One-Minute Book Reviews, vol. 4


1. My Lucky Life in and out of Show Businessdick van dyke
    Dick Van Dyke (2011)

Early on in the book, Van Dyke states that his book will not be full of risqué stories or any kind of exposé on any behind-the-scenes dirt.  He wasn’t kidding.  Thus, the only reason to read this book is because you really love Dick Van Dyke and want to know all about his life.

I always admired him, but the book was kind of dull.  I’ve stated before that I love stories about real people who rise to the top from nothing.  He kind of did that, but there wasn’t anything all that outstanding that happened along the way.

There were some interesting facts about how his most significant accomplishment, The Dick Van Dyke Show, almost did not happen because of TV execs who are idiots.  However, I was kind of just waiting for the book to be over so I could go on to read something else.  This is a very shorty short review, but that’s because there wasn’t much eventful in the book worth recounting or even remembering.


2. The Maze Runnermaze
    James Dashner (2009)

My daughter had been reading the book but stopped about halfway through, wasn’t planning on finishing, so we watched the film.  After the film – and I won’t give any spoilers – she said that the film seemed much more interesting than the book had been.  She decided to go back to the beginning and read the book again from start to finish.  I joined her on that.

It’s one of the few times when I must admit that the movie was better than the book.  That’s not to say that the book was bad – no, not at all.  However, there are creatures called Grievers that are far more interesting in the film than the book version.  The book makes them seem like transparent, slow-moving slugs with various metal blades and gadgets sprouting from them.  The film showed what seemed like mechanical tarantulas that had blazing speed.

The ending had similarities but also some distinct differences, and the nod goes again to the film.  The book’s ending was kind of drawn out and convoluted.  The film summarized it, altered it greatly in terms of logistics and transportation, but it still seemed intact enough.

Basically, a boy whose memory has been erased shows up in a big field where other kids are living in kind of a Lord of the Flies thing.  They’re living inside four giant, stone walls.  At sunrise, each wall opens and allows entry into a giant maze.  Each day, a few boys run as far as possible through the maze, hoping to find a way out, but they have never found one.  What they have found is death and those Grievers I mentioned.

New people show up through this kind of elevator that comes up out of the ground.  In addition to a new person each month, the elevator also brings needed supplies, which greatly baffles the kids because they know they’re being observed – but they have no idea by whom or for what purpose.

A new boy shows up, as one does once a month, but he’s different in several ways.  He seems to know something about the maze even without ever having entered it.  Also, several of the existing boys swear they have some kind of memory of this new boy.  One even has a strong enough thought about him that he wants to kill the newbie.

Eventually, they realize that whoever has been sending them there is finished, will no longer send them anymore supplies or people.  They’ve got to find their way out or die at a rate of about one per night until they’re all gone.  That’s as far as I’ll go because it is a spoilable story that is also a trilogy.

If you’re into reading post-apocalyptic stuff, it’s worth trying.  However, I recommend seeing the movie first.  No, really.

3. E Street Shuffle – The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Bandspringsteen
    Clinton Heylin (2012)

First, let me admit up front, I’m just a total fan.  Been listening since my first concert, one of the legendary Passaic Theater shows broadcast live on WNEW-FM back in 1978.  However, just because I’m a Bruce junkie doesn’t mean I won’t throw criticism at times, and Heylin feels the same way in his excellent book.  He gives praise where praise is due, but he also doesn’t pull punches.

I was expecting there would be little in this book that I didn’t already know, but I was greatly mistaken and fully admit that I don’t know as much as I thought I did.  His accounts of Springsteen’s life, from childhood to somewhere in the 2000’s, seem to have been taken from interviews with peripheral people and direct quotes, and it works effectively. 

I liked where the author dug, but I also liked where he did not dig.  I don’t need to know the details about Bruce’s first wedding, the cheating, the divorce, or any of that dirt.  We all know what I just wrote, and it’s not necessary to know more unless you’re the kind of person who can’t miss an episode of TMZ without getting the shakes.  If that’s what you’re into, you won’t find it in this book.

There were two specific sections of the book that interested me the most.  First was Bruce’s rise from a long-haired kid in the NJ shore area to sitting in Clive Davis’s office playing demo versions of early songs on an acoustic guitar and eventually being signed to a record deal.  Second was the grueling process of making the astronomical album Born to Run.  To call it a labor of love it an understatement.  Instead, it was something like smashing your own spine and putting it back together again in order to make one of the greatest spines in the world, but doing it while all of your organs are hanging out.  Yeah, that’s gross, but oh well.

It was also interesting to hear bits and pieces of various songs as well as the stories behind them. I mean songs that existed in one form and were almost put on one record, then were torn apart, put back together again so differently they’re nearly unrecognizable when compared to the original, and then realizing what the continuum was like to go from A to Z and back to somewhere around L or M.  Good stuff, especially for anyone who writes music or lyrics or both.

Bruce fan?  Must read.  Not a Bruce fan?  You might not like it so much unless you enjoy a good “rags to riches” tale.

4. Doctor Sleep177721_web_doctor_sleep_cover
    Stephen King (2013)

This one contains spoilers, but I’ll warn you when they’re coming.  Also, before the spoilers arrive, I’ll point out now that I don’t recommend reading Doctor Sleep unless you loved The Shining sooooo much that you just HAVE to know what became of little Danny.

Doctor Sleep is the long (531 pages) or maybe too long, and long-awaited (not by me) sequel to The Shining.  Sequels sometimes annoy me because the word itself means you’re starting two steps behind as far as I’m concerned.  I mean, why a sequel?  Is there any reason this story could not have just been an original story?  Is there any reason the True Knot, a tribe of human-looking but demonic-behaving creatures, could not have just appeared in an original story?  Did the main character have to be Dan Torrance, son of Jack?  Couldn’t he have been just a guy named Dan Phlegmstein?

The answer is both yes and no.

Yes, they could have existed. 

No, they could not, because it’s likely the only reason King wrote the book as a sequel was for the built-in audience that would be coming along for the ride.  In the author’s note, he says he had been asked too many times, “Hey, whatever happened to the kid from The Shining?”  And he felt he wanted to know too, so he wrote it.  Remember kids – just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Yes, because the story itself was up to King standards, good enough for someone to read it. 

No, because the 500+ pages is a lot to slug through unless you feel there’s a payoff equal to what was provided in the predecessor. 

For those who don’t know, the “shining” is another way of expressing the possession of a sixth sense.  In this case, it’s a mixture of psychic, telekinetic, telepathic, Telemundo, but not much Teletubbie.  The tribe called the True Knot are very strong with the “shining.”  They’re also about as old as time, but they can rejuvenate themselves by killing children who have the “shining” and sucking it out of them as they die.  

* * * Spoilers sooon! * * *

Dan is now much older and dealing with alcohol and other abuses because it helps dull his extra sense.  He eventually meets a pre-teen girl who is mega-strong with the “shining,” and she helps him learn about the True Knot, how they “eat” children, and that they’re coming to get her.

* * * Spoilers now! * * *

Traveling the country in fleet of RV’s, the Knot is led by an angry woman named Rose who is mighty strong with the “shining” but chicken shit at heart.  She sends other, weaker members to do battle with kids instead of getting her own hands dirty.  The climax of the story is rather short and uneventful.  It also involves the trademark King Conveniences, including ghosts appearing help the good guys.  It doesn’t matter that those ghosts are familiar, they were nowhere to be found throughout the book until they were needed.

These Knot characters each have some amazing powers, such as the ability to put you to sleep just by saying, “You look sleepy.”  By inhaling the essence of dying, “shining” children, they can go from wheelchair bound to tap dancing.  Yet they can die from the same mortal wounds that would affect any human, which doesn’t make sense.  When the good guys challenge them, they all die as easily – some even easier – than we would.  Another on the King Conveniences.

The telepathy was fun, so was the drug and substance abuse, but there were also inconsistencies with that.  Early on, the telepathy was only possible between people who share the “shining.”  As the story continued, it seemed anyone with the shining was able to mentally connect with anyone with whom they chose.  Then the telepathy started leaping not just to other people nearby but also other people who at some point happened to be in close proximity at any point in the past.  What King needed to do was more clearly establish the precise rules of this psychic power instead of just letting it run rampant as needed.

As I’ve stated more than a few times, King’s stories are fun but rarely end with any reader satisfaction.  It never feels as if the climax was real.  Pun intended.

5. Orange is the New BlackOrange_Is_the_New_Black_book_cover
    Piper Kerman (2010)

You’re probably aware of the TV series based on this memoir, a story about a bored college graduate who was working as a waitress when she was courted by an international drug courier.  I’m not interested in the TV show, and by this point I’m no longer interested in the book either.

It was written rather pretentiously and felt as if someone without a great command of language was going out of her way to use big words and intricate sentences in order to make herself seem somehow above being a convicted felon.  And that’s another reason I didn’t like the book – I don’t like celebrating the crimes of convicted felons.  She seemed too proud of what she had done, and that repulsed me.

I have to admit, I didn’t last more than about 10% in before I bailed.  I don’t like the idea of someone capitalizing on crime, and that’s entirely what this is.  I also get suspicious when I read memoirs about someone who has done something bad but wants to get positive attention for it.  Those stories will always carry the shadow of fabrication in order to have gotten publication.  It’s not for me, and I can’t recommend it for you.

3 thoughts on “One-Minute Book Reviews, vol. 4

  1. Hi Rich, this was an interesting read. I particularly liked the comments about the use of pretentious language in ‘Orange is the New Black.’ It’s my top peeve when reading a book, and is probably why so many are donated to the community library.

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