Category Archives: books
Life is a Hit; Don’t Strike Out
by Al Oliver
VIP Ink Publishing, 2014
An eighteen-year career, seven All-Star games, 2743 hits and a .303 batting average are impressive achievements, and many believe they are enough to warrant Hall of Fame induction for Al Oliver. Oliver’s autobiography Life is a Hit; Don’t Strike Out, gives an overview of the ballplayer’s life from a very young age to the present day. Oliver played from 1968-1985 for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers, Montreal Expos, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Toronto Blue Jays.
The book is poorly written with choppy sentences and numerous typographical errors that should have been corrected by an editor. It is difficult to follow the series of events as Oliver seems to jump around from subject to subject without much transition. There are several testimonials from former ballplayers (Pete Rose, Dave Parker, Andre Dawson), friends, and family members throughout supporting Oliver’s induction, or at least consideration, for the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, many of those testimonials could have used an editor’s guidance as well. The book ends with a short section dedicated to Oliver’s work with his local denominational church. Over 100 pages of black and white photographs are tacked on at the end; they are not arranged chronologically, and several are low-quality photos that should not have been included.
Oliver is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate who received less that 5% of the requisite support to remain on the ballot in his first year of eligibility. His induction would do no harm to the integrity of Cooperstown, but this book is unlikely to change the mind of those who might have the power to induct him.
Starting At Zero: His Own Story
by Jimi Hendrix
Bloomsbury USA, 2014
No one asked Jimi Hendrix to write an autobiography while he was alive. No one expected him to die when he was only twenty-seven. One of the most innovative guitarists of all time never sat down to write his life story, but by pulling quotes from interviews, letters, lyrcis and journals, we have the left-handed rocker’s life presented to us in his own words. The collaboration by filmmaker Peter Neal, record producer Alan Douglas, and fan Michael Fairchild is the closet we will ever have to an authentic Hendrix autobiography.
When reading through this book, one wonders how the man was not locked up in an insane asylum. The things he says are so off-the-wall that any normal person would certainly be evaluated on his mental status. But as a celebrity, and one who was usually under the influence, his words were seen merely as eccentric. He took his music seriously, though, and was affected by its public and critical reception. He wanted to be heard, and he wanted to be remembered. The editors present these words as the final words of the autobiography: “When I die, just keep on playing the records.”
An interesting book, one that Hendrix fans will appreciate. There is not much revealed here that has not been stated in other biographies, but it is enlightening to read them from the guitarist’s own thoughts.
Rickey & Robinson
by Roger Kahn
Rodale Books, 2014
The story of baseball’s integration has been told time and again, and the latest release from legendary sportswriter Roger Kahn adds even more to the narrative in Rickey & Robinson: The True, Untold Story of the Integration of Baseball. While much in the book is old news, and several of the passages and quotes were even seen in the 2013 movie 42, Kahn also reveals intimate stories about Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey that had not yet been made public. He explains the support Robinson received from Jewish sportswriters like himself, hoping that his success would also lessen the discrimination in the press box against Jews and other minorities.
Some of the best parts of Rickey & Robinsons are the reproduction of past articles, including “The Branch Rickey They Don’t Write About” from a 1953 issue of Our Sports, a magazine Kahn and Robinson developed together. There was also a threat of a strike by National League clubs, including the St. Louis Cardinals, that was reported by that New York Herald Tribune writer Stanley Woodward, and prevented by NL president Ford C. Frick. Kahn also reprinted an article by Jimmy Cannon that appeared in the New York Post titled, “Lynch Mobs Don’t Always Wear Hoods.” Add those other voices to Kahn’s own insightful writing, and baseball fans have an in depth report of not only the happenings of the mid-1940s, but some of the attitudes and opinions that accompanied those events.
You may have read a lot about Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, but there is certainly more that can be learned from Roger Kahn. Baseball fans owe it to themselves to become acquainted with this story once again.
Choose Your Own Nightmare: Blood Island
by Liz Windover
Choose Your Own Nightmare: Eighth Grade Witch
by C.E. Simpson
I fondly remember “Choose Your Own Adventure” books from the 1980s, and was pleasantly surprised that they were still being produced today. I was even further pleased to learn that there are horror-themed editions styled as “Choose Your Own Nightmare.” The first two are Blood Island and Eighth Grade Witch, and they hold as much charm as their “Adventure” counterparts. While difficult to explain the plots of the books—because they change each time you reread the book and make different decisions—it is easy to say that these books are engaging and entertaining. Blood Island features 15 different endings, while Eighth Grade Witch gives 28 different possible conclusions.
CC Claus: A Baseball Christmas Story by CC Sabathia with Ray Negron, illustrated by Laura Seeley (2014)
CC Claus: A Baseball Christmas Story
by CC Sabathia with Ray Negron, illustrated by Laura Seeley
A letter for Santa is mistakenly delivered to CC Sabathia, and at the urging of his son Carsten, Sabathia sets out for the North Pole to make sure Santa gets the Christmas request. When they arrive, they find that Santa is behind schedule and is worried that all the toys might not get finished. Sabathia pulls out his telephone and calls George Steinbrenner, who shows up to save the day. Recruiting the help of baseball stars and legends such as Billy Martin, Roberto Clemente, Babe Ruth, Bob Feller and others, the toys are built and ready to go. Unfortunately, Santa is ill and unable to make the global delivery. Sabathia again steps up, and he and Carsten take the toys to their destinations all around the world.
A cute story, illustrated beautifully by Laura Seeley, CC Claus: A Baseball Christmas Story is a great way to introduce youngsters to baseball stars who have passed on. In addition to those already mentioned, Paul Blair, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg, Elston Howard, Catfish Hunter, Tetsuharu Kawakami, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Jackie Mitchell, Thurman Munson, Bobby Murcer, Satchel Paige, Phil Rizzuto, Jackie Robinson, Willie Stargell, and Ted Williams also appear. In the back of the book, each player is given a small blurb that could kindle the curiosity of a child to learn more about the greats of America’s pastime.
Rocks: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith
by Joe Perry with David Ritz
Simon & Schuster, 2014
Aerosmith is one of the greatest American rock bands, led by singer Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry. The group has seen many ups and downs over the years, playing through drug addictions and inner turmoil, but today are still regarded as one of the most legendary acts to come from the United States and has a feverish fan base. In Rocks: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith, Perry relives his early years and influences that led him to a relationship with Steven Tallarico, on through the gigging and recording and eventual touring. Financial problems, leaving Aerosmith and creating the Joe Perry Project, and his return to the group in the mid-1980s, renewed success, and renewed band infighting are all focuses of the book.
Perry doesn’t pull any punches, especially when it comes to his tumultuous relationship with Tyler. The guitarist paints the picture of a front man with severe lead singer disease, who seems to be out for himself instead of the best interests of the group. From his constant addiction struggles to his secret audition with Led Zeppelin to his role on American Idol, Tyler kept information from his bandmates that would affect their future. It seems those problems will never go away, but Perry and the rest of Aerosmith continues to put up with the erratic behavior.
Perry’s autobiography may be a tell-all book, but there is not really a whole lot to tell. Aside from the drug abuse, he did not live the stereotypical rock star lifestyle. He stuck with one woman at a time, had major financial troubles because of mismanaged money, and focused on his work more than might be expected of someone who has fame thrust upon him. The most interesting parts of the book, for me, are Perry’s recollections of the 80s comeback albums Permanent Vacation and Pump albums, as well as the 70s classics including Toys In The Attic and Rocks.
Rocks: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith currently sits at #8 on the New York Times’ Best Sellers list for Hardcover Nonfiction. It is a well-written autobiography from one of rock’s greatest guitarists, and will be enjoyed by fans of Aerosmith and Joe Perry.
by Nathaniel Tolle
No holiday lends itself to movie marathons more than Halloween. Horror movies are released year-round, and it is difficult to keep up with what is worth watching (and what is worth watching again). Film buff Nathaniel Tolle helps out with Pumpkin Cinema: The Best Movies for Halloween. For more than a decade, Tolle kept track of every movie he watched and gave it a rating. Then, in preparation for this book, went back and wrote down every horror movie he awarded three or more stars, and supplemented that list with other films released in the past several years.
Readers may take more exception to the movies omitted from Tolle’s list rather than those included, but he gives his reasons in the introduction for excluding classics such as Dracula, The Shining, and Pet Sematary. The suggestions offered range from the truly scary (The Exorcist, A Nightmare on Elm Street) to the legendary (Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon) to the obscure (The Midnight Hour, Dark Night of the Scarecrow). There are also plenty of selections for the kiddos to enjoy, such as The Halloween Tree and Pooh’s Heffalump Halloween Movie. A separate section examines “Fun-Sized Films and Creepy, Crawly Compilations,” while special Halloween episodes of your favorite television programs are included in part three.
Tolle wraps up Pumpkin Cinema with several top five lists to satisfy your movie marathon cravings. “If you want” vampires or zombies or gore or witches or killer dolls or outer space…whatever your desire may be, Tolle gives five suggestions for thirty-five different categories.
Next time you are browsing Netflix late at night, grab Pumpkin Cinema to help you select the best movie to fit your mood…whether it is October or July.
Idiot’s Guides: Creative Writing
by Casey Clabough, PhD
A very basic overview to the task of creative writing, this Idiot’s Guides entry defines the simplest of terms and gives pointers on various forms of the craft, from poetry to flash fiction to novels. Not content at stopping with the writing, however, author Casey Clabough explains the importance of research and editing one’s work, as well as how to seek out a publisher.
Each chapter of this book has been dealt with extensively by other authors, and if there is a specific area of writing that appeals to a person, he would be better served seeking out materials devoted to that area. For those still getting their feet wet in writing, Idot’s Guides: Creative Writing might be useful to explore some different areas before committing to one. This is a basic, dumbed-down version of what one might learn in a creative writing course, and should not be the last book consulted on any topic, but it may be beneficial as a primer.
Becoming Mr. October
by Reggie Jackson with Kevin Baker
Anchor Books, 2014 (paperback)
Before Derek Jeter, the Yankee most associated with postseason glory was Reggie Jackson. Nicknamed “Mr. October” for his offensive prowess in the World Series, particularly with the Yankees (8 home runs, 17 RBI, .400 batting average in 15 games), Jackson epitomized superstardom in the Big Apple. In his memoir Becoming Mr. October, the slugger recounts his 1977 and 1978 seasons in New York, including his feuds with teammate Thurman Munson, manager Billy Martin, and owner George Steinbrenner, and the infamous interview with Robert Ward that set him at odds with his teammates right off the bat.
Jackson begins his memoir as a college athlete at Arizona State University, then quickly moving through his time with the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles to set the stage for his debut with the Yankees. The first four chapters of the book deal with his pre-New York baseball career, while the final twenty-one chapters recall the events of just two seasons; there is no mention of playing for the California Angels or returning to Oakland at the end of his career. The writing style is extremely casual, almost to the point of distraction. This includes the use of text lingo such as “LOL” in some instances.
Overlooking that flippancy, though, Becoming Mr. October is a valuable resource as it presents Jackson’s side of the story. He had been villainized by the press and Yankee management, but was mot at the time afforded the opportunity to present his version of events. Further upset with his portrayal in The Bronx Is Burning (“the whole way they portrayed ‘Reggie Jackson in New York’ was a huge disconnect for me”), the Hall of Famer offers his take on what really happened during his first two seasons in pinstripes.
Stephen King, Wes Craven, and George A. Romero are three of the most recognizable names in modern horror. In Beyond Fear, author Joseph Maddrey takes a look at some of the most iconic works of each and explores their deeper meanings, drawing on each creator’s personal history and worldview. The book, however, is not too highly intellectual, making it accessible to the average fan who is interested in learning more about their favorite scary storytellers.
Maddrey divides his writing into three parts: one essay on Romero and his Living Dead series, five chapters on Craven’s career in film, and twenty-seven entries on King’s material (including five entitled “The King of Hollywood”). Early influences and possible inspirations are cited for each story or film, and the impact they had on society is considered.
Beyond Fear provides an interesting overview, specifically when it comes to Stephen King’s prolific output and the struggles of his early career. The first 123 pages covering Romero and Craven are an interesting read, but even if they were omitted, Beyond Fear would still be well worth the reader’s time.
The 8th Annual “Books By The Banks” will be held tomorrow, Saturday, October 11, at the Duke Energy Center in downtown Cincinnati. The book festival is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and admission is free. The book festival boasts 130 authors and publishing professionals, seminars, and events for teens and children. Jack Heffron and Joe Heffron, the authors of The Local Boys: Hometown Players for the Cincinnati Reds and Sports Illustrated’s Kostya Kennedy, author of Pete Rose: An American Dilemma are scheduled to appear and participate in a panel discussion on local sports. Teenagers can challenge authors in games of Battleship and Pictionary. Younger children will be entertained by the Hands Up Puppet Troupe and can meet costumed characters from their favorite books.
Several seminars are scheduled throughout the day for aspiring writers, including “Social Media for Writers,” “Writing Cincinnati,” “Pitching Your Book,” and “Pitching for Publication in the Magazine and Online Markets.” Michael D. Pitman is scheduled to host a “Flash Fiction Workshop” near the end of the festival.
More information, including a list of all authors scheduled to appear, can be found at http://www.booksbythebanks.org.
The Simpsons Family History
by Matt Groening
After two and a half decades on television, the Simpsons have become extended family to many Americans. Children can relate to Bart and Lisa, while parents can relate to Homer and Marge. They are far from perfect, just as we are. And perhaps that is the reason the show has lasted and remained fresh over a 25-year span.
But that’s not what this book is about. Nor is it about getting the show on the air, or the trials of writing and animating a weekly program. Rather, The Simpsons Family History by Matt Groening is, literally, the history of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie, purportedly before the show begins. Using images that were presented as flashbacks on the cartoon, Groening looks chronologically at the family from shortly before Homer’s birth, through his formative adolescent years, to the courtship of Marge, to the birth of their three children. The book ends with Homer pitching the idea of a realistic television show based on his family to Fox, concluding with “…and the rest is history.” There are a handful of words per page to explain the illustrations.
The Simpsons Family History is a neat book, but there is nothing new or revelatory here for long-time fans. It is not a biography of Groening, but an illustrated bio of Homer Simpson, treated as a real and factual account.
Words For Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels by Brian Michael Bendis (2014)
Words For Pictures
by Brian Michael Bendis
I have read a handful of books about writing for comics and graphic novels, and each brings information that was not contained in the last. As of yet, there has not been one as thorough as Brian Michael Bendis’ Words For Pictures. Reading how-to books by unknown writers may or may not be helpful, but reading how-to books by individuals who are successful in their chosen field are almost universally inspiring and invaluable. In this book, Bendis accomplishes one of his goals: “Be Walt Simonson.” To him, that means to be as helpful and patient as possible with those who ask questions, who thirst for knowledge and guidance, who share a like passion. Bendis gives outsiders a peek into the world of creating comics, from the script to the drawing board to the editor’s room. Beautiful artwork from the pages of Marvel graces nearly every page.
The best chapter in this book, however, has nothing to do with comics. The world of comics provides the backdrop, but the thrust of the first chapter, “Why?”, has to do with passion. This chapter should be read by every young person, no matter what career they pursue. “Make it for you. And you only. Then, if by some miraculous turn of events someone ELSE wants to buy it too, that’s great. It’s all gravy after that.”
Words For Pictures is a book that needs to be a part of every comic book writer’s library, and the first chapter should be read at least once a month. Bendis is both honest and inspiring in his writing, and every aspiring writer and artist will benefit from this book.
It’s Been Said Before
by Orin Hargraves
Oxford University Press, 2014
An examination of clichés, It’s Been Said Before by author Orin Hargraves catalogs a large number of phrases that are sometimes overused or misused. He states in the introduction that the volume is not intended to be a dictionary of clichés, but the book reads like one.
Hargaves does not offer alternatives to the overused phrases, but simply groups them into categories: clichés that name things, adjectival and quantifying clichés, adverbial clichés, predicate clichés, framing devices, modifier fatigue, and clichés in tandem. It is dry and academic, but useful for writers that want to determine whether they are using common phrases effectively.
Cosby: His Life and Times
by Mark Whitaker
Simon & Schuster, 2014
Bill Cosby is one of the most iconic comedians in American history, but his life behind the scenes has not been as rosy as the characters he portrays on television. Incidents from his early impoverished life in Philadelphia, his affair with Shawn Berkes, the murder of his son Ennis and attempted extortion by Berkes’ daughter Autumn Jackson, author Mark Whitaker shows how Cosby dealt with personal tragedies and came out stronger for it.
Cosby’s success can be attributed partly to luck, being in the right place at the right time, and partly to having people who were loyal and confident in his future. But there is another part of Cosby’s success that is overlooked by many: hard work. The legend did not expect anything to be given to him for free, and has rebuked those today who expect such. “I heard a prize fight manager say to his fellow who was losing badly, ‘David, listen to me, it’s not what he’s doing to you. It’s what you’re not doing.’”
The book also details Cosby’s relationships—and more importantly, friendships—with his co-stars, such as Robert Culp from I Spy and Phylicia Rashad from The Cosby Show, and showed how he helped other programs, from the spin-off A Different World to Everybody Loves Raymond, a show he fell in love with long before the rest of America noticed.
Cosby: His Life and Times is a quick read despite the large page count. Fans of Cosby and his various projects will love Whitaker’s examination of the comedian’s life.
Not every story needs to be turned into a series.
Baltimore Baseball & Barbecue with Boog Powell
by Rob Kasper and Boog Powell
American Palate/The History Press, 2014
Short by baseball biography standards, the story of Boog Powell is still packed with entertaining stories and anecdotes of the slugger’s time with the Orioles. Baltimore Baseball & Barbecue with Boog Powell briefly visits the subject as a youngster, and only one chapter is devoted to the minors before digging into Powell’s major league career in Baltimore. Seventeen years are covered in a little over fifty pages, including his final tours with Cleveland and Los Angeles.
Then there is the second half of the book, and the second half of Boog’s passion: barbecue. The relationship that Powell still enjoys with Baltimore fans is made possible by his barbecue stand located at Camden Yards. Fans can feast on the food, and most nights can speak to the mastermind behind the menu. In addition to information about Boog’s Barbecue at the park, Kasper and Powell include ten pages worth of recipes in this book.
The final chapter is a collection of interviews with Powell’s former teammates, from Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson to Jim Palmer and Merv Rettenmund. Black and white photos are scattered throughout the book’s 160 pages.
Baltimore fans will love this book, while barbecue connoisseurs will devour the recipes. Baltimore Baseball & Barbecue with Boog Powell is a home run.
Close Encounters of the Fatal Kind
by Nick Redfern
New Page Books, 2014
Books about aliens and UFOs and government conspiracies always make for entertaining reads, and Nick Redfern’s Close Encounters of the Fatal Kind is no different. Whether you count yourself among the believers of intelligent life on other planets or not, Redfern tells such detailed stories about “suspicious deaths, mysterious murders, and bizarre disappearances” that will make you raise your eyebrows. The focus of this book is not so much on the UFOs and the lifeforms that pilot them, but the fate of those who tried to reveal their existence to the public.
An entire chapter is devoted to John F. Kennedy and his untimely assassination. Redfern also briefly discusses in another chapter the theory that UFOs are not extraterrestrial at all, but rather that “the flying saucer enigma is definitely demonic in origin and nature.” There is, of course, no conclusion drawn by the end of the book; none of the conspiracies are solved and no skeptics will be convinced to change their minds, but there is plenty to fuel the paranoia of extraterrestrial advocates. Redfern wraps up Close Encounters of the Fatal Kind with a warning to those who investigate the existence of unidentified flying objects to “tread very carefully, lest you tread no more.”
Creating Graphic Novels:
Adapting and Marketing Stories for a Multimillion-Dollar Industry
by Sarah Beach
Michael Wiese Productions, 2014
From The Watchmen to The Walking Dead, graphic novels and comic books are all the rage in the modern age. Many successful movies either started out as a graphic novel, or have been adapted into the graphic novel form in order to expand the audience and increase revenue.
Author Sarah Beach attempts to teach her readers how to adapt one’s own screenplay into graphic novel form. Despite the size of this book, it is more of an overview than a step-by-step manual to guide the adaptation process. Many topics are covered, such as finding the right art team, social networking to promote the material, and signing a contract with a publisher. It is a good primer to get one started in the right direction if he is interested in going the graphic novel route.
Inventing Baseball Heroes
by Amber Roessner
LSU Press, 2014
In this age of immediate news, cutural icons do not seem to last very long. As soon as a negative report is published, it is picked up by countless news organizations and available on cell phones and computer screens instantaneously. A century ago, however, news traveled much slower, and the gatekeepers of information were careful with the information entrusted to them; not every scandalous details of an athlete’s private life was broadcast to the masses. It was in this era that Christy Mathewson and Ty Cobb became household names, thanks to sportswriters Grantland Rice, Ring Lardner, and others.
Author and former sportswriter Amber Roessner revisits that simpler time when news was crafted to shed the best possible light on the superstars of the baseball diamond, when Mathewson and Cobb were two of the biggest names, not only in baseball, but in all of America. “They told their readers that real men were expected to take daring risks while at the same time behaving as proper gentlemen.” She examines how the reporters were encouraged to promote the positive aspects of the game and its players to the public, traveling with the team on the team’s dime and socializing with the players on golf courses and vacations. Roessner’s work begins scholarly, but quickly turns conversational and anecdotal as she reveals the relationships between Mathewson, Cobb, and the sportswriters.
Inventing Baseball Heroes is an interesting book that will appeal more to fans of journalism, but also sheds light on how baseball became an American institution at the turn of the twentieth century.