Thursday, April 6, 2017

March's Best Reads

Spring training brought some baseball-themed reads. None of them disappointed. The non-baseball-related book kicked ass, too.

Nasty Cutter, Tim O’Mara. Raymond Donne is back in school for the fourth book in the series. He’s the kind of teacher I like to think I would have been had I stuck with it: no-nonsense but with a soft interior. Having taught in a city school myself, I know O’Mara has the feel and atmosphere just right. He also handles the “amateur sleuth” problem as well as anyone currently writing them. Donne has the background to come by the skills he shows honestly and the position to have opportunities thrust upon him. The supporting cast provides both input and resources without reaching for anything. This is a well-written solid series that deserves a lot more attention than it gets.

The Kid From Tomkinsville, John R. Tunis. I first read Tunis’s Brooklyn Dodgers books when I was a kid. Now I fully appreciate them. Young adult sports fiction in the 1940s was typically Frank Merriwell stuff. Tunis was the first to put an edge to them. Yes, Roy Tucker comes out on top in the end, but not before a freak injury endangers his career, the team’s manager dies in a car wreck, and the star pitcher gets his drunk on and almost throws Roy out a window. Much darker stuff than was typical of the time, and now I’m old enough to appreciate the writing as well.

Tomato Red, Daniel Woodrell. Starts out more like a Charles Portis novel than Winter’s Bone, which is fine. I love Charles Portis. Then an unexpected but not unreasonable plot twist comes out of left field and everything changes. Woodrell has a gift for creating less than sympathetic characters and still elicit the reader’s empathy. Maybe it’s his ability to show they’re not bad people, but they can’t catch a break and have a tendency to act out at inopportune times to become their own worst enemies. Whatever it is, he lays it out in beautiful prose that never draws attention to itself and places you in the Ozarks and the story. A wonderful writer.

Moneyball, Michael Lewis. I assumed he had a gift for explaining unnecessarily arcane subjects like Wall Street from The Big Short and Flash Boys, though I could only guess at how well I understood because I knew so little about the topics going in. Baseball is something I know quite a bit about, and he crushed this one, too. Lewis knows exactly how much context to supply and where to put it, and a writing style that is conversational but never sloppy. People who know me well will wonder how it took so long to get to Moneyball. It’s because I do know some baseball and Lewis had to convince me he wasn’t just some dilettante slumming in the sports world. I’m well and truly hooked now. There are lessons well beyond baseball here.  

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