La nina reads

This summer has been unseasonably milder. The heat came in spots, with cloud cover and showers taking its place. The cooler temperature and occasional rain could be attributed to La Nina. Regardless, the first month of the year saw me labouring through Obama’s new release. I spent two weeks trying to grapple with his prose and yet I only got through half of his Presidential memoir. Apparently, this tome was just part one of a two-book deal. After the fortnight, and seeing no let-up in his dense writing, I decided that the book wasn’t for me. Since then, I’ve finished When the Game was Ours (2010). The nonfiction title dealt with the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson rivalry. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut’s anti-war classic, rounds out my first list since the holidays.

  • A Promised Land (Obama). I’ve been hearing good things about this book, which was released late last year. I understand that the writing took four years, longer than any such memoir. Promised Land is a laborious look into his first term in office. In the text, Obama talks only briefly of his beginnings and his family. However, I noticed that he spent a hundred pages on his handling of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). He also does a poor job democratising this section in layman’s terms. Moreover, his Presidential campaign is laid out in excruciating and ingratiating detail. Without question, Obama was the best person for the job when he competed for the Oval Office. He also touches on the difficulty of being a family man while trying to be leader of the free world.

He is codenamed ‘Renegade’ and has Secret Service detail assigned to him even before he took office. He also singled out the Bushes as gracious hosts. He had to outclass a spirited Hillary Clinton to garner the Democratic nomination. That he was able to unite black and white, young and old, rich and poor, straight or gay, is astounding. He swept over the nation like a juggernaut and made Americans believe that “Yes, we can.” He mentions his opponent, John McCain, and how the latter didn’t have a GFC plan even though he called the crisis meeting. Before his victory, he also faced failure as he attempted to secure a seat in the House of Representatives.

For the uninitiated, there is almost no humour in this one. Instead, there is a surfeit of lists. Every few paragraphs, you are met with these sets. Obama also likes to flaunt his pompous vocabulary. If you’re not careful, you would spend almost as much time checking your dictionary as you are reading this volume. This is not the kind of book that you could just cruise on, and yet Promised Land is very well-received. On the plus side, Obama is very cordial with his fans. All in all: an ambitious project that is a few times too complex and lengthy.

Note: Did Not Finish (DNF)

  • When the Game was Ours (Larry Bird & Magic Johnson with Jackie MacMullan). This is an insider’s look into one of the game’s most storied rivalries. Bird and Magic rejuvenated the league when it was in dire straits. When the pair entered in 1979, NBA (National Basketball Association) games were on tape delay. Arenas around the L struggled to put fans in the seats. Indeed, the Association was lagging behind their college counterparts in attendance and charm. I’ve read both stars’ separate biographies and there was some overlap here. However, the first chapter was notably new to me. Their first meeting was not at the college final but in an invitational for college players. They were both benchwarmers then.

Bird’s failed stint at Indiana was also nice to know. He only lasted a month or so, before an injury and homesickness became the tipping point. Bird starred at Indiana State, where he led his team of underdogs all the way to the ‘last dance’. There, they met Magic – who had the better squad. They would meet again thrice on the biggest stage, the NBA Finals. The Lakers and Beantown were seen as binary opposites: glitz and glamour as opposed to grit and grind. Together with commissioner Stern, they would take the L to new heights. The Association became international and the pair, their brightest stars. Yet, despite their shared history, they remained competitive off the court. If you’re after the same thing, there’s no place for bearhugs.  

This book wasn’t just about Bird and Magic though. We see Coach Riley in detail, the hombre who pushed the Lakers more than anybody else. We witness how Kareem beat Father Time. Magic’s other teammates are there, too. His closest friends on the squad are defensive specialist Michael Cooper and guard Byron Scott. The former was Bird’s toughest marker. We scrutinise the best frontline in league history (Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale). Meanwhile, Larry Legend talks about his other fabled teammates: the late Dennis Johnson, Dave Cowens, and Tiny Archibald. We regard the Dream Team up close, the greatest collection of basketball talent ever assembled. Moreover, these superstars put their egos aside in their quest to reclaim American b-ball supremacy. Game is a nostalgic look into the contrasting duo’s defining moments.

Rating: 4.6/5

  • Slaughterhouse-Five (Vonnegut). This is my first foray into Vonnegut; my chiropractor gifted this to me. On the surface, the title seems like a light read (because it is). At only eleven chapters and 215 pages, the mass market paperback packs a lot despite the brevity. Slaughterhouse tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, who served during World War Two. Vonnegut makes it a point to detail all the horrors of war while using fictional books to add colour. The author likewise employs heavy postmodern elements such as self-referentiality, repetition (so it goes), and intertextuality. Slaughterhouse isn’t just a crusade against war, but an anti-love story, a time-travelling discourse, an otherworldly exploration. Fifty years since its publication, the novel remains relevant.

In the book, Billy gets to occasionally teleport to a planet called Tralfamadore. This inclusion, among others, provides the book with improbable scenarios. The situations are reminiscent of Bret Ellis’s implausible turns. He switches back and forth between present-day New York and his past experiences. We are privy to his wartime travails, though he hardly sees any real combat. Furthermore, his family life is touched on, from his parents to his wife. We comprehend that he works as an optometrist. However, he becomes a shell of his former self and is hospitalised. This could be linked to the ravages of war.

Throughout the book, Vonnegut references various texts. Some of them are bona fide, but most are there to keep you honest. There is likewise considerable humour in this one. This is not only apparent in comic situations, but also in the appellations of characters and books, and the unbelievable quotes. Though written in the sixties and with a substantial dose of that period, the title is easy enough to navigate. Unlike other classics, Slaughterhouse is breezy prose. The book was quickly adapted into an award-winning film. Recently, I visited a library and the assistant discerned my copy of Slaughterhouse. Seeing their reaction, I told him that the book is actually funny, which stands in contrast to the frightening cover.

Rating: 4.65/5

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