Monday, December 20, 2010

Bryant's bio of Henry Aaron a HOF entry

Book 105: Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva

The mystery behind a series of arsons in a poor neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island, takes a back seat to author Bruce DeSilva's insider's portrayal of the newspaper business. DeSilva is a retired journalist and Associated Press writing coach and Rogue Island provides a vehicle for him to take some fond parting shots at his erstwhile profession.

Rogue Island is an entertaining first book, although it doesn't rise to the level of more established writers in the genre. We do learn that Rogue Island is an early name for Rhode Island. After completing the book, my only question is, "Is Rhode Island really that corrupt?" Anyone know?

Book 106: The Last Hero, A Life of Henry Aaron by Howard Bryant

Howard Bryant's biography of Braves slugger Henry Aaron transcends the sports genre. Yes, there's plenty of baseball here and Bryant demonstrates the validity of the truism that "baseball writes." And, yes, it's a well-researched, impeccably told life of the Alabama man who rose to the greatest heights attainable within the sport of baseball.

The book is a huge success solely on those levels -- baseball and biography. But is does author and subject, Bryant and Aaron, a mighty disservice not to embrace the book on one final level; one rarely achieved in sports biography -- sociological perspective.

Bryant's gift is that he sets Aaron's contributions and career -- as athlete and man -- against the social and cultural changes that enveloped Aaron, and America, from the time he left Mobile, determined to become a professional baseball player, to his surpassing Babe Ruth's all-time home run record.

Aaron is a man of great pride and dignity. Bryant's book is a fitting tribute to those qualities as well as to one of the finest players the game of baseball has ever seen. Aaron no longer holds the all-time home run record, giving way to Barry Bonds, but as one observer, quoted by Bryant, notes, he remains "the standard-bearer."

Book 107: The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

The Finkler Question, 2010 winner of the prestigious Booker Prize, is a dreary comic novel on what it means to be a Jew.

I guess. Honestly, I didn't take much away from this novel, but I do have a recommendation: read something else.

Book 108: So Much For That by Lionel Shriver

It's Freedom without Franzen.

So Much For That -- short-listed for the National Book Award for fiction -- is an extended rant on all that's wrong with America's health care system. Characters are confronted with an especialy virulent form of cancer, a rare disease that inflicts only Jews, a drug resistant infection raging through a nursing home and an ill-chosen vanity surgery that goes terribly wrong.

Somehow author Lionel Shriver wrests a happy, yet depressingly bogus, ending from this unrelentingly bleak portrait of modern America.

Book 109: Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear

Hull Zero Three, the newest novel from the prolific Greg Bear, goes far to establishing Bear as a Science Fiction Grandmaster in the classic mold of Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke.

As with many books in the genre, when the novel opens both narrator and reader are confronted with more questions than answers. It takes almost the entire novel to answer most of those questions and that's fine because it's an intriguing, thrilling journey.

Without serving up a spoiler, the narrator, who we come to know as Teacher, is on a massive spaceship. The destination is unknown, but it's clear that something has gone horribly wrong and that war has broken out on board. The reader is step-for-step with Bear's curious cast of characters as they manage to stay alive along enough to unravel the puzzle and set things right.

Ultimately, Bear makes it clear that in whatever shape it takes, humanity -- in the fullest meaning of the word -- can survive amid the cold depths of the stars.

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