Friday, July 06, 2007

The Great American Posting Bash

Back in the 1980's, the National Wrestling Association promoted a month-long tour called the 'Great American Bash' that ran for a straight month. The then-NWA champion Ric Flair (or whomever was the champ, though it was usually Flair) would defend his title every night against a different opponent in a different city across the eastern and southern United States, culminating in one big pay-per-view event around the fourth of July.

As you may recall, I paid tribute to this month-long tour last year by posting daily for nearly a whole month last year. I was interrupted by my yearly baseball road trip with the boys, but I'm working that into this year's schedule. Four weeks of posts, minus four days for the trip. If God can get a rest every six days, so can I.

Ok, so, ummm, topic #1. I may as well finish off my mini-reviews of the 40 books I signed out from the London library last spring, as they were due for the final time today. I got through 29 books in 62 days, a feat that I consider to be pretty darn impressive, if not quite the zenith of what I could've done. The final eleven went back on the shelves and I'm going to take note of them, as I may yet see them in the next life, brotha. Anyway, onto the reviews.


Elmore Leonard is awesome. Not exactly an original thought, true, but it bears repeating. In a literary career that spans six decades, the old man can still crank out a good novel. The Hot Kid is one of my favourite Leonard books, as it combines great dialogue, humour, clever characters, drama, crime, action, and 1930's slang in a novel that is part Depression-era gangster tale and part Western. This might have been my favourite book of the entire forty. I got so into it that I stayed up an entire night to finish it, finally going to bed at 6 AM and ruining myself for early-morning work the next day. C'est la vie.


Here is Sue Grafton's problem, in a nutshell. Her alphabetically-named mystery series obliges her to write 26 novels. Unless she drops dead in the next few years, she has no excuse for not finishing the series. It's damn hard to come up with 26 original ideas for murder mysteries. How many mystery series even last through 26 installments? The rust has shown in some of Grafton's novels, which vacillate between really good and very blah, and Q Is For Quarry is thankfully a bit closer to the really good side. It's still probably 50-75 pages longer than it needs to be, and once the actual suspects are introduced halfway through the novel (the case being investigated is a cold case, so it takes a bit longer than usual) the denouement is somewhat predictable. That said, the dialogue and situations were pretty enjoyable, and as time has passed, the idea of having a mystery series set within the mid-80's has become more and more clever -- Q is for quaint, as it so happens. Grafton has saved herself a lot of trouble in keeping up with modern forensic science and police methods by just ignoring them. Much like the woman in the Bowling For Soup song, she's still preoccupied with 1985.


I wasn't much a fan of Ben Elton's Popcorn (reviewed a couple of weeks ago), but I was much more impressed with his novel Blast From The Past. Part of the reason I enjoyed it was that it sort of reminded me of an episode of Lost. The book is about two long-ago lovers who meet up in the present, and the book constantly flashes back (a la Lost) to mete out further details of their past fling. The flashbacks keep up coming throughout, so you're being fed new information right up until the shocking finale. It's got kind of a half-romance, half-messed up vibe going on, and it's quite a good read. This novel doesn't suffer from the serial trying-to-be-cleverness than overwhelmed Popcorn. This novel, by the way, bears no relationship to the Brendan Fraser/Alicia Silverstone Blast From the Past. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.


Few books are more satisfying than the Count of Monte Cristo. Who can resist a good old-fashioned tale of a guy taking systematic revenge on those who wronged him? Frankly, I think vengeance is a natural part of the human condition. Achieving success wouldn't be as satisfying as achieving success at the expense of those who held us back from success in the past. What would you rather do -- eat a hamburger, or eat a hamburger after being forced onto a vegan diet for years by an evil dietician, who then must not just watch you hungrily scarf down a burger but also be forced to eat one himself? (Dramatization, may not have happened).

Anyway, Stephen Fry's Revenge (also known as The Stars' Tennis Balls in the U.K.) s a modern-day retelling of the legendary Count of Monte Cristo story. It isn't as lame as the recent Count film (tagline; Count on revenge...Jesus Christ, are you kidding?), and for those unfamiliar with the Alexandre Dumas novel will find it a ripping good yarn on its own. Fry is very creative in finding ways for his Edmund Dantes character to wreak havoc on his tormentors. Let's just say that child porn is involved.


I suspect that listening to a Garrison Keillor audio book would be more rewarding than actually reading one of his novels. Keillor has one of the all-time great radio voices and his work is greatly improved by his delivery. Love Me, Keillor's semi-autobiographical yet comically exaggerated novel, is very funny in some places but lacks a certain momentum through the long (LONG) middle section when the main character is in New York. The plot digresses into a long subplot about Mafia ownership of the New York that I'm sure would've been hilarious had the references not gone over my head like a Rick Ankiel pitch (speaking of obscure references...). Things pick back up when the protagonist moves back to Minnesota, but by then the book only has about 30-40 pages to go. I wouldn't necessarily recommend Love Me as a novel, but if you have a long car ride in your future, try to track down the audio book.

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