Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Falling From Grace -- Terry Pluto --------- 2.5 Stars

It's a bit bizarre to read a book 15 years after it was meant to be read but that's what happened to me after recently finishing Terry Pluto's Falling From Grace. At some point a couple of weeks ago, I was out of books, didn't want to head to the library and needed something to read. I checked my bookshelf assuming I had read all the books and found Falling From Grace. I've had this book for probably 15 years and assumed I read it but realized after the first few pages I had not... thus began a pretty weird experience.

A little background: the book was written in 1995 and was timely, in that most of the ideas, statistics and points made were based on very recent events. This is quite weird to read about 15 years later. Unlike some history books about events (sports, people, countries), this book was not for future digestion; rather, it was composed to be read and discussed in a very small time frame after it was completed. Thus leading to the oddity that was reading the book in 2010.

The basic premise is that the NBA circa 1995 is falling apart and all the wonderful things about it (created by Magic, Larry, MJ, etc.) are going down hill. Pluto, the definition of a curmudgeon I believe, interviews a bunch of 'old school' NBA guys and delves into the litany of problems in the NBA today (remember, 'today' is 1995).

In general, it was actually a fairly interesting book though I don't love his writing style as it's far too casual for me. What was most cool was seeing how his predictions and theories about the future were actually mostly correct. He warns about a league that will be too player centric, scoring focused and less about good fundamental basketball. For the most part, I would argue that Pluto was right on the money for nearly everything he writes. The downfall of the NBA from a 'team sports' perspective is pretty obvious.

In many ways it was kind of an interesting experience reading a book so specific in scope and time so many years later. I don't think it was the most well written book and he drags on very often and in some cases whole chapters are just straight quotes from interviews. Some of his anecdotes and stories about player behavior are pretty interesting and made the book more enjoyable.

I can't say I would recommend this book for most readers, but if you happen to have a supreme interest in the NBA and would like to read a manifesto outlining the major current problems in professional basketball 15 years prior to their occurrence, this book is for you.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Home Game -- Michael Lewis ---------------- 1.5 Stars

As some of you may know, I am pregnant. Well, I guess if you want to get technical about it, my wife is pregnant. I am going to be a father in a few months, and in the continuing effort to learn as much possible about the new addition, I have been educating myself about being a dad/having a child. Most of the books tend to be the very information yet incredibly boring baby books about pregnancy, giving birth, the first year, etc. Nothing I read in full nor want to review. So, I was quite excited when my wife recently gave me Michael Lewis' new book Home Game.

As you can tell from my 1.5 rating, I did not enjoy this book. This means one of three things: either I am going to hate being a father, this book sucks or Lewis is a fairly terrible dad (or perhaps a combination of the second two).

Let me explain. The book is basically this guys diary of clever and interesting (or so he thinks) anecdotes about the birth/early years of his three children. Now, I can't judge since I have never experience fatherhood before, but he makes being a dad sound awful. I mean, really not fun at all. Now, perhaps I'm all doe eyed and excited because my child is not here yet but this guy makes it sound like you are in a perpetual state of no sleep and no enjoyment, constantly worried and always looking to get away. At one point, he felt that the idea of killing a child really isn't that bad (I think he was joking).

Anyway, that's the major reason I didn't like this book. Second, the stories really aren't that entertaining or funny. In fact, his humor style I find most similar to Dave Barry (that's not a good thing). I love Lewis' other books -- Moneyball and Liar's Poker. He really should stick with stuff like that.

I guess the book wasn't all awful. It was short and easy to read. Occasionally it would be humorous, though nearly always it was when one of his young girls curses. That's about it.

In the end, it mostly left me confused. I was assuming there would be some great message or idea at the end, but I think it was literally his last diary entry. After listening to him rip on the idea of being a father for 200 pages, I was expecting a bit more of a happy ending. So, my confusion exists not knowing if this is what real fatherhood is and everyone else is sort of lying or if this guy is just painting a picture of being a fairly pathetic and unhappy father. I guess in time I will find out. Until then, I will err on the optimistic side and assume being father will be awesome and this guy should stick to writing about baseball and Wall Street.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Power of One – Bryce Courtenay ------ 4 STARS

I usually like to start each blog with some interesting anecdote, piece of information or exciting idea that captures the readers attention... I have nothing like that for this post. Bryce Courtenay's The Power of One was a very, very well written book with a great plot, amazing characters and a very nice overall moral and story. Unfortunately, there was nothing mind blowing or unbelievably exciting to report so I'll keep this review fairly short.

The book is a relatively recently written novel and has to be a standout in the last 20 years of literature. The novel, a story in three parts about a young boy's life in Africa and his eventual growing into a young man, is one of the two greatest novels of South African literature (the other, the older and also enjoyable Cry, The Beloved Country). The story told from a first person perspective of a young child (5-6ish), an older high school age student, and finally from a young man, paints a beautiful picture of this character's life.

The novel also is quite good for it's historical timeliness. The backdrop for most of the novel is World War II and the inevitable nationalistic views of people from Germany and England is constantly fueling fire to the drama. Add in a racist culture and a large number of local Africans you have an interesting perspective for the story. Perhaps the best part of the whole novel is the author's ability to clearly and beautifully display and layer characters and tell a truly fascinating story about the star Peekay. Besides finishing the book and loving Peekay as a person, you can't help but feel positively about the many well polished and unique individuals that affected Peekay's historic life. Very, very well done.

Unfortunately, the book does have some drawbacks. The biggest being that it starts off quite slow and there are many occasions where one becomes bored easily and the lack of action is distinct. I found myself in more than a few chapters hoping that it would end quickly so another, perhaps more exciting chapter could begin. It's also a pretty long book and it takes a while to get through when reading the non-boxing parts. (Sidenote I should have mentioned above, the boxing scenes/writing are the most enjoyable and quick to go by reading in the book...absolutely great).

Overall, The Power of One is a fairly enjoyable novel that is exhilarating to read when it's moving well and a bit slow to get through at certain times. I wouldn't call it historical fiction, but the backdrop of South Africa during the 1940s and 1950s adds some good depth to the novel. In general, I would suggest any reader pick this up that likes a nicely told, well crafted STORY. I capitalize story as the book's major motivation is to simply tell you the story of Peekay's life and all the wonderful people he meets and great events that happen to him. You can't help but caring for him by the end and you know the author succeeded when that's the end result.