There are a handful of television programs I keep in my Netflix queue, even after I have watched every episode, because I can go back and watch them again and see something different. Many shows are disposable, but then there are series like The Twilight Zone that endure despite repeated viewings. The reason is quite simple: there are lessons that can be learned, and in many cases must be learned. Rod Serling was a masterful storyteller, and his work on The Twilight Zone will be revered as long as the series is available for new generations. Author Mark Dawidziak writes, “The Twilight Zone not only was a series with a strong social conscience, it was television that believed there was intelligent life on the other side of the television screen.”
Dawidziak offers up fifty lessons gleaned from The Twilight Zone in Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone, including simplistic yet important lessons like “follow your passion” and “nobody said life was fair,” to it’s-better-to-learn-from-others-mistakes lessons such as “read every contract…carefully” and “the grass is always greener…or so you think.” Dawidziak writes, “Lurking in almost every episode of The Twilight Zone is at least one guiding rule, one life lessons, one stirring reminder of a basic right or wrong taught to us as children. There are lessons for individuals. There are lessons for our society. There are lessons for our planet.”
It would be impossible to pick out the best lessons presented by Dawidziak, just as it is a daunting task to rank episodes of The Twilight Zone itself. But consider, if you will, lesson twenty: “If life gives you another chance, make the most of it,” utilizing the episodes, “Third from the Sun” and “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank.” A new venture may be just what you need to turn your rut of a life into a joyous existence.
In addition to Dawidziak’s fifty lessons, which are gleaned from about one hundred episodes, the author also concedes the page to guest lessons. These guest lessons come from such esteemed individuals as Jack Klugman and James Best, who both appeared in multiple episodes of The Twilight Zone, Mel Brooks, Robert Redford, Mick Garris, Carol Burnett, and Dick Van Dyke.
Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone is a fun way to revisit the timeless works of Serling and other Twilight Zone writers, highly recommended for fans of the iconic television series.
Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man
by William Shatner with David Fisher
Thomas Dunne Books, 2016
The entertainment industry lost an icon in 2015 when Leonard Nimoy passed away, but his impact and work will be forever remembered. His close friend and co-star on many Star Trek projects, William Shatner, delivers a touching memoir in Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man. Shatner shares several stories that will bring a smile to the reader’s face, whether he is a “Trekkie” or not.
While the majority of the book deals with the time Nimoy and Shatner spent together on Star Trek, as well as an examination of the Spock character, the actor was so much more. He was a fighter for the benefits of his fellow actors, standing up to Filmation when they attempted to create a Star Trek cartoon without George Takei and Nichelle Nichols. Filmation relented, because, as Shatner writes, “They company had no choice; without Leonard or me, there was no Star Trek.” Shatner also recalls Nimoy’s time as director of a couple of the Star Trek films and Three Men and a Baby. Mention is made of the Golden Throats recordings, and the emergence of Star Trek conventions is given a fair amount of ink. Shatner also touches on Nimoy’s alcoholism and the negative effects that it had on his life.
Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man is a story of true friendship, ups and downs, good and bad. There is nothing scintillating or derogatory, nor does it seem to be a cash-grab designed to capitalize on the late actor’s relatively recent passing. It is an honest, heartfelt remembrance of a man that touched the lives of many through his work in film and television.
One of the best catchers to ever play the game, Carlton Fisk never backed down when facing an opponent on the diamond or in the front office. He hit one of the most legendary home runs in World Series history in 1975, but is also remembered for butting heads with ownership in both Boston and Chicago when he felt he was being treated unfairly. Opponents on the field also faced the wrath of Fisk if he felt they were not respecting the game—just ask Deion Sanders (or read chapter 17 in this book).
Author Doug Wilson has made a name for himself with some excellent baseball biographies on Brooks Robinson (Brooks, 2014) and Mark Fidrych (The Bird, 2013), and Pudge: The Biography of Carlton Fisk is no exception. Wilson spends a good four chapters on the catcher’s early life, from his boyhood through the minor leagues, before arriving in Boston in chapter 5. Several chapters are devoted to a single season apiece, with special attention paid to Game Six in 1975, Fisk’s departure from Boston prior to the 1981 season, and the collusion battles of the mid-1980s. Wilson’s conversational style makes reading a joy, and he succinctly explains difficult and complex topics with ease.
Pudge: The Biography of Carlton Fisk is an entertaining read (just as Wilson’s prior books), highly recommended to baseball fans.
[Review by TWJ contributor Jim.]
Montana: The Biography of Football’s Joe Cool
by Keith Dunnavant
Thomas Dunne Books, 2015
Joe Montana is one of the biggest name in sports, in the world. Ask a kid who follow’s Manchester United in Manchester England and he is still going to know who Joe Montana is. As a Bengals fan in early 1989, I remember watching Super Bowl 23 with my family and feeling the “pain” of a Joe Montana comeback leading the 49ers to a crushing Super Bowl win over my beloved Bengals. The Bengals have never been close again.
In Montana: The Biography of Football’s Joe Cool, you get to know the history and the behind the scenes stories of some of Joe’s biggest comebacks and victories. Keith Dunnavant does a great job of laying out the great history of Joe Montana without overdoing it with game by game details. He starts off with Joe as a child and takes you, year by year, through his great NFL career, concluding in Kansas City. I was especially interested in hearing the details of his battle on the field with his Hall of Fame backup in San Francisco, Steve Young. I especially enjoyed the details of his brief time with the Chiefs. Although he didn’t win a Super Bowl there, he showed that he was still a great quarterback able to win football games. It’s a great, easy read, you’ll have a hard time putting this one down.
The Stephen King Companion
by George Beahm
Thomas Dunne Books, 2015
There are few modern authors whose names are immediately recognizable to such a broad audience as Stephen King. Widely considered the greatest horror writer of this generation, King’s novels are eagerly devoured by fans young and old, and the movies based on his books are always among the most anticipated. In The Stephen King Companion, George Beahm chronicles King’s life from his very early, pre-published years, all the way up to his most recent release, Revival. Before getting to King’s first published novel, Carrie, Beahm examines his family life, his early influences, his time as a student at the University of Maine, and his initial career as a teacher. While the meat of the volume is the review of King’s output as a writer, these early chapters give readers a fuller understanding of the horror master’s themes and influences.
Beahm leaves no stone unturned in this massive tome of Stephen King’s work. Every novel is cataloged, with plot synopses and critical reactions, along with the enduring legacy of the stories. While The Stephen King Companion’s focus is the literary output, Beahm does not ignore the screen adaptations of King’s writings. They are generally mentioned in passing, unless there is a juicy story attached to it (as in The Shining and King’s distaste for Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation); there are also about fifty pages are devoted to the “Screamplays” in part six of the book.
The Stephen King Companion was undoubtedly a labor of love for Beahm, and it stands as the definitive look at one of horror’s greatest writers. Fantastic illustrations by Michael Whelan and Glenn Chadbourne are included throughout, making it even more enjoyable. Stephen King and horror fiction fans will absolutely love The Stephen King Companion for it thorough treatment of “America’s best-love bogeyman.”
Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group by Dennis Dunaway and Chris Hodenfield (2015)
Before Alice Cooper the man came Alice Cooper the group. Formed by high school buddies in Arizona, Alice Cooper originally referred to five men playing together as a unit: Vince Furnier, Dennis Dunaway, Glen Buxton, Michael Bruce, and Neal Smith. Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! tells the story of the Alice Cooper group from bass player Dunaway’s perspective, from the hardships of finding fame to the rush of being superstars, to the devastation of breaking up. It was not until the band’s third album, Love It to Death, and the successful single “I’m Eighteen,” that Alice Cooper finally realized the dream. Dunaway writes of hearing the song on the radio, “(W)e always knew we were famous. We were just glad to know the world had caught on to our way of thinking.”
While Dunaway does discuss the immoral excesses that often plague the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, he also examines the bond of friendship that the five members of Alice Cooper shared during the early years. He shows how drugs and alcohol contributed to the downfall of the group by inflating egos and hindering performances. While Dunaway does not seem bitter anymore about the breakup that occurred in the mid-1970s, it is clear there were hard feelings at the time.
Dunaway treats Buxton, who passed away in 1997, with an enormous amount of respect, though it appears that the guitarist’s demons may have forced him out of the band even if they had not all gone their separate ways. There is sadness in the face that Buxton was not around to participate in various recent reunions, including the group’s 2011 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The fact that the remaining four members were able to come back together, though, shows how strong the bonds of friendship were.
Most people are familiar with Alice Cooper’s biggest hits, from “School’s Out” to “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” but to get a behind-the-scenes look at the group during the time those songs were written and recorded, there is no better source than Dunaway’s Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! This book is highly recommended for fans of one of the greatest theatrical rock acts of all-time.
Split Season: 1981
by Jeff Katz
Thomas Dunne Books, 2015
I graduated high school and started college in 1994. There was also no World Series that year. To a baseball fan, it was the highest crime that could be committed, and the owners and players were equally at fault. Both groups were greedy, manipulative, and unappreciative of the high status they were given in society. At that time, I knew little about baseball history. I was aware there had been a strike in 1981, but did not know the issues that caused it, the people involved in the negotiations, or the ramifications it had on the season. I was just a little boy in 1981, and had never even been to a major league baseball game. I was blissfully unaware of the great players that were nearly within walking distance of my house.
Labor issues are never a pleasant subject to think about. Both sides of such disagreements have valid points, but neither are willing to budge or compromise too much. In 1981, over the issue of compensation for players lost to free agency, the owners forced the players to strike. Jeff Katz, the mayor of Cooperstown, relives the events of that year—both on the field and at the negotiation table—in Split Season: 1981. Fernando Valenzuela, Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson, and Billy Martin were some of the most memorable characters on the diamond; Doug DeCinces, Bob Boone, Mark Belanger, and Steve Rogers (along with Marvin Miller) were the major players that went up against Ray Gerbey, Bowie Kuhn, and the owners behind the scenes.
Split Season: 1981 is a very detailed account, nearly to a fault. The sections dealing with the strike negotiations are tedious at times, and I found it difficult to stay focused on the words on the page. The chapters are long; the 336-page book is divided into ten chapters. Had it been broken up a bit more, it could have made some of the negotiation passages more palatable. Overall, though, Split Season: 1981 is a good historical account (though certainly written in favor of the players) of one of the most controversial and unique years in baseball history.
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.
The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych
by Doug Wilson
Thomas Dunne Books, 2014 (paperback)
It is often said that if you didn’t follow baseball in 1976, you cannot understand how big of a deal Mark Fidrych was. The right-handed pitcher for the Detroit Tigers who played the game for fun, just like a kid, was a national phenomenon and created such a buzz that games sold out when he was scheduled to pitch. If you weren’t there, at least you have authors such as Doug Wilson. Wilson’s biography of “The Bird” takes the reader back to that simpler time, before the internet, when baseball on television was still a big deal and when a player could become a sensation based on a few quirks and an amazing season.
The book’s focus is on that rookie season in which Fidrych went 19-9 wit a league-leading 2.34 ERA, recounting the pitcher’s strange ritual of patting down the dirt on the mound and chasing away grounds crews when they attempted to help. His enthusiasm for the sport and for life in general is evident in nearly every sentence and quote. The devastating injury in the spring of 1977 is documented, Fidrych’s demise that saw him lose his abilities over time and landed him in Pawtucket just a few years after his spectacular first season. The showdown with Dave Righetti is also included, showing that even after he lost the ability to pitch at the major league level, Fidrych could still draw a crowd. The Bird’s life after baseball is discussed, as well as his untimely death resulting from a freak accident on his farm.
Baseball will never see another player like Mark Fidrych, but Wilson’s The Bird is a flattering yet fair remembrance of the man’s abilities and impact on the game. Highly recommended for fans of baseball history and the characters that shaped it.
Brooks: The Biography of Brooks Robinson
by Doug Wilson
Thomas Dunne Books, 2014
One of the greatest all-around third baseman, and arguably the greatest defensive player at the hot corner, Brooks Robinson played his entire major league career with the Baltimore Orioles. He was raised well, got along with both teammates and management, and steered clear of controversy during and after his career. Sounds like there is not much to write about, but biographer Doug Wilson does an outstanding job of bringing the Hall of Famer’s story to life; it is quite refreshing to read a positive account of a ballplayer’s life.
The chronicle of Robinson’s life includes his upbringing and the very minor shenanigans he got into—nothing that would garner major headlines anywhere. His early struggles at the plate are discussed, though his glovework was never doubted. The author also talks about Robinson’s relationship with his teammates, both white and black, when racial tensions were still out in the open; Brooks never fell prey to racism. When the Reds traded Frank Robinson, and the Baltimore media tried to make a controversy about the leadership roles the two Robinsons would have on the team; Brooks made it clear that there was never any controversy.
Brooks Robinson was a man who understood that he was a role model, and lived his life in such a way that his reputation would not be damaged by immoral or unethical actions. Wilson’s book captures that attitude wonderfully and would be an excellent addition to any baseball library.