I knocked off Book Logs: 2018 on a whim – and it got me my gig contributing book recommendations on Koop Kooper’s Cocktail Nation radio show podcast. Subsequently, I have a real soft spot for dishing on the books I’ve read. Hey; you never know who will “get something” from what you write.
2019 was a challenging if not disappointing year for reading. My Elvis book that I start every year with was Greil Marcus’ Mystery Train. Extremely academic and deeply sociological and anthropological, I really struggled to elucidate Marcus’ canny assessments of Presley’s music. For my second book, my silly reading “rules” dictate that I read a western novel every winter but this year taught me that I need to jettison this constraint. The antique Roy Rogers book I read was charming but when I was done I gave it to my stepfather.
I started the year with three consecutive books that tested me in some way, the third being the second Bing Crosby biography from scholar Gary Giddins. Looking at the war years, this nearly-700-page tome proved to be heavy reading; literally and figuratively. This book must weigh 20 pounds. I’m not sure why exactly I found reading it so laborious, though. Perhaps because Giddins digs so deep into Bing’s activities during World War 2. Giddins was granted unprecedented access to Crosby’s archives by the family and his book misses not one episode of this period that cemented Bingo as a national treasure. Interesting that Giddins says he wrote his first Crosby bio without the family’s blessing but once they read it, they opened up the archives to him. Watch this space for an in-depth review of this book.
Through the spring, I engaged in much lighter reading like Craig Pittman’s book on what makes the state of Florida so unique if somewhat batty. Read my review of Oh, Florida! here. I devoured my annual Perry Mason book in a couple of days but was sort of sad it was over so fast. Bill O’Reilly’s investigative “Killing” books I find fascinating; comprehensive, step-by-step details about the demise of a notable figure in history. This year, I was able to line up his Killing Jesus perfectly with Easter. I’ve mentioned that I’m drawn to all things film noir in the spring and this year I read a good book on noir B movies (Death on the Cheap) and James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia. I thought I would enjoy John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series and I still might but Nightmare in Pink left me cold.
The next two books were notable and warranted reviews, breaking me out of something of a reading slump. I may have been at first reluctant to read Mike Love’s side of the Beach Boys’ story in his autobio but in the end I’m glad I did. It was illuminating but didn’t exactly change my mind about the band’s front man and lyricist.
Through the summer – the 50th anniversary of the summer of 1969 – I was completely captivated by Vincent Bugliosi’s riveting and detailed account of the Manson Family murders that fateful summer. All I want to say about Helter Skelter I said in my review but I’ll add that while reading the book was mesmerizing, the memory of reading it through July’s heat is also a fond one.
Isle of Swords I bought at a local book store because it was a pirate story. However, when I started reading it, I noted that it was labelled “for young adults“. Interesting that it was written by Christian author Wayne Thomas Batson who says he deals in “faith, fiction, fantasy and fellowship” but this one unfortunately read like a book for pre-teens. The Executive looked fascinating – international business man, mid-century setting – but it was terrible. I found the main character loathsome and irredeemable. The author, Arnold Hano, is renowned today for his baseball books, one in particular about the great catch Willie Mays made during Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. That sounds interesting; the Hano book I read? Not so much.
Go Slow was an excellent biography of Julie London and Eric Clapton has written a great autobiography that I enjoyed (I’ll be reviewing both of these). David Morrell’s novel First Blood – the story of John Rambo – was a good read and it was fun to compare it to the film. I’ve owned First Blood for maybe 20 years and never bothered to read it. It took Stallone releasing Last Blood to theatres to inspire me. O’Reilly’s Killing Kennedy was captivating and thought-provoking and also warranted a review. As always, I ended the year with Christmas with Ed Sullivan, a beloved book of Christmas stories. I was able to finally put my thoughts together on this cherished piece of my holiday season.
So the year was interesting, marked by challenges and some disappointing novels. I longed for a satisfying fictional story and got that only with stories that I had seen filmed versions of – The Black Dahlia and First Blood – so no novel that presented a fresh and engaging tale. I love reading novels that have been made into films I know and love but the thing about reading those is that you know what is going to happen. Sure its fun to see the differences the screenwriter made and when you read the novel you get more of that filmed story you love so much but a novel you know little about can be fun to discover. Maybe next year.
Unless 2020 is the year I decide to focus on re-reading favourite books from my past. Every year I have the same debate: explore and discover new books I’ve never read? Or relive old thrills and maybe see what there is new to be gleaned from a book I read as a teenager? This is a fun problem to have, though, and either way I win. This year I did re-read two old favourites around Labour Day, William Inge’s play Picnic and a novelization of the two American Graffiti screenplays called The Complete American Graffiti: The Novel.
I’ve given the books I read in 2019 a rating – 1 to 5 stars – which reflects the overall experience with the book.
Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music – Greil Marcus ***
Roy Rogers and the Gopher Creek Gunman – Don Middleton **
Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star: The War Years, 1940-1946 – Gary Giddins ***
Oh, Florida!: How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country – Craig Pittman ****
The Case of the Horrified Heirs – Erle Stanley Gardner ****
Killing Jesus – Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard ***
Death on the Cheap: The Lost B Movies of Film Noir! – Arthur Lyons ****
The Black Dahlia – James Ellroy ****
Nightmare in Pink – John D. MacDonald **
Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy – Mike Love with James S. Hirsch ****
Helter Skelter – Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry *****
Isle of Swords – Wayne Thomas Batson **
The Executive – Arnold Hano *
The Complete American Graffiti: The Novel – John Minahan ****
Picnic – William Inge ****
Go Slow: The Life of Julie London – Michael Owen ****
Dirty Harry – Phillip Rock ***
First Blood – David Morrell ****
Clapton – Eric Clapton ****
Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot – Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard ****
Christmas with Ed Sullivan – ed. by Ed Sullivan *****