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in which the author discusses five books he’d read, if time permitted.
1. Howard Cosell: The Man, the Myth, and the Transformation of American Sports, by Mark Ribowsky.
Ever since I saw Jon Voight play Howard Cosell in Ali, I can’t picture the actual Howard Cosell when I think about Howard Cosell. When I think about Howard Cosell—-more often than you might think, reader—-I just think about John Voight with a fake nose. Even the picture of the actual Howard Cosell on the cover of this book looks like an impostor. A similar thing happened in 1991 when I saw the movie The Doors and, when I thought about Jim Morrison—-which was very, very often—-I was really just thinking about Val Kilmer.
2. The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion, by Rodney Stark.
You might not like Christians or be one, but you have to admit that they generally excel at the business of dominating whatever the f*ck they want to dominate. Ancient Rome? Dominated. Ottoman Empire? Dominated. Israel? Dominated. (I know Jews actually dominate Israel, but ever since G.W. Bush and other major political figures started talking about end times and how Jews and Christians have to get on the same team, aren’t Jews and Christians sort of the same thing?) And to think: It all started with a bearded dude who didn’t want moneylenders in the temple. As Steve Jobs (R.I.P.) would say: “Think different.”
3. Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz, by Benjamin Cawthra.
I had a John Coltrane poster on my wall at college. On that same wall, I also had a Beatles poster, a Monet print of “Waterlilies,” and a John Belushi poster in which the long-dead comedian is wearing a shirt that says “College.” And, for a few years, that was my life: playin’ jazz, appreciating the f*ck out of some classic art, and chillin’ in my dorm room listening to “The White Album” while my roommate listened to Dave Matthews and sold marijuana like it was going out of style. Then, I started smoking unfiltered Lucky Strikes, and everything changed.
4. China in Ten Words, by Yu Hua, translated by Allan H. Barr.
The ten words this imaginative exploration of Chinese culture uses to encapsulate a diverse country that’s home to over one billion people were not spoken by Long Duck Dong in the film Sixteen Candles.
5. The Plot Against Hip Hop, by Nelson George.
I thought this book was non-fiction, but it turned out to be some kind of hip-hop murder mystery. I don’t normally think of hip-hop as a fruitful subject for mystery writers, but then again there’s the whole unsolved Biggie/Tupac murders, and the part of “Funky Cold Medina” where it turns out that Sheena was a man.