps the house going financially and ties everyone together emotionally as one crisis after another rocks their fragile existence.

Minna, though, is also proffered an "out" when one of her clients, a nice wealthy man, offers to marry her and support her family. While Minna considers this after her husband dies, even going so far as to visit him in Texas with her youngest daughter, she decides against it.

In part, she didn't like that her daughter was becoming greedy for things. Okay, most people would see no longer living in poverty, supported by illegal activities, as a plus, while considering the need to put limits on a young child's avarice as part of parenting. But Minna, instead, returns to February Hill.

Yet it's Jenny's story that provides the central conflict of the book as she tries to reconcile the demand of her, again, rum-runner husband to distance herself from a family she loves. It highlights the, perhaps, hypocrisy of society that looks down on this family while ignoring its own limitations and failings.

That's fair, but this is also fair: stealing, as the daughter does, is not the same as prostitution or rum running, both crimes that many believed simply skirted bad laws in the first place. It's one thing to steal in a moment of abject desperation (a la Jean Valjean) and another as a casual way of life (a la daughter Jenny). Despite her cuteness and general decency, Jenny is still taking someone else's work - their money for food, shelter, clothing and medicine - for her own selfish needs.

(Spoiler alert) After Jenny's husband is killed by the authorities, she returns home to the smaller remaining brood of mother, grandmother and youngest daughter. Author Lincoln presents this as filial love winning out in the end, but one wonders how long a family held together by prostitution and thievery - a family that doesn't educate its children - will survive.

I found my way to this quirky book after seeing the movie Primrose Path (comments here: #681 ) which is very loosely based on February Hill. Not surprisingly, much of the book was censored for the movie, leaving a lighter and happier tale for the big screen.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
A detailed and well thought out review of the book, which goes a long way towards unraveling and imposing good order to what sounds to be a rather disjointed story line in the book. Based on the tenor of your spoiler alert, near the end of your review, it seems the book failed to come to a satisfactory conclusion , leaving many great questions unanswered..,yes, no? Do you recommend February Hill as a good read? Thanks for another exceptional review. ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
A detailed and well thought out review of the book, which goes a long way towards unraveling and imposing good order to what sounds to be a rather disjointed story line in the book. Based on the tenor of your spoiler alert, near the end of your review, it seems the book failed to come to a satisfactory conclusion , leaving many great questions unanswered..,yes, no? Do you recommend February Hill as a good read? Thanks for another exceptional review. ;)
Your questions are insightful. The book, pretty much, didn't have a conclusion or closing opinion as it just faded out with the smaller family in place. To be fair, the author could say her book was a "slice of life" not a plot-driven narrative. IMO, the book needed more of an opinion, but that's just me.

As to recommending it, I'm on the fence, but would say there are many other books worth your effort before February Hill. If you want a good '30s family drama read, I'd recommend Kitty Foyle well ahead of February Hill (comments here: #794 )
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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Children of the Ritzby Cornell Woolrich originally published in 1927

Cornell Woolrich was a popular Jazz Age novelist and, later, successful pulp fiction writer. His 1927 novel Children of the Ritz is about as Jazz Age and 1920s as it gets.

While the story is serviceable, a big part of the fun today of reading Children of the Ritz are all the period details that were current at the time: transoms, railroad flats, new "movie palaces," race-track bookies, dumb waiters, radios, ocean cruises and on and on. Everything has its filters and bias, even contemporaneous writing, but a 1920s novel is going to get you closer to the period than a modern period novel.

Beyond that, Children of the Ritz is a reasonably good page-turner where we meet Angela Pennington, of "The Pennington," an eighteen-year-old girl with too much money and time on her hands and way too little sense.

Pretty and self absorbed to the point of never passing a mirror without luxuriating in her own reflection, Angela develops a crush on the Pennington's new chauffeur, Dewey, right at the time her father's financial fortunes take a hard downturn.

Not coincidentally, when Dewey wins $50,000 in a crazy bit of luck at the racetrack, Angela agrees to marry him, who, at twenty six and from a humble background, seems to be the more mature one in the relationship.

Maybe he is, but neither of these "kids" really thought through what marriage would be like. Angela seems to view it as a transition from her father's bank account to Dewey's; whereas, Dewey seems to have married pretty Angela because she's, well, pretty and he found her cluelessness to the real world cute.

If you're thinking those are unstable reasons for a marriage, you'd be right as clueless Angela quickly spends more than Dewey can afford, so money arguments dominate their marriage from the start and never recede.

That's pretty much the story as, for the next year or so of their lives, we watch Angela buy all the expensive accoutrements of her old lifestyle as Dewey sees his windfall-filled bank account plummet, while his new wife makes no effort to be a real day-to-day wife.

Woolrich captures the clash of the two worlds - Angela's upper class one and Dewey's blue collar one - but he never really develops either character deeply enough for us to understand the why of it all.

Both float through the story almost as cliches: she's the spoiled rich girl and he's the put-upon former chauffeur who doesn't understand her spendthrift ways. But why do they stay together, especially after Angela's family recovers most of its money? Why does he fight so hard to keep her despite his anger at, well, pretty much everything she does? Why does selfish Angela, despite mocking his "common" manners and outlook, still want to be with this man?

The climax revolves around Angela's potential affair with a handsome older man "of her class," which could provide an easy out for her from her troubled marriage. But neither she nor Dewey seem to really want to end the marriage as we are supposed to believe, deep down, they are still in love. It's hard to even know what that word means in the context of their always-combative marriage, since we never really understand what motivates either of them.

It's an uneven novel with several loose ends never tied up, but it's still a fun quick read. For us today, and probably even back then, the real joy of Children of the Ritz is its trip through Jazz Age New York City. From nightclubs with live goldfish in water-filled glass tables to bootleg gin to late-edition newspapers to Jazz in Harlem, reading Woolrich puts you right in the middle of the glitzy part of the 1920s.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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Summer of '49 by David Halberstam originally published in 1989


While it drifts into nostalgia here and there, Summer of '49 is an engaging account of the early years of the post-war Yankees-Red Sox rivalry with the 1949 pennant race providing the book's pinion. That pennant-race story is wrapped inside an insightful look at baseball's expansive place in American culture in the 1940s.

You don't have to be a box-score fanatic to enjoy Summer of '49, as a casual fan will find much to like, but if baseball isn't your thing at all, there are other books to read.

Before Halberstam gets to the 1949 Yankees-Red Sox down-to-the-wire pennant race, he takes a casual look at the more-recent history of baseball and the two clubs to establish the zeitgeist of the teams, the sport and the larger culture going into that season.

The Yankees, with all the lore (even then) of past dynasties, anchored by names like Ruth and Gehrig, versus the closely-tied-to-their-home-city Red Sox, with its passionate fans, had, by 1949, already developed into an intense rivalry. It blossomed at a time when most boys (and some girls) grew up playing some version of baseball while following their teams and heroes with a singular passion hard to imagine with our present-day plethora of entertainment options.

Kids in the summer would listen for hours to the, then, mainly day games on radios often placed at odd angles to improve reception. Halberstam argues the relationship a fan develops with the sport listening to it on the radio is more intense than watching on TV. As a kid who did both regularly in the 1970s, I'd agree.

Newspapers too - waiting on street corners for the latest edition and then pouring over the box scores - absorbed many hours of these young fan's summers. A select few of these boys grew up to be players, while most grew up to be lifelong fans.

Those who did become players might have come up through a series of semi-pro leagues or as "bonus babies," promising young prospects that, by Major League Baseball rules, had to go straight to the professional teams (that was a new one to me).

With management in a much stronger negotiating position and endorsements a sliver of what they are today, baseball, the game itself, commanded much more of the players' attention. Less money also meant more camaraderie as, other than the top stars, these were men, while paid more than the average American, with middle-class worries.

Even the travel, mainly by train, with air travel for teams just starting, had the players spending many of their off-hours together, furthering the team's bond. Along for those enervating rides were the sportswriters whose expenses were subsidized by the management of the teams they covered.

That acceptable-in-its-day conflict of interest and the era's more-reserved press culture resulted in a symbiotic press-team-management tripartite where the sides fought a bit, but only inside the lines. There were fewer gratuitous and embarrassing stories written and more player hagiography.

Unacceptable to us today, but in 1949, the baseball press, overall, protected the players and the game itself. Much, much worse than that, though, was the era's and sport's very ugly inveterate racism.

While it's the conceit of many young today to believe that they are the first to speak up and force the country to look at its racist past, Halberstam, in a mainly otherwise positive look at the sport, writing over three decades ago and like many others at that time, doesn't flinch from identifying and denouncing the ugly prejudice of the Yankees and Red Sox management of that era.

Those two teams' unwillingness to embrace the period's aborning entrance of black players into the majors is revealed as nothing more than unmitigated racism. Yes, eventually, this hurt the teams (boo-hoo), but for the period, their repugnant attitude slowed the acceptance of black players into the league.

Sadly, notwithstanding the above, Halberstam isn't wrong in calling baseball the national pastime. The sport, then, was woven into the fabric of America in a way no sport or entertainment is today.

After framing baseball's place in 1949 America, Halberstam focuses on the players, managers, owners and games themselves that made the Red Sox-Yankees 1949 pennant race special.

The players, including the big names we know, like Joe Dimaggio or Ted Williams, get their deserved attention, but so do lesser known players like Dimaggio's glasses-wearing brother, Dom, an outstanding outfielder for the Red Sox.

It's not new information to baseball fans, but Halberstam's reveal of Williams as an intense and almost professorial student of hitting - so much so, he openly shared his secrets with opposing teams' batters (to Red Sox management's displeasure) - wonderfully personalizes the man known as The Splendid Splinter.

Odd-ball one-season phenom pitchers, undersized stars like Yankees shortstop Phil Rizzuto, tightfisted-and-narrow-minded Yankees general manager George Weiss (who only saw radio and TV as reducing gate receipts, a classic forest-from-the-trees error), private and shy Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, restaurateur Toots Shor (owner of the unofficial bar of NYC baseball), possibly, the first player agent, Frank Scott, and others are all part of the pennant race story.

The 1949 pennant race itself, which only becomes the singular focus of Summer of '49 toward the end, is a classic with the Red Sox making an historic run from twelve games back in July to go ahead of the Yankees by one game with a two-games Sox-Bombers series left to end the season and determine the winner. Hollywood couldn't have scripted it better.

The Summer of '49 is an enjoyable trip through a slice of baseball's history. It admirably shows many of baseball's warts, yet, overall, it is an upbeat look at the national pastime in its post-war glory days.
 

Vecchio Vespa

(aka TKI67)
My wife has perfected the gentle art of plowing through murder mysteries and loves it when she chances upon a good and lengthy series. The Longmire series by Craig Johnson was her latest find. I can read as quickly as most but find very little time to do so. She has convinced me to jump into this series. We also tried one episode of the series on Netflix. She said it bore little relationship to the books and ought to be avoided.

Walt Longmire is a widower, Viet Nam veteran sheriff in a very sparsely populated county in Wyoming. His best friend, Henry Standing Bear, is also a veteran and runs a bar, the Red Pony, so named because of his love of Steinbeck. The other characters are painted beautifully. This is ensemble cast at its best.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 60842
Summer of '49 by David Halberstam originally published in 1989


While it drifts into nostalgia here and there, Summer of '49 is an engaging account of the early years of the post-war Yankees-Red Sox rivalry with the 1949 pennant race providing the book's pinion. That pennant-race story is wrapped inside an insightful look at baseball's expansive place in American culture in the 1940s.

You don't have to be a box-score fanatic to enjoy Summer of '49, as a casual fan will find much to like, but if baseball isn't your thing at all, there are other books to read.

Before Halberstam gets to the 1949 Yankees-Red Sox down-to-the-wire pennant race, he takes a casual look at the more-recent history of baseball and the two clubs to establish the zeitgeist of the teams, the sport and the larger culture going into that season.

The Yankees, with all the lore (even then) of past dynasties, anchored by names like Ruth and Gehrig, versus the closely-tied-to-their-home-city Red Sox, with its passionate fans, had, by 1949, already developed into an intense rivalry. It blossomed at a time when most boys (and some girls) grew up playing some version of baseball while following their teams and heroes with a singular passion hard to imagine with our present-day plethora of entertainment options.

Kids in the summer would listen for hours to the, then, mainly day games on radios often placed at odd angles to improve reception. Halberstam argues the relationship a fan develops with the sport listening to it on the radio is more intense than watching on TV. As a kid who did both regularly in the 1970s, I'd agree.

Newspapers too - waiting on street corners for the latest edition and then pouring over the box scores - absorbed many hours of these young fan's summers. A select few of these boys grew up to be players, while most grew up to be lifelong fans.

Those who did become players might have come up through a series of semi-pro leagues or as "bonus babies," promising young prospects that, by Major League Baseball rules, had to go straight to the professional teams (that was a new one to me).

With management in a much stronger negotiating position and endorsements a sliver of what they are today, baseball, the game itself, commanded much more of the players' attention. Less money also meant more camaraderie as, other than the top stars, these were men, while paid more than the average American, with middle-class worries.

Even the travel, mainly by train, with air travel for teams just starting, had the players spending many of their off-hours together, furthering the team's bond. Along for those enervating rides were the sportswriters whose expenses were subsidized by the management of the teams they covered.

That acceptable-in-its-day conflict of interest and the era's more-reserved press culture resulted in a symbiotic press-team-management tripartite where the sides fought a bit, but only inside the lines. There were fewer gratuitous and embarrassing stories written and more player hagiography.

Unacceptable to us today, but in 1949, the baseball press, overall, protected the players and the game itself. Much, much worse than that, though, was the era's and sport's very ugly inveterate racism.

While it's the conceit of many young today to believe that they are the first to speak up and force the country to look at its racist past, Halberstam, in a mainly otherwise positive look at the sport, writing over three decades ago and like many others at that time, doesn't flinch from identifying and denouncing the ugly prejudice of the Yankees and Red Sox management of that era.

Those two teams' unwillingness to embrace the period's aborning entrance of black players into the majors is revealed as nothing more than unmitigated racism. Yes, eventually, this hurt the teams (boo-hoo), but for the period, their repugnant attitude slowed the acceptance of black players into the league.

Sadly, notwithstanding the above, Halberstam isn't wrong in calling baseball the national pastime. The sport, then, was woven into the fabric of America in a way no sport or entertainment is today.

After framing baseball's place in 1949 America, Halberstam focuses on the players, managers, owners and games themselves that made the Red Sox-Yankees 1949 pennant race special.

The players, including the big names we know, like Joe Dimaggio or Ted Williams, get their deserved attention, but so do lesser known players like Dimaggio's glasses-wearing brother, Dom, an outstanding outfielder for the Red Sox.

It's not new information to baseball fans, but Halberstam's reveal of Williams as an intense and almost professorial student of hitting - so much so, he openly shared his secrets with opposing teams' batters (to Red Sox management's displeasure) - wonderfully personalizes the man known as The Splendid Splinter.

Odd-ball one-season phenom pitchers, undersized stars like Yankees shortstop Phil Rizzuto, tightfisted-and-narrow-minded Yankees general manager George Weiss (who only saw radio and TV as reducing gate receipts, a classic forest-from-the-trees error), private and shy Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, restaurateur Toots Shor (owner of the unofficial bar of NYC baseball), possibly, the first player agent, Frank Scott, and others are all part of the pennant race story.

The 1949 pennant race itself, which only becomes the singular focus of Summer of '49 toward the end, is a classic with the Red Sox making an historic run from twelve games back in July to go ahead of the Yankees by one game with a two-games Sox-Bombers series left to end the season and determine the winner. Hollywood couldn't have scripted it better.

The Summer of '49 is an enjoyable trip through a slice of baseball's history. It admirably shows many of baseball's warts, yet, overall, it is an upbeat look at the national pastime in its post-war glory days.

I'm one of those idiots that writes out their New Years resolutions each year and one of my carryover resolutions is my Reading List for the coming year. Truth be known, I'm so backed up on my reading list that I doubt I will be adding The Summer of '49' to that list. However I did want to acknowledge that as it is with your movie reviews, your book reviews are so detailed, so well laid out and well organized and insightful that when read a book or view a movie after reading one of those reviews, I always get so much more information and yes, pleasure out of it than when I read or view a work, absent the advantage of one of your ever fabulous reviews. If I do get around to reading the Summer of '49' I'm sure I will enjoy it because I will be referring to the review above3 as my guide! Thanks again. ;)
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
About a month ago I finished reading David Baldacci's most recent novel in his Memory Man series, titled Walk The Wire. In this one Amos Decker and his partner are in the oil fracking fields of northern Iowa, supposedly investigating the murder of a local prostitute hwo had been murdered, autopsied and butchered and stacked in a neat pile on the prarie to feed the local wolf pack. The investigation blossoms into a series of local murders involving community leaders and their families and international intrigue that has lead to the creation of secret stockpiles of chemo-biological weapons hidden beneath the Iowa prairies and threatened by the fracking operations that could result in mass casualties throughout much of Iowa. The case reaches such proportions and involves complications that the powers that be bring Blue Man, Will Robie and Jessica Reel (From Baldacci's Will Robie series) in to assist in keeping the threat contained and solving the mystery(s) that threaten mass casualties in Iowa. An absorbing yarn and a fast read...if you are like me, you won't put this book down until you have read the last word. Nuff said. ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
51nWDc3fBqL._SX365_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

The Legend of Bagger Vance by Steven Pressfield originally published in 1995


I purchased this book after seeing its enchanting movie (comments here: #701 ), expecting the book to be better. While the core plot is the same in the book and the movie, the theme is so different in the book, it's not about "better" or "worse," but a different intent.

Author Steven Pressfield penned a story of Jesus Christ, as a humble caddie, coming to earth to save the soul of a WWI veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. To be sure, that's an interpretation quite open to debate, but I saw a Christ story in this engaging tale.

Rannulph Junuh is the war hero whose battle trauma has left him shattered and directionless over a decade later. Once a young golf phenom, he now hangs around his dilapidated plantation drinking his days away with his workers and BaggerVance, an enigmatic and impressive man who speaks in a soft-but-attention-demanding tones about the philosophy of finding your place in the world.

It's now 1931 and the Depression is about to bankrupt the Krewe Island golf resort on the coast of Georgia. Owner Adele Invergordon hits on the idea of a match tournament between the two great golfers of the day: Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. Her creditors and town officials will only approve the plan if a local golf hero will also play, which leads to Junuh.

After Junah rebuffs the invitation from the city officials to participate, Vance convinces Junuh that this is his opportunity to find, once again, both his golf and life game. With the tournament now on, professionals Jones and Hagen blast out to a commanding lead over struggling Junuh, while Georgians look on with horror and shame as their local hero falls all but helplessly behind.

Bagger Vance, till now inscrutable, begins to coach Junah not only as a traditional caddie, but with comments laced with Eastern spiritualism and New Testament forgiveness, expectations and personal responsibility.

As Junah all but collapses from the pressure of the match, metaphorically reaches rock bottom, Bagger Vance goes full-Christ on him opening up "The Field" to Junah - a sort of extra-dimensional view of the world that can take Junah on a trip through history or as a way to see "waves" of motion that make the world "clearer" in a metaphysical sense.

Bagger wants Junah to learn fighting the good fight with purity of heart is the point. The goal is to be true to yourself, or something like that as Vance often talks in gnomic riddles. Wrapped in there is Vance's expression of unconditional love for everyone. Sound familiar?

After delivering all this metaphysics, extra-dimensional insight, spiritualism and biblical echo to Junah, Junah, following a few more ups and down and facing an all but insuperable five-shot deficit with six holes remaining, feels it "click in" as he proceeds to play with pure heart and talent.

Pressfield clearly loves the game of golf as he writes with a passion and clarity that engages the non-golf fan in the competition and personal struggle of a high-profile professional match tournament.

His gripping account of the incredible last five holes reads as a Biblical battle between two professionals and a spiritually inspired amateur where all three play for the love of the game and the love of competition, but with no animus toward each other. Is that Pressfield's message - that man is on earth to do battle, but to battle with integrity and honor? Is the game of golf a metaphor for living life?

Maybe. There are a lot of possible interpretations of The Legend of Bagger Vance with, at least for this agnostic, the Christ parallel being the engaging and trenchant one.

What makes an author think he can pull off having Christ return to earth in 1931 as a caddie helping a mentally troubled veteran compete in a match golf tournament? The risk of trivializing the Christ story would scare off many writers, but credit Pressfield for taking a big leap of writing faith and pulling it off.

And what about the movie version? It's still a fun, charming trip back to 1931, which wraps a love story, inside a personal resurrection story, inside a golf tournament all shepherded forward by a pleasant guardian angel. The movie's a good but different and lighter tale than the thought-provoking Biblical sniper shot that Pressfield penned in his impressive novel.
 

Big T

Senior Member
Tiger at the Bar, by Chester Harris, a biography of Charles Margiotti. Margiotti was a regional politician and attorney in Western PA. Time frame is pre-depression to early 50's. Excellent read for those here that enjoy local politics, are lawyers or just enjoy non-fictional history.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 61474
The Legend of Bagger Vance by Steven Pressfield originally published in 1995


I purchased this book after seeing its enchanting movie (comments here: #701 ), expecting the book to be better. While the core plot is the same in the book and the movie, the theme is so different in the book, it's not about "better" or "worse," but a different intent.

Author Steven Pressfield penned a story of Jesus Christ, as a humble caddie, coming to earth to save the soul of a WWI veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. To be sure, that's an interpretation quite open to debate, but I saw a Christ story in this engaging tale.

Rannulph Junuh is the war hero whose battle trauma has left him shattered and directionless over a decade later. Once a young golf phenom, he now hangs around his dilapidated plantation drinking his days away with his workers and BaggerVance, an enigmatic and impressive man who speaks in a soft-but-attention-demanding tones about the philosophy of finding your place in the world.

It's now 1931 and the Depression is about to bankrupt the Krewe Island golf resort on the coast of Georgia. Owner Adele Invergordon hits on the idea of a match tournament between the two great golfers of the day: Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. Her creditors and town officials will only approve the plan if a local golf hero will also play, which leads to Junuh.

After Junah rebuffs the invitation from the city officials to participate, Vance convinces Junuh that this is his opportunity to find, once again, both his golf and life game. With the tournament now on, professionals Jones and Hagen blast out to a commanding lead over struggling Junuh, while Georgians look on with horror and shame as their local hero falls all but helplessly behind.

Bagger Vance, till now inscrutable, begins to coach Junah not only as a traditional caddie, but with comments laced with Eastern spiritualism and New Testament forgiveness, expectations and personal responsibility.

As Junah all but collapses from the pressure of the match, metaphorically reaches rock bottom, Bagger Vance goes full-Christ on him opening up "The Field" to Junah - a sort of extra-dimensional view of the world that can take Junah on a trip through history or as a way to see "waves" of motion that make the world "clearer" in a metaphysical sense.

Bagger wants Junah to learn fighting the good fight with purity of heart is the point. The goal is to be true to yourself, or something like that as Vance often talks in gnomic riddles. Wrapped in there is Vance's expression of unconditional love for everyone. Sound familiar?

After delivering all this metaphysics, extra-dimensional insight, spiritualism and biblical echo to Junah, Junah, following a few more ups and down and facing an all but insuperable five-shot deficit with six holes remaining, feels it "click in" as he proceeds to play with pure heart and talent.

Pressfield clearly loves the game of golf as he writes with a passion and clarity that engages the non-golf fan in the competition and personal struggle of a high-profile professional match tournament.

His gripping account of the incredible last five holes reads as a Biblical battle between two professionals and a spiritually inspired amateur where all three play for the love of the game and the love of competition, but with no animus toward each other. Is that Pressfield's message - that man is on earth to do battle, but to battle with integrity and honor? Is the game of golf a metaphor for living life?

Maybe. There are a lot of possible interpretations of The Legend of Bagger Vance with, at least for this agnostic, the Christ parallel being the engaging and trenchant one.

What makes an author think he can pull off having Christ return to earth in 1931 as a caddie helping a mentally troubled veteran compete in a match golf tournament? The risk of trivializing the Christ story would scare off many writers, but credit Pressfield for taking a big leap of writing faith and pulling it off.

And what about the movie version? It's still a fun, charming trip back to 1931, which wraps a love story, inside a personal resurrection story, inside a golf tournament all shepherded forward by a pleasant guardian angel. The movie's a good but different and lighter tale than the thought-provoking Biblical sniper shot that Pressfield penned in his impressive novel.

While I have seen the Legend of Bagger Vance movie, I have not yet read the book. From your review it strikes me that while the movie placed more of an emphasis on humor, the book did more with the spiritual aspects/Biblical aspects of the story. In any event, it sounds like quite a good read, one which I'm going to have to add to my list! Thanks for a very thorough and very interesting review. ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
While I have seen the Legend of Bagger Vance movie, I have not yet read the book. From your review it strikes me that while the movie placed more of an emphasis on humor, the book did more with the spiritual aspects/Biblical aspects of the story. In any event, it sounds like quite a good read, one which I'm going to have to add to my list! Thanks for a very thorough and very interesting review. ;)

You summed up the differences well. I think you'll really enjoy this one. I look forward to hearing your comments after you read it.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
Several months back our neighborhood book club selected the novel What She Left Behind, written by Ellen Marie Wiseman, as our monthly read. The novel is set in the early 1900's and continues to the final decade of the century, providing a shockingly clear indictment of mental health care in the USA during that period. The central character, Claire Cartwright, has grown up in the roaring 20's and has fallen in love with a dashingly handsome Italian immigrant.

Raised in a house of privilege by well endowed, but overbearing parents she enrages her autocratic father when she declares she will have no part in the arranged marriage he has planned for her and will instead marry Bruno, the father of the baby she carries, but has kept a secret. Her over bearing father declares her a "nervous invalid" and commits her to a private mental hospital. When the family fortunes change, Claire is transferred to a State run mental house of horrors, where her baby is stolen from her by one of the psychiatric doctors and she spends the vast majority of the rest of her life subjected to a never ending series of horrors at the hands of corrupt and inept medical staff.

The real value in this book is that based on background commentary provided the descriptions in the book leaves the reader with the understanding that the book provides a description of the mental health practices included in the book are pretty consistent with conditions that actually existed. The book does offer a happy ending of sorts, as Claire eventually reunites with the daughter that was stolen from her and lives her final days with that daughter! The book is an OK read, but with this one, a sense of responsibility to the book club made me read it. ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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Haven Point by Virginia Hume published in 2021


Every summer I try one or two of the current and popular "beach reads." The trick for me is finding one, leaning against the wont of most new fiction today, not overly imbued with modern politics. Also, most importantly, I want it to be a big ball of giant soap-opera cheese with back-stabbing, shady finances, extramarital affairs and plenty of family skeletons tumbling out of the closet.

Haven Point's author understands the "genre," but you never get vested enough in her characters to care about the back-stabbing, shady fiances, extra-marital affairs and family skeletons that populate her story.

Set, mainly, in a small enclave in Maine and spreading across three generations of the Demarest family, the broad outline of a good "beach read" is here. We see the grandparents meet in WWII - he's a doctor, she's a nurse - where, after a quick war-time romance, they marry before meeting each other's family.

She, Maren, is a Midwest salt-of-the-earth farm girl; he, Oliver, is a Maine Yankee from an old family who lives in a small community on a remote peninsula in Maine (the families there are WASPy, but most are not uber rich).

From there, and told through chapters that alternate time periods, we see how Oliver and Maren and their children and grandchildren fare in changing times amidst all the big and small dramas that impact most families.

The Demarest have a strain of alcoholism that pops up here and there over a few generations. There are also, of course, extra-marital affairs, young tragic deaths, sexual awakenings, homosexuality (when that was a big deal), great friendships formed and equally great enemies to battle.

Along the way, the turbulent 1960s, with their anti-war protests, adds a few more family scars. There are also the other usual problems and issues all families face, but heightened as is the style of a "beach read."

Yet Haven Point doesn't really work because the characters are "types," not fully developed people. While Hume avoids gratuitous politics, the book still clearly tilts "progressive" in the way most books do today.

That would be okay, but the author, like many modern writers, hasn't figured out how to make her heroes conform to all the in-vogue progressive demands or have her villains stand opposed to them and still come across as three-dimensional characters. That is possibly because, in real life, most people are complex contradictions not neatly aligned to ideological purity.

But in Haven Point, the "good" women, the heroes, are super smart, independent, caring, charitable and confident, but diffident about their beautiful looks, kind hearts, incredible skills and talents. So their big fault is they are too modest: "She doesn't realize how smart she is, how kind she is, how self sacrificing she is." Give me a break; it's the "I work too hard" job-interview answer to what is your greatest weakness.

The mean girls are always "privileged" (as if there are no mean girls from modest backgrounds), while the men are either (and mainly) bad because they are (fill in all the bad-men tropes) bossy, arrogant, bullying, cheating, destructively competitive, cold introverts, etc. or they are good guys who are so nice and deferential to women that no man or woman could stand being in a room with them.

So another book dies on the altar of modern politics. And that's without even going into all the horrible things we can no longer abide about an old WASP enclave, but all the boxes were checked and appropriately modern condemning words used. To be fair, there was one very favorable scene about the community supporting a family who had just suffered a tragic death, but the overall message didn't change.

It's not that I disagree with all the politics - I don't - it's that a fictional beach read that fails to create engaging characters because of its political obeisance has failed at its core mission.

There are plenty of books out on politics that you can carry to the beach, but a "beach read," like Haven Point, should be a soap opera first and foremost; after that, the author can tuck in some politics if he or she wants.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
Two of three weeks back I finished reading Tom Clancy's Power and Empire, written by Marc Cameron, a retired Chief Deputy US Marshal. Jack Ryan, Sr. is still the US President and Jack Junior continues working for an off the books counter terrorism operation, with strong liasons within the FBI and pretty much the entire Intelligence community. Communist China is led by a newly seated Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party. A series of inexplicable terrorist actions seemingly impacting The Peoples Republic of China are occurring that seem to be pointing back at the Jack Ryan led US of A. We, the red, white and blue good guys know that such chicanery could not represent the actions of the Guys wearing the white hats. So we send the first team out to unravel the mystery and after 582 pages of script, they do just that, uncovering a plot by the Chinese Foreign minister and a group of corrupt Chinese Generals who are plotting the overthrow and assassination of their very own Party Chairman and the collateral assassination of President Jack Ryan, both of whom will be attending a financial conference of world leaders. With just minutes to spare the counterinsurgency team from the "Campus" are able to prevent the bad guys...

Yea!!!! The good guys win again. However, I regret to inform you, this is the first of The Tom Clancy novels that I was able to easily put down and walk away from. This one just never grabs you and threatens to not let you go. It is not a great book, but more of a tolerable read! Nuff said. ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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Wall of Noise by Daniel M. Stein published in 1963


"His doubts about Kelsey were diminished by the memory of all the bets Tarrant had won for him in the past. The money involved had long ago been spent, lost and replaced, but the satisfaction of having won it remained. The thought of it gave Papadakis a warm feeling of opulence and easy profit. He loved to gamble and Tarrant's proposition had been irresistible to him from the start."

Everybody is a gambler all the time; life necessitates it. The only difference between people is some see it and some don't and some are good at it and some aren't. But whether you see it or not, or are good at it or not, doesn't change the fact that life is just a series of gambles.


I found my way to Wall of Noise via its 1963 movie adaptation (comments here: #742 ). Once again, the cliche is true: the movie is good; the book is (much) better.

As noted often, the mid 1950s into the early 1960s was a heyday for dramas, umm, melodramas, umm, soap operas, umm, big giant ball-of-cheese soap-opera stories. Saponaceous book upon saponaceous book was churned out with the better (ehh, I guess, better) of them being turned into movies.

In Wall of Noise, author Stein wraps two wonderful things into one story: a insider's look at the world of thoroughbred racing and the torrid life of a brilliant, but erratic trainer whose gambling nature, prickly personality and passion for women keeps his career on the margin, buffeted by a series of ups and downs in his professional and personal life.

Back then, thoroughbred racing was a major sport familiar to much of the public. Stein's protagonist, talented trainer Joel Trarrant, in his mid thirties, ruggedly handsome and taciturn, has a gift for understanding the high-strung horses in his care. Yet, he hasn't mastered the politics of people - in particular, the rich and, usually, clueless-to-horses owners that hire him.

When the book opens, Trarrant is training a few mediocre horses at a small Baltimore track, but then a wealthy California developer, Sal Rubio, hires him, sight unseen, to train his horses, with the promise of autonomy in decisions related to the horses (ha!).

Without a contract - Tarrant often takes wild gambles with his life decisions (but not his horses) - he moves out West and begins training Rubio's horses. There he meets Rubio's much-younger wife, former movie star Helen Hastings, with whom he's quickly having an affair.

Everything in Tarrant's world is amped up: his prior marriage imploded when his best friend and favorite jockey stole his wife; he thinks nothing of gambling his last dollar on one race; he'll drink through the night and, then, work a full day at the track and he'll ride the unbroken horses in his care because he won't ask another man in his employ to do a difficult job he won't first do himself. Tarrant's personal and even professional life is chaos, but he is thoughtful and protective of his horses.

Wall of Noise is an engaging window into the nuances of Tarrant's world of thoroughbred racing where we learn how horses are prepped for races, how a good trainer can spot the smallest change in a horse's gait (a sign of a potential injury) and how everything from a thoroughbred's feed to its gate position is part of that day's racing strategy. It's a tutorial on racing that flows seamlessly with the narrative arc of Tarrant's ups and downs.

After the job and affair in California blows up as it had to (sleeping with the boss' wife and all, plus he didn't have the autonomy he was promised), Tarrant heads out to a small track in Nevada with one horse, a powerful but moody thoroughbred who has not won a race in years (he overpaid Rubio for him in a fit of anger).

Also part of this traveling circus is his friend, the jockey who stole his wife (who'd guess, but there's still some friction between these two), who is the only jockey who really knows how to ride Tarrant's temperamental horse.

In hock for his overpriced thoroughbred, Tarrant reconnects with an old pal, a gangster and gambler, Johnny Papadakis (sorry, but in the 1950s, the accepted stereotype was that many Greeks were gamblers and bookies) who uses a legitimate modeling agency, which doubles as a escort service, as a front for his various "less-legitimate" businesses.

After putting everything he has plus on the upcoming race of his horse (betting some money legitimately at the track and more through his pal Papadakis) and winning, Tarrant proceeds to party with Papadakis and some of his, umm, "professional" women. Now, most men, you assume, would know to draw a hard line between prostitute and girlfriend, but not Tarrant.

So, when he heads back to the West Coast, with his now rising-star race horse to enter him in the big-money California races, his circus includes his beautiful, but mercurial-in-nature hooker-girlfriend - hey, it's a choice.

Tarrant and his winning horse now have a high profile in racing circles, which only increases the pressure to win. For the moment, he's the new star of thoroughbred racing with the beautiful girlfriend (her job history isn't known in California) who everyone wants a piece of.

Despite his new prestige, Tarrant's hold on racing fame is tenuously based on one horse. If his horse stops winning (it happens sometimes) or is injured (it happens often), the fame and money flow go as well.

So when his horse's tendon swells a bit the week of the upcoming stakes race (the big one), Tarrant is faced with a go-no-go decision with everyone from the jockey to the media opining. By race day, the horse seems better, but is he almost imperceptibly still favoring that leg? Wall of Noise takes you to the edge of your seat on this race and the book's equally dramatic ensuing denouement.

Ayn Rand wrote captivating novels about men of passion and honor who would not sacrifice one bit of integrity in their professional lives for easy advancement. They are wonderfully inspiring tales, but they are not real life.

Joel Tarrant is a real-life version of an Ayn Rand character. He isn't perfect, but his default is to honor his profession as a horse trainer and tell everyone else to go to hell if they don't like it. But he does compromise, especially when he starts to taste success. And like those Randian characters, his personal life is a mess with a series of passionate but broken relationships littered about his past and present.

Wall of Noise rises above its saponaceous genre and mediocre writing because, in Joel Tarrant, you meet someone you understand and respect, despite his many flaws.

You appreciate his Randian skills and professional integrity, but recognize and relate to him because he's a man who makes mistakes and bad decisions sometimes, like all of us. But he doesn't go for the quick or easy buck as he lives life by his own honest-but-flawed standards. He's Randian at his best, but human quite often, which makes him an engaging character and Wall of Noise an engaging read.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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Summer of '69 by Elin Hilderbrand published in 2019


Summer of '69 is an enjoyable beach read that would have been unmitigated fun if author Elin Hilderbrand hadn't, as almost all authors today do, jammed a lot of virtue-signalling modern politics into her period novel.

1969 was a jarring year in America that saw the flower-power, hippie movement finally break the traditional culture that had reigned in the country since the end of WWII. With the Vietnam War tearing America apart, conventional beliefs in politics, religion, sex, race relations and gender roles were all being challenge by and, often, losing out to the new ideas of the "youth movement."

Rock and roll, drugs and "free love" were some of the new memes and norms shoving the old values and customs out the window. Whether you embraced the new or stood on the ramparts defending the old, the ground beneath everyone was shifting quickly.

In Summer of '69, an old Boston family comprising matriarch "Exalta" Nichols, her daughter Katie, Katie's second husband and Katie's four children from her two marriages face the challenges of the times. From their Nantucket summer outpost - Exalta's in-town old house on the "best" street - her family is buffeted by all of the summer of 1969's cultural and political crosscurrents.

Katie and second husband David's thirteen year old daughter, Jessie, has a coming-of-age-summer as she has to survive having her heart broken by her first crush, Exalta's required tennis lessons, the embarrassment of shopping for her first bra (with her very pregnant sister), the perceived disapproval of her Jewish heritage at Exalta's very Waspy Nantucket tennis and boating club and being caught at her occasional shoplifting habit.

The bra-buying sister, in-her-early-twenties Blair, is pregnant with twins while her college professor and NASA technical advisor husband appears to be having an affair that throws Blair into the arms of her husband's brother whom she dated before marrying her husband. Hey, it's a beach read.

Late-teen middle sister Kirby is the required "rebel" (you can't be a family during the summer in 1969 without having one kid in full rebel mode) who decamps from Nantucket to the "horrors!," according to Exalta, of Martha Vineyard to gain some independence. There, she engages in an interracial relationship, while she nearly crosses paths with the famous senator Ted Kennedy on the night of Chappaquiddick.

Also required for accurate reflection of the summer of 1969 is Kate's eighteen-year-old son "Tiger," the handsome, high school star athlete and kid everyone likes who has just been drafted and sent to the front lines in Vietnam.

This fractious summer for Exalta's family is one of trying to keep up a surface appearance of normal (that's her culture), despite the body blows they all are absorbing. Author Hilderbrand portrays this family as a microcosm of the country in that turbulent summer.

Kate, unable to find a place for her fear about her son fighting in Vietnam, escapes into the bottle, something the family does its best to ignore (once again, that's their culture). How many in the country in 1969 were burying their fears in some sort of mind-altering substance?

Thirteen-year-old Jessie's emotions almost bubble over when she wants to scream "I'm Jewish" (she's half Jewish) to force the Nantucket club and her grandmother to face her heritage. But she learns later from her Jewish father she has exaggerated the issues as he has been, basically, accepted by all but a few at the club.

Nothing is ever perfect, but sometimes it's good enough, for now anyway. Yet, like thirteen-year-old Jessie, many in the country couldn't accept that in 1969; whereas, those who could felt that they were under assault.

Kirby, loving her status as the family rebel and ready to become a political science major, has the scales fall from her eyes when she learns what a drunk Ted Kennedy did that night in Chappaquiddick.

After that, she's looking to turn her summer job as a front desk clerk at a small inn into a career in hotel management, including an Exalta-funded semester studying abroad in Geneva. Like many in the country, as the sixties ended, idealism gave way to pragmatism, especially as many rebels saw they were being played by politicians like the famous Senator.

Pregnant Blair learns her husband wasn't cheating, but was so embarrassed that he was seeing a psychiatrist that he let his wife think he was having an affair rather than admit the truth. Once the truth is out, they begin to repair their relationship.

It's an early embrace of therapy for the masses, which, along with many former personal failings being redefined as "diseases," would change how America judged itself and its fellow citizens in the ensuing decades.

Finally, son Tiger, after a brief appearance early, effectively haunts the book as a looming death stalking Exalta's clan, an experience familiar to many families in 1969. In a dramatic moment, Tiger rejects his mother-maneuvered non-combat assignment as he's proud of his soldiering ability. He did not want to be "the fortunate son," from one of that era's defining songs.

The war is shown as the confused disaster it was, but adumbrating today's view, in Summer of '69, the soldiers are respected even when their political leaders are denounced. That was not a universal view in angry 1969, when returning soldiers were sometimes called "baby-killers" and spat on.

Summer of '69 often captures the feel of that tumultuous period. Occasionally, it even uses restraint and perspective looking at 1969 through a 2019 lens. But as is the wont of modern authors, Hilderbrand can't help stuffing too-many modern political tics and narratives into her period novel.

"Progressive," "diversity," "privilege," "cultural appropriation" and "patriarchal power structure" were all words and phrases that existed in 1969, but none of them were on the tip of the tongue of the average person or even political rebels in that period.

There are plenty of books, movies and newspapers from then to confirm that those were not the words or framing that liberals or others of that generation generally used.

Yet, it just feels so good to today's authors to virtue signal their modern political pieties that they can't help undermining the verisimilitude of their period novels by having their characters speak as if they were time travelers from today. Or maybe the authors need to do it to get the elitist (read uber-liberal) New York City editors interested in their books.

Perhaps it's because of this political bent that so many of the men in the book are serial cheaters or sexual predators who physically abuse their girlfriends or molest teen and pre-teen girls, while most of the women are caring, giving and kind - and often unappreciated by the Neanderthal men in their lives. The men who are good in the book are so epicene and deferential to women, most women (and normal men), in real life, couldn't stand them.

If you can put all that political preening aside - and you have to if you read modern fiction - Summer of '69 is a darn good beach read that often takes you back to that chaotic and defining summer. The end of the book isn't surprising, as a change in summer houses for Exalta's offspring symbolizes the period's generational schism, while foreshadowing the long-term impact the summer of 1969 would have on the country.
 
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