Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, A Dream by H.G. Bissinger

Bissinger is a Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist and this book reflects the caliber of his journalistic writing skill. While I have always heard “Football is like a religion” in Texas, Friday Night Lights truly illuminates what that means to an outsider.

What I love about this book is that Bissinger paints the complete picture of Odessa, Texas; it’s history from founding to oil boom and subsequent collapse. Without this context, it is impossible to fully understand the mania surrounding Permian football and high school football for the entire state.

Bissinger shifts from narratives following  the stars of 1st team offense and defense and their personal stories to the state of the town and its struggles with socioeconomic separation, racism, and prioritization of education (both past and present). The result is an eye opening view of these people’a flaws yet at the same time instilling a sense of empathy for each player, parent, and townsman.

Let’s not forget the game itself. Bissinger earned the good fortune of not only attending each game but riding along and accessing the locker rooms with the team. He’s able to show the technical play by play for each game in the season while simultaneously revealing the emotional turbulence each kid goes through in anticipation, during, and as a result of any given game. This makes me fall harder for the sheer strategy and tactics of football while experiencing emotional attachment for players.

This is one of those books I regret having borrowed from the library as I could not underline and highlight the commentary that really stood out to me. I may consider buying a copy for myself to reread, highlight, and go back to reference.

The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip through Buck O’Neil’s America by Joe Posnanski

This has to start with my relationship with baseball. Baseball was not a household term and my first exposure to baseball came through elementary school. Every year, the school district awarded A’s tickets to kids with perfect attendance. There were also field trips to watch the A’s play. However, these were the days before they closed off the nosebleed nosebleeds at the Oakland stadium so my first impression of baseball consisted of this: a small field extremely far away where I could barely see any of the players or what was happening in an already slow game.

It wasn’t until years later post-college that I started playing softball with some friends from church during the summer that I started to appreciate the game. It wasn’t like I never played before then, but for some reason the intricacies of the game were just lost on me until then. Maybe it was my competitive spirit that helped me invest in the outcome. We played tournament style and who doesn’t want to win?

I started talking to my friend, lover of baseball about my newfound appreciation for the sport and he recommended this book to me. Of all the books he named, he said to start with this one.

Initially when I began reading, I couldn’t get into it. What drew me into the sport was the technical side of it… the analytics, the strategy. I learned the complexity of the game and the impact of each position and player. I was not prepared for the narratives from Buck O’Neil. However, as I read on, I learned from Buck what he was trying to teach everyone he encountered at his speaking engagements — the soul of baseball and the love of the game. Through this book, I realized that baseball is romantic. Baseball is nostalgic. Baseball is emotional. I never expected that… I thought of baseball Moneyball style, and now I can see the significance of breaking away from the traditional approach.

Buck O’Neil was a player in the Negro Leagues and much of his stories are about the great African American players before Jackie Robinson went to play for the Dodgers. The book very much provides a look at a segregated America, where players went hungry after traveling games because not a restaurant in town would serve colored folk. There are stories about eating stale sandwiches and crackers on the bus or being seated at a table in the kitchen, but still playing for the love of the game and enjoying every minute of it.

This book helped me reconcile my head and my heart when it comes to baseball, and I appreciate this sport that much more because of it.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders 

I finished this book in one big unexpected reading push this morning around 1am. I say unexpected because the first third of the book was a slog and I began wondering if I made the right decision in picking this book up.

All the Birds in the Sky is on a “best books of 2016” and so I thought I’d give it a go, deviate from my typical Pulitzer or Hugo award winning list. I finally came to terms with my finite life and the brutal honesty of never being able to read every and any book, so I really took a chance on this “unvetted” story.

About the time I considered shelving this under the abandoned bookshelf on Goodreads, I read a few book reviews in favor of Anders piece. They talked about how it was weird and intriguing. I clearly hadn’t gotten to that part yet, still slogging through this seemingly incohesive story of two adolescent youth.

Most of the time, I love stories about children, told in the perspective of children. It’s what I love about Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry. It’s what I love about Arudhati Roy’s God of Small Things. But for the first time, I found the story and perspective of these children irritating. Their struggles with being outcasts did not garner my sympathy. In fact, they seemed a little insufferable. 

Anders paints the world they grow up in some sort of pseudo future with rockets and 2second time machines presented as normal. But there are only bits and pieces of the outside world in the childhood narrative and I kept wondering what is the point? Finally, the turning point comes approximately 130 pages in and all I could think about after dinner was to get home to continue reading.

Grown up Patricia and Laurence are much more fascinating. Now I understand that Anders tried to show you the significance of their friendship as kids and how it creates an undying bond between them as adults. While all that is going on, Anders tries to break the sci-fi and fantasy mold by smashing them together and how better to do it than through a love story? I think Patricia and Laurence are to represent two sides of the same coin, despite the (very brief) conflict between the two “factions” of science vs. magic.

I appreciated the setting of San Francisco as I spent a few years living there. She captured the trends very well: organic, farm to table, vegan, hipster coffee joints, high end bakeries — and made fun of them as she should have. It’s in the depiction of the San Francisco world that made me feel she was injecting her beliefs into the book Ayn Rand style. You know, who is John Galt? I also found this Milton character to be a fictional adaptation of our very own Elon Musk. 

In the end, I found this book to be amusing. The blending of the science fiction and fantasy worlds provides balance and doesn’t allow a runaway in any direction. Ironically (or purposely?) that is the whole science vs. magic conflict within the plot as well. It is a very timely book and would be interesting to read later down the road to reminisce on where our culture was heading in 2016.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

This book is one of the few which I knew the plot twist before picking it up. I tried my best to selectively forget what my coworker once told me a long time ago during a discussion on zombies and zombie movies.
This friend revealed to me that yet another Hollywood movie secretly adapted itself from a book. Only they took extreme liberties on the storyline.

Despite knowing the twist ahead of time, I still enjoyed it. The writing allowed me to understand the struggle of solitude and loneliness Robert Neville struggled with. It also gave much color to his experience of loss, both with his daughter and his wife.

I feel as if the shock of coming in contact with another human being is very abrupt and everything that unfolds in his encounter with Ruth passes by in a frenzy. I love how the connection is about companionship, not about lust.

I greatly appreciate the alternating areas of focus as Neville tries to survive — first it is the daily practicals of housing upkeep, then the study of the bacteria, all while battling his inner demons of survival. The fact that he is constantly self medicating with liquor paints his picture of solitude and suffering more real.

These are interesting internal struggles to me as in many concerns with people on how they would react to the end of the world yielded an explicit acknowledgment they don’t have the will to live and would not put in the effort needed to continue on. Robert Neville is an excellent example of human persistence.

Now to my rant on the movie adaptation. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed watching the movie. I’m pretty sure I saw it in the theater with friends and I found the portrayal of “modified rabies to treat cancer” gone wrong so plausible that I dreamed hidden zombies underneath my bed that night. But that’s just it. Hollywood turned it into a zombie movie, but this book is a very clear vampire book. Will Smith plays this badass who is determined and collected. He doesn’t have the internal struggle that is so clearly what Matheson wanted to expose with this post apocalyptic setting.

I now work in the movie world, and still have a great appreciation for the art of film making. With the recent announcement of Oscar nominations, I’m excited to say I’ve watched many of the films up for the big prizes. It is so critical to have a good script because it is the heart of it all. It is glaringly painful when you don’t, and no amount of directing or producing can cover that up. However, books and films are not judged in the same criteria, thank God.

I don’t have an eloquent end to this post and my time on BART is coming to a close. Until next time. A Canticle for Leibowitz is still on its way, but that’s what you get for borrowing books from the library 😬

Ringworld by Larry Niven

Not bad for my first book of 2017. Funny thing was, I was meant to read this in a science fiction grad class and it seems I never quite got around to it. I loved it. It’s very classic science fiction– a great exploration story reminiscent of my experience reading Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke.

The focus is on the features of the discovery itself, Ringworld. There are some speculations of its origins but the pieces are slowly gathered as the exploration continues. It has the perfect balance of suspense and satisfaction in this way.

Niven does a great job of drawing the reader into the story that at some points, I forgot the delicately crafted backstory that led the motley crew onto Ringworld to begin with, the collapse of the Core. When it is mentioned in the last moments of the book, there is a perceptible “oh yeah!” that runs through my mind.

The one thing I don’t like is the development of the Teela Brown plot line. I think it’s fine that she is explained with the genetic breeding the puppeteers engage in for humanity, but really dislike the use of Teela Brown as some sort of Murphy’s law. The explanation that the entire exploration serves the purpose of her individual benefit seemed… anticlimactic. But now that I think about it, makes sense from a human condition standpoint. Humans do take actions in their own best interest the majority of the time. It is human nature. For Teela and her bred genetic “power,” she does so unconsciously. Imagine that! One could go down a rabbit hole with this particular idea.

I will inevitably want to read the entire series. I’ve already begun the search for book 2, Ringworld’s Engineers. I am sad that the county library does not carry it. Great way to start off my new reading year!

Stay tuned for my next review. I’ll be picking up A Canticle for Leibowitz 

The 100 by Kass Morgan

The 100 by Kass Morgan

I stumbled upon this Young Adult Science Fiction novel through Netflix. After binge-watching 2 seasons of the show, I decided to act on the line displayed during the introduction for each episode, “based on the novel by Kass Morgan.”

First I looked it up on the usual sites: Amazon then Barnes and Noble. The book is a trilogy and averages $8 each. Not so sure about the quality of writing, I hesitated to pull the trigger. I don’t even remember how the idea came to mind, but I ended up checking the library to see if they had it. Lo and behold, the first book was available. This series led me to rediscover the beauty that is the public library! After 10 years of being inactive, I finally got a new library card. How exciting is that??

I quickly re-learned the whole book check out process. If it’s not available in your local branch, you can request it and it will be transferred to your location for pickup at a later date. So convenient! You can also sign up for a waiting list for books or dvds that are currently checked out by other people. Through this process, I signed up for the rest of the trilogy.

I made my way home after the library trip on my lunch break the day before Thanksgiving. I finished work early and started reading. I didn’t stop until I finished. One book, one sitting, approximately 4 hours and some change.

I can’t really comment on this book without comparing it with the tv series because so much of the world this series belongs to is informed by what I initially saw.

For the most part, the characters are the same. The style is written kind of like Lost, where each person has their history and background story that the reader is exposed to through flashbacks and memories. The timeline constantly jumps from the present, on Earth, back to the space station.

The most notable thing about this and the series (I won’t make separate posts for each book) is that the characters stories are sometimes blended together for the tv show. I am increasingly fascinated with these editorial decisions (see post on Walking Dead where I also talk about this a bit) and am starting to appreciate some of these changes.

In The 100 there is a character named Glass who is in a relationship with Luke. This relationship addresses a social class issue as Glass is from the privileged social heirarchy and Luke is not. In the series, this storyline is merged with Clarke, and introduced with a new characters, Raven and Finn. The dynamic between Clarke, Raven, and Finn is some sort of amalgamation of multiple storylines. Oh yeah, and nowhere in the tv series is Bellamy a love interest of Clarke. They definitely show the struggle of trust between the two, but it is never romantic. I think this is as far as I’ll go comparing the books and the series. It becomes two difficult to show exactly how the plot and character dynamics have converged.

Let’s just say the show’s use of each characters’ storyline is much more intentional with a stronger narrative arc. The introduction of grounders and mountain men to create 3 distinct factions in the tv series is a bold and welcome move. This allows the treatment of politics in a new world to become a major driving force, as well as allow the examination of values in different cultures. This reminds me much of the effects of colonialism as well as Game Theory.

While the tv series is successful in portraying a transformation from mere teen adolescence into adulthood and true responsibility, the book series falls a little flat. Part of the reason I think this is the case is because it focuses too much on romantic relationships for my taste. Similar to Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, I kept thinking “why does snogging seem to be on everyone’s mind when the Dark Lord is about to attack!” In this way, it is very much young adult fiction and I completely understand why the story is written this way – the audience.

All in all, it was an entertaining read. I am glad I borrowed the books from the library because I wouldn’t go back to read them again. Interesting plot, but I am more eager to see how WB treats the fertile ground of characters and foundational storyline that Morgan created.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

Why did it take me over a year to finish? This is a book that requires substantial amounts of uninterrupted read time. The latter half of the book moved much more quickly for me, partially because I had more concentration and brain processing power available.

I love the discussion of rhetoric and the classics. It made me nostalgic for school and my studies and reminded me how much I love literature and the study of discourse; how the studies of history and philosophy are inexplicably (okay sometimes explainable) linked to the world of English.

I found his description of his time at the University of Chicago very surprising. I never had the experience of professors seeking to verbally spar and/or berate students in order to fulfill their own academic agenda. However, I might have been too young at the time and simply not have recognized it.

The style of writing in itself is something that you don’t run across every day. Pirsig blends the narrative of a cross country cycle trip with his inner thoughts or chautaquas concerning matters of reality, values, existence. The flashbacks to his time at University are initially a bit jarring and confusing. I found myself scrambling to put the pieces together to form the whole picture, but given one piece at a time it is hard to orient. I think part of that makes completing the book so satisfying.

I really enjoyed the afterword and the foreword. When I read the foreword before starting the book, it didn’t really make that much sense to me because I had no idea what he was referencing. I remembered him mentioning two adjustments and one had to do with Phaedrus. After finishing, I went back to read what he had to say and found a new appreciation for anniversary edition books on top of author’s notes. I am the type who used to skip the jumble in the front and dive straight into the piece. It’s curious how even the smallest of tendencies change over time and reveal a certain growth in personality and perspective.

In the afterword, Pirsig mentions that many people claim the ending to be a Hollywood ending: shocking, disconcerting. I would have to agree on the shock part. There is so little in between, no deeper dive into the dynamic between author and character, Chris, before his death. I think this section could have had more time allotted to its development to figure out what Pirsig actually wanted to say about Chris.

In the same note from the author, he talks about his book being a culture bearer and that it soared into popularity because of what society has been dealing with at the time – struggling against the idea of materialism as an indicator to success. I find this still to be the case with the rise of the millenials and the struggle this generation also has.

I would love to revisit this book again a few years down the line. There is so much I gathered from it, yet so much I missed at the same time. It’s so frustrating knowing this is the case, but not be able to point to what it is exactly.