Reading!

Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,472
77
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
16,472
77
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
16,472
77
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
16,472
77
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
16,472
77
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
16,472
77
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
16,472
77
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.
 

Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,472
77
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
A colleague of mine, Romaine Washington, has written two books of poetry: Sirens in Her Belly and Purgatory Has an Address. They are semi-thematic (without labeling those themes, but they are fairly easy to determine), very personal, but also universal. The artwork is stunning, too. Very good.

[edit: 4/25] I have enjoyed everything I have read, seen, and heard that Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has been part of or created. The Black Church is a history of how religion has impacted African Americans over the years; it was still quite good, but somehow lacked his voice. The details, interviews, and chronologies were informative and well-researched; but this came off as just historical and a bit dry at times. I appreciate the knowledge and the people mentioned.

[edit: 5/15] Bark vs. Snark, the next (maybe last?) book in the "Queenie and Arthur" YA series by Spencer Quinn was alright. Queenie the cat (remember, these books are co-narrated by the animals) wins a county fair beauty contest and gets stolen, while Arthur the dog wins the frisbee contest there and eventually becomes a sheriff's "deputy." And there are clowns and divorced people. Not as funny as some of his other books, but still okay.

[edit: 5/20] I didn't know that Rudolfo Anaya wrote a "New Mexico" trilogy; I had read Bless Me, Ultima before and enjoyed it (Heart of Aztlan is the middle book; I haven't read it yet). Tortuga is semi-autobiographical, about his spinal injury as a youth. This story is about "Tortuga" (Spanish for turtle), a recovering patient in a half-body cast (from the waist up) and the other young people dealing with their medical conditions (polio, accidents, etc.). Some shocking parts and quite a bit of pity and anger at why they are suffering and who caused it. This will be my last pre-summer reading book; can't wait to get started.
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,472
77
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
Summer reading is ON! Over the years, there have been a few motifs I have maintained in my summer (and even out of summer) books: a non-SW book by a Star Wars author, either a romance or horror book (two genres I generally do not like), only one book by a "last name Martin" author I've not read from before and won't read from again, some travel book (often narrative or fiction in style, rather than just about some place), and something about a recently-deceased notable person.
This first book meets that last category: Cloris by Cloris Leachman & George Englund. I did not realize just how involved in "the business" she was: her husband (the co-author) was a producer/director who worked with John Williams, Marlon Brando, and more; she was either neighbors or friends and close colleagues with K. Hepburn, J. Garland, the Kennedy's, B. Meredith, S. McQueen, and many more names-dropped in this autobiography. I didn't know she was 3rd runner-up in Miss America, took a marksmanship course, was a winning pianist. The book was okay, mostly a stream of consciousness recollection speaking to the reader, with a LOT of names dropped; but very impressive career.

[edit: 5/25] With this being Asian American Pacific Islander Month and not knowing much about Korean culture to be honest, I found a book mentioning both aspects: Maurene Goo's Somewhere Only We Know. It is told in alternating chapters between K-Pop singer Lucky (not her real name, and she is feeling overwhelmed by that persona and the business aspects of the entertainment world) and Jack (a not-sure-what-I-want-to-do part-time paparazzo who meets her unexpectedly). It's a YA romance book, too (cross that genre off the list for the summer), and while it's fairly predictable and some groan-worthy dialogue (it's good they both are attractive), it was actually pretty decent. I also learned a fair amount of Korean terms (well, I read them; not sure if I'll remember them) and Hong Kong geography and culture, plus a little pop culture references I hadn't heard before. Pleasantly surprising; might even be the "best" romance book I've read (which isn't saying much).

[edit: 5/27] A&E's Biography documentaries on pro wrestling have been fascinating to watch this year, and seeing one person interviewed on them who was listed as an author made me seek out a wrestling book by him. David Shoemaker's The Squared Circle is the kind of history chronicle that is both easy to read and informative (not all writers can get a good mix of both). By the Epilogue, he mentions that any wrestlers featured in a separate chapter had all died; that explains the book's subtitle: "Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling." I will say that I am not a wresting fan (only a brief interest in the 1980s when it crossed over into cartoons, music videos, or movies), but the in-ring and "real life" stories were interesting.

I didn't realize just how short R.L. Stine's It Came From Ohio! was (a super-fast read). I have never read a Stine book (Goosebumps or Fear Street series), and this "My Life as a Writer" subtitle (along with the Buckeye State in the title) made it a good start. He is funny and loves word-play humor; this book is for younger readers (not really even YA level) but in some ways that makes it funnier. He describes his life and influences and how he became a writer. I found out he wrote some Indiana Jones Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books; I might seek one (all?) of them out, or try one of his kids horror books.

[edit: 5/29] Another book for AAPI Month, Mae Respicio's The House That Lou Built starred a Filipino girl Lucinda who is skilled in hands-on abilities like construction. Her father died early in her life (she has no memories of him) but she inherited some land and materials for a house. She tries building a tiny house on that property, but legal issues and other challenges make this a difficult endeavor. Family togetherness, Filipino culture (I remember the bamboo dancing from Boy Scouts, myself), and friendship's importance are themes throughout the author's first novel. And, Lou is a wearer of Converse shoes! A nice YA book, with chapter titles that usually were phrases used in that chapter.
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,472
77
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
Broke the 2000-page barrier with this fantasy book by Native American author Rebecca Roanhorse (who wrote Resistance Reborn, a lead-in to TROS). Now, if you knew a SW author wrote a book titled Black Sun with a location called the Maw, has a character named Oshi, and a race of people called the Teek, you might assume it was IN the Star Wars universe. Nope; set in a pre-Columbian-esque America, with four main clans with creature representatives (crows, water striders, eagles and serpents [I think; they don't get featured much]), a prophesy about someone who will make one clan the strongest and the schemes between and within the clans, are all supposed to come to a head on an eclipse on a solstice. Bits of LOTR: Two Towers, the Dark Crystal, a little of Princess Bride and the four houses of Harry Potter. This was quite good and smooth reading.

[edit: 6/3] Well, here's my "Martin" author: Russell Martin's Beethoven’s Hair, which "solves" a mystery I didn't even know existed. A locket of the famous composer's hair, taken from a contemporary musician when Beethoven died, is tracked through its owners over the decades. I did learn that the city of Gilleleje in Denmark was one where the citizens during WWII tried to help Jews to escape the horrors of Nazi persecution, and that someone gave the locket to a townsperson in 1943. Overall, the book was okay.

[edit: 6/5] Chuck Noll: His Life's Work, is a biography of the Hall of Fame NFL coach by Michael MacCambridge. I did not know much about the man prior to becoming the head coach of the Steelers; I learned quite a lot from this. Nice to see that sports figures are very much like icebergs: the surface that the public sees is only a tip of what they did, do, and think about. So sad to read about his Alzheimer's condition at the end, and that his family tried to keep it hidden so they missed out on possible support and help for him and themselves.

[edit: 6/6] I needed something light, maybe even funny. Considering there were a few times I LOL'd for reals, Springfield Confidential by Simpsons writer Mike Reiss (and Mathew Klickstein) was just the book. I reveals some behind-the-scenes information, lots of jokes (which often were humorous) and shots taken (mostly in jest), and interesting history of the show's development and off-shoots (I'd forgotten about The Critic being on ABC first). That makes 10 summer books and over 3K pages read up to this point.
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,472
77
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
I figured this month was appropriate to read Ralph Ellison's Juneteenth. Similar to his famous novel Invisible Man, this one deals with how people fit into society as well as discovering their own individual identities (but since he died before it was finished, it had to be compiled and edited by others). I compare it to a mixture of All the King's Men, As I Lay Dying, plus a little of Mules and Men, and based on the Notes part at the end, Things Fall Apart. A senator gets shot while giving a speech in Washington D.C. and then flashes back to events throughout his life while he lays in the hospital bed (a mentor from his days as a young preacher in the South stays in the room with him, occasionally speaking with him); often tough to follow and 4-page-long paragraphs aren't easy to read (especially the italicized memories or dreams) but still a decent story.

[edit: 6/10] I had seen Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner on some top-10 and must-read lists recently. She was interviewed on The Daily Show as the musician Japanese Breakfast, as well as the author of this memoir. Her mother passed away from cancer, and this traces their relationship and dealing with the illness, using Korean foods and culture as a bonding motif. It's honest and heartbreaking to read about what happens, but there's a sense of entitlement and self-centeredness that the reader can easily dismiss considering the situation. Very detailed memories and observations. p.s. This is my 1600th book read all-time.

[edit: 6/12] One of the best fiction books I've read in some time, Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson (and surprisingly funny at times). The story is set in "current times" (it was published in 2012) in a country and city in the Middle East (never named, but the map places it along the Persian Gulf) and stars a "hacktivist" (a term I'd not heard of before) young man who goes by the handle Alif (similar to the first letter in the Arabic alphabet). He gets in trouble with the censorship group when a program he creates leads to more issues online. As he escapes, he meets up with IRL friends, as well as those online, and jinn creatures who both help and hinder his efforts. The map, glossary, and descriptions of types of jinn were frequently turned to while I read; the interview at the end mentioned she began writing the novel prior to the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 and so that didn't influence the plot.

[edit: 6/13] In honor of Paddington 2 becoming the greatest film ever (so ranks Rotten Tomatoes), I found a copy of a story I hadn't yet read: Paddington Races Ahead. Michael Bond passed away (quick Internet check: 2017), but his estate is still publishing books about his famous bear. This one has Paddington taken for an Olympic runner (and filmed for a "documentary"), using oysters to ride the bus, in food and cleaning mishaps. Best part: we learn the origin of the Home for Retired Bears in Lima, Peru. When the world gets you down, just read some Paddington Brown!
 
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