What I’ve Been Reading: Top of the Morning

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8May 2018
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What I’ve Been Reading: Top of the Morning

I haven’t posted one of these in a while, but I had a chance to finish Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV by Brian Stelter recently. Top of the Morning tells the story of the race for domination – or at least a solid lead – in Nielsen ratings for morning shows. It mainly focuses on Today and Good Morning America, and I never realized before reading that Today held such a commanding lead in the ratings for 16 straight years. A large chunk of the book is dedicated to discussing the awkward transition from Ann Curry to Savannah Guthrie, as well as the audience’s growing frustrating aimed at Matt Lauer – and that was before Lauer’s sexual harassment stuff came to light. Meanwhile, Good Morning America‘s struggles were outlined over the years, but Stelter’s treatment of the likes of Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos is almost fawning. I can’t tell if Stelter had a bone to pick with Today or if he was just being a straight shooter, but the modern GMA lineup could do almost nothing wrong.

I’ve never been a morning show enthusiast by any stretch of the imagination, and usually it’s just background noise to me, if it’s on the television at all. Before I started reading the book, I couldn’t have even told you whether Lauer was on Today or GMA. But I am interested in underdog stories and seeing how people succeed when not as much is expected of them. It was interesting to me that two of the major players in GMA‘s turnaround were not traditional reporter types, while Today employed people who were always in front of the camera reporting news. Robin Roberts was a renowned basketball player and then worked at ESPN, while Stephanopoulos was in the political realm before taking the full-time TV gig. Sometimes, maybe there’s an advantage to being an outsider.

Other books I’m reading right now:

11Feb 2018
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What I’ve Been Reading: Personal by Lee Child

I’m getting closer and closer to finishing the Jack Reacher series. After reading Personal by Lee Childs over the past week or so, I have three more to go. In this one, instead of stumbling into a hairy situation, Reacher gets drawn back into duty by one of his older superiors from the armed forces. A rogue sniper is on the loose after being released from prison, and Reacher was the guy who sent him there in the first place. Reacher travels to Arkansas and Paris and England in the hopes of finding the sniper.

I felt like the book lost some steam toward the end. One of the villains sounds like a James Bond character, and another one of the villains is almost totally absent from the whole book. He’s discussed ad nauseum but barely makes an appearance. Finally, the big twist at the end is a little too contrived and not fleshed out very well. If it were a movie, you would think, “I thought the movie was over, and then it kept going for another 10 minutes.”

What have you been reading lately?

13Jan 2018
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What I’ve Been Reading: Do You Love Football?

This turned out to be unexpectedly timely, but I recently finished reading Do You Love Football? by Jon Gruden. And not long afterward, he was announced as the new coach of the Oakland Raiders.

Do You Love Football? is essentially the autobiography of Gruden. Gruden is that rare coach who engenders a ton of interest from outsiders, even people who aren’t extremely invested in football. His look, his personality, his magnetism, and of course his winning of the Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers all contribute to a special fondness for him. As the former coach of the Raiders (1998-2001) and then the Buccaneers (2002-2008), he went 95-81 as a head coach in the NFL. Since that time he has mostly been an analyst for ESPN and on Monday Night Football.

This book was written in 2004, so it came shortly after his Super Bowl victory and before his coaching career took a long halt. It tells of his childhood, growing up as the son of a coach. He coached at Tennessee, Pacific, Southwest Missouri State, Pitt, with the 49ers, with the Eagles, etc. He’s been all over the place. He talks about leadership, how to handle players and other coaches, how to deal with the stresses of the job, and all kinds of personal hurdles. He has a genuine enthusiasm for football that not many people share.

As a coach I had hoped for more X’s and O’s stuff in the book. As a mainstream personality, perhaps he refrained from too much technical information in order to prevent people from getting bored or getting in over their heads. Maybe he left that stuff out because he was still in the midst of his coaching career. Despite the absence of football geek talk, his discussion of leadership and the choices that coaches face when dealing with players and fellow coaches were helpful.

You can purchase the book here if you’re interested (LINK).

6Jan 2018
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What I’ve Been Reading: Iceberg

I’ve actually been reading more interesting stuff than this, but I was reading about four books at a time, and this happened to be the first one I finished: Iceberg by Clive Cussler.

This book, originally published in 1975, actually has a pretty good beginning. A luxury yacht in the Arctic gets incinerated and somehow gets embedded in an iceberg. The main character, Dirk Pitt, gets summoned from his vacation in California to help investigate the ship. Naturally, there’s way more to the story than some boat having an accident and getting turned into an iceberg. The story takes him to Iceland and, naturally, Disneyland.

Meanwhile, the story is about as far-fetched as a non-sci-fi book can get. I’ve seen Star Trek episodes that I find more believable. The story is comedic without really intending to be so, with misogyny, cross-dressing, transsexuals, etc. Clearly it was written in the time between when some of those things were unspeakable and when some of those things were totally acceptable in the public sphere; they were written when it was okay to portray those things as humorous and preposterous.

This is the third Dirk Pitt novel I’ve read (following Pacific Vortex! and The Mediterranean Caper), and I find the premise of NUMA, Dirk Pitt, etc. and the genre itself to be interesting. I’m interested to see if the character gets more updated as Cussler got into the 1990s and 2000s, since obviously a lot of the nonsense in the early novels hasn’t been politically correct for a long time. I think The Mediterranean Caper has been my favorite so far.

I’m about to finish Fool Moon by Jim Dresden. What have you been reading lately?

7May 2017
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What I’ve Been Reading: Missoula and Jack Reacher

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town

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Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon KrakauerI’ve written about Jon Krakauer several times in the past, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his past writings. The two books mentioned on the cover above – Into the Wild and Under the Banner of Heaven – were my favorites. I found Missoula to be a little less enthralling and more poorly written. It’s a non-fiction account of several sexual assaults that take place in Missoula, Montana, which is the home of the University of Montana and its football program. Several Montana Grizzlies football players were accused of rape over the span of a few years, and the justice system seemed to favor the football players. Not only does the town seem to protect its athletes, but claims and statistics suggest that the number of reported rapes is a mere fraction of the total sexual assaults that take place. As a fan of football and sports in general, it does not surprise me that athletes get away with more than the average citizen might. I see it happen all the time, even at the high school level. The most frustrating part is that it gets institutionalized, because local governments sometimes don’t communicate or cooperate with schools, and vice versa. The reason I say the book is poorly written is that Krakauer beats some of the same points to death, without seeming to realize that he has addressed the same arguments previously. Furthermore, he seems to come to very few conclusions. What can be done? How can the problem be fixed? What underlying psychological issues do we have as a society that prevents us from treating athletes how they should be treated? The book was interesting, because it gave some specific stories and statistics on the issue overall. We have seen similar issues become national stories in recent years with Jameis Winston, Gareon Conley, and others.

Hit the jump for a discussion of The Affair by Lee Child.

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