Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Below are a few (somewhat) brief, $.02 opinions about several books I've read (or listened to) recently but don't and won't have time to review in full. Their appearance here has nothing to do with merit, many I enjoyed as much or even more than those that got the full court press. I hope you'll consider one or two for your own TBR stack.

The Qualities of Wood, by Mary Vensel White
This is one I don't recommend. I haven't wondered "what the what?" about a book this much in a long time. Husband moves to his recently-deceased grandmother's house so he can finish his second book. Wife quits her job and follows a short while later. Just before wife arrives, the body of a young girl is found on adjacent property. Accident? Maybe. Brother-in-law and his wacky wife come for a visit. Family tension ensues. Husband is acting strangely distant (including sneaking out his study window to leave the house). Neighbor is a bit odd. But with all this "drama" going on, the book story is taken over by accounts of cookouts and fishing trips and drinking and going through crap in the attic and drinking and peeling wallpaper and garage sales and tree-felling and lunch in town and and drinking and getting ready for the town reunion and WHAT ABOUT THE DEAD GIRL?! Dead girl mystery is resolved in the final pages, very unsatisfactorily, and the whole thing goes out with a whimper. I missed something here.

Flash, by Rachel Anne Ridge
I'm a sucker for a rescued animal story. Just about any animal story, actually. When this adorable cover caught my attention I thought I'd give it a go. While it was cute and had some good messages, I should have read a little further. I read more scripture in this book than in the past, well, forever. And there's nothing wrong with that, it just isn't my bag. Again, the messages were good (run with horses, be a service animal, wear your donkey heart on your sleeve; you see where we're going here), but it felt like Flash was a tool to quote scripture. Ridge is a good writer and has a great sense of humor, I really enjoyed her and her family. And the donkey. I just wanted more donkey, less family/work/who am I and how do I get through this world. My fault for not really checking out what I was reading (I mean, "God" was in one description, doesn't get much clearer than that), no fault of this positive read by a funny, thoughtful woman.

You Might Remember Me, by Mike Thomas
I was a huge fan of Phil Hartman. He could do just about anything, but was never the big star, usually taking the back seat to other SNL heavies with big taglines like Dana Carvey and Mike Meyers. He was in a ton of sketches, but only a few main characters/impressions stick out for me: President Clinton, the anal-retentive chef, and angry Frank Sinatra. It came as no surprise to find out the SNL cast called him "Glue." He was the one supporting everyone else, the one who held the whole thing together.

This is a sad book for many reasons. Mostly because we all know how Hartman's story ended. But also because he even seemed in life to have trouble finding his identity. He was a major talent, good at just about everything. I had no idea he was a great surfer and a pilot and musician and designer of more than 25 best-selling album covers. But he seemed distant and reserved, even to those who knew him (or tried to) the best, including his three wives. He is presented as a good guy, a gentleman, a good friend, a loving father, a man who loved his wives and by all accounts was faithful to them. He just couldn't seem to make things click or give them the time and attention they needed (and probably deserved).

The foreshadowing with respect to his third wife Brynn was difficult listening (obviously I read the audio version of the book). Friends warned him and expressed concerns on many occasions about her behavior, drug use, and gun ownership. To be fair, they both owned guns and guns owned by both were used on that fateful morning. It was simply sad all around. Although the events surrounding his death were certainly intriguing and sensational, the depth to which the book went into the details about Hartman's death and memorials started to feel a bit salacious. The book was supposed to be "The Life and Times of Phil Hartman;" this book felt more like a death march.

I was hoping for fun, behind-the-scenes stories from SNL and NewsRadio (I enjoyed Phil on SNL, but for me he will always be the brilliantly-portrayed Bill McNeal on NewsRadio, a fantastic and smart series I highly recommend). While there were some such stories, I didn't get a lighthearted feel from this book at any moment.

I'm really struggling with whether to recommend this book or not. I think not. If you're a fan of Phil Hartman it's an interesting read, but overall it's a fairly sad account, even before the tragic end, and I'm not sure I know Hartman much better after reading it. I would not recommend the audio version. The narrator had a great voice, but his mispronunciations were highly irritating and his attempt to do the voices of some famous people were, to me, misplaced and ill-advised. Overall, You Might Remember Me made me feel sad, so I would take the title's premise to heart and simply remember Phil as you remember him.

That kind of turned into a full dollar's worth of review, there, didn't it?

Have you read any of these titles? If so, what did you think? I'd love to find something more positive about The Qualities of Wood and You Might Remember Me. If you've got some, lay it on me.


Catherine said...

This is such a great idea- I'm not so good at quick reviews but feel like I need something like this for my DNFs.

I loved Phil Hartman but, as you said, it is impossible to think of him and not think of the horrible way he died. I wonder if, had he lived, might he have found another niche? He was so talented.

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

I had to laugh at "not good at quick reviews" as I suffer from the same problem. I can go on like nobody's business. In fact, I originally imagined these as "flash reviews" that would fit in a tweet, but you can see I fail miserably at that. Mostly I was tired of the pressure (self-induced, of course) of reviewing more. I don't have the energy to do a full review on everything I read, but still wanted to share thoughts on others. This was my compromise.

Ugh, I am still thinking about that Hartman biography. He did die tragically, but I was stunned that the whole book felt like such a downer. Maybe I just wasn't in the right frame of mind. I did learn some fun new things, I didn't realize just how talented he was, but part of me wishes I'd never read it.

Re "not good at quick reviews" see this comment. I'm not so good at quick replies to comments, either. :)

About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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