07 May 2019

Reading List, Januaray - March 2019

Paul Auster, Mr. Vertigo. NY: Penguin, 1994.

Walt the Wonder Boy is a child star: on the 1920s barnstorming circuit, he demonstrates a remarkable ability: he can fly. He is just about to make the big-time, with a New Year’s show in New York City, when it all comes crashing down. These are his memoirs, and they tell of an extraordinary American life.

K.W. Jeter, Infernal Devices. NY: St. Martin’s, 1987.

Is it steampunk? Jeter coined the term to describe this story set in Victorian England, featuring mechanical men and elaborate clockwork machines. Yet these features are more just a setting. The book is really about a search for self, in the absence of a family to help instill a sense of reality.

Madeline Miller, Song of Achilles. NY: ecco, 2012.

This story about the best of all Greeks is an example of why we need a healthy public domain. Homer’s tales are over three thousand years old, and they are foundation stones for European culture. Imagine if we were unable to use their material in new ways. We would miss so many other, newer stories, that the original would lose the honor shown by its great pile of prizes, the work it has inspired.

Miller’s story focuses on a minor character, Achilles’ friend Patroclus, who describes their relationship to the hero’s mother. It is beautiful, and it in no way diminishes the market for Homer’s original - it makes me anxious to read the new translation by Emily Wilson.

We should be free to do as much for Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

Ernie Harwell, Tuned to Baseball. South Bend, IN: Diamond Communications, 1985.

Ernie Harwell was the radio voice of the Detroit Tigers, and he saw a lot of baseball. He saw Willie Mays debut while announcing for the (then) New York Giants and called Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘round the World for television, once got into a fight with Leo Durocher, and even interviewed Ty Cobb. This book, released immediately after Detroit’s most recent World Series championship, shares stories about Harwell’s life, both in and out of baseball. It gives a good sense of who he was, instead of just focusing on the players and games he made so special for so many listeners.

Jason Shiga, Bookhunter. sparkplugcomicbooks.com, 2007.

Special Agent Bay works for the Oakland Public Library. He is resourceful, relentless, and dangerous. His mission? Recover missing books. Library school did not prepare me for this sort of work! With simple but expressive two-color images, Shiga’s graphic novel details one case about a borrowed bible. Do not shelve near The Book Thief.

Elizabeth Bear, Chill. NY: Ballantine, 2010.

The Cohn family rules a ‘generation ship’, a self-contained world transporting people from a dying Earth to a future home. The ship has barely survived disaster, and now the crew are waking to discover the damage, and to fight both against the Enemy of empty space for resources, each other for control, and an unknown enemy intent on utter destruction.

Howard Megdal, The Cardinals Way. NY: Thomas Dunne, 2016.

Most clubs have a coordinated method for player development, such as Al Campanis laid out in The Dodger Way to Play Baseball. The Cardinals Way, we are told, “is to communicate constantly, to express goals, in the hope that it will ultimately benefit a baseball team.” The phrase mostly refers to player development in the minor leagues, which follows identical methods  at all levels, as set down by George Kissell over his many years with the club. In another front-office examination, like The Extra 2%, The Only Rule Is that It Has To Work, or Moneyball, Megdal takes readers inside the St. Louis team’s transition from a traditional approach to a more analytical way of understanding baseball, with special emphasis on the role of Jeff Luhnow and changes in player acquisition.

Seneca, The Tragedies, Volume 1 (trans David Slavitt). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1992.

What can men and women endure? There ought to be limits. A heart should break but doesn’t, keeps on with its idiot beating, and adds to the torture (Agamemnon 644-49).

Like HP Lovecraft or Stephen King, Seneca deals in uncut, unflinching horror. No tragic catharsis here, just inescapable terror as he explores the human depths of Greek drama in a way that makes these two thousand year old plays a perfect reflection of the present political moment. Seneca: a Roman for our times!

Clifford Simak, City. NY: MacMillan, 1952.

Originally published as a series of short stories from 1944 - 51, City tells of a world where dogs not only talk, but live without humans -- the humans having all immigrated to Jupiter. Dogs, though, remember by passing on legends of the Websters, a family intimately connected to post-urban history which, it is said, not only gave dogs speech and unleashed their development, but cleared the planet for dog dominion. And, as dogs build a world with no killing and food for all animals, perhaps this was the right choice.