November 23rd 2010
Yes, the Dreaded Holiday Season is upon us, its fanfare accompanied now by dozens of daily emails offering me Black Friday deals RIGHT NOW. Does that make today Black Tuesday? What am I, shopped liver? And what of you, our dear Valued Customer? Fear not – since a good book is in fact a primo present that you can open again and again, as well as a gift in and of itself on any number of levels, we can skip the shameless commerce and commence with the lowdown on what your beloved family members really want this year. In a book.
So, first off let me say that I’m not sure Freedom would be one of them. It’s certainly interesting and worth reading, but in the end I didn’t buy the third guy in the triangle. Plus there’s a plot shock towards the end that just felt like Franzen wanted to push an ending…”ok folks, closing time, let’s get ready to wrap it up”. He still writes wonderful prose, though, and delivers plenty of insightful commentary on modern American life. In terms of fictional chops, I think B. Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist was a richer and more accomplished novel.
But maybe I’m getting burned out on fiction. I used to have a regular habit of reading nonfiction in the morning and fiction at night, but over the years it seems to have shifted to mostly one or the other at any given time. I tried Nathaniel Philbrick’s The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn a few months ago and got surprisingly engrossed. I certainly can’t imagine how you could write a much more detailed account of the actual battle, but there’s also much good analysis of the two cultures and the two men they produced. Then I went to Africa and read Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost, an absolutely horrific/fascinating account of colonial exploitation in the Belgian Congo around the turn of the 20th century. Now I’m about halfway through David Halberstam’s Playing For Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made, and enjoying it immensely despite our author’s hagiographic devotion to his subject. Actually I feel for him (Halberstam) – he’s already written one excellent book on pro basketball (The Breaks of the Game, about Portland’s NBA championship season in 1978-79, a book that I rank as #2 on the Best Basketball list behind only Bob Ryan and Terry Pluto’s 48 Minutes) and is clearly a fan as well as a superb writer – how could you NOT fall on your knees in the presence of the Living God? BTW, his The Best and the Brightest is easily a top five on my Best Vietnam list, and his social history of the U.S. in the 1950’s is also a must-read for anyone interested in the topic. Great range as a writer, and consistently captivating.