Category Archives: books
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.
Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76
by Dan Epstein
Thomas Dunne Books, 2014
America celebrated 200 years in 1976, and baseball, as America’s pastime, played a central role in the country’s celebration. Author Dan Epstein chronicles the ups and downs of the season and the personalities that kept baseball in the headlines all year long in Stars and Strikes. From unassuming rookies like Mark Fidrych to sulking superstars like Reggie Jackson, over-the-top owners like Ted Turner and Charlie Finley, baseball had it all in 1976. The Yankees are prominently featured in Epstein’s book, with the booming personalities of George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin making their mark throughout the season.
Each chapter shares its title with a popular song from the era, from artists such as Boston, Thin Lizzy, and Parliament. Epstein does a wonderful job of weaving the spirit of ’76 throughout the baseball narrative, including Rick Monday‘s finest play on the field in Los Angeles when he rescued the American flag from a would-be arsonist. Reliving the wacky (Chicago’s shorts) and the wonderful (Birdmania), Epstein covers it all starting in November 1975 through the Reds’ second straight championship and the escalating contracts following the 1976 season. Baseball historians will love Stars and Strikes.
Mudhoney: The Sound and the Fury from Seattle
by Keith Cameron
Voyageur Press, 2014
Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam. Those are the names most often associated with the Seattle music scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s. But there is another band, one that predated the explosion of Kurt Cobain in the mainstream and probably influenced him more than he would ever admit: Mudhoney, comprised of Mark Arm, Matt Lukin, Dan Peters, and Steve Peters. Largely forgotten by so-called fans of grunge music, Mudhoney never achieved the commercial success of their peers—which was never the band’s aim. “They’re four guys who got together and played music for fun, and the grand plan ended there.”
Author Keith Cameron’s definitive work on the overlooked grunge rockers covers it all, starting with each member’s upbringing and musical influences, early endeavors, and coming together to form the classic lineup. The band received critical accolades for their releases on Sub Pop, and disdain for the materials released by Reprise. Drug addiction and turmoil among the band members, dwindling crowds and IRS audits were among the many struggles the band faced during their career, ultimately leading to bassist Matt Lukin’s departure from the band. Soldiering on despite many difficulties, the band still exists today on a smaller scale, playing smaller venues, but still releasing new music for fans. While many of the grunge bands of the past have abandoned their roots, Mudhoney embraces them.
Whether you are a fan of the musical output or not, the story of Mudhoney deserves to be told. A story of realistic expectations and resilience through adversity. Cameron’s Mudhoney: The Sound and the Fury from Seattle leaves nothing out, and is a worthy addition to any rock fan’s bookshelf.
1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever by Bill Madden (2014)
by Bill Madden
Da Capo Press, 2014
The Brooklyn debut of Jackie Robinson in 1947 ushered in a change in the way baseball owners thought about race, but it took several years for the impact to be seen. In 1954, baseball fans saw for the first time an abundance superstars at the top of their game who were not white. Larry Doby with the Cleveland Indians, Willie Mays with the San Francisco Giants, Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs, and Minnie Minoso of the Chicago White Sox all impacted the game in their own ways. Doby and Mays starred in the World Series that year, Banks thrilled audiences as a rookie, and Minoso was selected as an All-Star for the fourth time.
Author Bill Madden looks back through history in 1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever. A recipient of the Hall of Fame’s J. G. Taylor Spink Award, the New York Daily News writer brings the pennant race to life, and shows how those black players provided a spark to their respective teams. Madden also writes about Yankees general manager George Weiss and his reluctance to sign black players, Bill Veeck and his shenanigans and feuds with other owners that ultimately cost him his St. Louis Browns franchise, and a handful of anecdotes about Casey Stengel‘s antics with the Yankees that season.
Madden’s style is part journalistic, part storytelling. The journalistic tone is difficult to get through at times in this longer format, but when he becomes conversational in tone the book reads very quickly. Baseball historians will love 1954 and the perspective presented as it relates not only to our national pastime, but to the subject of race relations in the game and how much those relations have changed in the past sixty years.
Full Count: Four Decades of Blue Jays Baseball
by Jeff Blair
Vintage Canada, 2014
The only major league baseball team currently playing outside the continental United States, the Toronto Blue Jays are often overlooked by the average baseball fan. With a history full of underrated players like Dave Stieb and a wealth of disappointment—save 1992 and 1993—the Blue Jays just don’t hold the fan’s imagination like their division rivals, the Yankees or Red Sox. The premise of Full Count by Jeff Blair, to present a history of the franchise, is a good one. But it fails in that it barely mentions the team or its players prior to the championship teams of the 1990s. Some of the franchise’s most recognizable names from the 1980s—Jimmy Key, Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby—are mentioned only once, and that in passing. Instead of “Four Decades of Blue Jays Baseball,” the focus is more on 1992 to the present.
Blair closely examines a lot of the business dealings, almost to a fault. There are excellent chapters on Roberto Alomar and his Hall of Fame career, Joe Carter and his home run off Mitch Williams, and Blair wraps up the book with a look at the team’s current Canadian talent, Brett Lawrie. Those are some of the most enjoyable chapters in the book, written in an easy-going, conversational tone. In between all that, however, the managers, general managers, and other administrative personnel are profiled. Trades are picked apart, and front office hiring decisions are dissected. A lot of good background information, but I for one would have rather read about the product that took the field more than the men behind the scenes.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens &
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens Personal Workbook
by Sean Covey
240 pages (Pesonal Workbook)
Originally published in 1998, Sean Covey’s groundbreaking The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens has been adapted and updated to reflect the technological age that is the 21st century. Covey learned from a master; his father Stephen’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold over fifteen million copies. Sean’s motivational work for teenagers is not far behind, having sold five million so far.
Covey encourages young people throughout the book to think positively and be proactive, and to look for solutions to problems that will benefit all who are involved. Examples and anecdotes are sprinkled in with practical applications and actionable ideas. The Personal Workbook complements the work, giving teenagers questions to answer about how they deal with situations, and actual tasks to help them build confidence in themselves and be more productive.
An excellent book and workbook, highly recommended for those who fall in the age range. Parents would do well to purchase The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens and the Personal Workbook for their children as they enter the confusing teen years.
Star Wars Storyboards: The Original Trilogy
edited by J.W. Rinzler
Star Wars is and always will be pure gold, despite the travesty of Jar Jar Binks. When materials from the original trilogy are made available, fans devour it. Some of those materials are of questionable quality, but Star Wars Storyboards: The Original Trilogy is a top-notch book showing what the movie looked like in the minds of those creating it, along with commentary from the artists.
The art from A New Hope is perhaps the most interesting, showing some of Ralph McQuarrie’s original concepts for the characters. Fans who are not familiar with storyboarding need to keep in mind that this is not a graphic novel sort of book, but sketches to give the directors something to go by before they start rolling the cameras. A storyboard is like a blueprint for movie making. Some of the sketches are rough and unfinished, with few details. Some of the art inside is simple black and white, but there are nice splashes of color throughout as well.
There is little doubt that Star Wars fans across the galaxies will love Star Wars Storyboards: The Original Trilogy, a glimpse inside the making of the greatest space opera of all time.
Wrigley Field: The Long Life & Contentious Times of the Friendly Confines
by Stuart Shea
The University of Chicago Press, 2014
Numerous books have been released over the past year to commemorate and celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Wrigley Field, and each has its charms. Author Stuart Shea’s rather large 448-page book is a very good overview, focusing more on the park itself than the team that played there, though certain memorable events are recalled. Various playoff games are mentioned, including the one featuring Babe Ruth‘s “called shot,” but the descriptions are brief since Cubs fans really had nothing to celebrate after those playoffs were over.
One of the most interesting sections in the book deals with the installation of the lights in 1988 to allow night games at Wrigley Field. The city fought against lights for years, but Major League Baseball finally threatened to give the 1990 All-Star Game to another city if lights were not installed. Shea discusses some of the major players instrumental to bringing night games to Wrigley, from commissioner Peter Ueberroth to politician Eugene Sawyer to general manager Dallas Green. It’s an interesting look at how long some had been trying to get the lights installed.
For Cubs fans, Wrigley Field: The Long Life & Contentious Times of the Friendly Confines is a great reminder of what makes the ballpark so special, and why the Cubs remain so popular despite all the disappointments over the years.
Baseball Prodigies: Best Major League Seasons by Players Under 21
by Charles F. Faber
There have been 284 men who have played major league baseball as a regular before their 21st birthday; 192 of those players lasted five or more seasons in the big leagues. In Baseball Prodigies, the latest offering from baseball scholar Charles F. Faber, the top ten hitting seasons and top ten pitching seasons by players under the age of 21 are explored in depth, while brief profiles of the remaining 172 players are included.
Many of the hitters are a “who’s who” of baseball immortality: Mel Ott, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Frank Robinson, and the like. There are a couple of nineteenth century guys and one current player, as well as a special “star of the future” tag applied to Mike Trout, who is not included in the top ten as he does not yet qualify to be ranked, though he will once he reaches five years of big league service.
On the pitching side, only two of the top ten are Hall of Famers: Bob Feller and Christy Mathewson. The tragedy of injury befell many of the others, such as Bret Saberhagen and Don Gullett, while drugs derailed Dwight Gooden‘s route to Cooperstown. There is one current pitcher ranked, CC Sabathia, who could one day join Feller and Mathewson. But Matt Kilroy, Icebox Chamberlain, and Willis Hudlin will only be rembered—if at all—as examples of “what could have been.”
The other prodigies who are discussed briefly include both Hall of Famers (Robin Yount, Jimmie Foxx, Roberto Alomar) and those who will never be seriously considered for baseball immortality (Rick Monday, Ron Swoboda, Ed Kranepool).
Certainly an interesting study on youth in baseball, Faber does an excellent job of detailing each player’s career and life after baseball, recommending resources and biographies to learn more about them.
Purchase Baseball Prodigies: Best Major League Seasons by Players Under 21 by Charles F. Faber by clicking here or by calling 1-800-253-2187.
Pitching To The Pennant
edited by Joseph Wancho
University of Nebraska Press, 2014
They won more games than the 1927 Yankees, boasted five future Hall of Fame players and a future Hall of Fame manager, featured two twenty-game winners, and fielded players who led the league in home runs, runs batted in, batting average, pitching victories and earned run average. Yet after four-game sweep by the New York Giants in the World Series and the most memorable catch in postseason history by Willie Mays, many people forget that the Cleveland Indians were that good in 1954.
Imagine having a pitching staff led by Early Wynn and Bob Lemon, who each won 23 games, and Mike Garcia with his 19 victories and league-leading 2.64 ERA. Add to that effective performances by Art Houtteman and an aging Bob Feller, and a bullpen that included Hal Newhouser. Not to be outdone, the offense featured hitting leader Bobby Avila and top slugger Larry Doby, along with a strong performance by Al Rosen. This was a team that had all the right pieces fall into place all season, until the World Series. General manager Hank Greenberg famously said, “We had a great season. It just lasted four games too long.”
The spirit of that 1954 season is captured in Pitching To The Pennant, edited by Jospeh Wancho, with biographies of each player written by members of the Society for American Baseball Research and monthly recaps of each game. Other articles discuss Cleveland Stadium, the All-Star Game that was played there, and game-by-game accounts of the 1954 World Series. Perhaps the most interesting piece, though, is “A Seven-Year-Old’s Perspective on the 1954 Indians” by David Bohmer, describing the writer’s personal recollections of that team from so long ago through the fog of time.
Pitching To The Pennant is another fine offering from the University of Nebraska Press, a book that delight the Tribe’s followers and educate baseball fans.
Amazing Athletes: Mike Trout
by Jon M. Fishman
I fondly remember checking out small books from the library about my favorite athletes, from Michael Jordan to John Elway to Don Mattingly. Children today can do the same with the “Amazing Athletes” series of books published by Lerner. Baseball, football, basketball and other sports stars are the subjects of these books. I recently received a copy of the book dedicated to Mike Trout, and it is very similar to the books I enjoyed in my youth, with brief biographical information and several color photographs. The recommended age range is second to fifth grade, though most fifth graders would probably find the content a bit under their level. For younger sports fans, they are a nice introduction to terminology of the game and generally encourage the reader to work hard toward personal goals.
Up, Up, & Away
by Jonah Keri
Random House Canada, 2014
It has been ten years since Montreal has fielded its own baseball team; following the 2004 season the Expos became the Washington Nationals. In the thirty-six years that the Expos existed, though, they boasted some big names, including two Hall of Famers (Gary Carter and Andre Dawson) and several other superstars (Tim Raines, Vladimir Guerrero, Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker). There is a lot of nostalgia for baseball in Montreal, despite pathetic attendance to games during the final seasons.
Much of that nostalgia is captured by author Jonah Keri in Up, Up, & Away. Keri begins by telling the history of how the game came to Montreal and the struggles of the first several years as an expansion club. Up, Up, & Away really gets good in the 1980s, though, as Keri begins to tell the story of the Expos through a young fan’s eyes, pleading the case for Raines as a should-be Hall of Famer, recounting the exciting pennant races (which the team never won, save 1981), and the devastating cancellation of the latter part of the 1994 season, in which Montreal seemed destined to win it all. Keri examines the reasons that Montreal lost the Expos, from poor leadership to poor publicity to a possible conspiracy by Major League Baseball.
The story of the Expos is disheartening. A team with so much promise, so much potential, that never prevails. Up, Up, & Away ends on a high note, reporting that a feasibility study showed Montreal’s economy could once again support a big league club. But even if a new team took up roots in the city, it could never replace the Expos in the hearts and minds of Montrealers.
The Giants Baseball Experience
by Dan Fost
MVP Books, 2014
Baseball is all about history, and when one becomes attached to a particular baseball team, the history of that franchise becomes almost as important as his own family tree. Those who are fans of expansion teams are somewhat fortunate in this regard; they don’t have as much to learn and absorb as those who become rabidly obsessed with franchises that have been in existence for a century or more. Fortunately, there are books such as The Giants Baseball Experience to help one catch up in short order.
Starting with the nineteenth century evolution of the team in New York and going all the way through the recent twenty-first century triumphs, author Dan Fost gives readers a snapshot of each season, including the team’s won-loss record, finish in the standings, highlights, and an overview of the most important players. And the Giants have had a wealth of important players throughout the years: Christy Mathewson, Carl Hubbell, Juan Marichal, and of course the “Say Hey Kid” Willie Mays, one of the most important in all of baseball history. Besides the individual seasons and players, other topics discussed include the various ballparks the team has called home, trades of major impact, the 1989 World Series earthquake, and of course the move from New York to San Francisco. Each decade is treated with a section called “The Record Book,” showing the statistical leaders of each season, award winners, All-Stars, and Fost’s “All-Decade Team,” sure to cause some arguments among the most devoted fans (for instance, why was Rick Reuschel left off the team of the 1980’s?). Photographs and images of baseball cards and other memorabilia grace nearly every page of this colorful volume.
The Giants Baseball Experience is the ultimate guide to all things orange and black, and Fost has done a wonderful job capturing the essence of the franchise. This is an excellent addition to any baseball fan’s personal library, especially those whose heart belongs to San Francisco.
The Great Eight: The 1975 Cincinnati Reds
edited by Mark Armour
University of Nebraska Press, 2014
When your favorite baseball team is struggling on the field, it is comforting to reminisce about past glory, especially when the past includes one of the greatest offensive lineups to step onto the diamond. The 1975 Cincinnati Reds boasted a lineup of three Hall of Famers (Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez), two others that should be (Pete Rose and Dave Concepcion) and a Hall of Fame manager (Sparky Anderson). Add to that a dazzling defensive center fielder (Cesar Geronimo), a consistent hitting right fielder (Ken Griffey), and a slugging left fielder (George Foster), and you have offensive output that ranks among the greatest of all-time.
But the 1975 Cincinnati Reds went far beyond the starting lineup, as explained in The Great Eight, one of the latest offerings from the Society for American Baseball Research. There were the men behind the scenes, such as Bob Howsam and his squad of scouts. Anderson’s coaching staff (George Scherger, Alex Grammas, Larry Shepard and Ted Kluszewski) never receives the credit it deserves by the average fan. The “adequate” pitchers, including Jack Billingham, Don Gullett, and Gary Nolan, are often forgotten when discussing the Reds championship teams of 1975 and 1976. And all of the role players, from Dan Driessen to Ed Armbrister to Doug Flynn—all of these and more are recognized and profiled in The Great Eight.
Month-by month timelines featuring the headlines of each game as reported in Ohio’s Springfield News are interspersed between groups of brief biographies. Other articles speak to the importance of moving Rose to third to make room for Foster in the lineup, a comparison between the 1970s Reds and the 1940s-50s Brooklyn Dodgers, and a look at the franchise in the years after winning it all.
The entire team has never before been this fully investigated. Armour did a wonderful job editing this collection, with contributions from researchers Charles F. Faber, Bill Nowlin, Mark Miller, and Doug Wilson, who is fast becoming one of this writer’s favorite baseball authors. The Great Eight is a worthy addition to the Memorable Teams in Baseball History series, and a must-own for Cincinnati Reds fans.