Sunday, March 29, 2015

2015 Books Part II

Mental: Funny in the Head by Eddie Sarfaty - The author bounces along through funny episodes from his life, then he hits you with a poignant tale. Warning: Sarfaty is gay and there's some hot dude-on-dude action (in case that bothers you). 4 stars

The Urban Hermit by Sam MacDonald - This book wasn't what I expected. MacDonald isn't really a hermit, he just stops going to the bar. His diet is interesting but brutal. Overall the book has its moments, but it isn't great. 3 stars

Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong by Juliet Macur - As a former fan of pro cycling, I've read many books about Armstrong from the hagiographic to the accusatory (six from this book's Selected Bibliography plus at least two more). Cycle of Lies is exceptional. If you want to know the whole story from childhood to scandal, this is the book to read (though Macur doesn't get into the blow-by-blow of the now-tainted races). Moral of the story: If you are going to cheat, don't be a dick. Armstrong burned too many people who knew too much. 5 stars

Pornification by Andrew Benjamin - Twenty years ago, I was at a bar with a couple of female friends who loved the X-rated movie title Edward Penishands (I don't recall whether they actually saw the film). They challenged me to pornify some movie titles. I remember they said Pulp Fiction and I replied with Pump Friction. Pornification is that game in book form. It's funny sometimes but for the most part I could have written it myself a long time ago if I thought enough people would buy it (in fact, Pump Friction appears on page 37). Maybe it's worthwhile if you find it cheap like I did. 2 stars


Sunday, March 08, 2015

2015 Books Part I

Note: As in 2014, I am going to bundle these reviews in fours. Because the publisher gave me a free copy of Popology, I felt I should give it an entire post of its own. Consider that the fourth book of this post.

The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day by David J. Hand - This book has turned me into a bit (more) of a killjoy. Now when people tell me about some amazing coincidence, I just shrug and say it's no big deal. Also I love the four aces cover design: not only do playing cards figure prominently in probability, but the author's name is Hand4 stars

Little New York Bastard by M. Dylan Raskin - I think I bought this because I read a bitter, judgmental excerpt in the store and thought it was funny. Unfortunately, the whole book is like that, and it gets old. Plus he hates on Chicago a lot. 2 stars

Mr. America: How Muscular Millionaire Bernarr Macfadden Transformed the Nation Through Sex, Salad, and the Ultimate Starvation Diet by Mark Adams - I had never heard of Macfadden when I picked up this book. His life story is fascinating, and in it one can find the roots of so many popular health fads. 5 stars


Sunday, March 01, 2015

Popology: The Music of the Era in the Lives of Four Icons of the 1960s by Timothy English

Full disclosure: The publisher sent me a free copy of Popology because I reviewed a previous title by the author.

In Popology, English writes about the musical tastes of John F. Kennedy; Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy; and Thomas Merton. This is a great time for a book like this. Had it been written 20 years ago, we wouldn't be able to follow along by listening to these songs on the Internet.

The first chapter about JFK gets the book off to a slow start. He grew up with "American Songbook" tunes, so I couldn't relate. This chapter also exposes the book's biggest flaw: sloppy typographical errors. Composer Richard Rodgers, famous for co-writing songs for Broadway musicals with Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II, suffers the indignity of having his last name spelled three different ways!

The Martin Luther King, Jr. chapter is a little more interesting, getting into what most people consider "the music of the 1960s" (the era beginning with the Beatles' arrival in America a few months after JFK's assassination). I was not aware of Harry Belafonte's financial and strategic contributions to the civil rights movement, nor did I know that his Calypso was the first million-selling LP by an individual singer.

My favorite chapter, both musically and biographically, is about Bobby Kennedy. I didn't know a lot about him before, and now I can better understand how devastating his assassination was to many Americans.

I had never heard of Thomas Merton. Even my mom hadn't, and I would expect her to know a prominent 1960s Catholic. Frankly, Merton's inclusion seems a bit forced by the author. His story is interesting and includes 1960s music, but his fame and impact are not on the level of the Kennedys and MLK.

Overall, Popology is new way of looking at the music of the 1960s, and as such is a worthwhile read.

4 stars

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Bastard of the Day

Once again, newly minted Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner is the bastard of the day. In Wednesday's State of the State address, Rauner looked at our state's economic woes and said, "You know what's wrong with Illinois? Unions!" And then the bastard businessman dared to call his anti-union initiative "employee empowerment zones" as if the employees gain power from rejecting unions.

Let the race to the bottom begin!

Oh well, at least he didn't blame the Jews.

Friday, February 06, 2015

2014 Books Part XIX

Here is the 73rd and final book I read in 2014...

America, You Sexy Bitch: A Love Letter to Freedom by Michael Ian Black and Megan McCain - A liberal and a conservative embark on a cross-country road trip to talk with Americans. Black is just okay. McCain is more complicated, veering from naive and obnoxious to thoughtful and poignant. They meet a few entertaining characters, but there isn't much substance here. 2 stars

Saturday, January 31, 2015

2014 Books Part XVIII

Yes, I'm still wrapping up last year...

Belching Out the Devil: Global Adventures with Coca-Cola by Mark Thomas - A friend who knows how much I love drinking Coca-Cola told me not to read this book. In the end it didn't really change how I feel about the stuff. I'm just too cynical; I think all multinational corporations are bastards. 4 stars

Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones by Bill Janovitz - This book kicked off a month-long Stones obsession for me. Janovitz offers a musician's perspective on classic Stones songs and puts them into the context of the band's history. 5 stars

50 Licks: Myths and Stories from Half a Century of the Rolling Stones by Peter Fornatale with Bernard M. Corbett - Like Rocks Off, this book tells a chronological story of the band, but former DJ Fontanelle focuses more on tales than songs. 4 stars

Life by Keith Richards with James Fox - I have read a lot of rock memoirs, and Life is one of the very best. Richards has so many great stories, and some are augmented by remembrances from others. 5 stars


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Game Over

Spotted in an alley in Albany Park...

Monday, January 19, 2015


Went to ride my bike on the trainer today, and I had a flat tire! How did that happen?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bastard of the Day

Okay, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, I gave you 24 hours. Now the honeymoon is over. You are already a bastard:
“It’s been clear that there has been some inappropriate decisions, either it’s with appointments or re-classifying employees, what we’re going to do is across the board cancel all appointments, we are going to cancel all hires, cancel all, rescind all, the actions that the governor has taken since Nov. 1,” Rauner said during his first news conference since taking the oath of office Monday.
I hate to break it to you, Bruce, but you did not become governor when you won the election in November. You became governor yesterday. Former Governor Pat Quinn had every right to govern as he did during the intervening two months, and I'm sure you will govern similarly when your term ends (which can't come soon enough).

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 Books Part XVII

A Field Guide to Sprawl by Dolores Hayden - Definitions of common suburban/exurban sights/sites are illustrated by Jim Wark's aerial photographs. It's mildly interesting; I would have appreciated it more about 20 years ago (alas it was published only ten years ago). 3 stars

Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank: A Slightly Tarnished Southern Belle's Words of Wisdom by Celia Rivenbark - This is a decent collection of humorous essays about family life, celebrities, and southern culture. For a long time I thought her last name was Riverbank3 stars

Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong by Jen Yates - Here is yet another book based on a blog I haven't read. Yates makes snarky comments about cake decoration mistakes. 4 stars

Lab Fever: Living, Loving and Laughing with America's #1 Pet by Bruce Cochran - These single-frame cartoons provide a spot-on portrayal of life with a Labrador retriever. Funny stuff. 4 stars


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014 Books Part XVI

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut by Rob Sheffield - Love is a Mix Tape was a good, pop-culturally-oriented memoir, but it was clouded by impending doom. Sheffield's second book is lighter and easier to enjoy, especially for someone familiar with 1980s music. 4 stars

Kinky's Celebrity Files by Kinky Friedman - In this quick read, the legendary Friedman writes about famous friends and their pets. And there are pictures, too. 4 stars

The Conundrum: How Scientific Innovation, Increased Efficiency, and Good Intentions Can Make Our Energy and Climate Problems Worse by David Owen - Owen makes a convincing argument that we cannot solve the global warming problem with technology. Along the way, he dispenses with stupid eco-fads like the locavore movement.* 4 stars

The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah" by Alan Light - "Hallelujah" has taken on a life of its own. Light writes about songwriter Cohen, performer Buckley, and countless interpretations of the song by other artists. He also examines how this sort-of-religious song has become popular in an increasingly secular culture and how the emotions it evokes as a soundtrack have changed over the years. 5 stars

* The goal is to reduce energy use, but transportation is only a small portion of the energy cost of food. Therefore it is better to grow food in the most resource-efficient location rather than merely the closest. (Of course, some locavores may have other objectives, such as supporting the local economy.)


Sunday, November 30, 2014

2014 Books Part XV

Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self-Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation by Joe Queenan - I have enjoyed several of Queenan's books. Here he skewers my parents' (and his own) generation with the insight, humor, and broad vocabulary that I've come to expect. 4 stars

Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars by Paul Ingrassia - I don't think the subtitle fits the book very well, but the car stories are really interesting. 4 stars

Deadlift Dynamite: How to Master the King of All Strength Exercises by Andy Bolton and Pavel Tsatsouline - Like most Dragon Door publications, Deadlift Dynamite is beautifully produced and informative. It would have been more useful a few years ago when I was really into barbell deadlifting (now I mostly do DVRT sandbag training), and its target audience is competitors who take this stuff way more seriously than I do, but it's top-notch as far as weightlifting books go. 5 stars

Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us—And How to Know When Not to Trust Them by David H. Freedman - I got halfway through this book and realized it's similar to The Half-Life of Facts with a different perspective: instead of looking at how information "changes" over time, Freedman explains how much of it was never true in the first place. He also offers ways to sort the good from the bad, but after reading this I just find myself more skeptical of everything (which is saying something). 4 stars


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween Authenticity

I went down to the basement to fetch our candy bowl for Halloween:

Look what I found inside:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Early Voting

I would be first in line to vote early if it meant I wouldn't have to see any more damned political commercials or listen to the answering machine pick up another damned robocall.

Today during a TV show there was a commercial break where every single advertisement was for politicians, one after another. Please, somebody try to sell me auto insurance instead! For the first time in my life, I wished I could see a Massengill commercial.

Why, yes, Illinois politics does make me feel, you know, not-so-fresh.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

2014 Books Part XIV

Who's Better, Who's Best in Football? Setting the Record Straight on the Top 60 NFL Players of the Past 60 Years by Steve Silverman - Ranking the greatest football players is a fool's errand for many reasons, but Silverman's choices probably aren't any worse than anyone else's. I learned a few things from the four or five pages of biographical and statistical evidence he gives for each player. This book is a bit dated, but an update with 65 players of the past 65 years is coming out in early November (which I'm linking to below instead of the edition I read). 3 stars

Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike by Grant Peterson - Wow, this may be the best bicycling book I've ever read! American recreational bicycling has become unnecessarily complicated by companies drawing their primary inspiration from professional racing. Actually it's getting better; when I got back into riding in 2000 it was much worse. Anyway, Peterson cuts through a lot of the bullshit with great advice about everything bike-related. Had he written this 15 years ago, he could have saved me a lot of money. 5 stars

We Thought You Would Be Prettier: True Tales of the Dorkiest Girl Alive by Laurie Notaro - I didn't enjoy this quite as much as her first two books, but it's still mostly funny. 4 stars

Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song by Ted Anthony - I didn't expect an entire book about "House of the Rising Sun" to be so riveting. I love the idea of how Anthony became obsessed with one song and spent years tracking down recordings and interviewing performers. It's a great case study of how folk music evolves. 5 stars