Tuesday, July 1, 2008

What to Read This Summer

About four summers ago, I endured recovery from knee surgery that put me out of commission for several weeks. During this span, I read an upwards of eight books, as I had the ability to do little more than break the binding of some remarkable novels, memoirs, and works of non-fiction. Now that I am in the midst of directing a summer school program at my high school, I am currently plodding through Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and John Knowles's A Separate Peace, two required readings in my course instruction. Prior to this summer school gig, I had the pleasure of delving into a number of books that should be part of your very own summer reading program. Bring them to the beach or lounge on a hammock and give each your full attention.

5. Seven Seconds or Less by Jack McCallum

As lead NBA beat writer for Sports Illustrated, Jack McCallum reinvigorates the sport with precise journalism that is second to none. By means of Seven Seconds or Less, McCallum joined the Phoenix Suns during their 2006 season as an on-hands consultant, recording the squad's every operation by attending team meetings, mandatory practices, and at least 75% of the Suns' regular and postseason docket of games. McCallum's reporting is succinct, poignant, and insightful, exposing the Suns for the wonderfully managed team they are. McCallum's account hones in on what the Suns were capable of doing (bowing out in the Western Conference finals) without the aid of All-Star forward Amare Stoudemire, who could not play in lieu of microfracture knee surgery. McCallum gives you a sense of what certain players are all about: Steve Nash (quirky), Stoudemire (misunderstood), and Shawn Marion (self-centered), all of whom wistfully satisfy coach Mike D'Antoni's every request by means of fulfilling his philisophical approach to run-and-gun offense: get the ball up the floor and in the basket in seven seconds or less (which, according to D'Antoni, is insufficient time for the opposition to set up its defense). As a Knicks fan, even I could appreciate the splendid things the Suns could accomplish, all due to their presence under McCallum's investigative microscope.

4. Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

The title of the book is derived from a joke on bad punctuation:

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.
“Why?” asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.
“Well, I’m a panda,” he says, at the door. “Look it up.”
The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Throughout the course of Lynne Truss's 'zero tolerance approach to punctuation,' readers are dazzled by immensely humorous fixes and answers to the global epidemic of punctuation ineptitude. As a teacher of language arts and various rhetorical forms, I have referenced this book on a number of occasions, even going so far as to use the insightful examples and models peppered throughout Truss's beautifully scripted pages.

3. 1776 by David McCullough

David McCullough is an incredibly disciplined historian whose 'textbooks' read like suspense novels. His various takes on the Truman and Adams administrations, as well as the story of the Johnstown Flood and the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, are treasures of the non-fiction form. With access to anything he needs from the Library of Congress, McCullough often locks himself in his cottage to craft his next work of art, one that is sure to inform and enlighten. Arguably his best work, 1776 tells the story of America in its infancy, where tyrants ruled and rag-tag militias triumphed, due in part to the noble leadership of one General George Washington, our first commander in-chief. McCullough proves to be incredibly well-versed in all that he does, as his books (like Goodwin's works) are fortified by means of some 70+ pages of works cited. His heart truly bleeds American.

2. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

For all the fine work that McCullough amasses, Doris Kearns Goodwin matches it with efforts related to the Brooklyn Dodgers, FDR's impact on America, and the Kennedy administration. Aside from these works, Goodwin shines as THE expert on Abraham Lincoln, a scholar whose many books on America's sixteenth president will move you to chills. Her magnum opus, Team of Rivals, tells the story of the unlikely Republican nomination of 1860, taken by none other than Lincoln himself. The book highlights the politcal genius of Honest Abe, made possible by the very men he ran against, all of whom (William Seward, Edwin Stanton, Edward Bates, and Salmon Chase) grew to love a man they once thought inept. In what feels like the greatest story ever told (credit goes to Goodwin for enveloping you in this notion), Team of Rivals magnifies America in one of its most prominent and darkest eras, a time in which Lincoln was able to duel adversity to bring America to a glory sustained well beyond our nation's Reconstruction era.

1. The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs

Author A.J. Jacobs, who penned the eye-opening 'encyclopedia' Know It All, goes to work on your conscience, moral code, and soul by means of his superb book, The Year of Living Biblically. Raised in a secular setting throughout his childhood (although Jewish, Jacobs's family would place a Star of David atop their Christmas tree every holiday season), Jacobs opts to devote a year toward living the Bible (both Old and New Testament) as literally as possible, a crusade inspired by his uncle, an Orthodox Jew who did the same thing for a small juncture of his life. Prior to this spiritual escapade, Jacobs put together a 72-page list of some 760+ rules and regulations scripted in the Bible, some self-explanatory (thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife), some bizarre (one shall not boil the meat of a lamb in milk), all of which test Jacobs's capacity to live a just and praiseworthy life. His look at the Bible is incredibly intelligent, inspiring, and hysterical, all of which encapsulates Jacobs's ability as an expressive author.

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