Nonfiction


Double Play

Double Play by Robert Parker book cover

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by Robert B. Parker
G.P. Putnam’s Sons (2004)

My favorite drink is a big ice cold glass of water, one you can chug down in a single gulp. Almost all of Robert B. Parker’s novels read just like that—a refreshing ice cold drink on a hot summer’s day.

And then there’s Double Play, which isn’t what you’d call heavy, but a read that goes down more like a couple of shots of gin over ice. It’s one you’ll want to read a bit slower and certainly one to sip and savor.

As much as I enjoy Parker’s Spencer, Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall novels, this one comes at us out of right-field (or at least the right side of the infield) and with a wonderful premise.

One doesn’t have to be a baseball wonk to know that Jackie Robinson came to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, broke the color barrier and in doing so helped not only integrate major league baseball but also stole the first base for America’s integration.

You didn’t have to see him play (which I did in Ebbets Field in ’56) or have interviewed the man who threw him the very first pitch (Johnny Sain) which I have, to know the back story.

Robinson played for years with not only his dignity but his life on the line. There were death threats in almost every ballpark he played in during those early years.

So here comes Parker with Double Play. Read More »

Dave Barry Turns 40

Dave Barry Turns 40 book cover

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by Dave Barry
Crown Publishers, Inc. (1990)

Those of us who miss chuckling our way through his weekly newspaper columns should know that we’ve been blessed with an archival library of Dave Barry’s greatest wit.

Barry Books—somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty to date—fiction and non-fiction!

And were this a food buffet, when we made our selections from this hilarious smorgasbord, we’d find DAVE BARRY TURNS 40 in a prime location, down there at the far end where the chef in the big white cap is carving the roast beef. Read More »

The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams

The Kid by Ben Bradlee book cover

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by Ben Bradlee, Jr.
Little Brown (2013)

Everything we wanted to know about Ted Williams and more?

At first blush yes, hell yes! After all this is the umpteenth book written about Williams, a 775 page tome that if dropped on the scales would outweigh one of The Kid’s Louisville Sluggers, the lumber that the Splendid Splinter spent a career baking, boning, primping, until they—in the hands of that incredible swing of his—made him the greatest left-handed power hitter to ever play the game.

But thanks to this Ben Bradlee, Jr. biography, what we have is: EVERYTHING we wanted to know about Ted Williams.

Ted Williams was half Mexican. Ted Williams made a career of not only knocking down American league fences he carried a lifelong chip on his broad shoulders the size of one of those satin Pedro’s South of the Border pillows. And, says Bradlee, this can be traced back to the kid’s shame of his Mexican background and his upbringing by a single mother who spent more time on the streets of San Diego banging a tambourine for the Salvation Army than she did at home raising Ted and his younger brother.

Once we’ve learned that his mother was Mexican and how it impacted Williams’ personality, did Bradlee need to shake the kid’s family tree until reprobate uncles and alcoholic aunts came tumbling out?  Perhaps not.  Are there a few too many graphic details about the cryptogenics and where the man’s head hangs today? For this reader, yes. Read More »

The Great Santini

The Great Santini

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by Pat Conroy
Houghton Mifflin (1976)

There are characters we love and there are characters we love to hate.

The Great Santini, i.e., Bull Meecham, a Marine Fighter pilot, may be the perfect hardnosed, brave, single-minded man to have in the air over an enemy country, shooting down rival planes, dropping bombs on evil empires. But there’s a problem. World War II and Korea are behind him now, the fighting’s over and when he lands the plane he has to come home.

Home to a family he rules with an iron fist. Lillian, his beautiful Atlanta bred wife loves him, but lives to protect their kids from the oft violent, crude, rude, racist and socially unacceptable bull of a father.

When Lieutenant Colonel Meecham returns from that one-year tour in Europe the family—having lived comfortably with Lillian’s mother in Atlanta—is relocated to yet another marine base (they’ve lived in so many) and find themselves in Ravenel, South Carolina, where many adjustments must be made. Read More »

Monday Night Mayhem

Monday Night Mayhem book cover

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by Marc Gunther and Bill Carter
Beech Tree Books, William Morrow (1988)

A note to those of us who back in the early seventies got such a kick out of Monday Night Football.

Turns out it wasn’t just the viewing audience having all the fun.

Roone Arledge, the founding father of MNF, became the God of TV sports.

The unique broadcasts—the NFL on Monday night, the talented crew, the multiple cameras, the Honey Shots from the crowd—helped ABC Sports turn a profit for the first-time ever.

Sponsors like Miller Lite and Ford who bought the package tonned it.

The boys in the booth, Howard “The Coach” Cosell, “Dandy” Don Meredith and “Faultless” Frank Gifford, all suddenly household words, took celebrity to new and breath taking heights.

And perhaps more importantly, the televising of sports would never again be the same.

Hell, even Don Ohlmeyer and Chet Forte, those talented techno geeks who called the shots from the production truck, not only parlayed the telecasts into gigantic careers, but into their own personal chick magnet!

See a lovely lady in the crowd; send a gofer out to ask if she’d like to sit in the production truck and watch the “masters” (and Johnson) produce Monday Night Football.

If there’s a downside to Monday Night Mayhem for some it might be best described by the old saw regarding sausage, “Great to eat but you wouldn’t want to see how it’s made!” Read More »

84, Charing Cross Road

84 Charing Cross Road book cover

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by Helene Hanff
Avon Books (1970)

If there was ever a text book for our “why not try an older book” initiative here at Page Turners from the Past it’s clearly Helene Hanff’s bestseller 84, Charing Cross Road. Where else would you find a most entertaining older book, circa 1970, by an author who not only loves reads from the past but comes right out on the seventh page with the confirmation?

The book’s made up of a series of engaging letters from page turner (Hanff) to Marks & Co., Booksellers, a London house that specializes in older book sales. Here on page seven our bibliophile writes: “I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read of interest. The day Hazlitt (a book of Hazlitt’s essays she’d ordered) came he (Hazlitt) opened to “I hate to read new books,” and I hollered “Comrade!” to whoever owned it before me.”

Well comrade indeed. The only difference—which flies in the face of page turners from the past— is the fact that Helene Hanff (who lived in NY City and wrote for television and crafted children’s books) is, by her choice of books from the London seller, a bit, shall we say, highbrow.

And damned funny! And as her letter’s reveal, very generous! Read More »

A Good Life

Newspapering and Other Adventures

A Good Life book cover

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by Ben Bradlee (1995)

Good Life, Great Read!

Miss the days when, coffee in hand and in slippers and robe, you’d wait for the sound of the morning paper to hit the front porch?

Ben Bradlee’s autobiography takes us back to the day when, of a morning, you’d open a Post, Times, Gazette or Herald and read earth shattering news, banner headlines not only announcing but making history—KENNEDY ASSASSINATED, BREAK IN AT DEMOCRATIC HEADQUARTERS, PENTAGON PAPERS RELEASED, WATERGATE HEARINGS BEGIN, VIETNAM RAGES, NIXON RESIGNS.

And Ben Bradlee may not have set the type but he sure as hell helped set the standard. No newspaperman in recent history made a greater impact on the future of U.S. journalism than the Washington Post’s managing editor.

Perfect, made all the right calls? No not even close. But it’s hard to imagine a more candid, accurate and generous account (he heaps praise on this fellow editors and writers) from the eye of the storm than Bradlee’s.

The early days—his growing up in Boston—have their moments. And Bradlee’s years as a slack-off—drinking, carousing, card player—at Harvard comes equipped with self-deprecating humor. His stint in the Pacific—zipping up and down in harm’s way on a Navy destroyer chasing Japanese subs, covering landing operations and firing deck guns at point blank range into enemy aircraft—makes riveting reading. . . while serving as a great reminder of what Bradlee and the Great Generation were thrown into during that “second war to end all wars.”

His post-war stepping stones, stories of the jobs that lead to the Post’s managing editor position must be told—early newspapering at the award winning New Hampshire Sunday News, earning his stripes on his first tour with the Washington Post, U.S. Press attaché stationed in Paris, and then as the European correspondent of Newsweek. But these early adventures, even considering the divorce from his first wife, Jean, and his affairs (not necessary in that order), are up against some rather strong autobiographical competition. I mean, who but Ben Bradlee (which he sees as the fortune that followed him his entire good life) would find themselves as the centerpiece (of sorts) of our history.

And that’s what makes A Good Life one of America’s great modern day autobiographies. Read More »

The Gold Coast: A Novel

The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille

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by Nelson DeMille
Grand Central Publishing (1990)

What do you get when two dying breeds—old blueblood money and the mafia—clash in one of America’s great novels?

The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille.

Hey, I’ve read the novel three times but since the publisher captured the story with such clarity I’ll humbly bow to this succinct and spot-on dust jacket summary.

Welcome to the fabled Gold Coast, that stretch on the North Shore of Long Island that once held the greatest concentration of wealth and power in America. Here two men are destined for an explosive collision: John Sutter, Wall Street lawyer, holding fast to a fading aristocratic legacy; and Frank Bellarosa, the Mafia don who seizes his piece of the staid and unprepared Gold Coast like a latter-day barbarian chief and draws Sutter and his regally beautiful wife, Susan, into his violent world. Told from Sutter’s sardonic and often hilarious point of view, and laced with sexual passion and suspense, The Gold Coast is Nelson DeMille’s captivating story of friendship and seduction, love and betrayal. Read More »

Ragtime: A Novel

by E.L. Doctorow
1974

Ragtime book cover

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Ragtime is a form of jazz, a musical genre written for the piano that enjoyed great popularity between the late 1800s to the early 1920s.

So, one might assume that E.L. Doctorow chose to tell Ragtime, his most compelling turn of the century story of America, in a jaunty, syncopated or jazzy rhythm. His third-person prose clearly have a poet’s touch, written in an experimental lyrical style the likes of which readers had never quite experienced, at least not until the publication of this 1974 winner of The National Book Critics Circle Award.

Now, having rounded up a few of Doctorow’s post-publication interviews regarding the work, I’m not sure that–style-wise–he saw the book quite that way. What I think the author might lay claim to is simply being a storyteller, something that’s been going on since the painting of ancient hieroglyphics and perhaps more significantly the birth of the Bible.

That said, what Doctorow does in Ragtime is take the liberty of any good storyteller (again, the Bible exemplifies this) by making up words and thoughts that actual people never said. This is commonplace in fiction today, but as Doctorow said in one of those aforementioned interviews, “(it) opened the gates!” Read More »

OPEN: An Autobiography

Andre Agassi OPEN book cover

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by Andre Agassi
Vintage Books (2010)

During his incredible high-profile career as a tennis champion Andre Agassi won a total of eight Grand Slams. After reading OPEN, his 2010 autobiography, I think we can say. . .make that nine!

OPEN is clearly a winner!

The #1 bestseller takes page turners center court (and behind the Agassi dark curtain) for a read that aces the sports book genre.

Insightful and candid, this detailed account of Agassi’s life—the overbearing father, the hated Bollettieri tennis boot camp, Agassi’s teenage rebellion, the injuries, the wins and the losses, the blood, sweat and tears (muscles, tendons, etc.), the bad marriage to Brook Shields—is somehow (perception not being reality) fueled by the simple fact that all the while this Rock-Star/tennis icon, a child who eventually grew up to be the #1 player in the world . . . hated tennis!

Therein you’ll find Agassi’s unlikely story.

Agassi plays both sides of the net in his compelling autobiography. Read More »