Banged a knuckle and yelled “Son of a–” Then saw a woman glaring at me with a kid, so I finished with, “Preacher Man.” (It pays to know music.)
On This Date
After an intriguing and thought-provoking intro, the book moves to one usually-long-forgotten historical anecdote a day, much more interesting than any one-small-page calendar. Some are more or less expected, even if the particular date wasn’t known, but the fun is in the topics that would usually have no right being in a serious history tome.
Some of my faves. . . okay, a lot of my faves:
March of Dimes (Wow!); Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer; Tokyo Rose; Lou Hoover; Edmund G Ross; Oppenheimer; Massacre on the Tuscarawas; Sherman and Johnston; Columbine; Jingle Bells; the low-altitude barrel roll in a 707; the birth of the Smiley; We Shall Overcome; Marshall wins Nobel Peace Prize; Jack Robinson and Pee Wee Reese (“someone with the guts NOT to fight back.”); Carson McCullers, Karen Blixen, and Marilyn Monroe walk into a lunch; Theodore Geisel (“He was a political cartoonist all his life, meaning he managed the difficult task of being amusing to kids and adults.”); Princess Bride (even Mark Knopfler gets a mention!); and “Surf music is just the sound of the waves being played on a guitar.”
Did not expect the author of a non-fiction history book to go meta, but in one entry he writes about Philadelphians booing their cricket team as a reason the capital was moved to DC. . . then, “Well, no, I was just seeing if you were paying attention.”
Rush: Album by Album
The title tells you everything you need to know: a bunch of Rush fans got together to shoot the breeze about each of the many studio albums. . . except these guys are either incredibly familiar with the band from working with them, or are musicians—some in tribute bands—music journalists, or similar.
Intriguing forward by the author, but then I’d expect no less when it comes to my favorite band. Oddly, the book isn’t all that long, even with tons of photos, from album covers to concert fliers to pages from comic books! (As graphic novels were called back then, kiddies.)
Not a fan of Dream Theater, but Mike Portnoy seems like a fun guy to hang out with: “The way most kids my age were staring at a Playboy centerfold, I was looking at a Modern Drummer centerfold and salivating over the whole kit.”
The one downside for me was a lot of musical verbiage that went way beyond my understanding, especially about drumming. Was also surprised by how short the Moving Pictures section was, considering everyone calls it the band’s seminal album. As I’m sure every reader/fan will think, they spend too little time talking about my favorites and too much on those songs I hardly ever listen to, if at all. Still, there are nice things said about The Pass and Bravado—yes, among my faves—especially Geddy claiming the latter is his fave to play live. There’s also a great feeling when someone says something I’d already thought of, such as the addendum in Ghost of A Chance. Most of all, the agreement of The Wreckers being such a beautiful song made me smile.
The last 15 pages or so list the contributors, offer a bibliography, and end with a pretty thorough index.
This Is What a Librarian Looks Like
Subtitled: A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information
When I started this I thought it would be quick and easy; boy, was I wrong. The format is a photo of a librarian followed by a short quote, with some longer articles to break up what eventually becomes monotony, though once in a while a cute line appears, like “ultimate search ninjas.” For those who have a stereotypical view of what librarians do—or look like—this will change that completely. Very few of the women shown here, for example, wear glasses, and even though I’ve only seen one with a pierced nose in person, there’s plenty of oddly-painted hair and such in here.
But it’s the longer stories that are the highlights. The doll-lending program has to be the cutest thing ever. Amy Dickinson and Cory Doctorow chime in with great articles, but if I had to pick a best, it would be the Montana Bookmobile.
There’s also a fascinating intro, in which the author says: “What made the library of Alexandria great wasn’t just the collection of books, but rather its intellectual raison d’être: the insatiable pursuit, creation, and dissemination of knowledge as a force to drive civilization.” Nothing more to say after that. . .
Battle of Arnhem
In what might be too short to even be called a novella, a veteran of the battle recounts his experience, filled with death, destruction, stupidity, and black humor. There’s tons of tiny details, some of them incredibly interesting.
“It was explained that, when we arrived, we would most likely be disappointed as all the fun would be over.” Wonder how often soldiers have heard that.
For such a short story, there’s a ton of detail. There’s also more to it than just the battle, as after his capture the author was taken to Dresden, along with 500 other prisoners, and was there for the famous firebombing.
But more than anything it gives you the grit and emotion of being that close to an enemy who’s trying to kill you just as bad as you’re trying to kill them. This is exceedingly rare in modern warfare; even as a former Marine I find it hard to imagine what these soldiers went through.
But some things never change, like the incompetence of staff officers, whom he disses over and over.
Women In Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win
Though it clocks in at 128 pages, it felt a lot longer. Formatted in tiny chapters, each section of prose is accompanied by a cartoonish painting with hard-to-read words in tiny script floating around the outsides. It mostly just states facts in a boring manner; every chapter starts with “she was born on” and then “she started to play.” They are good intros to each person, but the lack of style is such that I doubt it would inspire anyone to find out more. I realize this is for kids, but it underestimates the intelligence of its young readers.
The only chapter that I found remotely interesting—not that the women weren’t interesting, it’s the presentation that lacks—was about the final game of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, where over 90,000 spectators packed the Rose Bowl to watch the United States beat China in penalties. Why did I find this interesting? Because I was there.