Saturday, November 7, 2009

Some good reads

Some recommendations from my recent collection for anyone looking for a good book, from the library or bookstore (love libraries, but authors do appreciate royalties...)

I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-up Comedy's Golden Era
By William Knoedelseder

A pretty fascinating look at the standup comedy scene in the 1970s. These were the years when Jay Leno, David Letterman, Robin Williams and Richard Lewis became famous and standup comedy exploded in popularity in the country. Those four and many other comedians are profiled. Knoedelseder superbly highlights how the stars of that era became famous. Many of them came from nearly nothing, moving to LA and New York with no money but plenty of dreams. Oh, and lots of drugs. I liked the first half of the book more, as it describes the comedians' rise to glory. The second half focuses on their fight with the famed Comedy Store, which Mitzi Shore operated. (Shore? Yes, she's Pauly Shore's mother.) The comedians actually became strikers, boycotting the Comedy Store because Shore didn't pay them. The most tragic figure in the book is a guy named Steve Lubetkin, a comedian I had never heard of until reading the book. Lubetkin and Lewis were best friends and he was an early mentor to Lewis, who went on to fame while Lubetkin struggled. Lubetkin eventually committed suicide, near the height of the fight between the comedians and Shore, by jumping off a building near the Comedy Store.

Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America
By Rick Perlstein
For history fans. And weightlifters, as at 896 pages, this book can easily double as a dumbbell. Perlstein wanted to know how America shifted from overwhelmingly electing Lyndon Johnson in 1964 to, just eight years later, having an election where Richard Nixon won a lopsided decision. He shows how Nixon created a division in America that pretty much persists today, and how that helped him win narrowly in 1968 and by a large margin in 1972. What struck me while reading it, though, was how much tamer our modern political system really is, and how much more...sane America is today. That seems surprising, considering how much turmoil there is in the country. But when you read about the riots that killed hundreds, when you read about the evil and casual racism at some of the highest levels of government, when you read about the assassinations of beloved leaders, when you read the amazing rhetoric that makes today's flamethrowers look tame, it becomes clear that the country has come a long way, even if it sometimes doesn't feel like it.

The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy
By Bill Simmons
For NBA fans. And, again, for weightlifters, as this one clocks in at a robust 700 pages. Every time I go to the bookstore in February and March, I'm always stunned at how many new baseball books have been published, seemingly dozens. Every October and November, I'm always stunned by how few new basketball books have been published. So maybe the success of this book - it reached No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller List - will spur publishers to come out with more basketball books and NBA titles. That probably won't happen since they would likely attribute the success to Simmons's popularity as an espn.com columnist and not to a new wave of book-reading hoops heads. As a writer who hopes to publish a basketball book someday, I can at least hope.

The book thoroughly dissects the history of the NBA and Simmons lists his top 96 players of all time. As a Lakers fan, I was fully expecting Simmons to list Larry Bird and Bill Russell as the top two players ever, with the order depending on his mood for that day. However, he actually has Magic and Kareem ahead of Bird, and Jordan at No. 1, with Russell coming in second.

Still, there are plenty of Celtics-centric chapters from the Boston Sports Guy, which is to be expected considering the success of the franchise since the NBA's inception. But all NBA fans - and all basketball fans - will enjoy the book, even if they loathe all things green. The sections I appreciated most dealt with players from the 1960s and 1970s, guys who have sort of been lost in the history shuffle after the explosion of the NBA's popularity in the 1980s. I disagreed with several of the arguments in the book and I found some minor factual errors. But I read all 700 pages in less than a week and I'll probably pick it up and read it again in three or four months. That's partly because I'm an NBA junkie, but also because it's an entertaining read.

1 comment:

Morgan said...

Hi, Shawn! I'll have to check out some of these books. Hope you are doing well and I hope that you don't have to be a "morning person" too often.... :o) Here's to sleeping in!!