Okay, so, I didn't "just" read either of these books. I read them both a while ago, but didn't write about either of them, and that's been bothering me because I've managed to write about everything else I've read this year. It seems impossible that I'll keep this up in 2017, especially since I plan to continue to read a heavier amount, but I want to tie the bow on doing this thing for a full year.
These books obviously have nothing in common, lol. Mark Titus is a former walk-on basketball player at Ohio State University who garnered some fame for writing a pretty cool (now-defunct) blog called Club Trillion about his experiences playing for the Buckeyes. His book, Don't Put Me In, Coach, is an awesomely titled account of those experiences woven in with stories about his blog's success. He now writers for The Ringer.
'Salem's Lot, meanwhile, is Stephen King's second book, and the second portion of my quest to read every single novel by him, which is set to be completed in the year 2043 at my current pathetic pace; but if King keeps writing at his current pace, and continues to write at that pace forever, without slowing down in his older years (he's 69 right now), I actually won't catch up to him until 2058 or 2059, my math probably isn't perfect. Stephen King would be 112 years old at that point and still writing books at a rate that's almost as fast as I am reading them.
Mark Titus - Don't Put Me In, Coach
Titus is not the greatest writer but that's not why we're here. Don't Put Me In, Coach isn't prose -- it's a unique look into life on a major college basketball team. We pick up with Titus in his early years playing basketball with future NBA stars Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daquan Cook in Indiana. His relationship with these three stars -- who all chose to attend Ohio State to play basketball on full scholarships -- wound up in him landing at first a manager job for the Buckeyes' basketball team, and eventually a walk-on role that turned into a scholarship later on. Titus got in this position due to a lack of numbers on a Buckeyes team that was set to compete for a national title; they simply needed more guys to hold full scrimmages at practice if there were any players sitting out.
With Oden as one of the best players in the country (and the eventual No. 1 pick in the following NBA Draft), Ohio State made it all the way to the national title game before losing to Florida. The largest chunk of the book is spent on this season, Titus' freshman year at Ohio State -- he doesn't talk just about the team, but his life off the court as well. Titus became the team prankster throughout his career and book is filled with legitimate laugh-out-loud stories on more than one occasion. It's a truly enjoyable read, and being a Florida fan, it's especially interesting to read Titus talk about the Gators' awesome back-to-back title team.
As Don't Put Me In, Coach progresses, we go through the highs and lows of being on an up-and-down team with Titus. He gets acquainted with Evan Turner, who became Ohio State's next star player and who became a "nemesis" to Titus. The stories about Titus pissing off the uptight Turner are some of the funniest ones throughout the book, and his dedication to pulling pranks on this guy is admirable. Toward the end, Titus unfolds more and more information about his blog, Club Trillion, which served as his springboard for ever being in a position to write a book, from his early local success to his discovery by Bill Simmons and his larger, short-lived national fame shortly after. He was even contacted to try out for the Harlem Globetrotters, even though they apparently definitely only did that as a publicity stunt.
This is going to be a fun read (and relatively short) for any fan of college basketball. Titus does a nice job of balancing basketball stuff with other stuff, so even if you don't really care about college basketball, it might be funny enough to keep you engaged.
Don't Put Me In, Coach is available as an IRL book and an e-book on Amazon. It's also available on Audible; if you click this link, you can get a free trial of Audible that includes two free audiobooks. Even if you cancel your trial, you'll get to keep these two books. Also: clicking on any of the Amazon links in this post, and purchasing something from them, provides a small percentage kickback to the author of the blog you just read.
Stephen King - 'Salem's Lot
Unlike Mark Titus, who probably never expected to be in a blog that compared him to Stephen King, Stephen King is definitely a great writer. After my first foray into his work with Carrie back in May, I was eager to read more from him but wound up holding off on that as I...did other stuff with my time instead. I regretted this instantly once I got even partially into 'Salem's Lot, a story of a man (author Ben Mears) and a young boy (Mark Petrie) who work together, at first with a team of a few others, to battle against a rising number of vampires in the small town of Jerusalem's Lot in Maine.
Mears grew up in Jerusalem's Lot but lived elsewhere for a long time and became a somewhat famous author. He returned to the town to seek inspiration for his next book from the Marston House, a ghostly and creepy large house on a top of a hill in the town with which he has a frightening and fascinating personal history. Around the same time Mears arrives, so do two other inhabitants named Straker and Barlow, who are looking to set up a small antique shop in town; this influx of three new residents is huge news around 'Salem's Lot, which is so small that this represents a large percentage increase in its population.
Barlow is a mysterious character that we don't see much of; turns out this is because he is a real-ass vampire and Straker is his human sidekick who aides him during the daytime. Barlow slowly starts to infect the town -- literally one by one at first -- until he has turned enough innocent people into vampires that they're able to go out and infect more and more people in greater quantities. Throughout this storyline, Mears is making quite a few new friends in town; most of these people will wind up dying, but so as to not completely spoil everything, I won't talk too much about those supporting characters.
King is a masterful writer in nearly every facet of the game. The depth with which we become familiar with Mears, Petrie, and all of the supporting characters in this book is simply awesome, and King mostly does this in the context of telling small stories about these people. Rather than sitting and divulging a large history for each character, we hear more and more about certain people in different ways, whether it be direct dialogue or chatter around town. The book is broken into chapters titled by the character who takes the main role in that chapter -- there are chapters named Mark, Ben, Ben 2, Ben 3, etc.
Aside from character development, 'Salem's Lot excels in its slow-burning style of freaking you out. The book hits large paydirt, turn-the-page-as-fast-as-you-can nighttime moments after lulling you with daytime stories about small-town life, sheriffs, diners and even love. The best portion of the book comes between the time that vampires start to run slightly more rampant, but Ben and his accomplices haven't yet figured everything out. The investigation into this mystery is led by a well-read high school English teacher, who uncovers much of the information the group needs from a hospital bed. They use this information in attempts to draw out and destroy vampires. Spoilers about the ending of the book are immediately ahead.
The story ends when Barlow, the master vampire, is killed by Ben and Mark, after almost all of their friends have either been killed or -- worse -- turned into vampires themselves. Some of these characters turning over to the "dark side" are truly crushing moments, and some of the deaths in this story and truly horrific. Ben and Mark, understandably, get the heck out of 'Salem's Lot, leaving it in the hands of its residents, almost all of whom are now vampires and only come out at night to...hang out with each other, I guess.
It's here that the story proper ties into its prologue -- Ben and Mark in a small town in Mexico, trying to recover from the awful stuff they've seen -- and then into its epilogue, when Ben and Mark return to 'Salem's Lot with the intent of drawing out the remnant vampires and ending their reign of the town.
King's descriptions of the town in its most dead states are chilling, and altogether the story is expertly woven and paced. I've read that King has stated on multiple occasions (years ago) that 'Salem's Lot is his personal favorite book he's written; I'm not sure if that's changed since then, but it would be fairly easy for me to understand why. It's simply great. But, I'm saying this from a perspective of having not read nearly any of his other work -- The Shining is next on the list.
'Salem's Lot is available as an IRL book and an e-book on Amazon. The mass market paperback is under $7 shipped if you have Prime. It's also available on Audible; if you click this link, you can get a free trial of Audible that includes two free audiobooks. Even if you cancel your trial, you'll get to keep these two books. Also: clicking on any of the Amazon links in this post, and purchasing something from them, provides a small percentage kickback to the author of the blog you just read.