Saturday, August 22, 2015

Storytelling: A Disappointing Tale

Out on the Wire – The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio – Jessica Abel (Broadway Books)

I have made a career out of being a storyteller in one way or another. I spent nearly 25 years with a microphone in front of me, so I was particularly interested in delving into Out on the Wire – The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio by Jessica Abel.

Growing up I spent more than a few hours carefully spinning the dial in an effort to tune in some far away 50,000 watt, clear channel (the radio signal, not the behemoth radio broadcast group) blow torch station that would carry old time radio theater shows. Later my program directors would talk about creating “theater of the mind” where listeners would conjure images in their mind based on the words you used to convey the story you were telling.

I could totally relate when Abel called the style of radio she focused on in the book, “narrative radio.” While I admit to not spending time getting the details about the book, I was a bit surprised to learn that the story was told in the form of a graphic novel or comic book. Coming from my background, I am a believer that words mean something; so I disagree with the subtitle identifying the folks the book is based on as the “new masters of radio.” Only a few of the folks profiled here actually work in radio. Sorry but, podcasting ain’t radio.
While the book does detail some of the individual processes that these storytellers use, I’m not sure that it reaches the point of delivering the how to alluded to in the title. I found the comic style delivery a bit hard to follow and in the end was a little disappointed with the results. It amounts to a very small amount of narrative and would likely to have struggled to reach book length without the drawings.

The Poker Cowboy

Blood Aces – The Wild Ride of Benny Binion: The Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker – Doug J. Swanson (Penguin Books)

The World Series of Poker, an internationally televised event that put game Texas Hold ‘Em in the popularity spotlight and drove millions to take up the game did just appear out of nowhere and create a new celebrity class out of ordinary average guys and gals who became poker champs.

Binnion’s Horseshoe Casino, in Las Vegas became synonymous with big bucks jackpot and the much sought after silver bracelets in the early days of the World Series’ rise to national prominence. But most didn’t know the story of the founder of the event, the casino that was its early home and the infamous background from it evolved.
Until now. Blood Aces – The Wild Ride of Benny Binion: The Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker by Doug J. Swanson, details the checkered past of the Texas cowboy who would stop at nothing to succeed. While the creation of Las Vegas is the stuff of gangster legend, Binion’s tale is a much grittier and darker story.

Swanson, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist for the Dallas Morning News, pulls no punches in detailing the often blood soaked story of Binion’s rise from the rough and tumble dirt tracks of Texas to becoming one of the most legendary figures in the Las Vegas story that is chock a block with colorful, legendary characters. This one makes a great read for poker fans, and fans of real life gangsters alike.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Not So Goodfellas

The Lufthansa Heist: Behind the Six-Million-Dollar Cash Haul That Shook the World – Henry Hill and Daniel Simone (Lyons Press)

The December 11, 1978 robbery from the Lufthansa cargo terminal at JFK airport in New York City is the stuff of legend; it has captured the imagination of the public and remains so nearly four decades after it occurred due to the popular culture sign posts that have popped up along the way.

Those sign posts include innumerable books, a pair of made for television movies and most famously Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Now to add to stack is a book described to be the definitive rendering of the story, by one of the self-admitted masterminds of the crime, former mobster Henry Hill in tandem with interviewer and author Daniel Simone.

While seemingly so much is known about the gang of thieves involved in the crime, it is shockingly still an un-solved crime, with much of the loot still unaccounted for even after all these years. While many said to be involved in the heist were taken out in an effort to keep the story under wraps, many others, including Hill took much the story to their graves. 

In an effort to make the storyline more readable, the authors use what only can be described as massive poetic license to recreate conversations that they were clearly not privy to. While that helps to move the story along, there are a few clumsy moments where the story doesn’t quite line up. The recreation of a bowling alley conversation between two Lufthansa employees that played an inside role in the robbery, where one of the duo make a reference to being examined with a “MRI machine” which in 1978 would have been a good trick, since the earliest test of MRIs occurred in 1977 and they weren’t widely available until 1984.

While Simone spent countless hours interviewing and talking with Hill on videotape, there is a distinct style difference in the writing. What I detect as Hill’s voice is more gritty and authentic, while Simone’s is more big picture and move the story forward in its tone. Is The Lufthansa Heist the definitive version of this story? Probably not, but it is an entertaining read on a very familiar story.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Diagnosis - Advantage

The ADHD Advantage: What You Thought Was a Diagnosis May Be Your Greatest Strength – Dale Archer M.D. (Avery Publishing)

There are a wide range of publicly available “tests” and lists of symptoms for Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD and nearly as many opinions about the malady. I remember vividly, while preparing to interview a physician who was stirring controversy for his belief that ADHD was a bunch of hooey, I worked my way through the list of ten common signs and symptoms of ADHD. As a card carrying talk show host, I had to admit that while I had NEVER been diagnosed, that I did have signs of 7 of the 10 symptoms on the list. I think the same can be said for my co-host at the time and most radio guys!

That being said, I was never a big believer in the diagnosis and as a parent pushed back hard when teachers suggested that my son was a likely candidate for the diagnosis. It was and remains my belief that ADHD became a quick and easy catchall for the education establishment who didn’t know how to handle kids who clearly showed overwhelming signs of boredom with the classroom.

Inherent with that diagnosis was the quick reach for the prescription pad and the laundry list of meds utilized to “combat” ADHD. The problem with the collection of psychotropic drugs prescribed for ADHD even physicians admit to not knowing what impact that they have on the brain long term. The fact that many of the so-called school yard shooters were known to be on these meds at the time of their crimes, including the shooters at Columbine.

So it was with great interest that I approached Dr. Dale Archer’s new book, The ADHD Advantage: What You Thought Was a Diagnosis May Be Your Greatest Strength. Like any topic that has to do with our children, I knew that Dr. Archer would find himself firmly in the cross hairs of not only parents of children with the diagnosis, but also the diagno-sees.

Archer does not disappoint as he flies boldly into the face of the multi-billion dollar industry the sprung up in response to the ADHD diagnosis with his bold claim that it is not beyond reasonable to think that it all boils down to boredom. The numbers are staggering with 10% of children and nearly half that number of adults on the receiving end of an ADHD diagnosis.

Archer counts himself among those in the group and has clearly managed to have not only a successful career and practice as a board certified psychiatrist. He makes the case and spells out the details that training is the answer, not drugs to driving the brain to new levels of success. It is a case that needs to be driven home to the education establishment to alter their current path.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Game Over

Armada: A Novel – Ernest Cline (Crown Books)

**Full disclosure up front: I did not read Ernest Cline’s much ballyhooed, fan favorite, debut novel Ready Player One and I am not a gamer or sci-fi nerd fan boy.

That being said, I really wanted to like cline’s second outing, Armada: A Novel, but nearly right from the start I was underwhelmed by not only the story line which felt like an amalgam of a thousand little pieces of so many familiar stories, movies and video games, but also the amateurish delivery.


I don’t automatically dislike books or movies that give a nod to their predecessors; the homage can be fun when it’s delivered with finesse. But here it comes off with all of the subtlety of a 12 pound sledgehammer.

It was the fun pop culture references that kept me reading in the nearly futile hope that it would get better if I just kept plugging. Unfortunately it was not to be, because it was just one too many shovels full of those references.