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