As a rule, follow-through isn't one of my strengths. I'd go as far as to say that it's one of my most obvious weaknesses, if I'm being honest. My life is littered with the detritus of business ideas, short stories, home projects, and any number of other notions that I started and didn't finish. Given the fact that I'm clearly aware of this character flaw, you'd think that age would give me the wisdom to rectify it, or at least be aware of not taking on things that I'll struggle to finish. Instead, the opposite seems to be be happening as I grow older.
A recent case in point: my inability to focus on one book long enough to complete it before starting another. By my count, I am currently in the middle of five different books, having just this week finally finished Pat Conroy's excruciatingly honest memoir, The Death of Santini.
Because it's really difficult to have any idea when (or even whether) I'll finish any of the five, I thought you might be interested in a partial review of each book. Consider it sort of a bizarro Sentence of Dave.
Mark Leyner, The Sugar Frosted Nutsack
That same sentence artist turned me on to Leyner's sui generis brand of literary lunacy a long time ago. The author's dizzyingly comedic style reminds me of nothing so much as a coke-fueled Robin Williams standup routine with a plot, albeit a loosely connected one that may or may not choose to resolve itself. According to my Kindle app, I'm about 39% of the way through 'Nutsack', which is, as near as I can tell, the story of a group of modern-day gods ensconced in a Dubai skyscraper and obsessed with an unemployed anti-semitic plumber from New Jersey named Ike Carton, who may or may not be Jewish.
The story presents itself as the ritualistic chanting of a tribe of bards, with every diversion and recursion folded into the story as a natural extension, and in true Leyner fashion, nearly every paragraph is a diversion - he's a master of the non-linear. As Ben Marcus explains in a New York Times review of the book, "[Leyner] is either a genius or a freak, and it may not matter which, because his books are compulsively readable, created by a literary mind that seems to have no precedent." Frankly, it's exhausting, and made moreso by my lack of attention span. I'm doing a lousy job of reading this book, to be honest.
Michael Chabon, Telegraph Avenue
This is my first Chabon book, though I'm familiar with his lofty reputation. I picked this up at a little bookstore in Healdsburg, CA a few weeks ago, because I obviously needed to carry one more book home on the plane.
Set in 2004 on a decaying street on the border between Berkeley and Oakland, the first 92 pages of Telegraph Avenue tell the story of a failing vinyl record store owned by a pair of friends. Brokeland Records' demise seems to be hastening, as the community's most prominent political force as brokered a deal to attract a big box megamedia store owned by a football star-turned entrepreneur.
The book moves easily between its modern setting and the early days of one of the protagonists' father's modestly successful blaxploitation film career. Chabon has a gift for detail, and for conveying sounds and smells that drive the action. Both cinematic and musical, the book tackles themes of race, gender, social equality, and gentrification. Or at least I think it will.
Bob Ryan, Scribe
The veteran sportswriter's memoir is a fairly straightforward account of his time in the game, at least up to 1987, but it's told with brevity and wit. It doesn't hurt that Ryan got to cover some of the best NBA teams of all-time, pre-Jordan Bulls. His love for sports, particularly NBA basketball, is clear, as is his obvious gratitude for the life he's led.
Ryan's not looking to break any news in this book, but his choice of John Havlicek as the greatest basketball player in history might at least offer a starting point for an interesting barstool debate.
Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding
Harbach's debut novel was highly touted upon its release in 2011, later being named one of the New York Times' Best Books of the year. It's equal parts Chip Hilton and Jane Smiley, a slowly-unfolding story about the baseball team and President of Westish College, a fictional Division III school hard on the Wisconsin shores of Lake Michigan. It's got romance (both in baseball and human terms), bromance, and a bit of Kinsellan mysticism.
I'd read some reviews of this one when it was released, and am apprehensively turning pages in dread of the Knoblauchian plot twist that befalls the story's mild-mannered and decent central character. And so while Harbach's book is beautifully drawn, it may take me some time to work up the courage to finish it.
Jamie Summerlin, Freedom Run
One of my co-workers is an avid endurance athlete, and as a formerly overweight kid and young adult, particularly drawn to stories of perseverance and overcoming limits. (He's also, coincidentally, married to one of my wife's college roommates, so I've known him for many years prior to working with him.) In a previous professional life, he was a professor at West Virginia University, where he taught Summerlin.
The subtitle to this book is 'A 100-Day, 3,452-Mile Journey Across America to Benefit Wounded Veterans'. Summerlin, a former Marine, decided in 2010 that his training as an endurance athlete could be put to use in service of a greater good. As he writes in the prologue, "Maybe running is what I can use to accomplish something more meaningful. Maybe that is my calling in life."
And then he went and ran from Coos Bay, OR to Rehoboth Beach, DE. I assume he made it, though I've only read the first few pages. I started reading this one expecting that I would meet Jamie at the Richmond Marathon yesterday, where I'd planned to run the half. My absurd work (and eating) schedule over the past few weeks led me to defer my race entry until next year, so I've got 365 days or so to finish the story.
Maybe I'll have completed one or two of the other books on this list by then.