Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

I was enthralled by Bryson's earliest books about the English language, The Mother Tongue and Made in America. I read and re-read them and still turn to them. Then he broke through with his books about travel and he became a huge star. People were devouring Notes From a Small Island and A Walk in the Woods but they left me cold. To me, they were cranky and not much fun and I gave up on him. Fortunately for Bryson, he didn't need me and the books sold millions of copies and achieved bestseller status.

Thunderbolt Kid, his memoir of growing up in Des Moines, Iowa in the 1950's, strikes just the right balance. It is a personal memoir loaded with historical context, facts and figures and it's funny as hell. It's been years since I've enjoyed his work and it is a welcome return. A perfect vacation read or one of those books you buy because your plane has been delayed indefinitely and you don't have to be a baby boomer to "get" it.
Had I the time, I'm sure this could have been read in one sitting. Out in paperback, this is worth your time if you like memoirs or the author.

Dream City by Brendan Short

Remember Big Little Books? I had a few as a kid when they were probably on their last legs but there was something about them I loved. The heft of this small, almost square book and the stories inside appealed to me. They also appeal to Michael Halligan, who becomes obsessed with them, believing they are the key to undoing his life's unhappiness in Short's promising debut novel.

We meet Michael as a five year old and stay with him until he's reaches old age though in many respects, little changes. Michael remains obsessed with the Big Little Books and his strange desire to own every one ever made, including the elusive Trouble in the City of Dreams. The novel is peopled by some interesting characters, including Michael's brutal father and lonely mother and captures parts of the 20th century quite well. Thing is, it's sort of odd. I didn't love it, it didn't wow me; in fact, about a third of the way through the book, I thought about putting it down. It's not a knockout of a book in terms of style or craft nor is it terribly challenging but Short made me want to keep turning the pages and I'm glad I stayed with it. Now that he's gotten that painful first novel out of the way, I'll be interested to read what's next from him.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Happy Anniversary

I just realized that I started this dippy thing, I mean, this fabulous blog two years ago. My first post was August 11, 2006! If you know me at all, I'm sure you're surprised I even have had the discipline to maintain it two months, let alone two years.

It sure doesn't feel like dos anos but I'm glad I'm still at it and I appreciate those of you who have found your way here, told friends and have encouraged me.

Drink up, kids. Here's to me.

Below are my thoughts on a few of the 8 or 10 books I've read since I last posted a review. More to come. I promise.

Assisted Loving by Bob Morris

Sub-titled True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad, Bob Morris, a 40-something, style writer for the NYT, gives us the skinny on his father's love life and his own involvement in it, (which sounds creepy but isn't). Only a few months after Bob's mom passes away, his 80+ year old father, Joe, an irrepressible character of a guy, starts dating again and asks Bob for his help. Bob, gay, single, and a perpetual self-saboteur of his own relationships, grudgingly agrees and quickly finds his father is getting way more action than he is. After a long, mostly happy marriage to a women he truly loved and her long, lingering illness, Joe doesn't want to wait around to meet another woman. Bob not only has a hard time with his dad's fervor but is also rather jealous of his head-first approach to getting back into the dating pool

Joe, unforgivingly set in his ways as only an 80 year Jew can be, splits his time between a retirement community in Great Neck, where it's 3 women for every man, and Palm Beach, Florida, where the odds are even more in his favor, but has a hard time at first. He can't really describe
to Bob what he wants in a woman, but he'll "know it when he sees it", which naturally drives Bob crazy. Eventually, Bob gets in the game, too, and suddenly, father and son have way more in common than might be comfortable to some. A quick read, it is sweet as candy and, at times, funny as hell.

The only downside is Bob's inability to get a grip on his relationship with his father. A number of times, he comes across as a petulant child, embarassed as a pissy teenager at his father eating with his mouth open or his choice in clothes. I kept waiting for Bob to grow up and realize how lucky he is to have this time and opportunity with his dad. Instead, he moans. A lot. Though I do admire the fact that he was honest portraying himself this way in the book, the repeated "woe is me" stuff slows the book down and could have been cut down some.

The Official Punk Rock Book of Lists by Amy Wallace and Handsome Dick Manitoba

This has got to be the dumbest, lamest thing I've ever seen. I'm sure I've said that before about any number of things (George W. as president, techno-sushi, sitcoms starring Jim Belushi) but, geez, I think I really mean it this time.

I didn't really want the book; I wanted to meet co-author and Dictators lead singer Handsome Dick Manitoba and, like so many others before me, say out loud, "Look at that Handsome Dick!" but the guys at the publishers booth said it was a mistake. He was never really scheduled to come to LA and, in fact, co-author Amy Wallace wasn't coming either because she just had back surgery. They gave me a copy/booby prize. I figured it might be fun in a sort of bathroom book kind of way. WRONG.

Many of the lists are the authors own creation and are either common knowledge (13 punks who OD'd, 7 punks who whipped it out or got naked), or are so stupid, I couldn't even believe it. I'm way too old to try to be punker-than-thou but seriously--108 Punk sub-genres? 'spaz punk'? 'bandana thrash'? 'Swedish enema punk'? C'mon! Or this little gem--Gilby Clark's 10 best punk rock solos! The dude from GnR? Go buy some Aqua-Net, Gilby. By the way, how's the new record coming? The only slightly cool thing about this hunk o' crap are the illustrations by Cliff Mott.

Spare yourself and go spend the 17 bucks on a Dictators record.