Monday, 29 November 2021 15:38

Turn the page: 2021's Recommended Reads

Reviewing books is one of the best parts of my job. As part of that job, I’ve read dozens of books over the course of the past year. I freely admit that I tend to seek out works that I know will resonate for me – and hence usually enjoy the books I review – but even with that degree of curation, there’s no denying that there are always some that particularly stand out.

This is not your traditional “best of” list – not my style. Instead, consider this a collection of recommendations. These are suggestions; I enjoyed them, so I thought that you might as well. I’ve also included selections from my writings about these books (please note that the full reviews are available on our website). Bear in mind that this is not a comprehensive list – there are literally hundreds more great books that came out this year, exceptional works that I simply never got a chance to read.

I’m not arrogant enough to call these the best books of the year – it’s all subjective and this is just one man’s opinion. What I can say is that every one of these works captured my imagination and my attention … and perhaps one or more of them will do the same for you.

And now, without further ado, here are my recommended reads from 2021, divided into fiction and nonfiction and listed in alphabetical order.

Published in Cover Story

It’s easy to forget, in this world of commonplace multimillion-dollar contracts across the professional sports landscape, that it wasn’t always about the money. Well, not entirely about the money anyway.

Take the NBA, for example. Today, the league is a global powerhouse, a corporate machine featuring massive television contracts and marketing deals and individual teams worth literal billions of dollars. But it wasn’t so long ago that pro basketball was a good living, but far from providing the generational wealth it does today.

It was a different time. A time worth remembering.

“Wish It Lasted Forever: Life with the Larry Bird Celtics” (Scribner, $28) takes a look at an iconic team in the days just before everything changed. Written by Dan Shaughnessy about his time covering the Celtics beat for the Boston Globe (1982-86), it’s an up-close-and-personal look at a time that simply doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a book packed with the sorts of stories that could never happen today, tales from the road when everyone – players, coaches and media – traveled together and dined together, staying in the same hotels and generally being a constant presence in one another’s lives.

These stories – stories about what the players were really like in the locker room and at the bar after the game as well as about their performance on the court – are a fascinating snapshot of a bygone era, featuring compelling and thoughtful looks at some of the greatest to ever play the game. Rendered with the standard self-deprecatory wit and good humor by Shaughnessy, it’s a book that any Celtics fan – any NBA fan, really – will find to be fascinating reading.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 10 November 2021 13:24

It’s all a matter of taste – ‘Tacky’

People like what they like. Some people are high-minded with regard to their cultural consumption, while others revel in the lowbrow. And there are those of us – I’m including myself here – who find things to like on both ends of the taste spectrum. It’s not right or wrong. It simply is.

Sure, there are folks out there who will gleefully look down their nose at people who embrace items, ideas and experiences that the snobbier among us consider beneath them. It’s the conflicting differences between the hois polloi – the original Greek definition (indicating the masses or general public) and the adopted meaning (people of distinction; the elite) – writ large.

But still – people like what they like, however tacky some might consider it.

In “Tacky: Love Letters to the Worst Culture We Have to Offer” (Vintage, $15.95), Rax King offers up essays celebrating the things she loves, no matter how lowbrow they might be. These pieces illustrate a life lived not for the sake of appearances, but for the sake of enjoyment. And we’re not talking about detached, ironic enjoyment either – Rax King likes what she likes and could genuinely care less how you feel about it.

Over the course of these 14 essays, King goes long and deep on things that perhaps haven’t often received the long/deep treatment. She talks about chain restaurants and comfort food and reality television, all acting as a framework wherein she can explore her own development. These pieces are smart and crass and unapologetic and wildly entertaining.

Published in Style

The ubiquity of the internet. It is part of our everyday lives, like it or not. Over the past quarter-century, the online explosion has radically altered the world and the way we move through it.

For many of you, that has always been the world. If you were born anytime after 1990 or so, you likely have no memories of a world without the internet. Sure, you might recall the frustrating early days of dial-up modems and slow-loading websites, a time when your entire afternoon might be spent downloading a single song. But the internet is and has always been omnipresent.

However, those of us who are older have clear and distinct memories of a different time and place. A time and place where the internet felt more like science fiction than simple reality. We’ve said good-bye to a lot of things from those bygone days – some of them minor, some incredibly significant – but the one factor they all have in common is that they don’t appear to be coming back.

Thus we get “100 Things We've Lost to the Internet” (Crown, $27). Pamela Paul, editor of The New York Times Book Review, offers up a collection of snapshots from the before times, quick-hit glimpses at a vast array of items and experiences that are simply … gone. They exist only in old photographs (remember those?) or increasingly dusty memories. These habits and learned behaviors, these compulsions and desires – vanished, never to be experienced by those who came after.

These short essays explore the vast array of alterations wrought by the internet, all of them presented with a combination of wistfulness and self-effacing humor. Because here’s the thing – while we might miss a lot of this stuff, we also have to concede that in a lot of ways, we’re better off … even if we perhaps don’t want to admit it. And some of it? Well … some of it we sure would like to have back.

Published in Tekk

There’s a certain flavor of nonfiction – I call it stunt nonfiction, but your mileage may vary – that is built around a particular gimmick. It’s tough to articulate what it is specifically, considering how many different ways one might partake, but generally, you know it if you see it.

Maybe it’s a book about making every recipe in a single cookbook or committing to saying “yes” to everything. Maybe it’s about taking the field with a professional football team as a rank amateur or tracking down everyone you find in a random pack of baseball cards. Maybe it’s about trying to follow the Bible or Oprah as closely and as literally as possible for one year.

Or maybe, if you’re Douglas Wolk, it’s about reading every single Marvel comic and considering it as one expansive story.

That’s what Wolk did with his new book “All of the Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever Told” (Penguin Press, $28). In an effort to demonstrate the comprehensive nature of the Marvel meta-arc over the course of the decades, Wolk read every single comic Marvel published from 1961 (considered to be the start of the true Marvel Age) through 2017, when he first decided to undertake the massive project.

Published in Style

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
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