Thursday, September 24, 2009

1984 by George Orwell

The fabulous statistics continued to pour out of the telescreen. As compared with last year there was more food, more clothes, more houses, more furniture, more cooking pots, more fuel, more ships, more helicopters, more books, more babies--more of everything except diseases, crime, and insanity. Year by year and minute by minute, everybody and everything was whizzing rapidly upwards. As Syme had done earlier, Winston had taken up his spoon and was dabbling in the pale-colored graby that dribbled across the table, drawing a long streak of it out in a pattern. He meditated resentfully on the physical texture of life. Had it always been like this? He looked around the canteen. A low-ceilinged, crowded room, its walls grimy from the contact of innumerable bodies; battered metal tables and chairs, placed so close together that you sat with elbows touching; bent spoons, dented trays, coarse white mugs; all surfaces greasy, grime in every crack; and a sourish, composite smell of bad gin and bad coffee and metallic stew and dirty clothes. Always in your stomach and in your skin there was a sort of protest, a feeling that you had been cheated of something that you had a right to. It was true that he had no memories of anything greatly different. In any time that he could accurately remember, there had never been quite enough to eat, one had never had socks or underclothes that were not full of holes, furniture had always been battered and rickety, rooms underheated. Tube trains crowded, houses falling to pieces, bread dark-colored, tea a rarity, coffee filthy-tasting, cigarettes insufficient--nothing cheap and plentiful except for synthetic gin. And though, of course, it grow worse as one's body aged, was it not a sign that this was not the natural order of things, if one's heart sickened at the discomfort and dirt and scarcity, the interminable winters, the stickiness of one's socks, the lifts that never worked, the cold water, the gritty soap, the cigarettes that came to pieces, the food with its strange evil tastes? Why should one feel it to be intolerable unless one had some kind of ancestral memory that things had once been different?

Sorry for the super-long excerpt, this was just one of the two passages that really jumped out at me and I wanted to include it in toto. The other passage was O'Brien's description of how the Party truly converts its dissenters before executing them: "The command of the old depotisms was 'Thou shalt not.' The command of the totalitarians was 'Thou shalt.' Our command is 'Thou art.' Powerful stuff.

I picked up 1984 after hearing from a friend that 1984 is the book that people most often lie about having read. I thought that was a great reason to pick it up and finally read it since I'd never been assigned to in high school or college. I'm glad I did, although it took me a little while to realize it.

We've all heard/read/seen this story a thousand times: World war. Dystopian future. Totalitarian government. Death of the individual. Etc. Throughout the novel I kept finding myself getting bored with the narrative because of how formulaic it all was. It took me a while to remember that 1984 is really the basis of most of those dystopian books/novels we've read, so I should probably cut it a little slack. That said, as a plot-driven piece 1984 isn't that mind-blowing. There's the occasional plot twist and the ending is darker than I expected when I picked it up. But for the most part it's exactly what you think it will be. A grim description of what could have been or what might yet be.

However, as a philosophical/political treatise 1984 has a lot of interesting things to say and discusses a lot of intriguing ideas. The 20-25 pages dedicated to The Book of the Brotherhood was certainly my favorite section of the novel. I could read an entire book just about doublethink. Doublethink is the conscious and unconscious acceptance of two contradictory ideas and the reconciliation of that contradiction. 'Torture is wrong.' This statement applies concerning the enemy torturing our troops. 'Torture is just.' This statement applies concerning our troops torturing our enemies. Both are right. There is no contradiction. But it gets even more intense because the idea of doublethink itself is doublethink. To acknowledge doublespeak is to acknowledge the need to reconcile a contradiction that doesn't exist. These are the philosophical tools needed to rule the world with an iron fist.

I also really enjoyed reading about Winston's work at the Ministry of Truth. Winston spends his days reviewing old newspaper and magazine articles and 'correcting' any inconsistencies between the past and more recent speeches by Big Brother, Oceania's shadowy figurehead and leader of the Party. Essentially, Winston changes the past to suit the reality that the Party to purport. What I found so interesting about this is how feasible it all sounded. Even today, in the information age, every article of information about our past is located in a finite number of places. If you could alter those articles, the truth of past events would exist only in the memories of those who experienced/heard about them. And if everything and everyone disagrees with your memory of an event, who's to say what really happened? Winston, of course, fights this notion and believes that as long as someone holds onto a memory, then reality cannot be altered. This concept led to another of my favorite lines in the novel, "Sanity is not statistical."

There are about 2 dozen more things I'd like to talk about concerning 1984's concepts of perception, interpretation, individuality, loyalty, and order but its 1:15 AM and I'm crashing.

Orwell, as in Animal Farm, criticizes totalitarian ideals throughout. Presenting a world in which the government rules all and extrapolating that concept to its logical extreme. 1984 is a great read full of important lessons that are still applicable 60 years after its publication. If you've never read this, or haven't since high school, I definitely recommend you pick it up and read it over the weekend. It'll make you analyze your preconceptions of love, hate, individuality, and power.

Highlights: Doublethink, newspeak, the Ministry of Truth
Lowlights: The ending, while inevitable, seemed kind of meaningless

PS - I'd argue that Oceania's (and I suppose Eurasia and Eastasia) government resembles more an extremely Liberal totalitarianism than an extremely Conservative one. Leave any thoughts in the comments section.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark

The good Dr. Wolf looked at her patient and let the above facts run through her head. Was this man sitting in front of her, the claimant to be Lord Lucan, in fact the missing murder suspect? He was smiling, smiling away at her thoughtfulness. And what had he to smile about?

She could ring Interpol, but had private reasons not to.

She said, "There is another real one? 'Lord Lucan' in Paris at the moment. I wonder which of you is the real one? Anyway, our time is up. I will be away tomorrow. Come on Friday."


"I will see you on Friday."

The story of Lord Lucan is particularly grizzly: the London socialite disappeared after a bungled attempt to murder his wife, which instead left the Lucans' nanny dead, bludgeoned to death in a case of mistaken identity. A fugitive, he appears in Paris and walks into the psychiatric offices of Dr. Hildegard Wolf, who is happy to help but for the complicating fact that she already has a patient who says that he is Lucan.

I loved Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which was small but remarkably solid, building believable and fascinating characters from very few blocks. I wish I could say the same for Aiding and Abetting, which is written in the same typical style, and has a really fascinating premise to boot, but can't escape feeling slight. There simply isn't enough space to pull the usual mystery tricks; Dr. Wolf has a notion of which of her patients is the real Lucan from the very beginning and seems to care only slightly if she is correct. Spark, it seems, is equally disinterested.

What she does concern herself with is the idea of identity, what is it that makes a person who they are. Is it mutable, or static? Lucan has long been nagged by the sheer amount of blood that came out of his nanny, and Spark uses that blood as the novel's central conceit--do we carry ourselves inside our bodies, as we do our blood? Or are they something we adopt and fashion, as the fake Lucan does, and Dr. Wolf herself, who is hiding her own shady past?

But that message is, strangely enough for an author whose hallmark is succinctness, muddled and incongruent; piecing together what exactly it is Spark wants to say is difficult and probably wouldn't be satisfying. The elements of social satire that abound here--the aiders and abetters of the title are, by-and-large, Lucan's fellow blueblood aristocrats who help him for seemingly no other reason than he is one of them--are either toothless or so markedly British in focus that they seem so to me.

I suppose I shouldn't complain; after all, I've read books that take an hour and a half to read that are much less engaging (see future entry: Tears of a Tiger). All in all, I would have traded the incredible tightness of Jean Brodie for a fuller, more detailed novel.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

“Why do you want to be on The Real World?”
“Because I want everyone to witness my youth.”
“Isn't it gorgeous?”

“We are the bright new stars born of a screaming black hole, the nascent suns burst from the darkness, from the grasping void of space that folds and swallows--a darkness that would devour anyone not as strong as we. We are oddities, sideshows, talk show subjects. We capture everyone's imagination.”

“I like the dark part of the night, after midnight and before four-thirty, when it's hollow, when ceilings are harder and farther away. Then I can breathe, and can think while others are sleeping, in a way can stop time, can have it so - this has always been my dream - so that while everyone else is frozen, I can work busily about them, doing whatever it is that needs to be done, like the elves who make shoes while the children sleep.”

When I went to find a passage to copy to entice you readers to read this book (most of you probably already have; it was quite the darling of the literary world a few years back and I am terribly behind when it comes to the darlings of the literary world) I couldn’t narrow it down to just one. So I included three. The first one was a bit of pithy dialogue between the author/memoirist and a casting agent for The Real World. The second and third are examples of what I liked so much about this book – the thick, lustrous description sliding down the page like a model’s hair sliding down her back in a shampoo commercial. (In related news, think I could place in that “worst abuse of a simile” contest?) A downside of so much description is that this book progressed sloooooowly. It is engaging but definitely not a quick read, for me at least.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (AHWOSG) begins and also ends with the death of the author’s mother, after a protracted battle with cancer. The four Eggers kids have recently lost their father to the disease as well. Hard times for any family, but the three older Eggers children, of which Dave is the youngest at 22 must also contend with guardianship of their littlest brother, Topher. Dave eventually takes on Topher, and moves from suburban Illinois to San Francisco where they live for several years. This book is the account of the boys’ SF years. David is a struggling writer, working with friends to produce a magazine that sounds so hipster-pretentious I would have hated it if I was reading pretentious magazines in 1995. I was not; I was 10, the same age as Topher.

Dave has lots of adventures despite the fact that he is effectively a single parent in his twenties. The boys rent a series of apartments together, and Topher attends school. They play a lot of Frisbee on the beach. In the book, Eggers tends to project his feelings into his recounted conversations with Topher, injecting the dialogue with a sophistication and level of detail that would only come from a writer and not from a fifth-grade. This is okay because at the beginning of the book Eggers writes that the dialogue is not a precise rendering of actual conversation. While the events in the book did happen, Eggers cautions that the book must be considered only somewhat non-fiction because of certain liberties taken with dialogue and with the names of those involved.

I was really glad to read this book for several reasons, one being that it has been on my book shelf forever. My bookshelf is small and I have a lot of books so they are double stacked. The entire front section of books on each shelf are ones I own but have never read. I bought a lot of paperbacks at the Bulls Head in Chapel Hill with my One Card…sorry Mom, that’s why I kept running out of meal money in college. Now I refuse to buy any more books until I read some of the ones on my shelf (library books are still okay).

Overall, this book kind of dragged for me. The writing was obviously excellent, but the plot was meandering. Sometimes I wanted to be Eggers’ best friend and sometimes I couldn’t stand him, especially when he talked about his magazine or his sexual encounters (awk. ward.) I’m kind of late to the Dave Eggers game (I also own What is the What, but haven’t read it yet either) so maybe I’ll read one of his other books and see how that compares. Not gonna lie, Wild Things (out in October, the book cover is covered in fur, it’s a redo of Sendak’s classic but for young adults) looks interesting too.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ulysses, by James Joyce

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air.

History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

In the vast sea of books that are critically-acclaimed but shunned by your average reader, Ulysses floats near the top. More words have been written about the interlocking narratives of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus than there are in Joyce's entire bibliography, and, as a result, Ulysses has been described as everything imaginable: complex but rewarding, overly difficult and dull, completely unreadable, intentionally difficult and pretentious. Weirdly, at points, all the above descriptors apply, and then some, but reading Ulysses was and is worthwhile, whether you're a professional like Harold Bloom or just a reader like myself.

James Joyce himself once famously said that if Ulysses is not worth reading, life is not worth living. It's easy to see why he'd make such a statement, since Ulysses tries, through the course of a single day, to capture every part of life. Leopold Bloom and the people he meets on his journey eat, drink, swear, pray, witness a birth, attend a funeral, have sex, and even go to the bathroom (a trend which Joyce seems to have started that shows up in pretty much every post-modern novel nowdays). Ulysses is Joyce's conception of life in all its ugly, mixed-up, confused glory.

The narrative itself is fairly simple. The story opens with Stephen Dedalus, Joyce's pretentious, over-educated alter-ego from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, as he rises in the morning and heads off to his teaching job. Simultaneously, Leopold Bloom, an advertising executive who's wife is sleeping with theater star Blazes Boylan, begins another day in his dreary, somewhat depressing life. As their days progress, they move inexorably toward each other, their fates entwined, although not to the extent that we'd expect.

Outlining Ulysses, however, doesn't get to the heart of the novel at all. Yes, Ulysses is about life, but it's also about art, about words, and about stretching the boundaries of what a novel can do. Joyce's semantic tricks aren't quite as groundbreaking now as they were back in the 20's, but it's still a little surprising (and confusing) when he switches from third-person narration to interior monologue without warning (as he often does in Stephen's sections) or when the novel change from prose into a screenplay when Bloom rescues Stephen from a brothel. In the section recounting the birth of a child, Joyce condenses the entirety of popular writing into 30 pages, moving from a pre-Latinate form of English (think directly-translated Greek) through Chaucer-esque Middle Englsh to mimicking the stylings of Dickens and Poe. It's a pretty exciting thing to see on the page, and the writing itself serves as a metaphor for the events, the birth of a language paralleling the birth of a child. Elsewhere, there's the aforementioned screenplay format (used, I suspect, to indicate the distance the characters themselves from their actions, or possibly to draw attention to the fact that, like players in a play, the characters in Ulysses can do only what the director tells them to); the section formatted like a Catholic Catechism, in the form of question and answer, ironically juxtaposing Bloom's crisis of self with the confidence of faith; or Bloom's day at work, where each section of his banal workday is punctuated with OVERWROUGHT HEADLINES IN CAPITAL LETTERS.

I could go on at length about Ulysses--after all, everyone else does--but to really understand it, you simply have to read it. Because so much of the story is communicated and amplified through the writing itself, simply describing a few standout scenes barely scratches the surface. Sometimes Ulysses is difficult, sometimes borderline unreadable, occasionally very difficult to understand without a guide (I used SparksNotes), but overall, well worth the read.

Two additional notes: 1) Ulysses wasn't as difficult as The Confidence-Man, and 2) the final chapter, Molly Bloom's famous stream-of-consciousness monologue, works both as some of the most beautiful, evocative writing I've ever read and as sort of a twist ending, reframing Bloom's entire story.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Interesting, Miles thought. Like himself, Father Mark, as a child, had been reassured by the imagined proximity to God, whereas adults, perhaps because they so often were up to no good, took more comfort from His remoteness. Though Miles didn't think of himself as a man up to no good, he did prefer the notion of an all-loving God to that of an all-knowing one. It pleased him to imagine God as someone like his mother, someone beleaguered by too many responsibilities, too dog-tired to monitor an energetic boy every minute of the day, but who, out of love and fear for his safety, checked in on him whenever she could. Was this so crazy? Surely God must have other projects besides Man, just as parents had responsibilities other than raising their children? Miles liked the idea of a God who, when He at last had the opportunity to return His attention to His children, might shake His head with wonder and mutter, "Jesus. Look what they're up to now." A distractible God, perhaps even one who'd be startled to discover so many of His children way up in the trees since last time He looked. A God whose hand would go rushing to His mouth in fear that instant of recognition that--good God!--that kid's going to hurt himself. A God who could be surprised by unanticipated pride--glory be, that boy is a climber.

This might be the best book I've read all year. A friend of mine here in Cameroon recommended it in passing and then randomly came across it in the bookshelves of the Peace Corps office in Yaoundé. I'm genuinely lucky that he found it because I haven't come across a book this hard to put down in a long, long time.

Empire Falls is the story of Miles Roby, a middle-age man who runs the local diner in a small Maine town that has become a shell of its former self. Once a thriving community, Empire Falls has been falling apart since the textile mill and shirt factor closed thirty years ago. Miles is in the middle of a midly ugly divorce and just scraping by financially . After discovering some shocking news about his past and dealing with a tragedy at his daughter's high school, Miles is forced to get himself out of his rut and head off in a new direction for his daughter's sake if not for his own.

Russo just has a lot going on in Empire Falls. He tackles religion, love, despair, angst, cruelty, and just about every other aspect of the human experience. I particularly enjoyed the passages that depict different character's personal concepts of God, like the one above. One character, Father Mike delivers a sermon titled 'When God Retreats,' in which he describes sin as a moment in which God turns his back upon us so that we can find our way back to him on our own. I found that idea to be particularly thoughtful and comforting.

Heredity is an important theme in the novel. Heredity and the unavoidability of fate, I suppose. The characters are who they are and always will be because their parents were who they were and always would be. Zack Minty is a dirtbag because his dad's a dirtbag because his dad was a dirtbag. Miles is his mother's son as his brother David is his father's. As Korn* would say, 'nothing changes, just rearranges.'

All of the characters are intricately fleshed-out. Even the antagonists come across as just people who do bad things, instead of flatly bad people (perhaps with the exception of Zack Minty). Miles is a great character. He's intelligent, caring, and simply the kind of guy you'd want to be pals with. He does have his shortcomings, of course. Miles is a personification of the town itself. He's not quite falling apart, but he's certainly not picking himself up, either. He allows himself to be put in positions he'd rather not be and lets people walk all over him at times. Still, in the end he makes a stand when it matters and doesn't let those important to him down.

There are so many things I want to say about this book. Miles mother, Grace, is a character I could go on for pages about. As are the Whitings, the rich family that once owned the factory and the mill with a bizarre history of domestic discord and a deep connection to Miles' own. I wish I'd been taking notes as I read it, but I devoured the damn thing so quickly I didn't want to waste time jotting down my thoughts. I say this a lot in my reviews, but read this book. You simply will not regret it.

Highlights: The Silver Fox, the prologue, the Whiting family, "This is what I dream..."
Lowlights:Zack Minty's single dimension... Really not much else.

*I'm sorta pissed that there's no backwards R in the windows character map

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle

I was fourteen. None of the others knew, or would have believed it. I was six foot, two inches tall and had the shoulders of a boy built to carry the weight of the world. I was probably the best looking man in the G.P.O but there was nothing beautiful about me. My eyes were astonishing, blue daggers that warned the world to keep its distance. I was one of the few real soldiers there; I had nothing to fear and nothing to go home to.

Nathan wasn't kidding when he said he said he'd be "afri-mailing" this to me, and I'm sincerely grateful that he did. A Star Called Henry is now one of my all-time favorites and I can't wait to get my hands on Oh, Play That Thing, the second installment of Roddy Doyle's The Last Roundup trilogy. Nathan's review pretty much hit the nail on the head. It's a stark, gritty tale of the life of one man who helped make Ireland a republic. And he did it for all the wrong reasons. Henry Smart (Really... Great name) initially joins up with the I.R.A not to fight for Home Rule but to destroy the only Ireland he's ever known; the Ireland that took away his mother, his father, his younger brother, and left him dirt-poor and alone in the streets. Smart's first shots aren't fired at G-Men but at a shoe store that has come to symbolize the inequity of life in Dublin. It's a tale that reminds you that it's the poor who do the dying in a war, no matter which forces are doing battle.

More on Henry Smart: As with Nathan, Henry has become one of my favorite literary characters. He has just the right amount of intelligence, arrogance, and brute strength to back it up that you can't help but admire him. Frankly, any 8 year-old boy who knows all women want to bang him is alright in my book.

I recommend you all go out and give this book a read. It's a fast-paced story with memorable characters and historical relevance. What more can you ask for?

Highlights: Every time Henry speaks, crazy Ivan, Henry beating men to death with his father's peg leg
Lowlights: Totally reversed my opinion on Lloyd George even though its a work of fiction

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult

"You don't have to say I love you to say I love you," you said with a shrug. "All you have to do is say my name and I know."
When I looked down at you, I was struck by how much of myself I could see in the shape of your eyes, in the light of your smile. "Say Cassidy," you instructed.
"Ursula," I parroted.
"Now....," and you pointed to your own chest.
"Can't you hear it?" you said. " When you love someone, you say their name different. Like it's safe inside your mouth."

Jodi Picoult books are basically Lifetime movies in book form. This is why I love them. I finished Handle With Care in about two days - a record surpassed only by my speed-reading of the Twilight series last year. Handle With Care was better than the last two Picoult books I read, Change of Heart (about miracles and the death penalty and forgiveness) and The Pact (about growing up and suicide).

The book starts with the birth of Willow, a little girl with osteogenesis imperfecta Type III, OI for short, also known as "brittle bone" disease. By the time Willow is five, her age when the main plot is set, she has had over fifty broken bones. Willow presented in utero with the disease, but it wasn't discovered in her initial routine ultrasound. She's brilliant and loves the book To Kill A Mockingbird and trivia. She's been in and out of the hospital her entire life. Willow breaks bones by falling down, but also by sneezing, or being bumped, or by shifting in her sleep. Her hospital care is expensive, and Willow's parents Sean and Charlotte are broke.

An attorney tells Charlotte about a way to secure Willow's financial future: file a wrongful birth malpractice lawsuit against the OB-GYN that supervised Charlotte's initial pregnancy care, before anyone knew that Willow was sick. That doctor, Piper, is also Charlotte's best friend. In order to win a wrongful birth lawsuit, Charlotte has to convince a jury that Piper failed to provide the standard of care, because she failed to notice the signs of OI on an initial ultrasound. In this type of lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges that had she known earlier about her child's illness or deformity, she would have terminated the pregnancy. Charlotte loves her daughter so much that she is willing to stand up in front of a jury and tell them that she wished Willow had never been born, in order to secure her financial future. In the process, Charlotte destroys her relationship with Piper, nearly ends her marriage, and ignores her bulimic/cutting older daughter's increasingly self-destructive behavior.

But she wins! She wins $8 million dollars for Willow! And everybody sees in the end that Charlotte really did love her daughter, even though she said Willow would be better off having never existed. Everything is super happy for one chapter (well except for Piper, whom we never hear from again) and then Willow falls into the frozen skating pond and drowns in a freak winter accident. Wow. What a Jodi Picoult ending.

So, this book was great. Kept me reading right up to the last page, when Willow dies in a grotesque moment of self-awareness, thinking "This time I wasn't the one who broke..." But really I should have expected this ending after reading My Sister's Keeper, which did NOT end like the movie (movie: Kate, the sister with cancer, dies and everyone is sad. book: her sister Anna dies in a freak car accident on the way to the hospital to say goodbye to Kate. Kate gets Anna's organs and lives happily ever after.) But really. I'm starting to think that Jodi Picoult really doesn't like her characters very much. When I read My Sister's Keeper, I thought she seemed to be punishing the mom for ignoring Anna in favor of her sick child by killing off Anna. And in this book, I can't help but feel like she's punishing Charlotte for getting on the witness stand and saying she would have aborted Willow (which is a lie, and she gets called on it by the defense, but wins anyway), by having Willow die a horrible non-OI related death just months after the trial concludes. I don't know how I feel about this whole punish-the-long-suffering-mother thing but the books are good and quick reads so I'll probably keep reading them.

**It's also been a while since I last posted because I spent a week or two re-reading the whole Twilight series. Its hard to stop at just one. I'm not going to include them on my list because they are rereads. Unless I don't get to fifty by Christmas. Then I'll go back and blog/add them retroactively.

Excuse me while I fangasm real quick

The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci
There was so much to think about even before throwing a pitch. Clemens lost himself in his usual pregame preparation, which typically began with cranking the whirpool up to its hottest possible temperature. “He’d come out looking like a lobster,” trainer Steve Donahue said. Donahue would then rub hot liniment (think intense Icy-Hot or BenGay) all over Clemens’ body, “from his ankles to his wrists,” Donahue said. Then Donahue would rub the hottest possible liniment on [Clemens’] testicles. “He’d start snorting like a bull,” the trainer said. “That’s when he was ready to pitch.”

I could read stories like that about ball players all day. Awesome.

If you follow the sports industry with any consistency, then you’ll have heard of Joe Torre’s Yankee memoirs. Back in March/April 2009 ESPN and its cohorts were abuzz with reports about certain passages of Torre’s book that bashed this player or that player (namely Alex Rodriguez). In the media circus that is New York, such is to be expected. I’ll start off by saying that those reports back in the spring made The Yankee Years sound a lot more vitriolic than it actually is.

I really enjoyed The Yankee Years for two reasons. Firstly, I’m a diehard Yankees fan and I love reading anything that has even the slightest bit to do with them. Secondly, I love baseball and baseball players. The Yankee Years is essentially a book of anecdotes about my favorite players and coaches both inside and out the Yankees clubhouse.

It would have been easy for this book to completely lionize the Yankees organization or to completely trash it. Torre and Verducci find a happy medium. The tone of the book fits the up-and-down nature of Torre's time in the pinstripes. If you know anything about Yankees history, you know that Torre took the job in 1996. The Bombers won the World Series that year, lost in the ALDS in 1997, and then won three World Series in a row from '98-'00, setting a record for total victories in 1998. All together, Torre’s Yankees made twelve straight post-season appearances and went to six World Series, winning four. Mirroring Torre's tenure, only the first half of the memoir covers the glory days before addressing the fall of the empire. That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. You start right out with the dominant Yankees of the late 90s with O’Neill, Coney, Boomer, Pettite, Tino, Bernie, Brosius, Mo, Jeter, Doc, and Straw. Then you hear about how the Old Guard eventually faded away through trades, free agency, and retirement. You read about how the rest of the league caught up using technology and smarter scouting techniques, and how the Yankees (through revenue sharing) were actually paying for most of these small-market teams to improve and beat them in the playoffs. It reads like a tragedy, and I enjoyed that.

In the end, I’d recommend The Yankee Years to anyone who enjoys baseball. Even if you hate the Yankees (Billy, Chris, everyone else out there who sucks) you’ll enjoy the read because you learn a lot about how the league became what it is today. You also get lots of great insight into the steroid era.

Highlights: 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, Coney’s perfect game, Boomer’s perfect game, Jeter’s flip to catch Giambi in the ALDS, Aaron. Fucking. Boone.,
Lowlights: 2004 ALCS, Mo blowing the 2001 WS, 2003 WS, Bernie’s departure, Moose’s perfecto getting broken by Winfield in the 9th.


A Team to Believe In by Tom Coughlin with Brian Curtis
I’ve got a lot less to say about A Team to Believe In. It’s really just not the kind of book that just anyone can get into. With The Yankee Years, you can tell Verducci talked to Torre, took notes, and then wrote the memoirs. In A Team of Believe In, you get the impression that Coughlin actually did a lot of the writing with some polishing done by Brian Curtis. It’s really a bunch of sentimental stuff and mantra about unity and team building. Don’t get me wrong, though. I loved every page of this freakin’ book. I love the NY Giants above all other sports organizations and Super Bowl XLII was one of the happiest nights of my life. Each page of Coughlin’s book gave me goosebumps. That’s how cheesy and melodramatic it is, and if you’re a big-time Giants fan I bet you’ll eat up every word.

I definitely would only recommend A Team to Believe In to fans of the New York Football Giants, as there’s not much to relate to unless you know the team. Unlike Torre’s book, there aren’t many memorable anecdotes or insights into the workings of the league as a whole. It’s very much focused on the events that befell one team in one year.

Although, I suppose the Plax Burress story has become a bit of a national story, so Coughlin's insights into Plax might be interesting to those non-Giants fans. I'll say that Coughlin makes Plax actually sound like a pretty decent guy. Sacrificing for the team, praying for guidance, honoring injured veterans, caring for his wife and child... I gotta say that it definitely humanized Plax a little bit. Now instead of looking at him as some young schmuck who carried a gun because he was reckless and thought he was a gangster, I look at him as some young schmuck who carried a gun because he wasn't thinking and made a huge mistake. Oh well, don't drop the soap, 17.

Highlights: Manning-Tyree, The chapter on 9/11, War hero and honorary co-captain Greg Gadson.
Lowlights: The writing is pretty mediocre, Coughlin’s a really sappy guy, apparently.