So Let It Be Written by Mark Eglinton: A Disappointingly Delivered Account of a Rock Star’s Career

So Let It Be WrittenSo Let It Be Written: The Biography of Metallica’s James Hetfield

by Mark Eglinton

Paperback, 219 pg.
Lesser Gods, 2017
Read: October 29 – 30, 2018
Here’s the Publisher’s synopsis:

           The first and only biography of one of the best front men of the modern era.

With James Hetfield at the helm, Metallica went from being thrash pioneers to heavy metal gods. He overcame adolescent upheaval and personal demons—including his parents’ divorce, his mother’s untimely death and severe alcoholism—to become metal’s biggest star.

So Let It Be Written does justice to the many hats Hetfield has worn, with his strong leadership, signature vocal style, powerful guitar-playing and masterful songwriting. Author Mark Eglinton uses exclusive, firsthand interviews—with prominent rock stars and key figures in Hetfield’s life—to construct the definitive account of Hetfield.

There are many problems with this book. If it is a definitive account of Hetfield, it’s because there’s not a lot of competition. The firsthand interviews seem to be with people who knew Hetfield in school or shortly thereafter — or friends of former bandmates. For insights from people closer to him, Eglinton seems to rely on interviews published in magazines or done on TV or in a documentary. I could be wrong about that — there might be more original research performed by him, but given the utter lack of citation, it’s hard to say for sure.

This book is primarily about Hetfield’s professional life, following the account of Hetfield’s mother’s death, we maybe get two full paragraphs (scattered over chapters) about Hetfield’s family (but repeated statements that family is the most important thing to Hetfield), and his friendships outside the band aren’t given much more space.

Rather than a biography of James Hetfield, this comes across as the story of Metallica with a focus on the input, influence, and antics of Hetfield. With a special emphasis on glorying in the music and lyrics of the albums leading up to Metallica/The Black Album, and in denigrating everything from Load through the build-up for the release of Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, which wasn’t released in time for him to come up with a strong opinion about (with some okay words directed to the documentaries and films produced in that time).

It’s clear that Eglinton was a fan of early Metallica, and has a wide appreciation for and knowledge of the metal scene. He has the knowledge base and the passion to produce a strong book about the band — but he seems to lack the ability to focus on the life of one man. Somehow, the author wrote a similar looking book, James Hetfield: The Wolf at Metallica’s Door, seven years earlier than this — and it was longer. I’m not sure how he pulled that off — my guess is more analysis of the contents of albums and/or his estimation of their worth. I’m curious about the differences between the two, but not enough to put up with reading it to compare.

James Hetfield is a deeply flawed, incredibly talented, and interesting figure. A biography of him should be intrinsically and automatically fascinating, and it takes a certain kind of author to take that potential and turn it into a disappointment. Sadly, Eglinton is just that kind of author.

Don’t bother.

—–

2 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

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Looking for Calvin and Hobbes (Audiobook) by Nevin Martell, Jeremy Arthur: A close-up look at the Cartoonist and His Creation

I’ve spent 20 minutes trying to get this header to look decent — and I give up. It’s just going to look awkward given the length of the title.

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes (Audiobook)Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip

by Nevin Martell, Jeremy Arthur (Narrator)
Unabridged Audiobook, 7 hrs., 9 min.
ListenUp Production, 2014
Read: September 25 – 27, 2018
Nevin Martell, like just about everyone who ever read him, is a Calvin and Hobbes fan — what’s more, he discovered the strip at the right age and was able to appreciate it as only a child can — without being self-conscious about reading a comic strip and with devotion. Years later, when trying to write something more meaningful to him than another book about a pop star, he decides to write about that strip and its reclusive creator.

The reclusive part of that sentence is the key — Watterson had (and has) pretty much dropped off the face of the earth as far as your typical person is concerned. A few select friends, business acquaintances and family members can get in touch with him, but no one else can. This isn’t crippling to a book about his comic strips or himself, but it sure hampers it (especially because those people who can get in touch with him are just about as reticent as he is to talk about him or his work). Unencumbered by access to Watterson himself, and his perspective on his life and career was like, what his influences were, what made him make the creative decisions, etc. Martell dove into research — things written about and by Watterson, archives of his previous work (when and where available) and interviews with colleagues, editors and the like.

In the kind of detail only a scholar or a fan can appreciate, Martell describes Watteron’s childhood, college, and pre-Calvin and Hobbes career; then he discusses that comic strip — major themes — and its publishing history; Watterson’s battle to keep control of the strip, its merchandising/licensing; then he describes Watterson’s retirement. As much of that as he can, which isn’t much. Following that, Martell focuses on things like the impact of Watterson on the industry, his relationships with other cartoonists and is influence on those who followed.

I wish he’d given us more (and maybe he gave us all he could, but I don’t think so) from Watterson’s contemporaries/those he influenced in the field of comics (or related fields — he spoke with a novelist and Dave Barry, too). Martell spoke to many and gave us a lot of what he was told — but I’d have appreciated more coming from professionals about Watterson’s strengths, technique, stories — whatever. Sure, it might have gotten a little redundant, but something tells me that it wouldn’t have been too bad. These were my favorite parts of the book, and I could’ve listened to another hour of them easily.

I’m not convinced that I was ever as invested in Martell’s journey as he seemed to think his readers would (should?) be — and I’m okay with that. I know I tend to overshare here a tad myself — so I understand the impulse. Or maybe I’m just callous, and everyone else got into it.

As far as Arthur’s work narrating — there’s not a lot to say. This isn’t a work of fiction where he can play with characters, pacing, and whatnot. It’s a straightforward text and he does a capable job of reading it in a straightforward manner. I did have to remind myself a couple of times that I was listening to someone Martell’s words rather than listening to him — which I guess is a good thing.

It was a pleasant book, nothing too challenging — and it reinvigorated an impulse to go read a collection or two of Watterson again on my part (and some of Larson’s The Far Side, too — I’m sure there’s an interesting book to be written there, too). It’s not a must-read, but it’ll scratch an itch for those who have an interest in the subject.

—–

3 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

BOOK BLITZ: Outfoxing the Gaming Club Blitz by Pascale Batieufaye

Biography, Business
Date Published: May 2018
CLAIM INSANITY OR BE FIRED!
Ex-Casino Employee Spills All of the Unseen Corruption
Running Rampant in the Business!
Ideas flow freely through the work environment, and the good ones are scooped up and put into action. But what happens when your ideas are suddenly being claimed by someone else? What if you found out that your employer was hiding secrets from the public? A job is supposed to secure one’s finances, but what if it was actually the cause of your financial troubles?
All of these questions – and more! – are addressed in Pascale Batieufaye’s tell-all memoir, Outfoxing the Gaming Club: A Former Worker Reveals All. From the kitchen to guest services, Batieufaye exposes the corruption and exploitation present in one of the world’s biggest casinos, Resort Casino, where he worked from 1996 to 2004
Through the book’s pages, Batieufaye details how corporate executives undermine their employees and use their ideas as their own, as he found was done with his own ideas when he shared them with leadership at the gambling powerhouse. He also details the mistreatment of the Native Americans he witnessed, who built the very grounds that now contribute to their injustice.
“I have centered Outfoxing the Gaming Club on the emotional suffering I faced while working for my previous employer,”shares Batieufaye. “The book outlines guiding principles for those who have experienced maltreatment and anxiety in their own workplace. Readers will discover the crookedness that occurs right under the noses of the patrons, and unearth the oppression that the employees had to deal with on a daily basis.”
An exposé for both gamblers and those opposed to it,this book details:
· How his own ideas were stolen from right under Batieufaye’s feet
 
· The mistreatment of Native Americans involved with the company
 
· Corruption’s role in the mental health of himself and other employees at the company
 
· Gambles employees took when attempting to contribute, knowing all too well they may not receive proper credit for those ideas
 
· The emotional suffering that workers had to deal with on a daily basis
 
· And so much more!
About the Author

Pascale Batieufaye attended Johnson & Wales University, where he studied travel and tourism. He is technically an animal rights activist and aspires to open an animal rehabilitation center for rescue animals. His principal occupation has been a part time school bus driver since the end of 2012, which allowed him to write five unpublished manuscripts in his spare time. Before that, Batieufaye ran a video store which closed up at the hype of Netflix’s driven internet power. He has also held some backbreaking jobs, such as courier driver (independent contractor) and Skycap/baggage handler, although nothing seems to take as much of a toll as his work with a major, corrupt casino corporation did, as detailed in his book Outfoxing the Gaming Club.
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The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865 edited by Janet E. Croon: A sick and dying teen witnesses history

There’s so much more I want to say, but I ran out of time — and went on pretty long already. It’s really bugging me all the things I wanted to talk about, but didn’t. There may be a follow-up. I updated this slightly after posting thanks to a comment from the publisher.

 The War Outside My Window The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865

by Janet E. Croon, ed.

Hardcover, 480 pg. (includes an 8-page photo insert)
Savas Beatie, 2018
Read: May 1 – 28, 2018

When he was twelve, LeRoy Wiley Gresham, of Macon, Georgia starts keeping a daily journal (well, as close to it as anyone really ever does). The year is 1860 and he and his father are headed to Philadelphia to consult with leading doctors about LeRoy’s medical condition, which local physicians have been unsuccessful in dealing with — the book contains a medical foreword and afterword that will explain these circumstances better than LeRoy ever does (partially because he doesn’t have the whole story). From Philadelphia they return home and to talk of succession — it’s not long before the Confederacy is born and Fort Sumter is fired upon. This is the setting for these journals — published for the first time this year.

LeRoy was born to be a Southern Gentleman and was raised as such — and between the War, his age and disease, he never really had an opportunity to examine his upbringing. As such, he is incredibly partisan, shows nothing but contempt for the Union, Lincoln, the Union Army, etc. The language and attitudes he uses toward his family’s slaves (and pretty much everyone’s slaves) is par for the course during the Civil War, readers need to remember this going on. He is also a pretty astute observer and realist — when the tide begins to turn for the Confederacy, he’s aware and his upfront about it (there are even traces of “I told you so” to his writing when it comes to certain strategies).

Meanwhile, life continues — people go to school, crops are grown and harvested, babies are born, people die and are married, kids get pets. LeRoy’s family were staunch Presbyterians, his father a leader in the local church — presbytery and synod meetings are also reported on.

For LeRoy, the years after his return from Philadelphia (and those leading up to it, really) are also years of deteriorating health, bouts of pain, and ineffective treatments. Those who put this book together have determined (and it seems only likely) that there are two major health problems going on here — a horrific leg injury sustained when he was 8 and tuberculosis. Neither did him any favors — his life wasn’t going to be easy just with the injury, but TB made it short. Tracing the worsening of each is tragic — and LeRoy dies not long after the end of the War.

All of these topics are detailed and recorded — almost every day — in a few brief sentences. Sometimes it can be jarring the way he’ll go from casualty numbers, to talk about his coughing, to a comment on peach harvests and the book he’s reading in a paragraph a little briefer than some of the longer ones in this post. But that’s just what was on his mind that day. Sometimes there are strange doodles or other things recorded, lists of Bible questions, practice trials of his own developing signature and other things like that (often with photos included).

The War reporting is going to get the bulk of each reader’s attention. Which is completely understandable — and it gets about half of the space of the book, the other topics compete for the other half of the space. His information (as the wonderful footnotes demonstrate) is frequently mistaken — and he knows his, and will often speculate about as he reports what the newspapers say. We’re used to news stories developing over minutes and hours, LeRoy had to be content with learning about something days after the event, and then still learning details weeks later. His frustration about that is seen occasionally — especially as te War grinds on and it’s harder for newspapers to be printed and delivered (paper itself becomes scarce). At one point there’s such an outbreak of smallpox that there’s no one available to bring his family their newspaper, so they have to send someone to retrieve it — LeRoy’s utter disgust at that is both hard to believe and completely human. “Fascinating” doesn’t come close to reading his perceptions and understanding the events that are history to us – talking about famous battles as they’re happening and news is getting out. His account of Sherman’s March is incredible – and adds so much perspective to the contemporary reader’s own understanding.

Normally, this writing would be something I’d pan and complain about. But this was never intended for publication — that’s clear — it’s a young man’s private journal and reads like it. You see a growth in his style, his way of thinking — and reading. But it isn’t an easy read with a strong narrative pulling you along. It’s repetitive, full of details that mean only something to him, stupid humor written for an audience of one (which isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate his wit). Don’t expect to enjoy this read, to find a style that will grab you (or really, any style at all). It’s authentic — and not authentic in a “so well researched and told that it might as well be the real thing” way, but in a this is what this person thought and recorded about others’ thoughts in the 1860s to himself — it’s completely honest (well, there might be some self-deception/self-aggrandizement at work, but not much).

I grew to really like LeRoy — his attitude, his quiet faith, his patience, his stupid jokes, his intelligence. You watch someone’s life day-to-day for a few years and you almost can’t help it. His death — which I knew was coming before I opened the book, and knew was nigh given the date (and lack of pages left in the book) — struck me hard. I couldn’t believe it, really, but I got emotional in the last couple of entries.

His last entries are followed by the text of his obituary from the Macon Telegraph and a letter that his mother sent to her sister which filled in some details about his last days and condition. That letter is a great touch and helps you see that a lot of what you had learned about LeRoy from his writing was also seen by his family — it wasn’t just LeRoy’s self-image. You also see that LeRoy’s critical gaze, which is displayed frequently, was a family trait (but pretty understandable in the context)

The effort putting this book together — transcribing, deciphering, tracing the family members and friends — the medical research to diagnose LeRoy all these years later) — I can’t fathom. Croon deserves so much more reward than she’ll likely ever receive for this. Really, I’m in awe of her work. The Publisher’s Preface, Introduction, and Postscript (and aforementioned Medical Foreword/Afterword) are must-reads and will help the reader appreciate LeRoy’s own writing and Croon’s efforts.

Every so often, reading my email can be surreal — getting a request to read and post about this book was one of those times. The same form has led me to read a book about a P.I. with a talking (and sentient!) arm, a crime solving frog, and a werewolf rock star — and now, this literally unique book?* I’ve rarely felt so inadequate to the task. What do I know from historic diaries? Here’s what I can say — you have never read anything like this — it will appeal to the armchair historian in you (particularly if you’ve ever dabbled in being a Civil War buff); it’ll appeal to want an idea what everyday life was like 150 years ago; there’s a medical case study, too — this combination of themes is impossible to find anywhere else. This won’t be the easiest read you come across this year (whatever year it is that you come across it), but it’ll be one of the most compelling.

It feels stupid putting a star rating on this — but, hey, that’s the convention, so…no doubt about it:

—–

5 Stars

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for this post and my honest opinions.


* Which is not to say that there weren’t merit to these books or that there weren’t others — of comparable quality to this. I could provide lists.

Everything is Normal by Sergey Grechishkin

Everything is NormalEverything is Normal: The Life and Times of a Soviet Kid

by Sergey Grechishkin

Kindle Edition, 336 pg.
Inkshares, 2018
Read: March 19 – 26, 2018

I would spend hours by the balcony window, watching smoke rise from the power station chimneys on the horizon and listening to the suburban trains chug by in the distance. Most of my memories of that time coalesce into a sense of timeless boredom. But after my first taste of bubble gum, something new began to mix with my malaise: jealousy of the kids in faraway countries who could chew such gum every day.

This is the kind of thing that you expect a memoir of growing up in the Soviet Union to be full of — a grim skyline, yearning for something unobtainable, a general malaise. But in Sergey Grechishkin’s book, you don’t get a lot of that — yes, it’s there, to be sure (how could it not be?), but there’s so much more.

Grechishkin writes with a vivacity, a thorough-going sense of humor, a spark of hope that you don’t expect — and are frequently surprised by. He doesn’t paint a rosy picture of the USSR in the 70s and 80s, but he paints a picture of a life with hope. The book focuses on his childhood — particularly school ages — we get a little before, we see him briefly in University, with a hint or two about what happens next. But primarily we’re looking at his time in school. This coincides with the time of Leonid Brezhnev (at least the tail end) through the early days of Mikhail Gorbachev, with all the changes those days entailed. It’s not an incredibly political book — but it’d be difficult to discuss life under these various leaders without mentioning them and the way each government was different from the previous.

A word about the humor — which is all over. We’re not talking Yakov Smirnoff, first off. Secondly we’re not talking about anything that makes light of the hardships, or denies them. But comments that can talk about the hardships in a way that is above to find the humor in the human condition or something else we can all relate to: like

So many Soviet friendships and even families have been formed while standing in lines.

Nothing major — just a quick smile as you read. At other times, he’ll deliver a hard truth about life in the USSR through a joke. Like here, when describing how they couldn’t process the appearance of Western athletes on TV during the 1980 Olympics criticizing their governments:

For those lucky Soviet citizens who were allowed to cross the border, any sort of misbehaving while abroad or giving the slightest hint at being unhappy with the Soviet workers’ paradise would mean no more trips anywhere except to camping locations in eastern Siberia.

You laugh, and then you realize that he’s talking about a harsh or sad reality while you’re laughing. I don’t know how many times I’d think about something being funny or actually be chuckling at something when I’d catch myself, because I realize what he’s actually getting at.

The jokes slow down as he ages and the narration becomes less universal and more particular to his life — looming chances of being sent to Afghanistan, and other harder realities of adulthood on the horizon. It’s still there, it’s just deployed less.

While narrating his life, Grechishkin is able to describe living conditions, schooling, medical care, shopping, food, friendships, family life, dating, Western movies, crime, the role of alcohol in society, political dissidents, and so much more. I enjoyed his discussing the experience of reading George Orwell (via photocopy) or listening to Western pop music — learning that LPs were “pressed at underground labs onto discarded plastic X-ray images.” You can do that? That sounds cool (and low-fidelity). Almost everything in the book seems just the way you’d expect it, if you stopped to think of it — but from Grechishkin’s life experience it seems more real.

This is one of those books that you want to keep talking and talking and talking about — but I can’t, nor should I. You need to read this for yourself. If only because Grechishkin can do a better job telling his story than I can. You really don’t think that this is the kind of book you can enjoy — but it is..

Did I have a happy childhood? Well, it was what it was. From a nutritional and a relationship standpoint, it wasn’t particularly great. But it also wasn’t awful or tragic. It was, when I look back on it now, normal.

Normal was a word that showed up more than once in my notes — despite everything around him, his childhood seemed normal (and its only now that I remember tat the word is in the title). I’m not saying that I’d trade places with him, his life was not easy — or that there weren’t kids in Leningrad who suffered more forms of deprivation or oppression (not to mention kids in less well-off areas in the USSR). But on the whole, he had a childhood thanks to a caring family, a good school, and good friends. Everything is Normal shows how against a bleak background, a normal life can be possible. It does so with heart, perspective, humor and a gift for story-telling. Exactly the kind of memoir that will stay with you long after you finish the book. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Inkshares in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

—–

4 Stars

Opening Lines: Everything is Normal by Sergey Grechishkin

We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (yet, publishing companies spend big bucks on cover design/art) (also, this has a great cover). But, the opening sentence(s)/paragraph(s) are fair game. So, when I stumble on a good opening (or remember one and pull it off the shelves), I’ll throw it up here. Dare you not to read the rest of the book.

from Everything is Normal: The Life and Times of a Soviet Kid by Sergey Grechishkin:

          

Anekdot

n.: the most popular form of Soviet humor, a short story or dialogue with a punch line, often politically subversive. “Being simultaneously independent from and parasitically attached to mass cultural production and authoritative discourse, the anekdot served as a template for an alternative, satirical, reflexive, collective voice-over narration of the Soviet century.”

Many of the anekdots under this book’s chapter headings were once punishable in the USSR by up to ten years of forced labor under article 58 of the criminal code (“ Anti-Soviet Propaganda”). This article was used freely to put critics of the Soviet government behind bars. Today, of course, things are very different in Russia. Now it’s article 282.

Maybe it’s just given the subject matter, I was expecting something dreary or earnest or incredibly serious — or all three, but man, I cracked up at that last sentence. I tell you, my friends, this book is going to have to work for less than 4 stars from me at this point.

Uber Diva by Charles St. Anthony

Uber DivaUber Diva: Hot Tips for Drivers and Passengers of Uber and Lyft

by Charles St. Anthony

Kindle Edition, 62 pg.
2018

Read: February 2, 2018


This is a combination of memoir of a Lyft/Uber driver, and a guide to starting/surviving/thriving as one in a tough market. A memoir/guide written by a humorist, it should be stressed, so there’s plenty of humor infused throughout. That right there sounds like a winning book — and Uber Diva almost was one.

Sadly, it came across as a pretty good first draft or a series of short blog posts. Every chapter — almost every paragraph — could’ve used just a little more. A little more detail, a little more context. A few chapters read like a thorough outline rather than actual prose — just a series of bullet points along a theme. A little more expansion, a little more time spent with each idea and this would’ve been a whole lot of fun. As it is, Uber Diva is frequently worth a chuckle or wry smile to oneself, but it’s never enough to satisfy

I’m not crazy about St. Anthony’s organization, either — I’m not sure it ever made that much sense. Particularly, the jump from his opening to the rest just didn’t work for me, it was a jarring tonal shift. The first chapter would’ve fit better as a closing or penultimate chapter, if you ask me.

There’s a lot to like here, but it feels undercooked. It’s enjoyable enough — especially, I bet, for Lyft/Uber drivers — but it could’ve been so much better. A little more revision, a little expansion and I bet I’d be talking about a good read, rather than one that’s just good enough.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

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3 Stars