Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Sing, Unburied, Sing - Jesmyn Ward ------------------------ 4 Stars

I don't necessarily read a lot of new releases or "hot" books, but I simply saw too many out of the universe reviews about Sing, Unburied, Sing to avoid. While not a captivating read, the symbolism and poetic nature of this novel made it shine in many ways.

I remember in an 11th grade English class a teacher and I were talking about what kind of books I liked to read. At that time I had the naive thought that I wanted to be a lawyer and was reading a number of John Grisham novels. After mentioning those, the teacher quickly called them "airport trash" and looked down upon me for reading those types of books. As I pressed him, he gave a fairly snobbish view that I should be reading Literature (think nice English accent). Hundred of books later, I totally understand the difference. Now I don't have the same pretense that some books that are not "literature" are trash. In fact, many of the highly reviewed books I have blogged about would fall into the latter category (because, trash or not, they are highly entertaining!). His point, though, is that books that are Literature have a bit more to them. Well, this book certainly falls in the Literature category.

As I alluded to, this book is getting great press right now, and deservedly so. It is an incredibly well written, poem like novel about a young black boy and his multi-generational family during a short period in their lives in Mississippi. The boy, who's father is in jail, has a drug abusing mother, is being raised by his grandparents, and takes care of his younger sister. The story jumps chapters, and time periods, and first person characters, throughout the novel.

While I enjoyed many elements of the story, I'm not sure I could say it was my favorite book of recent memory. First, the good. The story is fascinating and the plot interesting. I also loved the character development; each of them was unique and full in so many ways. She also is a genuinely great writer with details so vivid it was easy to picture the poor house in rural Mississippi that much of the story takes place. Although I'll go into my challenges in a second, I did love the imagery and poetic nature of the story. So much symbolism and foreshadowing, and though I couldn't keep up (see below), I did appreciate the writing and did what I could with my Poli. Sci. degree.

So, my challenges mostly include that it was written almost too well. Does that make sense? As a true piece of "Literature" (that should be taught in high school classrooms, btw), this book included many literary elements that, while I did my best to keep up with, were beyond me in some cases. I appreciated the creativity but the symbolism, biblical references, ghost like persons, etc. were just too much for me. And, as the novel moved on, they occurred more and more. Some were fascinating though too often, I had to question my own reading of the novel to check for understanding (maybe a good thing?!?).

Overall, I do highly recommend this book. First, my high school English teacher would be proud of you for reading Literature and not airport trash. Second, if you are are like me, you read too many books that are not diverse (check your author list - lot of white dude/gals?). Third, this is a great story with great characters. Finally, don't let my limited/challenged read of the book affect you. You will get out of if what you will, and you'll go online to have smarter people explain to you if you don't 😉.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Chicago Cubs - Story of a Curse - Rich Cohen -------------------- 4.5 Stars

I'm familiar with Rich Cohen as I read one of his other books and blogged about it here. As you can see, this was about the Chicago Bears. Similarly, both books tell the history of each franchise while going into interesting anecdotes and stories about the many individuals that helped form these great organizations. While I liked the Bears book a lot, I found this one even better!

I really enjoyed this book. From the beginning pages, talking about the start of baseball and what the game was like in the 19th century, through Cohen's vivid and excellent recounting of the 2016 Cubs World Series win, Cohen treats each story, person, and page in the book with humor and care. Perhaps because I knew less about the early times of baseball (compared to football) and it goes back much further, I found the start of the book riveting. Learning about the early "mudball" pitchers, the real Babe Ruth, the early Cubs teams that actually won championships, it was a great walk through history.

Later, he goes through all the "lovable losers" Cubs team that my father's generation knew more intimately. He also posits that part of the reason for the beautification of Wrigley was because the owners knew the team was no good and were hoping fans would come out for a day at the beautiful ball park and enjoy the "friendly confines" (interestingly, he said a Yankee friend had their own way of finding beauty with their team... it was called winning).

Near the end, he goes through the lead up to the World Series championship and had a great interview with Theo Epstein that I found fascinating in helping to understand and explain how the Cubs went from being so bad to so good (hint: you have to the former to get to the latter).  Of course, the summary of each individual World Series game (yes, all 7), were probably my favorite pages of the book. I could so vividly remember each of the big plays, the highlights and the heartaches of one of the greatest World Series in baseball history. And, yes, even a few tears were shed again upon "seeing" them win again in my mind.

Perhaps the most unexpected and enjoyable part of the book was Cohen's take on the whole thing. While he delivered the facts and history with great fashion, much of the book was about his own life growing up around Chicago and the life of being a Cubs fan (his father urged him not to be and for part of his life he truly did give up on the team). And that really is the recurring theme of the book; what it was like to be a grown adult while still trying to be a Cubs fan. In my life, it took 35 years to see them win; but for many other Cubs fan, it took a century or never happened. Was there a curse for those 100 years, was there not? All part of the great narrative of his wonderful story!