Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Books: Some Summer Reading

Don’t let the blog go all cocktails all the time. I told myself that more than once. But a summer full of deadlines and other pressing business later, that’s exactly what happened. To make it up to you, here’s a quick roundup of books I’ve read in recent weeks worth your time.

Middle Men, by Jim Gavin (2013). Confession #1: I never read the fiction in the New Yorker. I don’t know why. Confession #2: I made an exception for Jim Gavin’s ‘Costello’ only because the illustration featured a Dodgers cap and I thought it was about baseball. (I’m really a very simple man.) Love of the game is part of the background in the finest short story I’ve read in years, about a widowed plumbing supplies salesman making the adjustment to living the good life in California alone. ‘Costello’ is the closing entry in this aptly-named, terrific collection of stories about men of varying ages accepting their limitations in the Golden State. ‘The Luau’ is a companion piece to ‘Costello’ about Costello fils. ‘Elephant Doors’ follows an aspiring stand-up comic who works as a production assistant on a game show that is nothing like Jeopardy! The uproarious, shaggy-dog ‘Illuminati’ includes a brilliant bit of show business lunacy, while ‘Bewildered Decisions in Times of Mercantile Terror’ contains as lethal a dissection of the modern workplace as you’ll see. (A sales team consists of “a pack of hyenas from third-tier MBA programs who spent their days quoting Old School and refreshing”)

The Legends of Last Place, by Abe Streep (2013). In this brief ebook, the editor of Outside magazine (and former college baseball player) spends a season following the Santa Fe Fuego, the worst professional team in these United States. ‘Professional’ is used advisedly here; Fuego players earn fifty bucks a week, crash with local families, and double as the grounds crew. Streep dives deep into what keeps players and fans committed to the game at its lowest level. FYI: Roswell, New Mexico’s club is called the Invaders.

Big Maria, by Johnny Shaw (2012). If it’s been too long since you’ve read something heartwarming yet filthy – or filthy yet heartwarming, your choice – have I got the book for you. Three outcasts in the high desert, a place fabled for outcasts, decide to turn their sorry lives around by joining forces to find a forgotten gold mine. That the mine is now part of a government artillery range is the least of their problems, given what bone-deep screw-ups they are. It’s a scatological Treasure of the Sierra Madre, or a Donald E. Westlake Dortmunder novel where the heisters are cursed-by-God unlucky. Shaw balances a willingness to rush headlong into grim (and gross) comic terrain with genuine affection for his misfits, and damned if you’re not rooting for these sad bastards come the end.