A shortened reading month, as I took a long trip and left the iPad (and Kindle) at home, but I did buy a ton of books in the UK (okay … 15 or so, plus 8 vintage paperbacks in lovely Hay-on-Wye), so there’s much more to come.
The Church of Baseball by Ron Shelton
If you’re like me and enjoy reading books about how the sausage is made (some people call it “process”), The Church of Baseball is for you. This is the behind-the-scenes story of the making of Bull Durham, the baseball movie that changed Hollywood’s traditional outlook on such movies (heroic central character homers in the bottom of the 9th—against all odds—to win the 7th game of the World Series, thus miraculously curing little Bobby of cancer and setting the stage for our hero to marry Bobby’s mom). The 1988 movie, starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins was written and directed by Ron Shelton, who does a thorough and thoroughly enjoyable job recounting his experience making the film. The first half of the book is devoted to the script and the remainder is divided up into pre-production, production, and editing (which includes the testing and eventual premiere of the finished film). Shelton spares no detail (he politely declines to name some names, but others, like actor Anthony Michael Hall, he justly puts the screws to), and he is a fascinating writer, a former minor league baseball player, and with this movie, a first-time director. I purchased this book at the San Diego Union-Tribune Festival of Books and went to an interview panel with Shelton, where he was as fascinating a speaker as he is a writer. This is one of the best behind-the-scenes movie books I’ve ever read, probably because it comes directly from the source and entirely demystifies the process of Hollywood moviemaking and gives a rare, detailed look into the lonely job of scriptwriting.
Devil’s Reign by Chip Zdarsky and Marco Checchetto
Another month, another “Marvel Event,” designed to sell you as many books—most that you probably have no interest in reading on a monthly basis—as possible. This one is elevated by the writing of Chip Zdarsky and the art of Marco Checchetto (who manages to do all six issues). It’s essentially the end of Zdarksy’s three-year run on Daredevil (which also spawned an annual and a three-issue Daredevil: Woman Without Fear mini-series, featuring Elektra as DD), except they relaunched Daredevil with a new #1 and with Zdarsky still writing it. He’s my current favorite writer in comics, including his just-started run on Batman with artist Jorge Jiminez. As Marvel Events go, this one is entertaining (I didn’t buy any of the associated titles), and the art is great. Kingpin (Wilson Fisk), in his role as mayor of New York City, bans all superheroes and imposes martial law, with his own super-powered police force, the Thunderbolts, enforcing it. In the meantime, he runs for a second term as mayor, using long-time DD villain The Purple Man to control the minds of the voters. Many Marvel heroes are featured, (FF, Tony Stark, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and a Spider-Man or two, although I’m not sure which ones they are; pretty sure neither of them are Peter Parker, though), but this is essentially a Daredevil vs. Kingpin story, and it’s all the better for it.
One side note: Why are all Marvel trade paperbacks so freakin’ expensive? This is $34.99 for what is essentially a reprint of seven issues. Yes, they probably cost $5.00 each, so that’s $35.00 right there, but I think a similar TPB from DC would be priced maybe at $29.99 or even $24.99, based on the content. I can only surmise it’s the world’s cheapest comics publisher, Ike Perlmutter, who is setting prices here, trying to get back some money on all those wasted Post-It Notes that were written on only one side.
Remainders of the Day by Shaun Bythell
Scotland bookshop owner Shaun Bythell returns to form with another year-long (2016, I believe) diary of his adventures in Wigtown. Bythell’s bookstore (imaginatively called “The Bookshop”) is the largest second-hand bookstore in Scotland, and his clientele and staff are made up of some memorable characters, augmented by self-absorbed customers who have no clue why old books are collectible. This is the third volume by Bythell that follows the daily diary format (his last book, Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops, is a waste of time and paper, so ignore it). Bythell seems to be mellowing with age (he’s now married with a child), so this book is less caustic than the first two (Confessions of a Bookseller and The Diary of a Bookseller), and consequently not as funny as those two, but still an enjoyable read. I think the whole “book-about-bookselling” thing is paying off for him, too: His daily sales totals, listed at the end of each diary entry, seem to be much higher than in his first two books. One place where this book falls down, for me at least, is the long entries about the Wigtown Book Festival (the 2022 festival is currently going on as I write this), where so many names are thrown at the reader that it gets bewildering. Bythell is very knowledgeable about books and an entertaining writer, and the lovely covers on these books by artist Sam Kalda add to the considerable charm of the writing. Oh, and there’s a bookstore cat named Captain.