Lou Boudreau: My Hall of Fame Life on the Field and Behind the Mic (Boudreau with Schneider)

This was an entertaining look at the life of the Indians’ player-manager. It’s a bit lightweight at times, and Boudreau can be predictably crotchety and other times, but it is a slice of life look at the way baseball used to work from one of its stars. Along the way, we meet Bill Veeck, Larry Doby and a few other memorable names. We see the Tribe win the 1948 series and a few efforts by Boudreau to extend his career, especially as a manager. The ‘Behind the Mic’ part gets short shrift here. There are very stories here beyond his nervousness about the job and the sudden death of his first broadcasting partner.

The Gentleman from Ohio (L. Stokes with Chanoff)

I am still trying to learn more about Cleveland’s past, present and future, and I know enough to understand that Louis Stokes and his brother, Carl, were major parts of the city’s past. This autobiography, completed just before Stokes died at 90 and published posthumously, really becomes engaging when Stokes discusses first the Supreme Court he argued, Terry v. Ohio and then his work in Congress, both his role in forming the Congressional Black Caucus and his leadership of various committees, including the investigation into the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.. And I admit I was glad when he was willing to let down his guard a bit and share some of his anger about the racism he faced even as his accomplishments and recognition increased.

A remarkable man. A remarkable family. A pretty good book.

Revolutionary Suicide (Newton)

This is an amazing book, one that I’m sorry I did not find earlier in life. The evolution and clarity of Newton’s vision, taken together with his accounts of his legal struggles and political acts, is both coherent and persuasive (and, perhaps, self-serving). I know just a little about the Black Panthers and want to continue to investigate, but there seems to have been much that was good about their work.

Newton’s sexism (which he seems to have inherited from his father) and his homophobia are not to be cast aside or minimized, but I think the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of ideological purity. People,  famous people, leaders have flaws. None of us is perfect. I cannot find the origin of the idea (perhaps Voltaire?), but the notion of not letting perfect be the enemy of better seems to apply here (and in more current situations).

I found this book to be riveting and inspiring. And anyone who inspires me to read Nietzche gets a tip of the hat from me.

The Periodic Table (Levi)

I am no chemist. My efforts in high school were absurd (and so was my teacher). But I understood enough to see the chemistry here not just as chemistry – because it was still that. Levi clearly has a high regard for his own vocation as a chemist. But it’s also (and this element was more accessible to me) chemistry as metaphor. The ability to control, transform, analyze, indeed to be rational, when all around you is anything but (i.e., WW2). Science, here, in contrast perhaps to any sense of a deity, is dependable, both in the form of its sometimes monotonous practice and in content. There are rules, laws here – not even a fascist can deny them. Therefore, there is freedom, at least in the mind.

It’s a tough book to classify, which is okay by me. Levi considered it a “micro-history.” I don’t have that category, and since I don’t think it would fit anything else, I did the best I could.

Nigger (Gregory with Lipsyte)

That was a hard word to type; it’s a word I will not say. But Gregory wanted that title. so I figure I shouldn’t shy away from typing it. And I stand completely with Gregory here –

Gregory responds to students protesting the Dean who recommended his book

Gregory is a terrific writer. He moves between detail and big picture smoothly and effectively. There were more than a few passages that just blew me away.

And there was so much here I just did not know about him and his involvement in the Civil Rights Revolution – revolution is the word he thinks is more apt than ‘movement.’ If at times, he attributes a bit too much to his intuition, well, that’s okay. But the treatment of his wife after a personal tragedy? Not okay.

I appreciated how Gregory was able to explain his own entry into the Revolution, whether it was forcing a prison audience to be integrated before he performed or marching with Medgar Evers. I also appreciated that he was willing to turn down an opportunity to speak at the March on Washington – at least initially. And his comments are very powerful when he connects the events in the United States with those around the world. I’m not sure the word Vietnam is ever mentioned; but it’s always there.

I remain puzzled as to why he called his need or instinct to become involved in Civil Rights his “monster.” It’s likely limiting to say that the monster was just that – he needed to speak and be heard like most of us need to breathe.

But from beginning to end, the title makes sense. Gregory makes it clear what’s at stake. And by his measure, indeed by almost every measure, we aren’t there yet.

fire this time. (Washington)

Washington calls this an extended essay. I’m not so sure. I think it defies genre. It’s an essay, a poem, a novel, a play. There are even some autobiographical elements. And philosophy. I was energized its hybrid nature. It’s challenging.

The only thing I can say about all of it – even the parts I am not sure I understood – is that it burns. The intensity is relentless. Inspired, I think, by the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, Washington is not angry. “I AM,” the prologue opens, “Rage.” And this book (I think it’s safe to call it that) which was written over two days takes us on the jagged rivers of this rage. It’s a book that deserves to be held close, re-visited. It’s a reminder, a reckoning. Open it at any point. The words will fly off the page. Pay attention.




Miles (Davis w/ Troupe)

In today’s New York Times, Roxane Gay says she cannot separate the artist from his or her art, so she is therefore not going to see Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation. Now I haven’t been following this story too closely, but the challenge is familiar. Can an artist be separated from his art? Would  I still watch The Cosby Show? Do we, in fact, give artists more license to behave in certain ways because they are artists? Is there some kind of science to it – the “artists need to be crazy to be artists” argument?

But what artists, or even who among us, could stand up to such scrutiny? Could this be a both / and situation? I can, I think, still like some Woody Allen movies and find what I know of his personal life to be despicable.

All of this came to mind as I read Miles Davis’ autobiography. His language about women and his descriptions of how he treated them are just appalling. Can I still like his music if I don’t like the person?

I’m not sure of the process or the nature of the collaboration, but neither Davis nor Troupe are great writers. There’s a lot of listing – who was in the band, what happened at that recording session, etc.. There are some interesting elements, like how Davis tried to evolve rather than become a museum piece. He speaks a great deal about the racism he encountered in the music business, but is short on specifics and shallow when it comes to analysis, except when it comes to money. Without any context, it’s hard to get a grasp of the strength of his complaints when he says he was not paid as much as white musicians.

Shortly before he died, I had an opportunity to see Davis in Chicago. He didn’t say a word. When someone in the band soloed, he held up a large pre-printed card with his name on it. He does tell us about his reasoning behind that, how he hated to see how certain performers had to put on another kind of show (he mentions Louis Armstrong a great deal to make this point) to become popular. He wanted no part of that.

And there are a lot of drugs and Davis’ stubborn refusal / inability to get them out of his life. He does offer some explanations – the pace musicians were expected to keep, for example and / or his addictive personality – but his struggles and the struggles of some of his contemporaries (Charlie Parker, for example) are intense and, in the end, sad.

So, yes, I will still listen to Miles Davis. In fact, I added more of his music to my playlists as I read. But now I will have a more complete story of the man. And his flaws.