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We’ve all heard stories – usually intended to be inspirational in some way, shape or form – about people who have died and come back. People who have suffered some sort of catastrophic accident or health-related incident and briefly passed away, only to, through some combination of quality treatment and pure luck, return.

The thing is, that’s often where the story stops – with the return. But what about what happens next? And what about the other people, the friends and family who, if you’ll pardon me, lived through it?

Those questions and their answers serve as the foundation for Drew Magary’s “The Night the Lights Went Out: A Memoir of Life After Brain Damage” (Harmony, $27). It’s the story of a fateful night a few years ago when the author suffered a massive and still-unexplained brain injury, one that led to his brief (but very real) death, followed by a medically-induced coma. It’s also the story of what happened when he woke up, as well as of the people who were there to witness what happened during that stretch of time before he came back. Not to mention his ongoing efforts toward some kind of recovery.

As you might imagine, there’s a lot of darkness to be explored here. And make no mistake – the shadows run deep in some sections of this book. But here’s the thing – Magary has developed a unique voice over his years of online writing (you can currently find him doing his thing on the excellent collectively-owned website Defector, which you should 100% subscribe to), a voice that is sharp and sly and self-aware and perfectly capable of mining humor and heart from the bleakest of ores.

Published in Livin'
Wednesday, 06 October 2021 12:34

‘Got Warrants?’ warrants your attention

Writers spring from all walks of life. And they can arrive at the vocation via any number of paths. Some follow the academic path, moving through MFA programs designed to help them hone their crafts. Others find the calling later in life, moved to share their stories after having lived them.

Tim Cotton falls into the latter category.

A police officer, Cotton’s talents were first made apparent via the viral spread of the Bangor Police Department Facebook page. His combination of observational humor, wry wit and situational awareness turned the department’s posts into must-read material, with the page’s reach expanding into the hundreds of thousands under Cotton’s watch.

And hey, when you’ve got that many people reading what you write, it only makes sense to write a book; Cotton’s “Detective in the Dooryard,” published last year, proved to be something of a hit. And what do you do when you have a hit? Aim for another one.

Cotton’s newest book is “Got Warrants?” (Down East Books, $24.95), a compendium of some of the highlights from the BPD Facebook page’s regular feature of the same name. Said feature is a celebration of the lighter side of policing, offering up humorous observations of some of the illicit nonsense that folks will sometimes get up to.

Published in Buzz

BANGOR – Bangor’s own literary law enforcement officer is at it again.

Lieutenant Tim Cotton of the Bangor Police Department has released a new book, his second. “Got Warrants?” is a follow-up to last year’s “The Detective in the Dooryard,” both published by Down East Books.

Cotton’s introduction to most readers came during his lengthy and wildly popular time at the helm of the Bangor PD’s Facebook page; his combination of wit and wisdom led to the page gathering hundreds of thousands of followers – basically, the population of Bangor tenfold.

So it’s no surprise that someone out there in the publishing world would take notice and see if TC’s unconventional style would work in book form. And judging from the success of “TDITD,” it seems that it does.

It certainly worked well enough to get Cotton back behind the word processor (or typewriter – it wouldn’t shock me to learn that these pages came off the roller of a vintage Underwood) for another go round.

“Got Warrants?” is a collection of items drawn from the BPD Facebook page’s feature of the same name, where Cotton injected a welcome dose of cleverness and clarity into the boilerplate stylings of the standard reportage of the police beat. It’s a mixture that probably shouldn’t work, but it does. You can read our review of the book here.

It works because Cotton brings a consistent collegiality to the proceedings. He has a self-deprecating sense of humor that manages to carry a little bit of snark without ever becoming mean-spirited – no easy feat. He is someone who is passionate about his work and his community – a passion that carries through everything that he writes. There’s nothing disingenuous here; everything comes from a place of honesty. That’s true of the social media offerings and it’s true of the books.

Published in Cover Story
Wednesday, 29 September 2021 12:20

‘The Baseball 100’ an absolute home run

I love baseball history.

As an athletic late bloomer, my initial love of baseball came from its stories. Now, those stories came in different forms. Some were told through first-hand accounts and memories. Others were told through numbers. Both were fascinating to a clumsy kid who loved the game a bit more than it loved him back.

And yet, as much as I love baseball history … Joe Posnanski loves it more.

Posnanski’s new book is “The Baseball 100” (Avid Reader Press, $40), and it’s exactly what it sounds like – a compendium of essays, a list of the greatest players in the long history of the sport, ranked according to the opinions and whims of one man. The book was born of an ongoing feature at the sports website The Athletic, where the first versions of these essays ran.

It’s a wonderful collection of snapshots, purely distilled amalgams of both kinds of stories – memories and numbers – delivered with the unique aw-shucks humility and elevated dad humor of Joe Posnanski. His reverence for the game, his sheer unadulterated love for it, runs through every one of these 100 pieces. From inner circle Hall of Famers to names that might not be as familiar to the casual fan, Posnanski counts us down through the greatest of all time.

Published in Sports

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away … “

With those words, on an opening crawl that crept its way up from the bottom of movie screens all over the world, the “Star Wars” phenomenon was born. From those beginnings, an entertainment dynasty was born, one consisting of films, books, television shows, comic books, action figures, video games and literally any other creative content that one might be able to imagine.

But how much do you really know about how this phenomenon came to be?

In “Secrets of the Force: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Wars” (St. Martin’s Press, $29.99), authors Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman have attempted to provide a clearinghouse of sorts, an assemblage of interviews and other ephemera that covers the breadth of the Star Wars experience. Pulling from a variety of sources from across more than four decades, the book attempts to tell the entire story.

As to how successful it is? Well … that depends on your perspective.

Published in Buzz

I’m a sucker for sports history. It doesn’t even really matter the sport – I generally lean toward the Big Four, but honestly, any discussion of the athletic past will work. I have my sporting foci – baseball and football foremost among them – but as a general fan, I can derive joy from coverage of just about any athletic endeavor.

The moral to the story is simple: With the right pairing of subject matter and author, a work of sports nonfiction can really sing.

Longtime Boston sports journalist Leigh Montville is one of the best to ever do the gig, with a decades-long body of work covering some of the most iconic moments in American sports. His latest book is “Tall Men, Short Shorts – The 1969 NBA Finals: Wilt, Russ, Lakers, Celtics, and a Very Young Sports Reporter” (Doubleday, $29), a look back at the series that would ultimately mark the ending of the lengthy Celtics NBA dynasty of the 1950s and 1960s. A series that saw a certain bright young man – just 24 years of age and setting out on what would become an iconic career as an ink-stained wretch – crisscrossing the country as part of the now-legendary NBA Finals matchup between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers in 1969.

It’s also a wonderful bit of autobiographical writing, a reflection on the beginnings of a storied career. Those moments of memory and memoir are what elevate this book from what would be a perfectly adequate work of sports history into something more, a wry look back from someone who understands that the person he once was had a lot to learn.

Published in Sports

A lot of the best comedy comes from darkness. For many of our funniest, the shadows are where they find the biggest laughs. As it turns out, one can mine a lot of jokes from battling with one’s demons.

Comedy connoisseurs are certainly aware of Tom Scharpling. He’s likely best known as the creator of the beloved long-running radio show-turned-podcast “The Best Show,” where he and his partner Jon Wurster have spent some two decades crafting a bizarre and absurdist call-in program that is probably one of your favorite comedian’s favorite things.

And now, he’s written a memoir.

“It Never Ends: A Memoir with Nice Memories!” (Abrams Press, $27) gives readers a window into who Scharpling really is. It’s an exploration of a troubled past rendered with self-deprecating frankness, walking us along the path that brought him to his current place. There’s an earnestness to it all, despite the constant self-awareness – an unwavering honesty, even in the face of clear misgivings about sharing these stories in their entirety.

Published in Buzz

Video games are big business.

Now, anyone with any sort of cultural awareness understands that the video game industry is a big one, but when you stop to really look, the numbers are staggering.

We’re talking a LOT of zeroes here, to the tune of some $180 billion (yes, with a B) just last year. That number outstrips the global movie industry. It outstrips the North American sports industry. And oh yeah – it’s more than those two COMBINED.

So yeah – big money.

But with big money comes big pressure. The companies that make these games, whether we’re talking about the major-name studios doing the distribution at the top or the multitude of smaller shops that tend to the lion’s share of the developmental work to bring these games to life, are faced with massive expectations. When those expectations are not met, there are of course consequences, but even success is no guarantee.

Jason Schreier’s “Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry” (Grand Central Publishing, $17.99) takes a look behind the scenes at the video game industry, digging deep and investigating the stories that spring from every game development experience. Some of them are good, some not-so-good, all populated by designers and developers who want nothing more than to make great games – even if the success of those games doesn’t always trickle down to them.

Through first-rate reporting and dozens of first-hand interviews, Schreier walks us through the process of making games through the eyes of the people who make them. We also get to explore the business side of things, watching as executives insert themselves into the process regardless of whether they actually know anything about video games.

As they say – mo’ money, mo’ problems.

Published in Tekk

Sports biographies are tricky things.

The history of professional sports in this country is built on a foundation of legacy. The lionization of athletic giants is an underlying tenet of pro sports, with the games in a constant conversation with their own history. Protecting that history – that legacy – is paramount to many if not most pro athletes.

At the same time, leaving that history unexamined does a disservice to the reader. A simple and glowing account of an athlete’s feats, all buffed glossiness, is nothing more than hagiography – overly simplistic, unchallenging … and incredibly dull.

And it only gets trickier when the subject isn’t directly involved.

That’s the juggling act Scott Howard-Cooper has undertaken with his new book “Steve Kerr: A Life” (William Morrow, $28.99). It’s the story of the rich and fascinating life lived by Steve Kerr. From his globetrotting boyhood to an underdog basketball journey to the pinnacle of his profession, Kerr’s is a tale almost too interesting to be real, marked by triumph and tragedy.

Published in Sports

The notion of Yankee ingenuity is one that has long been engrained into the cultural consciousness of New England. The twin tenets of “needs doing” and “making do” are huge parts of the region’s history, with generations of people finding ways to accomplish what needs accomplishing via utilizing what’s on hand through general cleverness.

As you might imagine, this also means that there is a lengthy history of invention and innovation that springs from the region. And a great deal of that inventing and innovating has taken place in the state of Maine.

Author and historian Earl H. Smith has taken it upon himself to celebrate Maine’s inventors with his new book “Downeast Genius: From Earmuffs to Motor Cars, Maine Inventors who Changed the World” (Islandport Press, $17.95). It’s a quick-hit breakdown of over 50 Mainers whose creations made an impact on the world – some big, some small, but all entertaining.

The work of these innovators spans the decades, reaching from the waning days of the 18th century to the cusp of the 21st. These inventions also impact a wide variety of industries, from the agricultural age to the electronic. And each of these people – and their work – is brought to our attention in eminently readable bite-sized fashion. A fun, quick read – engaging and informative.

Published in Style
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