30 January 2012

John Stewart, Antarctica: An Encyclopedia (second edition). Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011.

Antarctica is an impressive work, building on the 1990 edition with another four and a half years’ study of national gazetteers that brings the number of entries to over 30,000—covering every person, geographic feature, voyage, animal, and idea South of sixty degrees South.

The books are solid, of a good, readable off-white paper and seem well bound. They stay open to a page without difficulty and use suitably-sized, clean type and good white space for easy reading, and the entries can be both excruciatingly- thorough and surprisingly engaging. The story told by a whaling ship’s seasonal catches, or behind a place name, makes it easy to keep reading after checking an entry, and opening to any page will provide some pleasing tidbit.

Antarctica is, nonetheless, a very specific, and expensive, reference work which will be welcome in large research collections and out of scope for most others.

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17 January 2012

2011 reading list: October - December

Robert Whiting, You Gotta Have Wa. New York: 1990, Vantage.
An introductory history of baseball in Japan, which goes back to the 1870s.

David Levithan, A Lover's Dictionary. New York: 2011, Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
A relationship chronicled in the fragments associated with arbitrarily meaningful words.

Simon Max Hill & Shannon Wheeler, Grandpa Won't Wake Up. Los Angeles: 2011, Boom!Town.
The kids try everything, but grandpa won't wake up. Not to spoil it, but (spoiler alert!) it's because grandpa is dead.

John Thorn, Baseball in the Garden of Eden. New York: 2011, Simon & Schuster.
A "secret history of the early game" by the Official Historian of Major League Baseball, which debunks the story of invention in Cooperstown by Abner Doubleday through a look at the politics behind the creation myth.

Shel Silverstein, Falling Up. New York: 1996, Haper Collins.
More Uncle Shelby? We're down on our knees
But do make it quick, we're not saying "please"!

Clifton Blue Parker, Bucketfoot Al: The Baseball Life of Al Simmons. Jefferson, NC: 2011, McFarland.
See full review here

09 January 2012

Clifton Blue Parker, Bucketfoot Al: The Baseball Life of Al Simmons. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011.

Al Simmons, the cleanup hitter for Connie Mack’s great Athletics clubs of the early 1930s, may be most analogous to more contemporary stars like Dick Allen or Albert Belle: a ferocious hitting talent who achieved greatness—but less of it than expected. In Simmons’ case this is because injuries only let him play as many as 140 games in one season during the second half of his career, though afterwards Simmons admitted that he could have played more and, given how close he got to 3,000 hits, wished that he had.

Parker’s biography is well-documented and easy to read, with a total focus on Simmons as ballplayer. Major personal and world events such as marriage, divorce, and war are mentioned, but mostly to provide context. This emphasis shows us how Simmons was viewed in his era (as the best center fielder in the game) and how he got there, but leaves a much weaker impression of him as a person than last year’s portrait of another Pole in the Hall of Fame, Stan Musial: An American Life. To be fair, though, Simmons died before he was sixty, and Parker give us a solid picture of a worthy and under-appreciated subject as well as a welcome light on an A’s team that, with Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, and Lefty Grove, may have been better than Babe Ruth’s Yankees.

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