Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta

I really like Tom Perrotta and have read much of his work. What I can't figure out is why I like his work so much. I wouldn't call him a great 'writer' like you'd say of Fitzgerald or Salinger. He doesn't write sweeping epics like Michael Chabon or even Khaled Hosseini. He's not the polymath type like Updike who can write about anything or like Mailer who becomes consumed by his current subject or like Roth who mines one vein over and over (many would disagree with me here. Get your own damn blog). What Perrotta has been able to do, consistently, is tell a good story about seemingly normal people living their normal, everyday lives. Sadly, with The Abstinence Teacher, he falls far short. The premise is promising--what happens when a local church becomes so vocal as to cause a public high school to radically change their curriculum to forego a sizable lawsuit and the subsequent aftermath to those involved. In this era of political correctness and the prevalent 'I'm a victim' mentality of our times (when will this era end?), it is certainly ripe and has all the makings of an engaging and complex story. However, it just doesn't work.

Why would Ruth, a smart woman and a potentially interesting character, fall for the hapless, born again soccer coach? He's so lame I want to punch him in the face repeatedly with a roll of quarters in my chubby little fist and I'm really not that prone to violence.

What is the point of the gay marriage sub-plot--to show there is only happiness where there is tolerance? Kind of obvious and kind of weak.

Why do Ruth's daughters suddenly and fervently embrace religion? A plot device.

Why does the ending suck so bad? I don't know but I was almost angry when I read the last few pages and saw this would be how it ended.

Sorry, Mr. Perrotta. While I look forward to your next work,
The Abstinence Teacher is not worthy of the considerable abilities you have shown in other novels. No hard feelings.

Dan Rooney: My 75 Years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL by Dan Rooney

When friends told me Dan Rooney was signing this book at the Joseph-Beth in Pittsburgh, I told them to be prepared for a mob because Dan is the Son in the Holy Trinity of Pittsburgh, his father, being both the Father and Holy Ghost since he's been dead now for a number of years. It's just how influential and beloved the Rooney's are--they are synonymous with both Pittsburgh and the Steelers so, certainly, the appeal of this book is to fans of the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers, the greatest team ever, bar none. What's so great about this book isn't just the memoir but the fact that Dan Rooney is, as he puts it, "the last man standing" of those who worked with the men who founded the National Football League; Halas, Lambeau and all those guys who started the league at a car dealership in Canton, OH in 1922. As the son of "The Chief", Art Rooney, Sr., and his involvement with the family business and the league, there's hardly an aspect of the game of football that Dan Rooney hasn't been witness to or had a hand in creating, negotiating or resolving. Those looking for gossip will be disappointed. He's just not that kind of guy. What Dan Rooney accomplishes is a fond and fair look at the game, the league and the team with some great stories. He also paints an affectionate family portrait and writes a love letter to the city of Pittsburgh.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine

Some of you are going to get all scared since this is a graphic novel aka a comic book but I've believed since the mid-80's that there are some graphic novels that are as literate and as sophisticated as any traditional novel. If you haven't already, open your minds some. There's some great stuff being produced in this genre. However, those looking to make their first foray into the graphic novel world might do well to look elsewhere than Shortcomings but it is certainly worth a read.

Tomine has always done stories that are like eavesdropping on someone's private life and usually that private life is in a downward spiral. The main character in Shortcomings is Ben Tanaka, a Japanese-American, whose relationship with his girlfriend, Miko, falls apart before our eyes. Ben is an almost unredeemable character-self-absorbed, self-involved, self-pitying, petty, pretentious--the list goes on. He's lucky to have anyone in his life, let alone a girlfriend. It is almost painful at times to watch as Ben undoes nearly everything he might have going for him but you know he can do nothing else. As ever, Tomine's lines are sharp, his humor black, and his characterizations keen.

Terrific link

Happy post-Thanksgiving. Having that special 'the-long-weekend-went-too-fast-and-now-I'm-back-at-
work-damnit!' feeling? Ah, the holidays.

I got a lot of reading done and I'll be posting on those shortly.

In the meantime, here's a great link of some of the best titles of the year according to the New York Times:

Regular readers of Reed Next's Next Reed (Are there any? Are there many? Would love to hear from you. Feel free to comment) will recognize some of the books as ones reviewed here already. Great minds and all that...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Skipper, this is Pat. Pat, this is the Skipper

The latest book censorship dust-up is happening in a West Virginia high school. Parents want two of Pat Conroy's books, The Prince of Tides and Beach Music, banned because of "violence, language, sexual content or adult situations". Students in the AP English class say they are prepared to take the matter to court (good for you, you smart kids, you).

I got to meet Conroy many years ago. A really decent guy but what struck me most was his resemblance to Alan Hale, Jr. the Skipper from Gilligan's Island. Perhaps in these photos, it's hard to see but in person--whoo boy!

Here are some photos. A caveat: try as I might, I couldn't find one w/ Conroy and Bob Denver but I'll keep looking.