Summer reading

As I watch the second-to-last match of the 2010 World Cup and look forward to tomorrow’s win (hopefully) by the Dutch, it’s time to wrap up the first part of summer reading. There is nothing ground-breaking here, nothing that a lot of people haven’t already read, so here are brief summaries of each book:

Sin in the Second City, Karen Abbott, occupies the same shelf as Devil in the White City and Carl Smith’s The Plan of Chicago, as all are very accessible and entertaining but non-fiction accounts of Chicago history around the turn of the century. The topic this time is madams, along with the politicians protecting them (for bribes, of course) and the puritans trying to shut them down. There’s nothing left today of what was a raucous and successful Chicago vice district, nor of the Everleigh Club — the world’s most famous house of its kind and apparently the source of the term getting “laid” (“I’m going to get Everleighed tonight,” was the original). Quite entertaining and a good look at the ancient art of corruption in Chicago.

Radio On: A Listener’s Diary, Sarah Vowell. This book, read fifteen years after it was written, was quite a flash back to my days of listening to Rush Limbaugh (yeah, I did). Vowell listened to the radio at almost every opportunity for an entire year and muses about it in this delightful and memory-inducing book. NPR features heavily, and she recounts, among other things, an early taping of Ira Glass’ This American Life. Rush was in the height of his popularity, having found a great foil in President Clinton, and Vowell recounts quite a bit of the political discourse of the time. It’s amazing how much of it is virtually identical to the discourse of today — especially amusing to me was rediscovering the thought that the ’90s were to be the “end of liberalism,” that “liberalism has failed” in governance, given that the same things are being said today following the failure of the government the other side elected. I read this too late, probably, but it worked out in a nostalgic way. I’d recommend it if you want a look back at 1995 along with some radio and social criticism.

Dexter in the Dark, Jeff Lindsay. Anyone remember Frank Peretti’s psycho-christian-thriller series? And have you watched Showtime’s Dexter series? Combine the TV show and This Present Darkness, and you have the third in Lindsay’s series. Somewhat suddenly, we learn that Dexter’s inner “dark passenger” is not his intuition or a metaphor for a part of his psyche; instead, the dark passenger has personhood. It’s a demon, and it has raised the ire of the more mainstream of its demonic extended family. This, of course, gets Dexter into no end of trouble, and — unlike the first two books — the trouble is not limited to flesh-and-blood serial killers. Not a bad way to take the series, I suppose, and I’m looking forward to grabbing the fourth book of my shelf soon.

Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut. This is an excellent book, though strangely disappointing. I had no idea whether the book would be good or not, and I read the first two thirds quickly, not giving it the time and attention it deserved. Then, in the last third, things moved so quickly and it was over. I need to read it again and take more time with it. It’s great. The ending, while refusing to satisfy the reader with neat tie-ups and happy resolutions, must be perfect because it amazed me. The last page leaves a haunting desire for more story. Like I said, I’ll read it again.

The Dark Side of the Pyramid, Patrick J. Smith, including a reprint of Fake It Til You Make It by Philip Kerns. Smith’s book itself is too general in scope and almost disdainfully common-sense to be of much interest. It’s not hard to see the lunacy behind most small pyramid-style companies, and Smith spends most of his time there. On the other hand, the reprint of the hard-to-find Kerns book is worth the cost of the book with its recounting of a serious effort in one of the Amway-associated organizations. This and similar books are widely criticized and sometimes hard to find, but with all of the written and audio materials published on the other side as part of “the System,” what little balance this type of writing can provide is invaluable. Merchants of Deception by Eric Scheibeler is a similar, but more detailed, more recent and more heartbreaking, story of one couple’s experiences. It predictably hard to find, though there are some copies on Amazon (for up to $269!) and PDFs available online (with the author’s blessing) if you look hard enough.

The Official Rules of Hockey, James Duplacey. This was an entertaining and educational book but, damn, I am tired of hockey — what a long (though fun and successful) season. Right after the Hawks parade and rally downtown I pushed through the last few pages, and I resolve not to think of hockey again until the pre-season starts in a couple of months. Growing up skating in Minnesota and playing hockey (mostly in our boots), I knew the basics, but I was a bit unclear on some of the more obscure rules. This book is an informative look at the rules and some of the stories behind them. If you like the second-most beautiful game in the world, it is worth learning some of this history and hearing the the old stories. However, if you insist upon the latest rules verbatim from the NHL rulebook, buy the latest season’s version of Official Rules of the NHL instead.

Up next in my summer queue are grizzly bear attacks, Dylanology, cultural views on sex and relationships and coal mining in Illinois.

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