Monday, September 06, 2010

Tinkers, It's A Book, Bad Boy and more

Book 74: Tinkers by Paul Harding

It's unfortunate for Paul Harding that his first book, Tinkers, won the Pulitzer Prize. Unfortunate because this is a deeply flawed book and the acclaim that Harding now enjoys is likely to obscure that fact.

Tinkers is one of those books where the writing -- or over-writing in this instance -- gets in the way of a terrific story. The writing is certain to have impressed the Pulitzer judges, but not a reader seeking a pure and uncluttered narrative.

It is difficult, at times, to understand what Harding is writing about or to reconcile the narrative voice with the characters he has fashioned and whose stories seems compelling if we could only get at it.

Book 75: Composed by Rosanne Cash

I've been a fan of Johnny Cash for as long as I can remember, but I never paid any attention to the recordings of his daughter Rosanne. Then a friend recommend The List, her superb album that's built around a list of songs her father said every singer-songwriter should know.

The List led me to Composed, the newly released memoir by Cash. The memoir is a pleasant surprise. It's as readable and compelling as her recordings.

One caution: Johnny Cash, musical icon, is here in these pages, but he is generally superseded by Johnny Cash, Rosanne's Daddy, and that's as it should be. Part of the reason this book succeeds is that it is Rosanne's story, not "Johnny Cash as I knew him."

Rosanne Cash will never enjoy the musical stature obtained by her father -- few will -- but her journey through life, and her efforts to define herself as an artist, make Composed something far better, more rich and rewarding, than the standard celebrity bio.

Book 76: Lyndon B. Johnson by Charles Peters

I've long been an admirer of the long-running American Presidents Series by Times Books. This entry, by Charles Peters, is among the best.

Peters has a writing style that is inviting and he offers a incisive portrait of LBJ as a flawed man who is likely to rank in the second tier of Presidents. Below Lincoln, Washington and FDR, but alongside Jefferson, Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt.

It's a fair assessment. Johnson could be petty and cruel. His insecurities helped mire this nation in an unnecessary war in Vietnam. Yet, as Peters notes, LBJ's legislative record is one only FDR can match. Peter's cites two examples and they will serve here as well: Medicare and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Johnson is the subject of fine, multi-book biographies by Robert Caro and Robert Dallek. If you're looking for something shorter, that nicely captures life and presidency of Johnson, this is the book.

Book 77: Bad Boy by Peter Robinson

A former neighbor, needing advice, comes looking for Chief Inspector Alan Banks. But Banks is on vacation, thus setting off a comedy of errors by the police that quickly turns deadly.

Banks' daughter Tracy and DI Annie Cabbot are caught up in the aftermath of a police operation gone wrong. Banks returns from his holiday to the states to find his daughter missing and Cabbot in the hospital fighting for her life.

The merits of a long-running series with well-established characters are apparent in this gripping and delightful thriller. I can't say that Robinson's outdone himself with Bad Boy. I can say that he's done it again.

Book 78: It's a Book by Lane Smith

I like children's books and I especially like the work of author/illustrator Lane Smith.

For readers and book lovers, Smith's newest book is an absolute delight. It features a mouse, a jackass and a gorilla. Gorilla is reading a book and jackass simply can't understand how it works.

Can it text? Tweet? Wi-fi? Nope. Nada. And no.

The final page . . . well, it contains a line I'll be using for a long, long time.

Book 79: Cardboard Gods by Josh Wilker

This is not, as I originally thought, a book about collecting baseball cards. It is a memoir with an interesting conceit. Wilker selects a single baseball card, writes about what he sees in that card or what it meant to him and what was going on in his life when he obtained the card.

Eddie Murray represents not merely promise, but promise realized. Ron Guidry, who pitched so well for the hated (by Wilker) New York Yankees, is the sum of the fears that runs through Wilker's adolescent life, and so on.

It works, mostly. Better than I had initially thought. Still, its an odd book. Not quite baseball, not fully memoir, but some odd blend of the two. Wilker drifts through life and his embrace of loserdom is so complete and unquestioning that his attitude becomes a drag on the book as it was on his life.

Yet the fact that we have this book and that Wilker marries in its final pages demonstrates that, like Eddie Murray, he has realized his early promise.

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