The Book Shelf: Part 4 of 4


Just in time for Christmas, here’s a brief look at some of the books I have read over the last while:

Tales of a First-Round Nothing: My Life as an NHL Footnote — Terry Ryan, who was selected by the Montreal Canadiens with the eighth overall pick of the NHL’s 1995 draft, went on to play just eight games in the NHL.

What happened? Well, if you can get through all of the clichés and the obscenities, you will come to have some understanding of what went wrong. Ryan also paints a pretty vivid picture of the worlds of junior and professional hockey. And his dissing of the widely respected Red Fisher, a Hockey Hall of Famer who covered the Habs for the Montreal Star and Gazette for eons, is must reading. (Kindle)

True Confessions — This book, by John Gregory Dunne, was published in 1977. I don’t understand how I missed it until the summer of 2014. But it was worth the wait, because this is a classic. Set in Los Angeles just after the Second World War, it is the story of brothers Des and Tom Spellacy, one a Catholic priest and the other a cop. Both are playing the game, their worlds dominated by men of power and their bagmen. Not for the faint of heart or tender ears, the dialogue in this book is as real as you will read anywhere from any era. . . . Under the headline The Book You Have to Read, a review at by Steve Nester, includes this: “Obviously a tribute to the genre, True Confessions is not obsequious, imitative, or slobbering. A nice long kiss on the mouth but with too much class for tongue, True Confessions says, ‘I love you,’ without any meretricious groping. As a work of art it takes its place in a long literary tradition of crime novels where the only new ground broken is originality of voice and the adroitly and distinctively depicted confluence of character, motive, and circumstance.” (Kindle)

Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years — This is Volume 1 of what author Mark Lewisohn has said will be a trilogy. Lewisohn is recognized as the leading historian of the Beatles, and Volume 1 is evidence of that. There can be no calculating the amount of research that went into this work that covers The Beatles from the childhood of all band members through 1962. Between the covers are anecdotes and minutiae of all kinds. Not be missed if you’re a Beatles or music lover. (Crown, hard cover, 944 pages, Cdn$45.00)

The Two Faces of January — Written by the award-winning Patricia Highsmith, this book — the movie is billed as a psychological thriller — was published in 1964. I found the book to be more of a character study than a thriller. Still, I quite enjoyed the story of an American student in Athens, who ends up in a bizarre relationship with a con artist and his wife. Highsmith, who died in 1995, also wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley, among many other books, and The Two Faces of January is very much in that vein. The movie, starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac, was released early in 2014. (Kindle)

Up, Up & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball, & the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos — Despite what has to be one of the more unwieldy titles in publishing history, author Jonah Keri hits this one clear out of Olympic Stadium. Yes, he hits it through the hole in the roof and right out of the Big Owe. If you were an Expos fan, reading this book will cut you to the quick. Keri, who lived in Montreal and had an obvious love affair with the team, opens the corpse and lays it all out there — the good, the bad and the ugly. You may be surprised to learn that Claude Brochu and Jeffrey Loria shouldn’t get all the blame for the Expos’ departure; no, before Loria there were some cheap partners who may well have prevented this team from becoming a dynasty. Oh, and Bud Selig, the commissioner, might have some blood on his hands, too. (Kindle)

The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 — Margaret MacMillan’s incredibly well-researched book probes all that went on in Europe in the years, indeed decades, leading up to the start of the First World War. The Globe and Mail has described MacMillan as “one of the most recognized and respected historians in the English-speaking world” and she more than lives up to that reputation with this work. It is a compelling read, although it’s hard to comprehend the mess that was created as those in charge, some qualified and many not, jockeyed for position. (Kindle)

Wild Pitches: Rumblings, Grumblings, and Reflections on the Game I Love — Jayson Stark has covered baseball, and had a grand time doing it, for ESPN since 2000. Before that, he was a veteran newspaper reporter on the baseball beat. His love affair for the game shines through this collection of columns that were written for ESPN. The columns revisit various recent World Series and other happenings of note. But it is the offbeat columns — on such things as glove talking, the Home Run Derby and strange occurrences — that give this work its charm. (Kindle)

The World According to Breslin — Jimmy Breslin, who won a Pulitzer Prize for opinion writing, is a newspaper columnist of the highest order. He is a columnist’s columnist. No one loves New York like he does and that, more than anything else, shines through this compilation that was first released in 1984. He is at his best, though, when he takes on those in the world of politics and doesn’t take any prisoners. These days, at the age of 83, Breslin writes one column a week, for the New York Daily News’ Sunday edition. (Kindle)