Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Spring Reading

Reading has picked up the last few weeks. Even with my mind elsewhere on very important things I managed to squeeze in three books.

First up is Michael Davis' 'Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street.

I found this book to be both informative and frustrating. Learning how the show evolved and the efforts it took to get the government grants to fund the show was fascinating. I also learned a lot about Captain Kangaroo, which I never watched. Bob Keeshan was a cantankerous man with a sincere talent to entertain and educate children. What I did not feel enough was the presence of Jim Henson and many of the people who made Sesame Street the cultural icon it became. We hear way too much about the producers of the show, and their talents and limitations. Plus, I felt the Northern Hollaway (who played David) was dealt with rather disrespectfully while the roles of all the characters who played Gordon were barely mentioned. And Henson, with his sudden death, left a mess for his family to clean up concerning his verbal agreements with Disney.

I'm not sure Davis could have written a better book though. I think an oral history of the program, with all the actors and writers of the program would give the show its due.

Next up is a book that has some relation to the first. I Can See Clearly Now by Brendan Halpin.

Halpin is known as a writer of Young Adult novels but also has several adult works under his belt. This is one of the latter. It's a fictionalized telling of how the children's program Schoolhouse Rock was made. Halpin tells the story from the view of the musicians and songwriters who worked on the project. This is one of the book's major flaws. There are five viewpoints, and the narrative gets muddled because Halpin is unable to give the characters distinct voices. It's well researched with plenty of early 1970's references that are spot on. There's plenty of drug use, as a coffee can of herb is always in the studio to provide inspiration. This is a book I wanted to like, as Halpin is a very sincere and hard working author. Not a book I can recommend though. Try this one instead.

Finally, the memoir.

If you know me, you already know about my admiration for Kurt Vonnegut. When I saw that one of his former students, who had an affair with him, had written a book about it - my b.s. detector went off. I was pleasantly surprised that Loree Rackstraw did not do a hatchet job on him. Instead she wrote a fair book that may be a bit over kind to his work. Rackstraw and K.V. met in the sixties when he was teaching at the University of Iowa, they became very close. Eventually their affair turned into a life long friendship. It's also a critical assessment of most of K.V.'s work, and that gets a bit gushing at times. But their friendship is a kind one, and it's good to see someone I admired greatly shown to be a decent, but far from perfect man.

All right. Next up. Blue Jackets vs. Blackhawks. Blue Jackets need ONE POINT to make the playoffs for the first time. I may be back later!


marybindc said...

I heard Michael Davis interviewed on NPR a couple of months ago, it was a fun show. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the book.

The Guy You Thought Was Rude said...

I wanted to like the book more, but the amount of quality information that was overlooked was disappointing.

Anonymous said...

Ohh, I didn't know you did book reviews. I am a huge fan of Kurt Vonnegut myself. When Kurt Cobain died, my then husband came home telling me that Kurt Vonnegut had been found dead. I was devastated!! I'll read that book.

The Guy You Thought Was Rude said...

I do it all here baby! It's a fair memoir. I wanted to name my son Kurt, but the alliteration is horrible.