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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

World Book Night: The Final Batch

When people suggest that memoirs should be written only by those who have lead wild, adventurous, or “interesting” lives, I say we point them in the direction of The Tender Bar. J.R. Moehringer is not a rock star or a mountain climber; he’s a writer, and really, those are the people who should be writing memoirs. Memoirists are writers who view the world (and thus their work) not through their characters but through memory and experience. Moehringer is not a special snowflake but he is a fine writer, and what he has written is a tale of the human condition. The joy in being just like everyone else, only better able to describe it, is that your stories are our stories. Moehringer’s search for love and acceptance, his youthful missteps, his triumphs and sorrows – they are all ours. It is through the detail of his life and his ability to extrapolate meaning from it that I am better able to understand my own life. The goal of memoirists, like that of novelists, is not to be interesting, it is to teach me who I am through their words, their story. Moehringer absolutely succeeds in that with The Tender Bar.

Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress was the hard mystery on this year’s list. Just as I was basically uninterested in Michael Connelly’s Blood Work last year so I was here. But Mosley’s book has another angle as well. It is very much a novel about race. Easy Rawlins is an African-American man living in 1950s Los Angeles, who struggles to float under the radar in a system that will not allow a black man to do so. Easy is exploited by both organized crime and the police but suffers most in the end for “wanting to be white” in the words of his friend Mouse. The idea of that, and the implications of it, blew me away. Being white is floating under the radar. Being white is fitting in. Being white is easy (see what I did there). Easy Rawlins finds trouble by avoiding it, for the sake of the color of his skin. This is a great novel for discussion, and I can imagine WBN givers having some great talks about it.

Who would have thought I would love a book about baseball and math? No one. But I absolutely loved Michael Lewis’ Moneyball. Lewis is fantastic at explaining both of these worlds and building characters around them to anchor the information in a story. Moneyball is about fighting the irrational mind – specifically when it comes to baseball and the problem of creating a great team with a small budget. Lewis uses Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics’ MLB team to get the reader (or at least this reader) thinking about problem solving outside of the accepted norms and what that really means. Such a great read especially paired with our recent book club book, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.

And that’s it, the last three of this year’s World Book Night picks. It is still only April, yet I already am filled with anticipation over next year’s crop. Again, I am pleased to have filled some major reading gaps with these thirty books and to have touched upon some authors/genres I never delve into. This (now annual) reading trek is a great tradition. I begin the year with a fabulously curated reading list that culminates in passing out free books to people – what could be better?

I have been sick these last two weeks and was unable to go out with the rest of book world on the 23rd. I’m hoping to have a night this week to go out and throw books enthusiastically at people. I’ll let you know how it goes when I finally do.

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