Book Review: The Last Icon: Tom Seaver and His Times by Steven Travers

Author:Steven Travers
TitleThe Last Icon: Tom Seaver and His Times 
Publication Info: Lanham, Md : Taylor Trade, 2011.
ISBN: 9781589796607
Summary/Review: I received a free advance review copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.  The biography of the great Mets pitcher and Hall of Fame baseball star is generally a hagiography from the title to the conclusion.  Not that I would prefer a hatchet job but depicting Seaver as near-superhuman does him no favors in my opinion.  Also, Travers and Seaver share the same alma mater of USC and Travers doesn’t miss any opportunity to mention it.  I did learn some interesting things about Seaver such as the fact that he was a late bloomer and didn’t become a great pitcher until his college years.  There are also some interesting details of his Mets years and relationships with coaches and players.  The diehard Mets or baseball fan may want to read this book but otherwise I think the great Seaver biography remains to be written.

Recommended booksGil Hodges: The Quiet Man by Marino Amoruso, The Ticket Out: Darryl Strawberry and the Boys of Crenshaw by Michael Sokolove and If at First: A Season With the Mets by Keith Hernandez.
Rating: **

Book Review: A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit

Author: Rebecca Solnit
TitleA Paradise Built in Hell 
Publication Info: Viking Adult (2009)
ISBN: 0670021075

Previously Read by the Same Author: Wanderlust

Summary/Review: Solnit’s book is built on the hypothesis that times of disasters bring out the best in humanity as people band together to help one another to survive.  It’s an optimistic view that runs counter to the usual narrative of self-interest and mob violence but one Solnit illustrates with examples from history including the San Francisco Earthquake, the explosion in Halifax harbor, the London Blitz, the Mexico City earthquake and Hurricane Katrina.  In all of these cases ordinary people responded to help one another and build community.  The response of governments and authorities in these scenarios is depicted as at best too slow to mobilize to respond to the immediate needs of communities in distress and at worse too ready to treat citizens as criminals through policies such shooting “looters.”  Solnit introduces the interesting concept of “elite panic” where the wealthy and power expect chaos and anarchy and thus respond with force where none is needed.  Solnit details how this negative view of human nature misinforms public policy in response to disaster and leads to greater suffering.  Hurricane Katrina is a particularly horrifying account as authorities were ready to arrest and imprison people rather than offer rescue and relief.  Armed white people were able to get away with slaughtering poor black people because of the belief that they were criminals rather than survivors in need of compassion.  This book is a must read to gain a better understanding of human nature in both its best and worst elements.

Recommended booksThe Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim Defede and Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
Rating: ***

Book Review: Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand

AuthorLauren Hillenbrand
Publication Info: Random House (2010)
ISBN: 1400064163
Summary/Review: This improbable true-life adventure tells the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner (who even met Hitler at the 1936 games, naturally)  who goes to war in the South Pacific, survives a plane crash at sea, spends weeks adrift on a life raft (surviving strafing and shark attacks), and then is taken to a Japanese prisoner of war camp.  There due to his fame as an athlete he is singled out for abuse by the cruel commandant.  Historically, this book illustrates a level of cruelty of World War II era Japanese that I’d previously not been familiar with. This book is a stunning depiction of survival against unrelenting attacks on the human body and psyche.  It’s also a story of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Bookhunter by Jason Shiga

AuthorJason Shiga
Publication Info: Sparkplug Comics (2007)
ISBN: 097427156X
Summary/Review: This graphic novel is a crime procedural set in an alternate universe of 1970s Oakland where the public libraries have a criminal investigation unit.  Many of the procedures used to solve crimes are totally antithetical to librarian ethics, but otherwise it is an enjoyable adventure where the clichés of detective stories are mimicked in a library setting.
Recommended booksLost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde and Rex Libris Volume One: I, Librarian (Rex Libris) by James Turner
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Walking Dead Book 2 by Robert Kirkman

Author:Robert Kirkman
TitleThe Walking Dead Book 2 
Publication Info: Image Comics (2007)
ISBN: 1582406987

Previously read by same author: The Walking Dead Book 1
Summary/Review: The second collection of this graphic novel about a zombie apocalypse finds the small band of survivors taking shelter in a prison.  They are literally surrounded by a wall of zombies and must maintain constant vigilance as the coherence of their own group begins to shatter.  The strength of this series is its focus on interpersonal relationships under the most trying of circumstances.  The illustrations are good as well although I do find it difficult to distinguish the characters and wish there was a key to the main characters somewhere in the book.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Sleepwalk With Me by Mike Birbiglia

Author:Mike Birbiglia
TitleSleepwalk With Me 
Publication Info: New York : Simon & Schuster, c2010.
ISBN: 9781439157992
Summary/Review:  Stand-up comedian,  monologist, and This American Life regular Mike Birbiglia writes about his life and sleepwalking issues in this collection of autobiographical essays.  In the early going, I was disappointed because these were the same exact stories I’ve heard before but lacking the same resonance they have when you hear Birbilia’s voice.  Later on, the book improves as the written form of his storytelling gets better for less familiar stories.  If you like Birbiglia’s work in stand-up, storytelling, or even his upcoming movie you might like this book.  On the other hand, he may just work better in those other media and this book is extraneous.

Favorite Passages:

p. 102 – “Data entry is a fascinating job where you .. type … in … data….that’s been…written on something else. You can press tab and jump from field to field, and you need to remember to capitalize proper nouns like people’s names and their streets. The first ten minutes of data entry fly by, because you’re really getting the hang of it. The remaining seven hours and fifty minutes go a lot more slowly, because you glance at the clock after you finish every entry. Data entry is the white-collar equivalent of potato peeling.”

Recommended booksNerd Do Well by Simon Pegg and Bossypants by Tina Fey.
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The House of Silk by Anthony Horwitz


Author: Anthony Horwitz
TitleThe House of Silk by
Publication Info: New York : Mulholland Books, 2011.
ISBN: 9780316196994
Summary/Review: I’ve read all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about Sherlock Holmes and a fair sampling of Holmes’ adventures by other authors (many of which are as good or better than Conan Doyle’s weaker entries).  Horwitz’s novel is authorized by the Conan Doyle estate and is a worthy addition to the Holmes canon.  There’s a great fidelity to Conan Doyle’s style and settings while at the same time having a modern feel.  Anyhow, I don’t want to give anything away but this is a gripping novel and it’s enjoyable to see the mysteries unravel.

Recommended booksThe New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Martin Harry Greenberg, Sherlock Holmes and the Red Demon by Larry Millett, and A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin.
Rating: ****


Book Review: God After Darwin by John F. Haught

Author: John F. Haught
Title: God After Darwin
Publication Info: Boulder, Colo. : Westview Press, 2000.
ISBN: 0813367239
Summary/Review: This is a complicated book which I didn’t thoroughly comprehend so I may not be able to justice to it in a review.  Nevertheless, it tackles an issue near and dear to me that is how to reconcile the theory of evolution with belief in God.  I like the approach that puts aside the false dichotomy of science versus religion even if I don’t understand the science and biology behind it.  There’s definitely a core idea that faith should be challenged to be deeper by the truth of evolution rather than denying the science or creating something like intelligent design.  Definitely a work worth rereading.

Recommended booksQuarks, Chaos & Christianity: Questions to Science And Religion by John Polkinghorne and Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey by Jane Goodall.
Rating: **

Book Review: Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life by James Martin

Author: James Martin
TitleBetween Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life
Publication Info:
ISBN: 0062024264
Summary/Review: One of my favorite religious writers takes on the misconception that religious people must always be somber and serious.  Richly illustrated with examples from scripture, the lives of saints and holy people, and the author’s own life, Fr. Martin demonstrates the importance of joy and humor to the spiritual life.  The book runs a little long as he often overstates the point but it’s a good read with a nice selection of jokes as well.

Recommended books: In Pursuit of the Great White Rabbit: Reflections on a Practical Spirituality by Edward Hays and The Humor of Christ by Elton Trueblood
Rating: ***

Book Review: Doctor Who. Volume 1, Fugitive by Tony Lee, Al Davison, & Matthew Smith

Author:Tony Lee, Al Davison, & Matthew Smith
TitleDoctor Who. Volume 1, Fugitive
Publication Info: IDW Publishing (2010)
ISBN: 1600106072
Summary/Review: My Doctor Who obsession continues into graphic novels.  Here the Tenth Doctor enjoys an adventure in 1920s Hollywood, gains two new companions, and a new nemesis, The Advocate.  The comic format allows for a visual imagination that would not likely be convincing in a televised format but on the other hand the dialogue seems spare and simplistic.  Still, this is an enjoyable romp.

Rating: **1/2