Ambitious Reading List III


Long before I finished Please Kill Me, I was working on creating my next Ambitious Reading List. As I said at the end of that review, I’m a big fan of this much-smaller version of my larger to-read pile. Helps me stay focused while also keeping my interest not only in reading, but in crossing one book off the list and moving on to the next. Most of the books in this pile are newer to that pile, but there are a few that have been sitting around for a while too.

From the top, I picked up Robert Ludlum’s Bourne Identity at a flea market out of sheer interest based on the Matt Damon movies. I can’t keep the straight, but I’m curious to see how this book compares to the movies as well as an audiobook version of The Bourne Legacy that we finished recently and will review soon. I’ve also got an Elmore Leonard book called Riding The Rap in there. I bought this for $2 at a used book store based solely on Leonard’s name. Love that dude’s books. After that is Hunger Games, which my wife read and liked. My last ARL got in the way of me reading this over the summer, so I included it this time. I hope to compare it to the movie somewhere down the line too.

I actually started reading Michael Chabon’s Manhood For Amateurs around the time our daughter was born, or maybe just before. It’s a great book of essays I’m looking forward to finishing. I’ve been living a lie with Wizard of Oz, keeping it on my shelf since high school without every reading the whole thing. I plan on remedying that and also telling a pretty great story about the signature I have in that book. After that it’s Patton Oswalt’s Zombie Spaceship Wasteland which I got from the library for a list I was working on before my pal Rob Bricken moved from Topless Robot to io9. I have no idea where that list will lie, but that’s the first book on the pile I’m reading because I’m lousy at getting books back on time.

From there I’ve got the illustrated version of the unfilmed Harlan Ellison script based on Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot,Marc Eliot’s book about Cary Grant which I got because George Hamilton made him sound really interesting in his book and Peter Ackroyd’s retelling of Geoffry Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. I read parts of the original in college, but could barely get through it, man.

I got Raiders! thanks to a PR email letting me know about this book about the guys that made the 80s Raiders of the Lost Ark fan film. Then I’ve got It Happened In Manhattan, an oral history about the Big Apple by Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer and finally Harvey Pekar’s graphic novel adaptation of Studs Terkel’s classic look at careers, jobs and Americans Working. As you can see, it’s another eclectic mix. I’m pretty jazzed to be adding a few different formats (screenplays, essays, graphic novels) and also think that this one might go a little bit quicker than the previous one, assuming I still have time to read. The next few months are going to be pretty busy/crazy.

Ambitious Reading List: Please Kill Me By Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain

A while back I asked some of my pals what books I should check out to learn more about New York’s punk scene in the 70s. I don’t remember what nudged me to ask the question, but the resounding response was, “Read Please Kill Me!” I think I had a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble, so I picked it up. That was quite a while ago now that I think about it. Anyway, it was sitting in my to-read pile for however long and then I set up this current Ambitious Reading List and decided that it would make a great caboose to this reading experience.

Please Kill Me was written by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain in 1996, but the version of the book I has is from 2006 and includes a few extra odds and ends. The book is an oral history much like Live from New York and Whores where large blocks of quotes from the interviewees propel the story along. The beauty of PKM is the width and depth of that McNeil and McCain were able to go to get these quotes. This book starts off back with Andy Warhol and his factory as kind of the primordial soup that punk rock grew out of (once scene spawned another in a sense) through the Doors and the Stooges into the classic bands like the Ramones, New York Dolls and even a little, tiny bit into the British scene. The authors interviewed everyone from scenesters and photographers to surviving members from all the most important bands and many who are no longer with us at this point.

To paraphrase an MTV show’s intro, I thought I knew about punk, but I had no idea. I’ve said before that I wasn’t a rage-filled kid. I think I had a very practical viewpoint on the world which helped me avoid a lot of the disillusionment in the real world that fueled a lot of punk rock kids. I was into then-modern punk/pop punk but when I started getting into original punk it was after reading articles in Guitar World and watching Syd and Nancy in high school. It was almost more academic than anything. I think I started off with that Ramones anthology from Rhino that covers most of their history. I also picked up the Sex Pistols’ Nevermind the Bollocks (I liked that they only had one real record but had no idea how common that was for these legendary punk bands). My buddy Jimmy also hipped me to the MC5 as this protopunk band that was from not too far from where we lived in Toledo, so I got Kick Out The Jams and loved it.

So, I knew some stuff. I knew some of the bands, but my knowledge wasn’t deep. I heard about the Dolls, the Dictators, the Dead Boys and lots of others, but just never got around to checking them out. I also knew the scene was pretty messy, but you really don’t get the feel for how messy until you read these peoples’ experiences. Man, it was nuts. Everyone was drinking, doing drugs, whoring themselves out, having sex with anything that moves, stealing, using, abusing, the whole lot.

The interesting thing about delving into any scene like this is discovering the small ins and outs of it. I was surprised to discover that there were only about 100 people in total living this life. It was quiet for a long time and then when it started getting popular, that was kind of the end of it, which stands to reason. Reading survivors recount some of the amazing and terrible things they’ve done to one another is a pretty singular experience.

I will say that reading this book changed how I listen to the Ramones a bit. I mean, I knew they came from the same scene as everyone else, but I think the somewhat gimmicky nature of the band and the decades between their debut and when I actually listened to them made them almost cartoonish. An amazing band with crazy-catchy songs, but still one that practically wore a uniform, changed their last names to Ramones and appeared in Rock and Roll High School. Finding out that they were drug fueled hopheads and prostitutes who actually went through shock therapy changes how you listen to songs like “53rd and Third” (which I clearly never paid too much attention to lyrics-wise), “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment” and “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.” I’m not saying I’m disgusted or will never listen to the Ramones the same way again, it just changes how I listen to them…for the time being until my crappy memory glosses over those details with something from a movie or comic.

My one complaint about Please Kill Me comes from a lack of context and full storytelling that happens throughout the book. In Live From New York, there are these short paragraphs in the beginning of a chapter that explain some details not covered in the interviews. In this book, you’re just kind of thrown in and have to figure out what’s going on. Since I was fairly uneducated on this section of rock and roll history, that got kind of confusing. There’s also some bands that get kind of glossed over or mentioned, but never much detail is given. Like, I know Debbie Harry and Blondie was part of that scene even if they were dubbed New Wave, but the band is only mentioned circuitously. Maybe that’s because they’re not the focus or maybe it’s because certain members wouldn’t allow themselves to be interviewed, but I thought it was a little strange how one of the biggest acts to come out of that area was more or less a foot note. There is a handy section in the back that explains who people are, but a few who were interviewed were omitted back there and that can be frustrating when you’re trying to remember so many names and add some context where there might not be some.

But aside from that, I really enjoyed this book. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I’m guessing if you’re already into punk rock, the tales you’ll read about in this book won’t be too surprising. Actually, if you’re not surprised by at least something in here, well, you’re a different person than I and that’s cool.

And with that, this Ambitious Reading List comes to an end many months after the summer. I really like this format because it takes a very large pile of books I have in my to-read pile (now a purple bin in our storage unit, actually), condences them down to a varied dozen and makes me focus on them. Overall, I’d say this group was greatly eclectic and very interesting. I might have quit on one book and replaced one with The Strain, but overall, I had a great time and have not only arranged my next ARL, but even finished the first book already!

Ambitious Reading List: The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake By Aimee Bender (2010)

Well, I finally quit trying to read Devil In The White City. I probably should have stuck with it and charged through, but there was just something about that book that didn’t hook me into coming back for more. I liked what I read, but I kept thinking about finishing this Ambitious Reading List and even starting the next one and just couldn’t sync with it. So, I put it to the side, knowing I’ll return to it some day, and then moved onto Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake, a book I really loved by an author I have a little bit of experience with. You know what that means, story time!

When I was in college at Ohio Wesleyan University, I was part of the English board (or whatever it was called). I think I got involved because my creative writing professor, Robert Olmstead, asked me if I’d be interested so I went with it. I don’t know if it was an election or what, but there I was. We had various authors come to OWU, do readings and sometimes even sit in on our workshop classes. Aimee Bender was one of those authors. For whatever reason Professor Olmstead asked me to write and do an introduction for her, which made me nervous because I get all kinds of anxious when I have to speak in front of a crowd, even if it’s just a handful of my fellow classmates. Anyway, I did my research (I think this was pre-Wikipedia, so I had to go to more than one website), gave the intro and Bender said it was one of the best ones she’d ever heard. I don’t know if she was just being nice, but it was nice and I appreciated it.

I can’t remember if we read any of Bender’s work for my workshop class or if I just listened pretty well during her reading, but I was drawn to her style. It’s very introspective and colorful and usually involves some fantastical elements inserted into normal life (at least the two novels of hers that I read). At the time it was also really inspiring because I felt like I was working towards a style similar to hers. A few years back I finally read her first novel, An Invisible Sign Of My Own, which I remember liking, but don’t remember many details of. Back when all the Borders closed down, I was at one and happened to see her latest novel The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake and had to buy it. Man, I’m glad I did. I had a wonderful experience reading this book.

The idea here is that, a young girl named Rose realizes she has the ability to taste the feelings of people making her food, but it’s really more about Rose, how she deals with this ability while also growing up the world AND dealing with her normal-on-the-surface-but-not-really family. See, Rose’s dad wanted a normal family, likes lists and wants everything simple and normal, but that’s not how life really is, especially the lives of the people in his house. Rose’s mom has this deep longing to find herself and deflects many of those feelings by loving her children intensely. Meanwhile, Rose’s brother is pretty shut off from the world, burying himself in books and science, but also has something odd going on that I won’t spoil, but turns out to be pretty crazy.

The book also deals with normal things like growing to understand the adult world, first loves gone bad and the responsibility many children feel to their parents. The beauty of Bender’s writing is that she can so seamlessly infuse these normal, relateable human moments with some pretty crazy elements. Being a comic book fan, I think I might have been a little more primed for this kind of book which shares a basic premise with John Layman and Rob Guillory’s Chew. I’d be curious to find out if people not in that camp would be able to get into the slightly off kilter world of this book.

Reading this book was a little like looking at a series of mirrors for me. I could relate to pretty much every character in this book on a very personal level that surprised me. It might just be a matter of happenstance, that the fears, insecurities, hopes and dreams running around in my head were so well represented in this book, but it’s there. One character’s desire to just fade away, another’s desire to tackle the world, the mom’s desire to find something outside of her family that fulfills her and even Rose’s appreciation for a simple dishwashing job. All those things are bouncing around my head at any given day, so it was a pleasure to see these things on the page.

I can’t recommend Bender’s work enough. As I mentioned when I wrote about Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, there are a lot of similarities in styles between these two women. It’s funny, while reading Bones I noted that Sebold’s style reminded me of Bender’s and this time, while reading Cake, Bender reminded me of Sebold. If you’re looking for an author who looks at things from a different perspective and explains them deftly with an expert use of language and sense memory, give The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake a read.

With Bender’s book crossed off the list, I’ve now moved on to Please Kill Me and am about 150 pages into this 430 page beast. I’m learning all kinds of stuff, some pretty crazy things and keeping track of records I want to check out. What a wild time. And after that? Well, I’ve already got my next Ambitious Reading List read to roll. It’s another dozen books of all different shapes, sizes and topics. I’m pretty excited, should be fun.

Ambitious Reading List: Born Standing Up By Steve Martin (2007)

As I’m nearing the end of this Ambitious Reading List, I find myself looking forward to the next one and have even started assembling that stack. The problem with that is that I want to burn through the four books I have left with a quickness. While I did return to Devil In The White City and am working my way through it, I started getting a little antsy and wanted some immediate gratification, so I grabbed Steve Martin’s 207 page Born Standing Up and read it in a few days. And you know what? I got exactly that.

The first time I read Crime and Punishment, I was in high school and someone in the class said they wanted to know what happened to Raskolnikov after he was SPOILER imprisoned and the teacher responded that the book would need a new title then. He went on to make the point that stories need to have a focus. Raskolnikov’s story could go on until he died, but Dostoevsky was telling the story of Crime and Punishment, not Crime and Punishment and Whatever Happens After That Until He Dies. Steve Martin took a very similar approach to Born Standing Up. This is not a complete history of the man from birth to the stage, through movies and on to his current turn as a concert banjo player, it’s just about his life and performing career up to the point when he left stand up in the late 70s/early 80s.

I appreciate that kind of focus and while I would definitely be interested in reading another biography about more of his film work and recent endeavors, this book does a great job of telling what feels like a complete tale with beginning, middle and end, something Martin says he liked to bring to every one of his performances. The only real problem I had with Laurie Lindeen’s Petal Pushers was that it didn’t feel like a complete story because she glossed over the break up of the band. I did not have similar problems with this book.

One problem I thought I would have is that I wasn’t sure how serious Martin would be. His comedy lies in the realm of the absurd, so I wasn’t quite sure. Many years ago I borrowed Leslie Nielson’s supposed autobiography The Naked Truth from the library in hopes of learning more about a comedy icon I held in great esteem only to discover a few pages in that it was all a joke, one that I wasn’t in on or expecting. Though I had heard good things about this book, I did have the nagging feeling it might not be as honest as I wanted it to be. Again, that wasn’t a problem.

Martin offers a poignant, honest, real memoir here that not only proves that anyone who works hard can have a chance at making it, but also presents show business in a very truthful light (it ain’t all great). It sounds cliche, but this book really does have it all, ti can make you laugh and cry and really think about life. It’s refreshing to see someone who achieved such huge success — at the time he was the most comedian of all time between ticket and album sales — look back on his life and give a balanced account of what he did and went through. If you’re a fan of Martin’s stand-up and films or the real life portrayal of the life of comedians expressed on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, do yourself a favor and read this book.

With Born Standing Up out of the way that leave me to finish Devil In The White City and then read The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and Please Kill Me which I plan on reading in that order. Devil is one of those weird books that I enjoy reading while I’m reading it, but once I put it down it’s almost like a mind wipe and I don’t want to jump right back in, a feeling that grows the longer between reading sessions. I’m dedicated to getting back into it the rest of this week and deciding once and for all if I’ll keep on with it.

Ambitious Reading List: The Strain By Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan (2009)

I’m not the biggest Guillermo del Toro fan in the world. I think he has a very distinct visual style and one hell of an imagination, but we just don’t jibe on what scares/fascinates/interests us. I also think he really missed the mark with the Hellboy films, but that’s more of a fanboy thing. Anyway, The Strain is one of those books that I only started hearing about when it finished up earlier this year. I hadn’t heard much about it, but that’s no real surprise because I don’t really read a lot of horror books or stay up on book news as much as I used to. However, when I heard the basics of the plot and saw it on sale at Barnes & Noble for $6 or $7, I snatched it right up.

If you, like me, weren’t familiar with the book, it’s about a vampire virus working its way through New York City. Our hero is Eph, a doctor with the CDC who leads a team of scientists whose main mission is to find and contain contagious diseases. He and his partner Nora get brought in when a plane lands at JFK and, after being on the runway a few minutes, winds up completely dead, both power and occupancy wise. From there, it’s very slowly revealed to Eph what’s going on and we meet Satrakian, a man whose known vampires since his days in a concentration camp, a just-out-of-jail Latino kid named Gus, Fet the exterminator as well as Eph’s ex wife Kelly, their son Zach and some other folks.

Overall, I liked this book. It was revelatory as far as horror goes, though it definitely had some interesting ideas and tried to keep things scientific for the most part, treating them like an actual virus and drawing apt comparisons to existing organisms, which I appreciate. I dug the characters and thought they were mostly handled well and especially liked how the action scenes were written. I found them clear and exhilarating without being too confusing, which can happen when there’s TOO much action detail.

But I also thought it was too long, focused on some random characters it didn’t need to and felt less like a book and more like a movie. The first two complaints can be easily combined, I think there’s a version of this book with 50 fewer pages that’s a lot tighter and doesn’t waste so much time getting into the plane (we get it, it’s creepy, get in there already!) or with characters who ultimately don’t matter (far too many people at the airport turn out to have no real agency in the book). Also, not for nothing, but it takes around 100 pages for anyone to really start talking about vampires IN A BOOK ABOUT VAMPIRES. We’re all on the train, you don’t have to keep laying down track.

The last complaint is a bit more difficult to explain. There’s a complaint by some when it comes to comic books that some miniseries’ or series’ are just reformatted screenplays that couldn’t sell in Hollywood. It’s the kind of thing I didn’t quite understand at first — a cool idea is a cool idea, it should work regardless of the medium — but it’s something I’ve developed an ability to spot in the Supreme Court definition of pornography kind of way (I know it when I see it). Very soon after starting this book I got the distinct feeling that it would either work better as a movie or that del Toro’s screenwriting style overwhelmed Hogan’s (I’ve never read one of his books, so I can’t really judge either way). There were so many scenes that felt like quick jump cuts to something else for the sole purpose of showing you a piece of information. It’s not a big deal a few times but when it’s an all-the-time thing it can get a little tiring. Also, showing a quick scene in a movie works because it lasts as long as you wind up making it last after editing, but it takes me as long to read a page as it does no matter what, so something that’s supposed to be a quick piece for you can take me longer and I start wondering what the point of all these vignettes really is. If you can explain something in a quick line in a later paragraph instead of giving it its own chapter, do that.

I will admit that some of the problems I had in the reading of this book stem from my personal experience. I haven’t really read a horror book since The Exorcist and that was not only a long time ago, but a very different type of horror. The only vampire books I’ve ever read were the first two Anne Rice ones and The Last Vampire series by Christopher Pike. The majority of my horror experience being with films, I’ve developed a very quick, “let’s do this” attitude when it comes to horror. It’s basically a formula. Character A enters situation 2, it can end in one of four ways, let’s see how it goes. When I’m watching this, I can do other things or be as invested as I want to be, but when I’m reading them, I get a lot more impatient because I’m working through the formula and trying to figure it out at a slower pace than I can watching something. It’s also a case where something in one medium can be enjoyable with far less effort than in another, but that’s just the difference between movies and books.

Even with those complaints, however, I enjoyed the experience of reading this book. The editor in my was chopping out entire characters, chapters and paragraphs while reading which was annoying, but it was intense enough at the end and hit the right spots in the formula to get me interested enough in the other two books. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for them at B&N next time we go.

A quick Ambitious Reading List update: I’m not sure if I’m up for the challenge of reading Devil In The White City at the moment. I’m going to give it another shot soon, but will see. After that I’ve just got Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up, Aimee Bender’s book and Please Kill Me, which I will close things out with. I’ve had a great time with this little reading project and even though it’s taken me more than a season to get through all the books, I’ve already got my next stack mostly lined up.


Ambitious Summer Reading List: Fletch And The Man Who By Gregory McDonald (1983)

I have an interesting relationship with Gregory McDonald’s Fletch books. I’m essentially in love with the movies Fletch and Fletch Lives. They were favorites of my dad’s so we would rent them fairly often and watch them whenever they were on TV. I own both on DVD and still enjoy watching Chevy Chase a few times a year as the fast talking investigative journalist who always knows how to get out of a situation. However, I don’t have such an undying love for the books. At this point, I’ve read Fletch, Fletch Won, Fletch’s Moxie and now Fletch And The Man Who. I remember next to nothing about the first two and the general plot of the third, but don’t remember the ending I referred to in that review. I was left a little flat by the ending of this latest outing as well.

Here’s the deal. I love the character of Fletch. He’s a daring, resourceful hero who always has a quip at the ready. I admire that kind of quick thinking as I tend to be the kind of guy who comes up with a really good comeback two days after a conversation. In this book, an out-of-work Fletch finds himself answering the call of an old army buddy named Walsh who needs a press guy for his father’s presidential campaign (“The Man Who” is the governor’s code name). Fletch takes the job, but also discovers that a woman was beaten to death and then thrown off a balcony right above the governor’s room. While he takes on a job he doesn’t really like, Fletch tries to figure out who’s killing these women and also grows to like the candidate who likes Fletch just as much.

Let’s label the next two paragraphs as SPOILER territory, so beware. I thought I pegged the killer right away. There’s lots of red herrings around from the porn-obsessed Russian journalist to the governor’s former boxer valet, but this ain’t my first rodeo. I had the candidate’s wife/Walsh’s mom pegged because she’s violent, angry and mean. I realize now that I took the bait that was fed to me all the while thinking I was seeing something under the surface because, if this were a TV show, no one would suspect an older woman. McDonald got me on that one. It turns out (again SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER) that the killer is in fact Walsh who was supposedly so stressed out from always being on (and secretly hating his mother/having existing mental problems) that beating women was his release, possibly while in the midst of a psychological split.

I’ve talked about my dislike of the “he’s SO crazy” explanation for murderers in fiction. I know they happen in real life and people snap. I actually had less of a problem in this case because it was seeded throughout that Walsh had had some problems when he and Fletch were in the service. The bigger problem I had with the story is how quickly it gets wrapped up. Not only does Walsh accidentally include his private collection of press clippings about the murders he was committing into Fletch’s press file, but Fletch also remembers all sorts of things while actually looking for someone else at a big event. Oh, and a woman reporter who winds up being Walsh’s first almost-victim just gets up and runs to where Walsh is so he can beat her up. Maybe I missed something there, but the end all felt very “I’m getting close to the 250 page mark, let’s wrap this up.”

But, even with my complaints, I still enjoyed the overall reading experience I had with Fletch And The Man Who, but wasn’t a huge fan of the ending to the story (and not just because I was wrong about the killer, I was actually glad to be wrong and enjoyed the actual person, just not the way we got there). It was a quick read filled with characters I liked or was interested in, so there’s no real loss there.

You might notice from looking at the new checklist image to the right that I have dropped Alice Sebold’s The Lonely Moon. I actually read the first few chapters and liked them, but am not really up for that story right now. I’m sure I’ll get back to it at some point. I replaced it with Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain which I picked up on the cheap after setting the list at the beginning of this summer and am very excited to dig into. But not just yet, next I’ll be tackling a book I’ve been wanting to read for almost 10 years, The Devil In The White City by Erik Larson (not the creator of Savage Dragon, for the record). If all goes as planned, I’ll start on that tomorrow!

Ambitious Summer Reading List: Petal Pusher By Laurie Lindeen

Much like Don’t Mind If I Do, George Hamilton’s autobiography which I read as part of this summer’s Ambitious Summer Reading List, Laurie Lindeen’s book Petal Pusher: A Rock And Roll Cinderella Story was purchased on a whim at Building 19. I had never heard of Lindeen or her early 90s band Zuzu’s Petals, but I’m a sucker for cheap books about things I like like rock and roll.

This turned out to be a very interesting experience because I really had no idea where the story was going. Was Zuzu’s Petals a band that had a huge hit in the grunge-y 90s when I wasn’t really paying attention to music yet? At least with Hamilton, I knew that he was currently famous and had been for quite a while, with Lindeen, I really had no idea. I made sure not to look her up at all either so the whole experience was an unknown ride. As it turns out neither Lindeen or her band have Wiki pages, which doesn’t seem right when there’s a whole book’s worth of material out there.

Lindeen was a music loving party girl floating through college when she discovered she had MS. The affliction didn’t define her, but it did focus her love of music into something she desperately wanted to do in a very public way. It helped that she was in the growing Minneapolis club scene the spawned bands like The Replacements, The Jayhawks and Soul Asylum.

The book consists of her struggles to get the band together, tame her instruments (guitar and vocals), write songs and tour like motherfuggin’ champions. I’ve never read a book like this about a lesser known band, but it is amazing how much crap these women went through just to be a touring band. I’ve heard these things are fairly common, including getting royally screwed on tours (their first one to England sounds particularly depressing) and dealing with everyone from super fans to stalkers on the road. These stories make up a good chunk of the book interspersed with childhood ones that relate back to what she’s feeling in the “present” of the 90s band days.

I really enjoyed this book. Lindeen has one helluva knack for words and I can relate to her insecurities when it comes to chasing after a dream that seems ridiculous to most. I also appreciate how honest (sometimes tear-jerkingly so) she can be when talking about her life, how she viewed the world then and presenting all that in a way that makes you realize she maybe wasn’t thinking right to begin with.

I did have a problem, though and that’s with the ending. After all these tales of success and failure and the emotional problems that came from them, it just ends. She’s at her younger sister’s wedding and casually mentions that she dissolved the band four months prior. Really? That’s it? That’s all you’re going to give us? I know you’re supposed to leave your audience wanting more, but as I put the book down I was left wide-eyed, like the last few minutes of the movie got cut off because of a scratched DVD or lack of a final reel. I also hoped for a little bit more about what she’s up to today (or at least what she was up to in 2007 when the book was published), but all we get are one sentence explanations of where she and her bandmates are now. We know their cycles matched up and the details of their arrest, but we don’t know how the band broke up or how they took it? That just doesn’t seem right.

Even so, Petal Pushers was a fascinating look at a world I’m not even sure exists anymore or at least not in the same way as it did in the early 90s. I appreciate both Lindeen’s drive to create as well as her decision to refocus herself to other outlets. The whole art-making for a living thing can be tough because you’re putting yourself out there and allowing other people to critique it, meaning they’re critiquing you. It’s not easy and it’s not for everyone, but there are certainly rewards for trying, including this wonderful artifact.

Ambitious Summer Reading List: Misery By Stephen King (1988)

Reading something like Stephen King’s Misery has been an interesting reading experience for this year’s Ambitious Summer Reading List. I have not seen the movie based on the novel, but I am a horror fan, so I knew the basic story and had seen clips of the hobbling scene. So, going in, I knew that author Paul Sheldon wound up the unwilling captive of super fan Annie Wilkes who forces him to write a new novel for her. I was surprised, though, at how quickly the book starts off. You’re right in there from page one. Paul’s already being held captive by Annie and we learn what’s going on as he remembers through the fog of pain (his legs were mangled in a car accident).

From there it’s a completely intense psychological thriller as the increasingly unbalanced (read: batshit crazy) Annie finds new and horrendous ways to torture Paul and bend him to her will. It seemed like a really real and honest depiction of the kind of mental torture that someone in that kind of spot would go through as Paul splits into a few different people: the one who wants to survive at all costs and the one who wants to destroy his captor.

I’ll be honest, when I realize how quickly the book got into the action, I wondered how the 338 pages would get filled. Next thing I know, it’s a few days later and I’m already done with the dang thing. This book propelled me through it, much like the last King book I read Under The Dome. I was driven not only by the fascinating character sketches being composed of Paul and Annie, but also by what Paul in the film calls “the gotta.” I hadta find out how or if Paul would get out of this one alive.

In addition to the psychological, thriller and horror aspects of the book (can’t tell you how many times I cringed reading scenes), I was also really interested in the fiction writing aspects of the book. Who better to create a character based on a wildly popular author than King? With that in mind, I really read closely the aspects of the process he talked about like falling through the hole in the paper to capture the story. I also thought the few parts where he wrote about super-fandom were really interesting, how people have, since the beginning of serialized fiction, become obsessed with the characters they love. He even throws in references to things like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killing off Sherlock Holmes and the backlash that caused. The same thing can be said today about Harry Potter or Twilight. Maybe it’s because, for some people, the experience of reading or watching the adventures of a person don’t really seem all that different from listening or viewing the experiences of real people. I mean, think about it, you can never really get into the head of another person and understand them, but you can with a character in a book. Maybe that’s enough for some people.

For me, it’s enough to just read and move on to the next one, though some scenes like the mop water one or the rat one will definitely live on with me for a bit. With King currently working on a book that will follow up with The Shining‘s Danny Torrance, I’d actually be interested to see if he’d ever return to Paul’s life, even if for just a short story. Did he ever get over his boogey man-like fear of Annie? Did he ever write another book? What’s he up to now? But, it’s better to be left with questions than be unsatisfied with all the answers, so I’m cool if he doesn’t go back. Oh, also, I thought it was cool that he made a reference to The Shining in the novel. Looks like King was trying to keep people away from Colorado just as much as Maine.

Up next for the ASRL will be Petal Pusher, a memoir by Laurie Lindeen a woman who I’m not familiar with who had some success with a band in the 90s. You had me at band.

Ambitious Summer Reading List: Don’t Mind If I Do By George Hamilton & William Stadiem

George Hamilton. I knew the name, but aside from a short lived talk show in the 90s, I didn’t really know why. I checked out his IMDb page and realized I’d only ever seen one of his movies (Godfather III, which I remember nothing of). So, how did I know him? Well, the dude’s a celebrity. He’s not just a movie star, he’s known. Why? Because he’s famous, of course. Why is he famous? Does it matter? Well, after reading his book Don’t Mind If I Do, which was co-written by William Stadiem who also worked on the wonderful Mr. S, yeah, it does. As a kid in the 80s and 90s, it turns out I knew Hamilton mostly from dating women like Elizabeth Taylor.

So, why did I pick this book up? Well, I was at Building 19 in New Hampshire and was drawn in for a few reasons. First off, I like that cover picture (let’s cut that whole “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” bull, shall we?). I knew enough about Hamilton to know he was famous, old and something of a Lothario, so I thought that would make for an interesting story. Lastly, the book was like $2 or so (as most books at the Building are). That’s the perfect combination to get my interest. I added it to my Ambitious Summer Reading list this year because, well, it was in the house. I purchased it recently and proximity really is important when it comes to books.

After reading the emotionally complex About A Boy, I wanted something a little lighter, a little more real world and fun. And boy, does DMIID have all of that in spades. I’ll tell you what, even if Hamilton wasn’t famous, he would be fascinating. His is the kind of tale a guy like me likes to read because it’s so different from my own experience. He’s a born hustler who has used his charm and skills to help make his way through life. He got the skills from his divorced mother who, like Blanche in Streetcar*, got by by relying on the kindness of strangers, mostly men who found her infatuating and had trouble saying no to her. For a while, George, his mom Teeny, his older half brother Bill and younger brother David lived like nomads, moving from town to town, bailing when things got bad and sticking around when things got good (or Teeny got married).

Roughly half of the book follows the Hamiltons on their pre-fame days and, to me, that was the most interesting part. That’s really saying something considering I’m fascinated by old Hollywood, the studio system and how an industry that supposedly reflects the morals of the people it entertains could be so wild and debaucherous (or forward thinking, depending on your POV, I guess). His family dynamic was endlessly fascinating to me and I could have honestly read a whole book about just that.

But his Hollywood adventures aren’t dull by any means. Far from a huge hit right away, Hamilton stuck through some really junkers to eventually make it big and become the kind of person a guy like me knows for no real reason. He talks pretty openly about his past relationships and the shenanigans he and his fellow Hollywood bachelors got up to. What really hit me in this time, though, was how Hamilton was able to replicate his mother’s lifestyle, but on a much grander scale. He might not have been in blockbusters, but he always seemed to be working and that included flying off to all corners of the world and hanging out with people like John Wayne, Tony Curtis or Cary Grant (reading about Grant for a few paragraphs in this book inspired me to pick up a used copy of one of his biographies which I’m sure I’ll eventually get to). I’ve always heard the term “jet set” and understood it in a more modern sense, but never really framed it in older days. It must have been a wild idea back then to party in a different country every day for a week.

I was also struck by how small the world of the rich and/or famous can be. Hamilton ran into an awful lot of people he knew from previous encounters at really important times in his life. I guess it helps when most of the people you know are rich and also happen to frequent lavish locales like Acapulco and Rome.

The fact that Hamilton (and Stadiem) tell the stories with such wit and a “here it is” attitude is what really makes the book a quick read (it would have taken me far less than a month to read this if we weren’t having some plumbing problems that had me preoccupied). I love that Hamilton owns everything he’s done and explains what happened without embarrassment or pretension. That’s a great attitude to have and one I hope to adopt at some point when I can stop worrying about pipes.

As an interesting side note to fans of longtime Sinatra valet George Jacobs and his book, Mr. S, he actually makes something of an appearance in this book which I got a kick out of. Sinatra fired George after he was seen dancing with Ol’ Blue Eyes’ then-wife Mia Farrow at a club (one that Hamilton co-owned!). After that, Jacobs went to work for Hamilton for a bit, but it turned out that Jacobs didn’t do much in the way of cleaning or cooking or, well, valeting. Sounds like he got a bit spoiled by Sinatra, who had other servants to do the dirty work. There’s that small world thing again, but also an interesting new perspective on another book’s point of view (I can’t remember if Jacobs mentioned Hamilton in his book). I’ve only read a handful of Hollywood books, but I’m certainly finding myself a fan of them. However, for the next Ambitious Summer Reading List contestant, I’m going for Stephen King’s Misery which started off crazy and just keeps getting more intense. Hopefully it won’t take me a month to finish that one.

Ambitious Summer Reading List 2012

Longtime readers might remember that I tried to tackle a large stack of classic books for my Ambitious Summer Reading List last year. Well, that wound up spreading into the beginning of this year and wound up not being a whole lot of fun. So, this summer, I wanted to try something different and finally read some of the books that have been sitting under my bed for ages. This is a mix of autobiography, mystery, psychological thriller/horror, slice of life, drama, food, music and just about everything else. I started off with Nick Hornby’s About A Boy (review coming soon because I finished it today), but don’t have an order figured out (last year’s was chronological).

The pile includes another Fletch book by Gregory McDonald (Fletch And The Man Who), Stephen King’s Misery, the aforementioned Boy, an oral history of the punk rock and new wave movements called Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, Anthony Bourdain’s follow-up to Kitchen Confidential called Medium Raw, Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake (I loved her book An Invisible Sing Of My Own), Alice Sebold’s The Almost Moon which I know nothing about but liked The Lovely Bones, the latest Diary Of A Wimpy Kid installment which doesn’t really count but I want to finally read it, Steve Martin’s autobio Born Standing Up, actor George Hamilton’s autobiography Don’t Mind If I Do, a book about a band I’ve never heard of called Petal Pusher by Laurie Lindeen and Erik Larson’s historical thriller The Devil In The White City.

It’s a pretty eclectic mix, but also a pretty apt representation of the kinds of books I’ve been wanting to read for a while, found for a few bucks at various places or both. I’m hoping that by choosing books I’m interested in, I’ll stick with them a little better. I also admit that the idea of actually focusing on getting through a dozen of the books I’ve been collecting for more years than I can count and either put them on a shelve (or more likely a box in storage) or give away to someone else. I’d much rather store books I’ve read and liked than ones I’m still waiting to get to.