Steve’s Top Ten in 2014

This year I continue my trend of mostly non-fiction picks, all but one in fact. There are some interesting real life characters I’ve read about this year, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

The Big Bam: the Life and Times of Babe Ruth by Leigh Montville

This is the life story of Babe Ruth, from his time in a Baltimore orphanage through his Yankee years and his decline. This is a well-balanced book on this complex individual. A fair amount of time is given to the games, so non-baseball diehards may want to skim portions, but Babe the man is given ample attention.

A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic by Caseen Gaines

Gaines takes a wonderful look at the making of this classic and its lasting legacy. Originally A Christmas Story was not a big hit at the theaters, but thanks to VHS rentals, and Ted Turner playing it non-stop after acquiring it from MGM’s film library, A Christmas Story is now a holiday staple. The book is full of many interesting stories. Did you know that the actress playing Miss Shields, Ralphie’s teacher, was actually seven months pregnant and wore a body suit to make her look frumpy instead of pregnant? And that the bulk of the film was actually filmed in St. Catharines and Toronto, Canada, and many of the Canadian school kids were used as extras, and paid just $1 for their work? Many more stories await you in this gem of a book.

A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley by Neil Thompson

Thompson details the very interesting but very odd life of Ripley. He started out poor, painfully shy, and very self-conscious of his large teeth and stutter. A caring teacher took note of his artistic talents and allowed him to draw his reports, rather than write and speak about them, saving him the embarrassment of his stutter. As Ripley grew older, he honed his skills and began his career as a newspaper cartoonist, later stumbling onto his wildly popular “Believe It or Not!” fame after first showcasing odd sports feats.   As his life progressed, Ripley became rich, famous, odd and erratic. A thorough and enjoyable read!

Dead Giveaway: The Rescue, Hamburgers, White Folks, and Instant Celebrity . . . What You Saw on TV Doesn’t Begin to Tell the Story . . . by Charles Ramsey

This book tells the story of Ramsey’s experiences helping to free the abducted girls and his life before and after the momentous event. It is a quick and oftentimes hilarious read, and you will actually learn many surprising things about Ramsey. Did you know that his father likely was connected to the mob, that Ramsey grew up privileged, that at one time Ramsey was a drug dealer, and that he is a Tea Party Republican? And, contrary to popular belief, he does not have free burgers from McDonalds for life.

Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander (audio version) by Phil Robertson

Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the popular Duck Dynasty clan, tells his life story, warts and all, and you might be surprised to learn that he was not a real nice guy, walking out on his family for a life or partying before finding God. The stories about starting the duck call business are pretty funny and are the true strength of the book. There is some preaching and Bible quoting, but it’s not until the later chapters that it becomes more prominent. Narrator Al Robertson, the eldest son of the family, lends an authentic voice to this audio version.

Heart of a Tiger: Growing Up with My Grandfather, Ty Cobb by Herschel Cobb

This is the story of Herschel and his grandfather and their relationship that blossomed during Ty’s retirement and after the death of Ty’s two adult sons, who he never fully reconciled with. Young Herschel and his siblings were the brunt of horrible abuses by their bullying father and alcoholic mother, and grandfather Ty was the welcome comfort in their lives. Herschel offers another side to the often vilified Ty Cobb, as we witness Cobb showering affection on the grandchildren and him helping struggling ex-ballplayers who didn’t have the great fortunes that he amassed.

Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin

Bushkin, Carson’s longtime lawyer and confidant until a falling out split the two, tells of his time with the late night heavyweight. There are some real eye openers here, and although you will get plenty of dirt, it didn’t feel like a malicious tell-all, more of a stroll down memory lane, with the exception of various lawsuits.

Misery by Stephen King

This is a King classic, a terrifying psychological horror novel with one of the worst villains ever created. Author Paul Sheldon is in a car accident in Colorado and found by retired nurse Annie Wilkes, who happens to be his “number one fan.” She keeps Paul hostage in her home and makes him write a new novel featuring her favorite character, a character from his best-selling Misery series that he had previously killed off. Annie has a long history of violence and mental instability, and her treatment of Paul is terrifying. The book includes some incredibly gory descriptions, not for the faint of heart.

One Summer by Bill Bryson

Bryson recounts the summer of 1927 in America. There were a slew of events going on during that time, highlighted by Charles Lindbergh’s historic nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic. Lindbergh is the thread that holds the summer’s events together, but along the way Bryson recounts a variety of other topics, including Babe Ruth’s historic 60 homerun season, the Mississippi flood, the rise of journalistic sensationalism, Prohibition and gangsters. The book is lengthy, clocking in at over 500 pages, but Bryson’s wit makes it an easy and oftentimes humorous read.

President Me: the America That’s in My Head by Adam Corolla

Carolla explains all that is wrong with America and what he would do to fix it. He does take on political topics, like big government, but leaves plenty of time for pet peeves as well. It is a very funny read, but not for those easily offended. Carolla lays into those that he sees as inept and incompetent, and does not go easy on the cursing and vulgar language to express what he would do to change things.

– Steve

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