Monday, March 23, 2015

Turning the Pages

One of the best parts of spending five days doing absolutely nothing of consequence in the Bahamas with the Missus - other than spending five days in the Bahamas with the Missus - was having the opportunity to read a lot of books.  Better than reading all five books that I had brought along to keep me company was the fact that all five of the books I read were, I thought, worthwhile reads.  

The first of the five that I read was the book that St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny released earlier this year, entitled The Matheny Manifesto.   The original "manifesto" was not a book but rather a lengthy letter that Matheny wrote to parents of prospective players on a youth baseball team that he had been asked to coach.   I am not a fan of the Cardinals but, after reading this book, I am a fan of their manager.   While the original target audience of Matheny's words and thoughts were young prospective baseball players and their parents, they apply with equal force and effect to any number of us.  If you are a parent of a youngster who plays sports or - as my sister Kara is - an adult who oversees a youth sports league, then an argument could be made that this book should be required reading.

I am more than slightly embarrassed to admit that I was not familiar at all with Bryan Stevenson or his legal career.  I bought his book, Just Mercy, because it appeared on the New York Times List of 100 Best Books of 2014.  It is extraordinary.  While it chronicles a number of significant cases in which Mr. Stevenson has been involved as an advocate, its centerpiece is his defense of Walter McMillian, an African-American gentleman in Alabama who was sentenced to die after he was convicted of a murder that he did not commit.  Worse yet for Mr. McMillian was the fact that local law enforcement in Alabama knew he had not committed the crime.  They could not have not known - considering the extraordinary lengths to which they went to frame him for it.  Just Mercy is an emotional roller coaster for it exhilarates as often as it angers.  It vividly illustrates the point that not only is bigotry obnoxious, when it is institutional it is extremely dangerous. 

The third of my five reads for the week was The Things They Carried, written by Tim O'Brien.  It is a collection of short stories featuring characters based upon the men of Alpha Company with whom O'Brien served in Vietnam.  It was stunning.  It is not an extremely long book and I was so engrossed by it that I could not put it down.  I devoured it in less than one morning's time.  As someone who was born shortly before O'Brien was drafted into the Army in 1968, the fact that most of my knowledge of Vietnam (other than that which I absorbed through my brother Bill and his friends at Rutgers University) comes from reading history books mattered not at all.  It is accessible to all, irrespective of the reader's age. 

Upon my completion of O'Brien's work regarding the Vietnam War, I read Phil Klay's Redeployment, which Klay wrote after he served in Iraq as a United States Marine.  This book was - as was the case with Just Mercy - a book that I decided to buy after seeing it included on the 2014 New York Times 100 Best Books list.   I cannot recommend this book heartily enough.  Do not read it expecting to wade through a lot of "rah-rah" nonsense.  If that is what you are searching for, then look someplace else.  On second thought, if that is what you are searching for, then buy this book.  It will save you not only purchasing the tripe you otherwise were intending to buy, it will ensure that you never waste either your time or your money buying it.  

The week's final read was A Drinking LifePete Hamill's memoir.  Hamill is one of my literary heroes.  His frank and often times unflattering examination of his own life as a drinker, which being a good Irish boy started rather early and lasted for several decades, during which it exacted a significant toll on his personal life (and to a far lesser extent his professional life) until he walked away from it in 1972, resonated to me and with me on a number of levels.  I had deliberately positioned Hamill's book as the last one of the week because of my familiarity with his work.  I anticipated that I would enjoy reading this work as much as I have enjoyed everything else of his that I have read.  I was not disappointed.  

Reading is one of the great joys in my life and has been since way back when Bill taught me how to read before my second birthday.  A week's worth of reading such as the one I just enjoyed reinforces just how much joy I derive from keeping the company of a good book.  

-AK  

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