Saturday, March 14, 2009

Rum Row Hooligans

After a record 6 votes on what I should read next, the book Oscar Season won by a last minute vote (thanks mom!) Unfortunately, since I thought that book was tied with Ender's Shadow, I started reading Ender's Shadow this morning. So I'm reading that first, to be immediately followed by Oscar Season. Since I'm already a third of the way through Ender's Shadow I think I'll be reading the other novel soon. Of course Adam is coming to visit this week, so I might not get a heckuva lot of reading done. I know you're in extreme anticipatory agony, but you'll just have to wait.

Before I tell you about the bland Rum Row book I just finished, I first want to tell you about a fantastic movie I watched yesterday called "Green Street Hooligans." It stars Elijah Wood as Matt, a young journalist major who is wrongly expelled from Harvard. He goes to visit his sister (Claire Forlani - who I haven't seen anywhere since "Mallrats") in London. Her brother-in-law is Pete Dunham (Charlie Hunnarn), leader of an infamous football firm that follows their favorite team around, gets rowdy and drunk, and gets in fights with the firms of other teams. Suddenly Matt is thrown into a crazy world completely different from his ivy league life, and he does a bit of growing up.

Without giving too much away (because you definitely want to see this film and there are some good surprises) I'll just say this: The heroes in this story are not what you think they are. The "worst" people have many redeeming qualities, and the supposedly "moral" or "good citizens" are actually people you would never want to be friends with.

This may not be an unsual happening in a movie - in fact, I'd argue it's a pretty common plot device. But what is unusual in this case is that you feel like the director and writers want you to like certain characters, while you will be inclined to like others. The best part of the movie is that all the emotions are raw and on the surface. Sometimes you can't explain why you feel something - and that's ok. Just watch this movie and feel something.

Rum Row had so much potential. For crying out loud, it's a book about prohibition, bootleggers, criminals, drunks, theives, the mob, and the few uncorrupt authorities who are trying to contain all of the madness. But this book has a completely unfinished feel to it. Published in 1959 by something called Flat Hammock Press, it is full of typos and awkward language.

Out of the entire book, there was only one clever and descriptive line worth repeating. Describing a fight between a risk-taking captain and his first mate, the author has this to say: "Almost gently, he invited the captain down on deck for another reason than fisticuffs. He would explore with the captain a form of sexual expression related to that which had sent Oscar Wilde to prison." This line would almost make me like the author - if he hadn't felt the need to spell it out in the next line: "He and the captain would become lovers." Ruined the one good, literary moment of the book. If there had been any real editing done on this book, that last sentence would have been removed.

It reads like a first draft of the book. The author did a lot of research, and the book is full of facts, but they're not put together well. The overall organization of the book is good - it is separated into four parts: the boats (how rum-running began), the crime (the mob takes over), the Coast Guard (attempts at enforcement), and the on-land brewing attempts. It is a great idea, but in execution something is lost.

I think it was too big of a subject for this author to take on. You can't write an overview of Prohibition in 183 pages. It only leaves time for brief mentions of the big players (Al Capone is only listed once), and the reader ends up confused about who did what, and what part of the country it happened in. The author would have done better to tell the story of just one aspect of the times, or tell the story of one boat, rather than an overview of all of the illegal activities that happened during Prohibition. I am thoroughly interested in the subject matter, but now I have to go out and find a bunch of books on all the stuff briefly mentioned and glossed over in this book.

So, I'm irritated because not only was the content a mess - unorganized, fleeting, confusing - but it was really boring. How could a book about this subject matter be boring? I encourage all of you to read more on this subject (not only because of the fascinating stories and characters), but becase I believe there are a lot of parallels that can be drawn between Prohibition and the Drug War going on today. That's what I plan to do.


  1. I say Blah to Rum Row. I guess some things are just more fun to drink than to read about!

  2. hmm...i really want to see that soccer movie. And Confessions of a Shopaholic looks good. I'll probably rent it when it comes out. Or just impulse buy it, which is always fun. But i have to start saving money, since i'm going out into the big, bad world soon's all