Ronnie, Reacher and the Babe

covers for the boys, better off dead, and the big fella

I felt like I was getting a little behind in writing about some of my recent reads, so I thought I’d tackle three of them in a single post: The Boys by Ron Howard and Clint Howard; The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created by Jane Leavy; and Better Off Dead, book 26 in the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child and Andrew Child.

The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family by Ron Howard and Clint Howard

It is rare that I read two really good books in a row. I savor those moments because usually, when I finish a book that I think is fantastic, it is often hard to find one that gives me as much pleasure. It happened recently, however. After finishing Joe Posnanski’s outstanding book, The Baseball 100, I cracked open the new memoir by Ron Howard and Clint Howard, The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family. Actually, “cracking” it open is a figure of speech. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by the authors, and what I delightful read.

You have to understand that Hollywood memoirs are a guilty pleasure of mine. I’ve read a bunch of these memoirs over the years, sometimes in big gulps. I like the behind-the-scenes stories, I like learning about the process of making films and television shows. So when I saw that Ron and Clint Howard were coming out with a memoir, I was eager to read it. Also, I was a big fan of Happy Days as a kid, and I’ve enjoyed many of the films that Ron Howard has made over the years. I’ve also enjoyed the performances of his brother, Clint, in shows like From the Earth to the Moon and Apollo 13, although he is known for much more than that.

The memoir takes us from Ron Howard’s birth through Happy Days and the beginning of his directing career. What I really liked about it was that it was equal part Hollywood and family. The Howard Boys talked much of their lives growing up, as well as their parent’s aspirations. Their folks were down-to-earth people, which comes across in how Ron Howard seems in his life. But I also enjoyed the behind-the-scene parts, learning how television shows and movies were made as Ron and Clint grew up, and their involvement in popular televisions shows as child actors. There wasn’t much ego in this book, and that is part of what made it such a great read.

The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created by Jane Leavy

The one-two combination of Posnanski’s The Baseball 100 and the Howards’ The Boys makes for a tough act to follow. Joe Posnanski’s book had me back in a baseball mood, and I’d been wanting to read Jane Leavy’s biography of Babe Ruth, The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created for a while. I’m glad I finally got around to it. The book is a phenomenal piece of baseball history, well-researched and covering the Babe’s entire life. I learned more about him than I had ever known before.

Leavy’s approach framed the life of the Babe through a 1927 tour he made with his friend Lou Gehrig arranged by their manager/agent, Christy Walsh. Indeed, as much as the book was a biography of Ruth, it was also a biography of Walsh, who took control of Ruth’s career and finances early in his career, and steered him to financial success, despite Ruth’s wont to spend, spend, spend. Walsh was almost as fascinating as Ruth, a super-agent before such a thing actually existed.

A testament to any author is, having read one book, wanting to read another. I came away from The Big Fella wanting to read more by Jane Leavy. She has written a biography of Mickey Mantle, and one of Sandy Koufax. But I am especially interested in her baseball novel, Squeeze Play.

Better off Dead: Jack Reacher #26 by Lee Child and Andrew Child

I read my first Jack Reacher novel in 2015. It was okay. Fun. A nice break. I read the second Reacher book a year later. Again, fun, but nothing spectacular. Then, in the winter of 2018, I caught a bad case of the flu, despite getting my flu shot, and I ended up in bed for a week. I had just finished reading the 3-volume Autobiography of Mark Twain and was looking for something light, that I could read quickly, under the covers, with a fever. So I picked up Reacher, Book 3. I made it through 4 books that week, and three more the next. By the end of March, I’d gotten through 21 of them. They were fun, escapist, just what I needed. Since then, I’ve continued to read them as they come out.

But I am beginning to think that the end is near. I read the most recent entry in the Jack Reacher series, Better Off Dead in just about a day. I wasn’t impressed. In this one, Reacher ends of in the middle of a potential terrorist attack, and he kicks ass, as he usually does. But it just fell flat too me. It never felt as if he was in any real danger. There was no depth to the story. Even the point of view, back to first person after many novels in the third person, didn’t help.

The older books were much better. I especially liked the books when Reacher was still in the military, and worked with his friends, several who were recurring characters. This one just felt phoned in. At one point in the book, Reacher talks about maybe one day, settling down, getting a house, “But not any time soon,” he says. I think maybe it is time for Jack Reacher to reconsider.

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