Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book Reviews!!

10. Stan Musial An American Life George Vecsey

Terrific biography of the greatest baseball player that nobody ever talks about. Although he finished his career with over 3600 hits, 475 homers and over 1900 runs batted in, won three World Series titles and three MVP awards and had a career batting average of .331, the fans left him off a 1999 vote to determine the best 25 players of the twentieth century. Why? Mostly because he was boring. He never married an actress, never said anything controversial, and he played his entire career in St. Louis, not New York. Great read that shines some long overdo light on a wonderful player.

11. Men & Dogs Katie Crouch

My list of favorite female writers is embarrassingly short. Its nothing intentional. Its just that I tend to prefer masculine perspectives. So I set out to remedy that with this novel by the highly respected and well recommended Katie Crouch. The book was well written, creative and in spots actually beautiful. But in the end I didn’t care one way or the other about any of its characters. They all seemed shallow and self-indulgent. By the last chapter I wanted all of them to be consumed by the wrath of God for their pettiness and incessant whining. I will not here end my search for fine contemporary female fiction. But my first attempt was a dud. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

12. Knuckler Tim Wakefield with Tony Massaroti

Yes I know. I read tons of baseball books this time of year. I can’t help myself. It’s the game I love more than any other. Tim Wakefield is a rarity, a 42 year old who still plays and one of the last of a dying breed of pitchers who have made their living throwing a knuckleball. Add to that the fact that he plays for the Red Sox, my favorite team and there was no way I wasn’t going to slap down the 28 bucks for this hardback. It did not disappoint. Wake is as tough a competitor as anyone who ever played the game, but he has done so for over 15 years without making enemies. Friends and foes alike all admire him and want their kids to be like him, none more so than Joe Torre the manager of the arch rival Yankees who famously placed a call into the visitors locker room after the Red Sox had come back from being down 3-0 to win the 2004 American League title…just to personally congratulate him. That’s the ultimate respect…and no player deserved it more than Tim Wakefield.

13. Love Wins Rob Bell

Whenever a book by an evangelical shoots up to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list it gets my attention. I saw Mr. Bell interviewed on CNN and he was awful, tying himself into a pretzel of contradictions trying to explain/defend his thesis that essentially 2000 years of orthodox theology about the nature of salvation, the meaning of the cross, and mankind’s eternal destiny..well..has just been a huge misunderstanding! I run over to Barnes & Nobel immediately to see what all the fuss was about expecting a giant door-stop of a book outlining this dramatic departure from biblical doctrine. Something between Augustine’s City of God and a dusty tome by Martin Luther. Instead what I found was a cute little pamphlet of a book with artsy indentations and tiny little paragraphs of simplistic non- sequiturs. Although Bell does at times stumble into some brilliant observations, mostly he just asks question after question like some breathless sophomore in a theology class. I’m sorry, if you’re asking me to turn my back on the work of brilliant men over twenty centuries, if you’re asking me to turn aside central doctrines about the meaning of salvation and eternity you’re going to have to do better than this thin gruel of a book.

14. Bonhoeffer Pastor Martyr Prophet and Spy Erik Metaxas

After Love Wins I felt the need to wash my brain out with soap, so I went 180 degrees in the other direction looking for a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer figuring that I needed to read about someone for whom Christianity had consequences. This book was simply transformational. One cannot help but be overwhelmed by the power of his mind, the sweep of his story and the sadness of its end. To see how this great man was transformed by the times he lived through from being a man of reflection and theory to being a man of action, bravery and defiance is inspiring to behold. And it raises the quiet question in your heart with the turn of each page..”would I have been as strong?” Long after the Rob Bells of this world will have faded from memory, future generations of Christians will still marvel at and be challenged by the life and thoughts of D. Bonhoeffer.

15. Meditations On The Psalms D. Bonhoeffer

OK..after reading ABOUT him I just had to read something BY him so this collection of sermons and meditations on his favorite book of the Bible was the one I chose. Some of them were written during the 18 months he spent in Nazi prisons which only added to their emotional power. Missing are the cute stories and platitudinous blather that pass for sermons today. Every word had meaning. The time was short and he had something to say and the urgency and gravity of the hour leaps off the pages. Beautiful and convicting stuff.

16. Collected Poems 1909-1962 T. S. Eliot

I try. I really really try to like poetry. Part of me feels guilty and simple every time I pick up a book like this. I bravely plow through it trying desperately to be enlightened. I mean, he’s TS Eliot for crying out loud! He’s great, right? I read poetry like a child reads an encyclopedia, vaguely aware that stuff is going on but hopelessly clueless. Every now and then I find a poem that I get and that actually stirs me to the point that I experience something of the art that’s there, Byron’s “She walks in beauty like the night…” or Dylan Thomas’ “ do not go gentle into that good night”. But mostly I read poetry and feel dumber for it. No thanks.

17. Alexander The Great Philip Freeman

This is an incredible tale about a giant of a man who by the sheer power of his passion and will conquered the known world…all by the time he was 29. The most interesting part of Alexander’s story is the complex contradictions in his character. He could be generous and touchingly kind one minute and stunningly brutal the next. He was a man of big appetites for conquest, revenge, and sex. Reading how the Macedonian culture was so openly bisexual was a bit of an eye-opener. Here’s the most macho man in history openly cavorting with young boys…very weird. An amazing read primarily because of the glimpse it offers into the ancient world.