05 January 2016

2015 reading list, October - December

Rita Mae Brown, Starting from Scratch. NY: Bantam, 1988.

see full review here


Eric Morse & Anny Yi, What Is Punk? NY: Akashic, 2015.

This is a delightful book that seems ill-conceived: a history of the early punk rock movement for children. What is punk? Punk isn’t cute claymation portraits. Punk is rebellion, revolt, wanting to change things and using what is at hand to make that happen. Kids grow up with their parents’ music. For those lucky enough to know The Clash or The Damned from the womb, this sing-song name-dropping has no value; they already heard your song. But that probably isn’t so many kids.

Discovering punk rock through this book, though, would be torture. The verse and illustrations seem most appropriate for ages four to seven, and what responsible parent would let a kindergartner put on the Sex Pistols or X? These bands are best discovered during the angst-ridden years of puberty that inspire them and to which they speak, not in grade school, when rebellion should be limited to bedtime. We can only hope that these kids hack Mommy’s Amazon account and start a riot.


Ted Williams and John Underwood, The Science of Hitting. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1986.
Tony Gwynn and Roger Vaughan, The Art of Hitting. NY: GT Publishing, 1998.

Both of these great hitters were from San Diego. Coincidence? Probably. it is no coincidence, however, that the main take-aways from both are the same: good hitting requires the balance of a solid base, knowing your own swing and abilities, and getting a good pitch to hit.

The Williams book is a classic, a textbook on the mechanics of a solid swing. It is told in Williams’ own voice, and Underwood’s ghosting is invisible. Gwynn’s book, on the other hand, is more a memoir of his career. While swing development is still central, Gwynn is much more personable than Williams, talking about his experiences not as examples of how to perform, but as stories about himself. Though the twenty-two page Hitting Clinic is solid material, none of it is really new and it seems more like an interruption of narrative than the reason to buy the book. The Art of Hitting is a wonderful celebration of an eight-time batting champion, but The Science of Hitting will do more to improve your game.


Robert Wiggins, The Federal League of Base Ball Clubs. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

The Federal League (1914 - 1915) was the last serious challenge to the professional baseball monopoly held by the Major Leagues, serious enough that, in spite of its short existence, the league’s records count just the same as those of the National and American Leagues. The Federals proved influential, as well. Their denial of the Reserve Clause, which bound a player to his original team in perpetuity, foreshadowed free agency, and the legal proceedings their activities spawned put baseball in Kenesaw Mountain Landis’s courtroom. Landis proceeded to stall a decision until the Federals ran out of money and gave up. He was rewarded for this thoroughly biased application of ‘justice’ with a lifetime appointment as Commissioner of Baseball.  The League’s other great legacy is Chicago’s landmark Wrigley Field, the North Side home of the Whales.


Zenna Henderson, Pilgrimage. NY: Avon, 1961.

Science Fiction can take many forms; this, like A Canticle for Leibowitz or The Martian Chronicles, is about people in a very similar setting to contemporary Earth -- in this case, visitors to our contemporary Earth. Their Home destroyed, they are shipwrecked here, and must now integrate into American society. The story is recounted as an oral history, told in episodes by various members of the group and relying heavily on religious imagery.


Alan Moore and Ian Gibson, The Complete Ballad of Halo Jones. London: Titan, 2001.

The Ballad of Halo Jones is, like The Watchmen, the story of an anti-hero. Jones, a young woman living in the slums of New York, joins a starship crew to escape.

She does. What she does next was worthy of scholarly study, but, as her biographer quotes her saying, “Anybody could have done it.”


Max Brooks, World War Z. NY: Broadway, 2006.

This oral history, recording memories of important participants in the Zombie War, is a remarkable feat. Brooks collects speaks to everyone from front-line soldiers on the United States homefront to the Russian priest who rallied their army; from the doctor who first observed the “African Rabies” virus in China to the Australian astronaut who, stranded on the ISS, watched the entire conflagration over pirated spy satellite feeds. What comes from these interviews is a sense of the horror, the panic, that resulted in, or from, a near complete collapse of civilization--as well as the hope, in spite of the obvious effort still required, once the living dead began to fall.


Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City. NY: Vintage, 2004.

This engrossing enter-twinning of stories about 1890s Chicago, developing the site and buildings for the 1892 Columbian World’s Exposition, and one of America’s first documented serial killers working in its dark shadows, reads as well as most thrillers. It also helps modern readers understand just how important the Fair was to a country coming together after the Civil War and on the edge of the Electric Age.


Tim McCarver and Danny Peary, Baseball for Brain Surgeons and Other Fans. NY: Villard, 1998.

This is the clearest, best-organized discussion of what happens on a ball field and why available. McCarver, who caught in the Major Leagues for many years before becoming a television broadcaster, starts from his seat in the press box and describes each part of what he sees. Six major headers cover the booth, the clubhouse, pitching, hitting, fielding, and base-running. McCarver considers the options, the reasons, and how to counter various plays, largely without imposing a strategic agenda. His examples are generally from the then-contemporary crop of active players like Barry Bonds and Randy Johnson; the book is about watching baseball, not Tim McCarver. He does, however, include an occasional sidebar event from his own career when it makes a particularly apt illustration.


Charles Bukowski, The Last Night of the Earth Poems. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow, 1992.

In “poetry”, Bukowski says “it takes a lot of desperation dissatisfaction and disillusion to write
a few good poems.” Every other piece in this, the final collection of new work published during his lifetime, puts those qualities on display. This is an old man looking back at his life and, while perhaps not wise, he repeatedly gives us pause to consider - a situation, a character, a turn of phrase. That it seems effortless, hardly verse at all, is only evidence of fifty years’ practice. Read it upon beginning to feel old.


2015 Totals





total               37

fiction           15
non-fiction    22
-poetry            2
-baseball       10