Recommended Reads For September

As the leaves turn to autumnal colors, readers are rejoicing over the bounty of pre-holiday treats lurking on bookshelves. The publishing industry is leading up to the holidays by featuring heavy-hitters from established authors as well as highly anticipated offerings from new writers whose works have caught the attention of book-lovers .

1/ “Lucky Bastard”
Joe Buck, Penguin/Random House

It’s really hard to grow up being the son of a celebrity who is beloved locally and respected nationally. This is the world of Joe Buck, arguably the most prolific sports broadcaster around. Following in his father’s footsteps, Buck has been behind the mic for Super Bowls, World Series and countless other sporting events. He also has hosted a talk show and been a pitchman.

Yet to many, he is known mainly for being the son of Jack Buck, the hall-of-fame broadcaster who set a professional and ethical bar for excellence that towers over the industry. In “Lucky Bastard” the younger Buck sheds his guy-next-door personality to give readers insight into his personal and professional life. Staring in the business at the age of 18, we discover his missteps, mistakes and screw-ups and how they helped him develop.

Moving from calling play by play for Louisville Redbirds and hosting shows on ESPN to prominence with Fox Sports, Buck has had a celebrated career. But, as the pages reveal, he is quite cognizant of his famous last name and perceptions doubting how he got where he is. Thus, it comes as no surprise when he reveals how he took great pains to separate himself from his father in the rough and tumble world of sports journalism.

The shadow of Jack Back is all over this memoir as Joe details how his father was also dad, best friend and mentor. Setting aside the world of competition, we are treated to an intimate story about the importance of family, loyalty and honesty—things Buck says he picked up from his father.

In “Lucky Bastard,” Buck also candidly discusses his hard life trying to make it, living life on the road and traveling from hotel to hotel. Despite the constant transit, Buck remains resolute in his dedication to his family. As we learn, it’s not easy but it’s an important aspect of his character.

Never one to take himself too seriously, Buck’s ability to make fun of himself has served him well. There’s smidgens of this throughout the book as he recounts several of his best gaffs and blunders. It is this self-deprecation and sense of emphasizing the moment on the field that has made him so popular.

Although his job has enabled him to meet some of the most famous figures in sports and entertainment, Buck has not forgotten his roots. He’s a St. Louisan through and through, which has been both a blessing and a curse for him professionally. Buck’s book also features terrific stories about the games he has covered and the people he has met.

“Lucky Bastard” also sees Buck taking on his critics with unfiltered honesty, noting that they oftentimes have a point. Criticism, he notes, is part of the deal of his job and he approaches this with both a grain of salt and a sense of refreshing honesty.

More than just a tell-all autobiography, “Lucky Bastard” allows Buck to reveal vulnerability devoid of egoism or selfishness. Thus revealing someone who has eschewed the trappings of being born with silver spoon by working hard, paying dues, counting blessings and never forgetting the lessons learned from his father.

2/ “The Nix”
Nathan Hill, Knopf

I have been meaning to mention “The Nix” for a few months now. Starting out as a great read, it has gained momentum over the last few months, eventually becoming a best-seller for first-time novelist Nathan Hill.

As a novel, it is simultaneously funny, light, heavy and heartbreaking. The book centers on a lot of things: politics, parenting, love, loss, the craft of writing, online gaming and the haunting of a life filled with missed opportunities and squandered chances. It’s a complex juggling act, but it totally works in keeping you hooked.

Epic and adventurous, at its core is a failed novelist named Samuel Andresen-Anderson who toils away as a college professor. Bitter and broken by his failed career, he gets by as best he can without much incident. To make things worse, he still has the hots for Bethany, his teen love.

The malaise of his humdrum world is shaken when he is asked to write about his mother, Faye, who abandoned him as a child. To his dismay, Faye’s life story is thrown into the national spotlight after she chucks rocks at a presidential hopeful. Paid to write about her,  he undergoes the process of re-examining her life, causing his world to spiral  out of control as he probes the events leading up to his abandonment and how it changed his life.

As a story, things initially seem bleak and uninteresting. But that’s simply not the case at the end. The joy of Hill’s work is his clever use of narrative. Instead of telling a straightforward story, the Iowa native shakes things up by having the reader inhabit his protagonist’s world of online gaming, frustration, prolonged failure and youthful innocence.

We also get an entire chapter consisting of an elongated conversation between Samuel and his mother’s legal representative. Here, we see Hill using dialogue in all of its Salinger-esque glory. Further shaking things up is his inclusion of a ‘choose your adventure’ chapter which outlines Samuel’s most disastrous relationship. It cleverly helps break up the intensity of his debut while concurrently adding texture to Samuel’s motivations.

“The Nix” is a potent dose of creative melancholy sprinkled with small moments of regret and misfortune that serve as seedlings for larger events down the road, which will take on larger and more significant proportions.

3/ “Jerusalem”
Alan Moore, Liveright

Alan Moore has worn many mantles: shaman, comic book writer and genius. But none of these really do him justice with regard to his ability to tell stories that are inhabited by memorable characters who rebel against traditional archetypes in extraordinary ways.

While his work has always been steeped in lore and history, his latest, “Jerusalem,” is a gargantuan undertaking where the only real central character is the gritty setting of The Boroughs in his native coastal home of Northampton, England. His choice of setting allows him to use the book as a way to write a tripped-out love letter of sorts to his native town.

That was the easy part. What comes next is part physics, part horror and completely maddening, but in a totally brilliant way. Here we see Moore abandoning proper prose altogether in favor of other formats, like an extended poem, play or fluxus collage, free from the paraphernalia of punctuation or grammar.

But what makes “Jerusalem” so tantalizing is not its shedding of the traditional or how it intertwines the ordinary and the supernatural; it is the boldness it presents in being utterly indescribable. The ‘book’ finds Moore at his most effusive, picking his spots to feature a smorgasbord not quite normal ‘characters’ in famous people, hooligans, druggies, poets and everyday folk. It also is bombastic in its hefty analysis of nearly everything from religion, science and wacky metaphysics, to comment on his life, career, the ills of the modern comic books industry and the advent of modern technology.

Taking more than a decade to write, his latest mammoth-sized tome has again found Moore (who rose to greatness with “Swamp Thing,” “From Hell,” “Watchmen,” “V For Vendetta” and “Top 10”) proclaiming that he is ‘retiring’ from comics. Only time will tell if he means it. But no matter what medium he dwells in the one sure thing is that it won’t be ‘normal’ or ‘boring’ in any way.

“Jerusalem” is not for the faint of heart. In the vernacular of modern youth, “Jerusalem” is a hot mess. But it’s an intensely gripping one filled with antiheroes, social commentary and copious peculiarities to lure you into his world.

4/ “The Rift: A New Africa Breaks Free”
Alex Perry, Little Brown

With “The Rift,” Alex Perry explores modern Africa with an eye on how the changing landscape of the continent is marred with conflict, war, poverty and brutality. Perry is fearless and doesn’t hold back in confronting the ugliness of Africa’s recent travails.

He is relentless in making his points, concisely explaining how the media and policy-makers have misunderstood the situation on the ground with disastrous ramifications. He also criticizes efforts of charities, relief organizations and nations to ‘help’ Africa face its problems.

Utilizing more than a decade of experience traversing various countries, his thesis is built on the notion that in order for Africa to stand on its own, it must break free of the yoke of misguided aid workers, political despots and Islamist extremists who channel frustration into brutal rage. Perry’s viewpoints stem from his own experiences and from interviews with warlords, teachers, autocrats and activists, which reveal the complex challenges facing nations on the continent.

Told primarily in two distinct halves, the first gives a short history of how today’s world has missed the mark in understanding Africa and the second focusing on how nationalist movements led to a break from an abusive colonial past only to find nations like Uganda and South Sudan struggling for survival.

But everything is not all gloom and doom. Perry caps the book with glimmers of hope in the region’s technological advancement, urban developments and community building. As a result, “The Rift” ruffles some feathers in its honest appraisal of what needs to be done to improve the situation there.

At a time when events in African nations are having a bigger impact on the world stage, Perry’s analysis provides a necessary tutorial on Africa’s past, present and future.

5/ “What’s With St. Louis?
Valerie Battle Kienzle, Reedy Press

 It is pretty apparent that Ms. Kienzle, a local author who has previously written about St. Charles and Columbia, loves St. Louis and is sincerely intrigued by what makes it tick.

Her latest book, “What’s with St. Louis?,” explores our community’s influences, traditions and history in an effort to measure its pulse and understand its many layers. She does this by exploring its past, current economics and potential for the future.

In doing this, she not only induces a glorious sense of civic pride, she also helps us understand who we are as a metropolis. She begins the journey by explaining how we got so many nicknames: Mound City, The Lou, River City, The STL, St. Louie and the very formal Gateway to the West. Understanding these monikers enables us to better understand the many neighborhoods, townships and municipalities that we live in.

A third of the way in, the book comes to life as she explores the city’s nuances, its ever-changing weather patterns, (something that fascinates and frustrates locals and visitors alike), passion for baseball and architectural heritage. Kienzle also champions St. Louis as a food city, going beyond our fascination with toasted ravioli and frozen custard to explore our culinary heritage as she explores it culinary identity.

At the center of “What’s with St. Louis?” is Keinzle’s uncanny knack for identifying the various facets of our town that make it so interesting: the wonderful character of its local citizenry, memorable places and charming neighborhoods. 

Featured photo by Anastasia Zhenia/Unsplash

Rob Levy is a freelance writer who works at a local library. Each month he recommends five books for ALIVE Magazine readers.

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