Monday, July 28, 2008

Book Wrap-Up (Bargain Bin Edition)

All of these books were either purchased for a buck at a used book store or found on a SWAG table at my office at Tower Records. They're all old and out of date, but some touch on topics that are still of interest and many haven't changed a bit.

"Scribble Scribble" by Nora Ephron
This one is so inconsequential it’s really not worth writing about. It’s noteworthy for two reasons, 1) Ephron is now a famous screenwriter ("When Harry Met Sally", "Sleepless in Seattle"), and 2) The book is so old that the first entry is on a brand new magazine she thinks might have a future called “People”. Otherwise, it’s largely first person musings on New York luminaries that I’ve never heard of or topics that aren’t really relevant anymore. In fact, it reads, largely, like my blog. Yet, she’s famous and rich and I’m a frustrated nobody. Maybe I should have married Carl Bernstein too. Is Bob Woodward single?

"The Gross" by Peter Bart
Over the years, I have become obsessed with the box office. There is an excellent site called that posts the receipts every week and in the 8 years since I discovered the site, I have yet to miss a week. Bart’s book chronicles the summer of 1998 and tells the back stories and aftershocks of one of the biggest summers in history.

He starts out by running through all the studios and what films they had on the docket and why. The biggest tent pole of the bunch was "Armageddon", with the secondary films being "Deep Impact" (a veritable carbon copy of "Armageddon", a fact that sends serious stress through the industry), "Saving Private Ryan", "Godzilla", "Bullworth" and "The Truman Show" with scores of others also on the list. It also digs into the personalities behind the films and what’s on the line for each individual. For instance, Bruce Willis agreed to do "Armageddon" if the studio could get him out of a film he was in the middle of shooting that wasn’t going very well. Also, given what Bart says about the fiery personality of studio head Peter Guber, it’s interesting to know now that the two would go on to host their own show on AMC, “Shootout”.

The book is dated, obviously, and the same book could have been written about any summer since the business model hasn’t changed. But it was fascinating, if you care about this sort of thing, to hear all the behind the scenes stuff. Plus, the summer of ’98 was one I remember well. I saw virtually all of these movies with my good friend Sally. We practically lived in the theater that summer. Either Sally or Ben Sauter or sometimes both. Good friends, good movies, a hot and fun college summer. Those were the days.

"Fair Ball" by Bob Costas
Baseball’s broken and Costas explains why. He breaks down how the pursuit of profits under the guise of making the game more compelling, is actually not addressing the real issues. What is broken is that the big teams keep getting bigger and the mid to small market teams have no chance to compete because of small payrolls.

His solution is revenue sharing. It evens the playing field and will stimulate fan interest, which would then improve revenue. The teams that win are the teams with money (New York, Boston, Atlanta), so where does that leave the fans in Pittsburgh or Minnesota or Kansas City who can only hope to improve via the farm system rather than free agency. What has contributed to this problem is breaking the standings into three divisions, which may expand the playoff race, but waters down divisional playoffs because teams always have the wild care to fall back on and don’t care anymore about fighting for a division crown. Additionally, gigantic contracts, which is the universal problem in sports today, throws everything out of whack. We see similar problems in the NBA where the first round of the playoffs is now a best of seven series. Does that make the game better or does it just increase profits? The answer is the latter.

The book is a quick read and Costas knows his stuff. Again, the book is out of date, written about seven years ago, it was sad to know that baseball has just gotten worse since the book was published. Costas is a passionately outspoken critic of the steroid era, which wasn’t even an issue when he wrote the book. You just know he’d love to write a sequel with all that’s on his mind now.

"Brave Nu World" by Tommy Udo
Not sure why I even bothered with this one, since I couldn’t care less about every band mentioned. It’s basically an argument for and a criticism of rap metal, the boom that came and went six years ago leaving hundreds of nobodies in its wake.

The book devotes a chapter to each of the major players of the genre, such as Korn, Limp Biskit, and Linkin Park and explains how they got their start and where they stand in the rock hierarchy. Pretty much every band he spotlights no longer has a career worth mentioning, which is funny since he breaks down who he believes has the chops to be in it for the long haul. Anyone heard from Slipknot or Staind or Crazy Town lately? Nope. And we aren’t likely to either.

Udo is careful not to be too effusive. He knows it could have a short shelf life. Thankfully, Fred Durst is called out as the moron he is and Linkin Park are accused of being a manufactured band in the same mold as a Backstreet Boys or Britney Spears. The Deftones, a band I’ve never cared much about even though I knew a couple of the members briefly, are handled with hushed reverence for some reason.

Anyway, does anyone care? Probably not. If you like these bands, check it out. Or, if you are in the mood for a good chuckle reading a six year old book about bands that have already come and gone, go for it. This was a freebie from back in my Tower days, so I figured I’d knock it down real quick.


Marilyn said...

Good reviews, Jon. You might be frustrated, but you're certainly not a nobody! Love you, Mom

Beefy said...

Sorry Marilyn, I disagree. Your mom may love you Jon but that doesn't mean your not a nobody...

JK...thought id drop in on this but its much too intellectual for me (as I assumed). Back to Judy Blume.