Archive for March, 2015

Nonfiction Friday Returns with “Push Dick’s Button”

After a few weeks’ worth of nasty illness, I have returned in time for Nonfiction Friday. (And the crowd goes wild!)

Push Dick's Button: A Conversation on Skating from a Good Part of the Last Century--And a Little TomfooleryPUSH DICK’S BUTTON is the first nonfiction effort by long-time figure skating commentator Dick Button. Button knows figure skating down to the ground, as he’s a two-time Olympic gold medal winner (1948 and 1952) and has won an Emmy for his television commentary on figure skating — which, if you haven’t heard it, can be pungent. (Think of him as the figure skating answer to Jim Rome, long before Jim Rome sat before a mike — but with far more authenticity as Button, unlike Rome and Howard Cosell before him, actually “played the game.”) So opening up the pages of PUSH DICK’S BUTTON, I knew I’d be in for an entertaining experience.

That said, I hadn’t expected Button’s conversational approach — the subtitle “A Conversation on Skating from a Good Part of the Last Century — and a Little Tomfoolery” notwithstanding.

But maybe I should have. Button’s always been at his best in conversation, as his wit, knowledge, repartee, and yes, even cattiness come into their sharpest relief. So taking a conversational approach with regards to the current state of figure skating was actually a very smart move.

Note that you do not need to be a long-time figure skating aficionado to enjoy PUSH DICK’S BUTTON, as Button goes into much detail about why he loves figure skating. Button’s explanations are worded in such a way that people who know very little about figure skating should be able to get the gist of what he’s talking about. (For example, Button believes that figure skating combines the best of dance, performance art, and athleticism in order to tell a compelling story. Anyone who’s seen Torvill and Dean’s “Bolero” should know that…and if you haven’t seen Torvill and Dean’s performance yet, go look it up on YouTube. You’ll enjoy it, even if you know nothing whatsoever about figure skating.)

Within the pages of PUSH DICK’S BUTTON, I observed a number of things, including:

  1. Button detests the current figure skating scoring system. He views it as inherently flawed at best, and outright obfuscational at worst. (Quick note: your correspondent shares that belief, and has since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics — if not before. Johnny Weir was robbed.)
  2. Button despises Ottavio Cinquanta, who currently is the President of the International Skating Union and sits on the board of the International Olympic Committee. Button lays much of the blame of the current scoring system at Cinquanta’s feet, and believes much of the reason viewers have turned away from figure skating is because of Cinquanta’s meddling.
  3. Button does not think much of the current state of figure skating, either, mostly because athleticism (quadruple-rotation jumps, or simply “quads”) has been more greatly rewarded than artistry in recent years. (‘Nuff said.)

Now, if you are a long-time watcher of figure skating, none of this is likely to come as a surprise to you. But it’s still quite interesting to read. Button, while much gentler in print than he often was as a TV commentator, continues to pull no punches when it comes to his opinions. They are informed, sometimes edgy, but always delivered with a wry wit and charm that was positively disarming…and I enjoyed it immensely.

The only drawback I found is that Button was a bit cagey when it came to his personal life. He mentions his traumatic brain injury, his sons, his love of dogs and gardening and much, much more — but he never discusses his ex-wife, figure skating coach Slavka Kohout Button (Janet Lynn’s coach). And that is a rather curious omission.

There are a few minor issues as well when it comes to editing and organization, and one or two minor things when it comes to factual references (did Button really think Michelle Kwan’s “Scheherezade” was great, or was he referring to “Salome” instead, as is much more likely? Or did he like them both, but conflate them?) But the book, overall, is a solid effort and a very enjoyable one at that.

Bottom line? PUSH DICK’S BUTTON is a fast, fun read with many laugh-out-loud moments. If you love figure skating, figure skating commentary, or just want to know a little more about Dick Button, this book is for you.

Grade: A-minus

–reviewed by Barb

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Dean Koontz’s “Saint Odd” — a Guest Review by Noah Hill

Please welcome guest reviewer Noah Hill to Shiny Book Review…we’re glad to have him here, and hope to see him again soon!

When Barb asked me to write a guest review for Shiny Book Review, I knew instantly which book I would select. I had just finished reading Saint Odd, the final book in the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz, and was chomping at the bit to share my experience.

Saint OddI will preface by saying that Saint Odd has some big shoes to fill. The Odd Thomas series has spanned six books, two graphic novels, two novellas, a movie, and a web series. We have traveled with Koontz from a sleepy little city in California and through the deserts of Nevada, as he used his special gifts to selflessly commit one heroic act after another. He has introduced us to fantastic characters both living and dead, and taken us along for one hectic ride. Koontz has spun wonderful tales and foreshadowed grand spectacles yet to come. As I said, big shoes to fill. There are many things that Koontz did right with this finale, and a few things that went wrong.

I’m going to talk about the ending first, as it is my favorite part of the book. Koontz fulfilled the promise he has made throughout the series, giving me the satisfaction of ending exactly how I expected. In most novels, I would possibly consider this a problem, but in this case the inevitable ending was the right ending. Had it ended any other way, I would have found myself angry and disappointed.

One thing that has always drawn me into the Odd Thomas books is the protagonist. He is witty, fun, and humble. He has flaws, but also a great self-awareness and the admirable ability to laugh at those flaws. He is a character I can relate to, and that alone can be enough to keep me turning pages. As I read Saint Odd, I found myself with a strong desire to be more like Odd. I can picture myself having deep, interesting conversations with him. He is written in such a way that he really came alive for me.

While Koontz wrote Odd perfectly, it is my opinion that he missed the mark with many of his secondary characters. I felt like some key characters didn’t have enough of a character arc throughout the series, or that their arcs were not completed with this finale. I understand this can be tough with a book written in the first-person perspective, but there were promises made about characters in previous books that were never fully realized in Saint Odd.

The other criticism I have for Saint Odd is the pacing. I understand that with any thriller, it is nice to give the reader a short breather. Dean Koontz attempted to do this with chapters devoted to exposition that were masked as flashback sequences. The problem I have is that I was completely disconnected from the story during these chapters. I would be flying through pages, tension rising, nearly peaking, and then a flashback chapter would reset the tension to zero. I found myself putting the book down and doing something else for a while. Most of the time I tend to read thrillers straight through from beginning to end in one or two sittings. It took me five or six to complete Saint Odd.

Overall, I would say I was happy with Saint Odd. The vibrant protagonist and the satisfying ending more than made up for the flaws. I got the ending I wanted, I saw the fulfillment of the main promise of the series, and I got to spend a few more hours with one of my favorite characters. If you haven’t read the Odd Thomas series, I suggest you remedy that quickly.

— Reviewed by Noah Hill

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