Category Archives: books

Intellectual reading… from Facebook?

Lots of people have their own ideas on how best to find their next novel to read.  Some keep lists of books they intend to check out at a later date.  Some rate past purchases and books they’ve read on Amazon in hopes that it will refine the site’s suggestions.  Others scour book club lists or the New York Times Best Sellers.  Many use GoodReads, a social networking site whose purpose is to categorize and rate books, and share your views and recommendations with your friends.  In a similar and less Web 2.0-savvy way, others go by word of mouth of friends and family.

I use all of these tactics and then some.  But do you know what has worked best for me? Taking note of my English major Facebook friends’ tastes.

Think about it: who better to ask for book recommendations than those who willingly read 15+ books a semester for their classes (or at least picked a major that required such)?  English majors read and analyze the greatest, most worldly works in literature and in many cases take upwards of ten classes dedicated to their study.  It isn’t illogical to think the kid on your hall who wrote a 23-page paper analyzing the works of Kafka might know a thing or two about a good book.  Wouldn’t you rather navigate the overwhelming ocean of books with a seasoned oarsman as opposed to a first-time paddler?

While I don’t keep a running list of every book an English major mentions on their Facebook profile, I long ago noticed that many cited the same ones.  I figure, these people have read hundreds of books, and likely hundreds more than most of the population.  If they think something is the best, they’re probably drawing from a larger, more comprehensive sample than little ol’ me.

So what books do my English major friends’ profiles display over and over again?  Here’s a short list:

Are all English majors’ recommendations amazing?  Of course not.  But scouring profiles for suggestions has lead me to some quality reads in the past (anything Vonnegut, Prep, gods in Alabama, etc.). As a result, I decided this week to pick up Everything is Illuminated.  Though I’m only on page 15, I’m gushing about the author’s writing style already.  A quick peek at my favorite line in the book already (page 4):

“My stomach is very strong, although it presently lacks muscles. Father is a fat man, and Mother is also.”

Hilarious!  The narrator says so much about his personality and appearance in so few, but perfectly orchestrated words.  Wonderful.

Thanks English majors for keeping your Facebook profiles updated, or at least your “Favorite Books” section.  I’ve been secretly hitting y’all up for suggestions for years!

What books do you see again and again on your friends’ Facebook profiles? How do they compare to that of your English major friends? Have you used them for other suggestions, like to find a movie or new TV show to watch?


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Book review: The Appeal

theappealcover1A few posts ago I mentioned one of my many vices, my tendency to read too many books simultaneously and thus not finish any of them.  Well, somehow between all the March Madness games I cruised through the last 250 pages of John Grisham’s The Appeal in the past two days, finishing yesterday.  That’s not a testament to the lack of excitement of the games: it shows just how many commercials are shown during the Madness and just how compelling Grisham’s writing is.

Though 579 Amazon readers give The Appeal an average of 3/5 stars, I give the novel 4/5 stars.  I think John Grisham has similar issues to that of great bands like U2 and Radiohead: an average novel (or album) is usually outstanding compared to what all other novelists (artists) are releasing.  But unless it’s one of his (their) best efforts, critics tend to give it lower ratings.  These works seem to have tougher criteria than most work at large.

That being said, I feel that The Appeal is a middle-of-the-road Grisham work.  It certainly wasn’t better than A Time to Kill or The Pelican Brief, my two Grisham favorites, but I think it was significantly better than The Rainmaker and The King of Torts.  I’d say it’s among the top one-third of his novels to date.

I’m happy to see Grisham return to his bread-and-butter, the legal thriller.  He is the master of suspense, a talented storyteller and an excellent researcher.  While Grisham got backlash from some of his fans for A Painted House, Skipping Christmas and Playing for Pizza, I think he’s demonstrated his range (as he also did by writing An Innocent Man, a non-fiction legal work I’ve yet to read) and can succeed in writing myriad types of stories.

The Appeal is a story about how a Wall Street stockowner uses the power of purse in an attempt to manipulate a judicial election.  After the largest stock in his portfolio, Krane Chemical, lost a massive verdict in a toxic tort case, the stockowner decided not only to fight back on appeal, but tried to purchase a seat on the state’s supreme court to assure Krane Chemical wouldn’t lose again.

Though published in 2008, The Appeal delves into all sorts of timely issues including epidural hematoma (Natasha Richardson’s cause of death in the ski injury case last week) and of course, the ethics of campaign finance.  (Spoiler alert:  if you plan on reading the book, skip to next bolded item.)

In the book’s afterword, Grisham wrote:

Now that I have impugned my own work, I must say that there is a lot of truth in this story.  As long as private money is allowed in judicial elections we will see competing interest fight for seats on the bench.  The issues are fairly common.  Most of the warring factions are adequately described.  The tactics are all too familiar.  The results are not far off the mark.

The Appeal is a cautionary tale of what can happen if commercial interests continue to be allowed to funnel millions into political campaigns without a better system of checks.  Elections can, and often are, battles of funding and sound bites, and money talks. If nothing else, I learned a lot more about these issues, and am now freaked more than ever about the current state of our justice and political systems.

(End spoilers.)

Bravo to John Grisham for once again providing a surprise ending that kept me guessing.  If you’d like to learn more about the book before the 484-page plunge, Grisham has a nice Q&A about the book for his Amazon readers here (scroll down about 1/5 of the way down the page).

I can’t wait to tackle The Innocent Man and his newest, The Associate, the only two of 21 Grisham books I haven’t read yet.  Let’s hope this “finishing books that I start” mantra continues.

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Inspired by my friend, Dances with Bacon over at the Rated X-tra Yummy blog, I decided to make a Wordle of my own blog.

Who knew my Wordle would be so nerdy?


I’m guessing it only analyzed my most recent posts. One was particularly heavy on the reading front, but I guess it didn’t take into account that I haven’t really finished any books lately. Funny stuff.

By the way, I definitely recommend making your own Wordle. If you love playing with fonts like me, you’ll probably (also) take 20 minutes to perfect your own typography/layout/color combination. After much consideration I opted not to make my own color scheme, but chose one of the 20 or so choices listed.

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Easily distracted F, ISO way out of a reading rut

Elaine: These are good people, Jerry. They read!
Jerry: I read, I read!
Elaine: Books, Jerry.
Jerry: Oh.

I was watching this Seinfeld episode earlier tonight and caught myself laughing uncontrollably. Who doesn’t read books? Oh right, I don’t.

I do read, of course, and more or less constantly. I’m just reading blogs on my RSS feed, scouring the news online and reading interesting articles my friends share with me via Google Reader and Twitter.

Anyway, my problem, like Jerry’s, lies in books. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them. I have become quite the collector over the years, accumulating a pretty impressive library. Disliking books isn’t the problem… it’s that I start too many simultaneously and can never finish them.

It strikes me that the last book I read from start to finish might actually be Hey Whipple, Squeeze This! by Luke Sullivan two, make that three semesters ago. Ouch. I’ve probably written a book’s worth since then!

I’ll end up starting a new book I’m excited about, read a few chapters, and then next thing I know I’ve picked up another book and started reading it too, before finishing the first one. Then another. And another. Next thing I know I’m knee deep in five or ten books and never finish any of them. Case in point, here’s a photo of what I’m reading now:

What?! That’s 10 books! Yeah, it’s a problem. But they’re all worth reading, so I can’t quit! I need help! Heaping amounts of help — and sanity.

So what am I reading? And why? Here’s a rundown of the 10:

  • The Appeal, by John Grisham. I love everything this guy writes. And this guy can write one helluva suspenseful legal thriller. I’m on about page 138 in this one, which is easily the furthest along I am in any of them.
  • The New Rules of Marketing and PR, by David Meerman Scott. It’s about the PR and marketing in the digital era and delves into issues like social media. Couldn’t say a lot more about it since I’m only on page 15 or so.
  • Dixieland Delight, by Clay Travis. This book’s about a guy who goes to a home football game at every SEC school in one season and reports about the tradition, tailgating, food and cultural spectacle of each event. Each chapter covers a different program and it’s a little heavy on the frat guy-ish “hot ladies” talk. Otherwise it’s an interesting read and I love the idea. Wouldn’t mind going on the same adventure myself. I’m on page 98, thanks in a large part to riding the Metro in DC a lot this past weekend.
  • Cutting Edge Advertising II, by Jim Aitchison. As you might guess this is about creating cutting edge advertising that breaks through clutter. It’s probably a pretty good read, but didn’t make much for beach or pool reading this summer. I still chug along on it occasionally though. I think I’m on about page 60, but I’m starting to forget things I read about in it earlier.
  • Adobe Flash CS4 Classroom in a Book. This is a how-to book intended to teach me how to use Flash. An admirable personal goal, but I’m only on about page 15. Must keep trucking on that one!
  • The Non Designer’s Design Book, by Robin Williams. The book is probably great if you’re clueless about design, but I’m using it to make sure I have my bases covered before tackling anything much more advanced. It’s OK, but nothing spectacular. I just want to learn from the beginning, so this should be a breeze. Too bad I’m on page 22.
  • Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Guide to the South, by John T. Edge. This book’s a little disappointing, but I love food, especially fried delicious southern food… don’t even get me started. I keep it around for obvious reasons, because not only do I like tasting food, but I love talking food. And we all know I have a soft spot for geography and the south so, why quit? It goes state by state, and I’m on the first one.
  • The Choice, by Nicholas Sparks. Disclaimer: yes, I’m quite cheesy and I love Sparks books. Yeah, this is a romance story, just like they all are, and I know he’s going to break my heart again. But I love the ride, and Sparks is an incredibly gifted writer. I can’t resist… until another book snags my attention. I’m on page 113.
  • Graphic Design School, Third Edition, by David Dabner. This book is excellent! Sometimes I wish I went to design grad school instead of advertising grad school (I stress sometimes), and this book does an excellent job of walking you through the basics of good design, element by element. I’m largely self taught when it comes to things artistic, so I appreciate it immensely. I have it on loan now from the library but really should cough up the $45 to buy it (and by $45 I mean probably $15 if I look hard enough). In the meantime, I’m on page 38.
  • And last but not least, Hockey for Dummies, by John Davidson and John Steinbreder. I’m interested in one day working in sports and there’s the possibility that that opportunity could be in hockey. It wouldn’t hurt to know more about it. Also, for some reason I follow and am followed by tons of people working in NHL on Twitter. I’ll admit, that’s what really made me interested in learning more and picking this up at the library. I’m on page 15 though, but that’s because I’m such a hockey dummy (OK, novice) that I’m reading all the prologue business too.

Well there you have it. Anyone have any suggestions for an easily amused/easily distracted person in the midst of 10 books? Where should I go from here? Has anyone read any of these and think any are must reads? Any I should dump or throw off a bridge? How do you stop yourself from picking up new books and follow through and finish what you start? Can I ask any more questions?

In the meantime, I’m going to stew on this quote from one of my favorite authors.

“The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” –Mark Twain

In honor of Mr. Twain, I’m going to read the Grisham book until I fall asleep tonight. And maybe when I’m done I’ll finally start The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Or The Prince and the Pauper. Sweet dreams, world.

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FNL 101

So earlier in the week I heard the most crushing news I’ve heard in quite some time…


That’s right, Friday Night Lights, fondly/annoyingly known by me as FNL, will be unveiled on DirecTV a full four months before (finally) airing on NBC. Season 3 premieres on DirecTV on Oct. 1 and won’t be available to the rest of us until February!

Talk about disappointing.

FNL is one of the most underappreciated shows I’ve ever seen. (It’s awesome. Even Peyton Manning thinks so!) I’ve loved it from the beginning, but NBC has threatened to pull the plug on the show every year since its inception. The show has shuffled around from timeslot to timeslot, night to night, and eventually last year landed in a pretty self-explanatory timeslot… Friday night.

What does this mean for avid FNL fans like myself? I’ll suffer through a disheartening one-third of a year or I’ll somehow cave and buy DirecTV. Personally, I’m hoping for the episodes finding their way to Hulu.

Anyway, as a big fan of the entire FNL franchise (yes, there is a franchise in that there’s more than one), I’m frequently asked what the differences are between Friday Night Lights the book, the movie, and the TV show. Here is today’s lesson:

The whole thing started with H.G. Bissinger’s book, Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and a Dream, a non-fiction book about the 1988 Permian football team in the west Texas oil town of Odessa. Bissinger followed the Permian Panthers around for a year, went to the annual watermelon feed, attended practices and games, and even sat in on halftime and pre-game pep talks on the team’s quest for the Texas State Championship. The dark and beautifully written book was published in 1990 and exposed the unglamorous underbelly of racism, economic despair, and a community too focused on sports and not enough on education. Unsurprisingly my sentiments on the quality of Bissinger’s work is not shared by many Odessa residents.

Then in 2004, the book was made into a movie called — you guessed it — Friday Night Lights. For the most part the movie followed the book, obviously many details were left out for the sake of time. The characters were the same, had similar dilemmas and personalities, and again was set in Odessa. Billy Bob Thornton played the part of Coach Gary Gaines. Oddly enough, Connie Britton played his wife, Sharon Gaines. Britton plays “the coach’s wife” in the TV series as well.

Then, flash forward to 2006. Friday Night Lights, the TV series, hit the airwaves. However, unlike the movie, this one was not based on the book, but inspired by it. Oddly enough, the show’s executive producer is Peter Berg, first cousin of the book’s writer.

The TV show is a pretty sizeable departure from the book and movie. There are a few similarities, like the tragedy, immense sadness, and tough lives of the characters, the town’s obsession with high school football, the team’s mascot (the Panthers), and the small town Texas setting. The TV show is filmed in Austin and nearby suburb Pflugerville (note what real Pflugerville’s football jerseys look like, pretty much the same look as those on the show) but takes place in fictional Dillon, Texas. The Dillon Panthers have blue and yellow jerseys, unlike Permian’s trademark black jerseys (see below). Apologies for waxing Uni Watch again.

The TV show never really says where in Texas Dillon is. Sometimes you’ll hear that it is a few hours from Austin, or a few from Dallas, but it never gives any real indication where in the state they’re located. There are frequent references to Mack Brown and/or the Texas Longhorns. Honestly my analysis of the show could last for hours, but I’ll curtail the details here. But like the book, the sadness and rawness of the emotions is what makes the TV show so beautiful.

If pressed for an opinion, I would say the book is the best, but it wins in a squeaker (over the TV show… the movie didn’t bring much new to the table). Great writing (Bissinger formerly wrote for Sports Illustrated by the way) wins every time, but you have to keep in mind that the hugely successful movie and great TV show (bad ratings, but critically acclaimed) wouldn’t exist without the book.

PS, one day I hope to attend a high school football game at Permian. I realize that likelihood hovers around nill, as it is a 6 hour drive, and um, 370 miles away. Couple that with gas for $3.70 a gallon, and yeah…

The end. Finally.

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