Reading!

Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,440
75
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
There aren't many days left to my winter break (just today and tomorrow), so this might end up as my last read; if so, it's a good one. Mark Whitaker's Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance, describes some of the notable figures from the early- to late-20th century period in Pittsburgh. The musical and creative (Lena Horne, Billy Eckstine and Billy Strayhorn, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Erroll Garner, Sarah Vaughan, August Wilson, and more), the athletic (Joe Louis, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson, Guy Greenlee, and others), the journalistic (Robert L. and wife Jesse Vann, Teenie Harris, Ches Washington, Frank Bolden, PL Prattis, Bill Nunn, Wendell Smith, et al) get their narratives, along with famous locations around the Steel City; most of these I honestly knew little or nothing about (or, thought I knew).

[edit: 1/3] I looked for the short books on my shelf and chose Jenny McCarthy's Bad Habits. Bad choice. I found it smug, self-absorbed, exaggerated to the point of unbelievable (so I just took it as fictionalized for effect). So I got to ten books read over the winter break, and two for this new year up to now.

[edit: 1/7] I needed a laugh, even before the events of Jan. 6th (a.k.a. just yesterday), not only was Jerry Seinfeld's Is This Anything? a good choice, it was quite funny. He saved his jokes over his decades of stand-up, and this is divided by the '70s through the '10s, as well as by subject matter without those chapters. By the way, he's not a big Star Wars fan, apparently.

[edit: 1/10] I like to read (hmm...), I like history, and I have enjoyed my times in libraries since I was a youngling. So, Stuart Kells' book The Library sounded interesting. It was: tracing "books" back to clay tablets and scrolls, to codices (simple pre-books) and bound books, even up to digital copies. It even references the Jedi Archives and LOTR collections throughout Middle-earth. Some may find it boring or overly-detailed... but they'd be wrong!

[edit: 1/14] The sports aspect of the Smoketown book I just read before came up in Gaylon H. White's Singles and Smiles, about baseball player Artie Wilson. I knew nothing about the Negro League, minor league, and brief Major League infielder from the 1940s and '50s, so it was great to learn about him (he's known as the Giants player sent back to the minors when Willie Mays was called up) and those he played with and against. The writing style is fairly simple and a bit repetitive, but still interesting.
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,440
75
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
I had read this Native American name in a few of the books I had read of late. I learn more of what Indians (the usual term used in such books) endured and where subjected to over the many decades, and I am saddened of what I read. American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings, by Zitkala-Sa recounts some of her days as a young girl being taught the ways of European Americans and that her Native American ways were not right; it also includes some legends and folk tales, as well as some essays and poems she wrote in her life about her life.

[edit: 1/18] I had heard that a prequel to The Great Gatsby was coming this year (also the year that GG becomes public domain). Michael Farris Smith wrote Nick. I think he watched the 2013 Baz Luhrmann movie and based his plot on that, because this characterization of Nick Carraway is quite inconsistent with Fitzgerald's original creation. If you thought that the Victorian-type diction and style used to describe the selfish and greedy thoughts and actions of the Roaring Twenties was missing graphic violence, profanity, and purposeless wandering; this "book" is for you. It was bad.

[edit: 2/7] Politician Stacey Abrams wrote Our Time is Now to address the problems within her home state of Georgia, but also to use that experience to improve the social and governmental systems in the country. Straightforward and detailed, and quite relevant since it was published less than a year ago.
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,440
75
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
Wole Soyinka won the Nobel Prize in Literature in the 1980s, the first African writer to do so. His very, very detailed memoir You Must Set Forth at Dawn describes in minute detail (did I mention its details?) his difficulties with Nigerian coups and dictators. This took my over two months to finish (wonder if it had anything to do with its heavy details?).

[edit: 2/15] I will include all the names of the "authors" of The Deep here: Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, & Jonathan Snipes. Why? The writer worked with members of a musical group clipping. who wrote a song of the same title. What is it about? The descendants of slaves who were thrown overboard during the Middle Passage eventually become water-breathers who don't really remember their past, except for a Historian who regularly imparts these memories to the group at large. Fascinating concept, and well done for a short book.

[edit: 2/17] I didn't realize how big (and heavy) that Songteller book by Dolly Parton was! But, with 175 songs explained and photo-connected (she's written over 3000, including a "secret song" that is apparently locked in a box as part of a display at the Dollywood museum, to be released on her 100th birthday), it needs all that space. Very informative and enjoyable.

[edit: 2/26] I was first introduced to reading August Wilson's "Pittsburgh Cycle" of plays last year. This one, a Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner, The Piano Lesson, moved fast; I think the whole play takes place over 3 days or so. I did not expect the ending, even though all the clues were there. The piano in question is a family heirloom, and the decision what to do with it actually ends up totally different than what I thought would happen. Mace Windu was in the original performances, too. Very good.
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,440
75
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
On another site that logs reading totals, this book is shown as my 91st under the category "History/Science." I had heard of Charles C. Mann's 1491 as a key book about Native Americans (of the entire North-Central-South continent) prior to the Columbus expeditions. I learned that someone determined that Oct. 23, 4004 BCE was the official beginning of time on the earth, pottery can be used to help with soil composition, scientists and archeologists really do fight about facts as much as Indiana Jones gets into scrapes, and disease is really really bad no matter what century you're living in. Its style was almost conversational, which isn't common for a textbook-type book. I liked it, and it wasn't too laborious or dull to read through, even if it took some time.

[edit: 3/17] A short YA-level biography book by Kate Schatz & Miriam Klein Stahl, Rad Girls Can, informed me of several people (under age 20) who have done impressive things as young people. While they all were girls, many of them continued their accomplishments as adults (some were "famous" people, but often they are still young or are still participating in their fields).
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,440
75
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
I've read a few of Carrie Fisher's books, most of them non-fiction, but her "big" fictional one, Postcards from the Edge, was only on my to-read list (LISTS... drool) and not my have-read list (NO more drooling!). This one started out rough (pretty specific descriptions of being in a drug rehab hospital or about characters doing those things that get them put into one), but it turned into a good character sketch of their Hollywood-adjacent lives. Her puns and word-play are always fun to read.

[edit: 3/21] Dave Thompson's Bad Reputation: The Unauthorized Biography of Joan Jett taught me much that I did not know about her as a solo artist and with the Runaways and Blackhearts (as well as Evil Stig and the Germs). But I found that the author tried too hard to become part of the story and less of a historian of her career.

[edit: 3/25] Susan Straight's Take One Candle Light a Room was quite good. Set in 2005 (specifically in August), I didn't notice that the characters were all heading from CA to the New Orleans area. But once I did, all the loose ends in the story took on other meanings. The author is a writing professor from UC Riverside, so I might sometime get to meet her in the various activities I am part of at that university.

[edit: 3/27] Watching the NCAA basketball tournament these past weeks, I sought out a book about the women's game and found Shattering the Glass by Pamela Grundy and Susan Shakelford. This traced the history of not just college but organized women's (and girls, in high schools) basketball in the US over more than a century. I did not realize that women's basketball had the court in three parts at one time, where players were confined to those areas and only one player could move between those areas. It was published in 2005, so it is missing some from the past 15+ years, but it was still very informative.

[edit: 3/28] This will probably be the final spring break book (since today is Sunday and tomorrow is return-to-work day). After her recent fortnight as guest host of Jeopardy!, Katie Couric's The Best Advice I Ever Got was an easy read, made up of dozens of notable people offering their advice and experiences in life. Divided into about ten thematic sections, the variety of people was interesting (and several have fallen victim to "cancel culture" for their own behaviors) and since many were from commencement speeches, they were intended to be inspiring.
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,440
75
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
I started this yesterday, but couldn't quite finish it in time to count it as a spring break read. Dear Justyce by Nic Stone is her sequel to Dear Martin, about an African-American student whose challenges with society and the justice (see what she did there?) system show the problems with it as a whole. This book, focused on Justyce’s friend Quan, is more from the inside of the prison system, with Quan writing letters to his friend about what’s happening with and to him there. A reader would wonder if the book’s to be close to reality that this story shouldn’t end well, but in a somewhat-spoiler, Quan gets a chance and gets free (which was the point Stone explains in the Note at the end: care and listen and help so that these situations don’t keep repeating themselves). It is both different and similar to the first book; stronger characters here but the plot and dialogue weren’t as good (but overall still a good read).

[edit: 4/3/21] I should've found a biography of Peter Schilling or the group Europe, for today's "countdown" date, but instead I finished Geoff Edgers' Walk This Way, a chronicle of the Aerosmith/Run-DMC collaboration hit song. It's a bit informative and a bit sensationalistic, but overall I learned about both groups and their management and fellow musicians. Hard to believe it's been 35 years since it was recorded.

[edit: 4/8] Yet another Daily Show guest who wrote a strong and topical book: Heather McGhee's The Sum of Us has the main point of diversity being a strength, and how certain institutional policies have actually harmed Americans of all groups. Her motifs of the filled-in swimming pool hurting entire cities, dirty air from pollution not staying in one place, and the Solidarity Dividend that benefits so many and not just "some of us" (as she writes in the last part) are strong cases for coming together instead of separating. Frequent financial costs throughout it, too.
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,440
75
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
I can't recall, maybe from a local newspaper columnist, where I first heard about The Library Book, by Susan Orlean. I thought it was just a chronicle of the Los Angeles central library fire in 1986 (another 35-years-ago story), and the person most-blamed for its start. But it's so much more: the history of the variety of librarians of the system, the value of books and libraries overall through the years, her own love of reading, etc. A wonderful read, and a great resource of future to-read book titles.