Read Everything That Dunks Must Converge

Read Everything That Dunks Must Converge
by Bryan Harvey

Truth & lies in Pixar's 'The Good Dinosaur'

Truth & lies in Pixar's 'The Good Dinosaur'
by Bryan Harvey

A world of child soldiers & cowboys

A world of child soldiers & cowboys
by Bryan Harvey

To their own devices: Pablo Larrain's 'The Club'

To their own devices: Pablo Larrain's 'The Club'
by Bryan Harvey

The most memorable nonfiction I read in 2017

January 6, 2018

Below are some thoughts on some of the nonfiction I read in 2017:

Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America by John M. Barry (1997)

This book is an incredible feat about the horrifying attempts of the 19th century to tame the Mississippi River. I read it over the summer, and while the book is about the double-edged sword of engineering, the book is also about the wild tides of racism and progressive forces at the start of the 20th century. I read about the flood of 1927 as men of all ages and of mostly one race burned tiki torches and marched like idiots through Charlottesville in the night. I’m not sure a single book could be so depressingly clear about the snakes writhing at America’s roots and how they have always been there, albeit more dangerous in some times than others. Historical scenes from the 1927 flood include white men, the bosses, holding their black employees hostage atop the levees, fearing black flight from white authority. These scenes took place decades after emancipation and decades prior to white flight from the urban landscape. History isn’t so much a circle or a corkscrew as it is a river given to unpredictable flood cycles. You can grow desperate or satisfied in that awareness.

The Hitchcock Murders by Peter Conrad (2000)

If you want to know more about how Alfred Hitchcock’s film works, this book will do that. For a teacher looking to better explain how techniques and thematic concepts cross paths, this book provides both language and substance for proving you’re not just making it all up, even if you sometimes are.

Better yet, this book crossed my path when a student handed it to me on her last day of class. I am eternally grateful—my students since then maybe less so, for I am punishing them with excerpts about the links between cinematic cuts, appetite, and violence. Bon appètit.

Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle by Kristen Green (2015)

My wife and father both read this book before I did. I read it on their recommendations and simply from observing how moved they were in reading the book. My wife is from Massachusetts and so everything is Southern to her except for polar bears. My dad, however, was born and raised in Altavista, Virginia, near Lynchburg. My mom was born in Atlanta, lived in Charlotte, and was raised in Halifax County, Virginia. I was born in Kentucky, lived in Georgia, and graduated high school from Fredericksburg, Virginia. I bring all this up because Green’s book tells a rather familiar story: people will go to great lengths to keep racist traditions and prejudices alive and acceptable. I bring all this up because those great lengths happened and do happen in places other than Alabama and Mississippi. They can happen in Prince Edward County. They can happen in Charlottesville. They can probably happen elsewhere too.

Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination by Jack Hamilton (2016)

The opening essay is about the shared musical territories of Sam Cooke and Bob Dylan. Other chapters discuss Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, and Dusty Springfield. The conclusive essays focus on Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. The information is nonstop, and the research is thorough. You will look either at music and artists differently. Certain truths will unravel, and you will hear certain songs as something else. This difference will not be necessarily better or worse, but it will be different and you will be forced to think about what the hell is rock ‘n roll.

Also, Hamilton’s not a bad follow on Twitter if you look him up.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer (2015)

I have only read two of Krakauer’s books. This one and Into the Wild. If you want the best passages from Krakauer, Missoula is not necessarily the book to read. Missoula delivers a scathing case study pinpointing why and how the justice system fails the victims of sexual assault and rape: In the charging of just about any other crime the perpetrator is treated as a suspect and the victim as a victim. However, the opposite is often true when police departments investigate crimes of sexual assault and rape or when juries listen to lawyers deliberate.  

Beale Street Dynasty: Sex, Song, and the Struggle for the Soul of Memphis by Preston Lauterbach (2015)

I read Lauterbach’s book so I could write With the Memphis Blues Again. Somewhere on the book’s jacket a critic compares it with HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Seems true. Except Beale Street Dynasty contains more lives, more decades, more history, and more stories, as it traces the history of Beale Street’s development from the Civil War era to the middle of the twentieth century. I once vowed to read a presidential biography a year. I have not kept that vow. But I do think I would be more likely to read at least one American city’s biography per year. Memphis was a decent place to start.

Jerry West: The Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon by Roland Lazenby (2009)

A magnum opus about Jerry West. A tale rooted in colonial Virginia, backwoods West Virginia, and a dangerously depressing search for perfection proves West isn’t just a logo for the NBA, but a perfectly named logo for Manifest Destiny.

Michael Jordan: The Life by Roland Lazenby (2014)

A magnum opus about Michael Jordan. While the whole book is really a case study about the modern athlete and the makeup of Alpha personalities, the passages about Jordan’s grandfather and life along those pinebrushed Carolina rivers really are the most intriguing.

Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America by Jennifer Price (1999)

Going into it, I expected a great deal about flamingos. I was not wrong. However, I now find myself spending an equal amount of time mourning passenger pigeons and shopping malls.

Levels of the Game by John McPhee (1969)

The man writes better than well on tennis.

Reality is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity by Carlo Rovelli (2017)

I now know what a 3-Sphere is, but please don’t ask me to explain it.

How to Watch a Movie by David Thomson (2015)

I just jot down movies to watch while reading Thomson and grow angry at his sentences being better than mine. Then I assign Thomson to students, so we can all be angrily humbled together.

String Theory by David Foster Wallace (2016)

The man writes well on tennis.

The Fire This Time edited by Jesmyn Ward (2016)

Adapting its title from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, The Fire This Time is a strong collection of essays and poems that serves as a primer on African-American perspectives in the 21st century. I read it sometime late last winter, and it appeared on a reading choice list for my English 11 students. I probably didn’t give them enough guidance in working through each essay, but I could be wrong. My personal favorites in the collection are Kiese Laymon’s “Da Art of Storytellin’ (a Prequel)” and its endless thoughts on Outkast, Rachel Kaadzi Ghanash’s “The Weight” because of how it aligns voices from the past with the present, and maybe “Composite Pops” by Mitchell S. Jackson. But, if I were to read it again, I’m not doubtful that list would change.

After all, the list is always changing.

Bryan Harvey tweets @Bryan_S_Harvey.

The most memorable fiction I read in 2017

Looking back on all the books I read in 2017, these are the ones that weigh the heaviest, meaning I think about them during class changes, on long runs, in the shower, or while making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They weren't all published in 2017, but a handful were. As always, thanks for reading.  

Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie (1996)

This book is so many things: American satire, urban crime thriller, reservation punchline after reservation punchline, artifact from America’s ongoing culture wars, the collected chromosomes of so many shared literary lineages, from Leslie Marmon Silko to Washington Irving and Ernest Hemingway. The plot moves quickly through Noir alleys and collegiate classrooms, and then Alexie lands an Epilogue from the top rope that makes all the pain and tragedy from the book’s plot shrivel into nothing more than one rotten fruit born of many, and perhaps that’s the saddest truth of all: “The tree grows heavy with owls” (420). 

On Federer's watch

July 18, 2017

The greatest athletes often possess a knack for holding onto their talents longer than the sports world anticipates. Their focus and determination outweighs whatever focus the mob can muster. The late success of Roger Federer is only surprising when the crowd blinks first.

The Wonder in 'Westworld,' a first impression

July 5, 2017

The first, but probably not the last thing I write about WestWorld:

The show Westworld begins with a dejected Dolores Abernathy sitting naked on a stool. One arm hangs limply. Her lap cradles the other. Her knees lean in on each other, due to her pigeon-toed feet. Her blonde head tilts to the side, and, in a mostly dark room, she is the epitome of defeat and vulnerability. A fly crawls across her eye. She does not react. She is not irritable. She is not human.

When winter never came, and the books read waiting

April 16, 2017

I'd say blow the dust off the blog before continuing, but I'm not sure digital platform even collect dust. Anyway, the following are impressions of some books I read over the last few months when I wasn't updating the LCB blog with any sense of regularity: 

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