05 April 2016

2016 reading list, January - March

Howard Jacobson, Shylock Is My Name. London: Hogarth Shakespeare, 2016.

In this re-telling of Merchant of Venice from an Booker Prize-winning author, two old men meet in a cemetery and start talking. I set it down after seven chapters of talking, read Team of Rivals and Baseball: The Early Years before picking it up again, and didn’t finish chapter eight.

Doris Kerns Goodwin, Team of Rivals. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

A seven-hundred fifty page Lincoln biography, with another hundred and twenty pages of notes? And you’ve already read Sandburg? Why?
Because this volume is not just another Lincoln biography. Rather, Goodwin builds her thesis around Lincoln’s cabinet, which included, among other odd choices (including a Democrat!), each of his major rivals for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination. William Seward, Edwin Stanton, and Solomon Chase were all better-known, yet Lincoln was able to win the nomination and then persuade each to come work under his lead.
The benefits of dissenting voices in reaching a decision are now recognized, but at the time, this was a daring and controversial move. Melding such great egos into a cooperative unit required delicate balance, but Lincoln’s efforts for harmony won him the respect and admiration of men who rebuild the Army, developed the Navy, and instituted the modern financial system. Without these men, the U.S. Civil War would have ended differently. By exploring the interactions and intrigues among them, Goodwin sheds new light on Lincoln’s political skills.

Will Carroll, Saving the Pitcher. Chicago, Ivan R. Dee, 2004.

Carroll is famous for having written a internet column on baseball injuries, which was one of the first efforts to make such work available to the general public. In this short book, he focuses on pitchers; specifically, on how to keep pitchers healthy. By emphasizing development of ‘correct’ mechanics (or avoiding dangerous motions), conditioning, and avoiding fatigue when throwing, Carroll believes that, while remaining an unnatural activity, pitching need not necessarily result in injury.

Dashiell Hammett, The Thin Man. NY: Vintage, 1992.

Sometimes, you want a piece of candy, and no one makes a liqueur-filled cordial like Dash Hammett. This murder mystery runs about three drinks to the page.

Harold Seymour & Dorothy Seymour Mills, Baseball: The Early Years. NY: Oxford UP, 1960.

It wasn’t the first history of the game, but Seymour’s dissertation at Cornell was the first scholarly examination of baseball. It is also, thanks to his wife, a very readable work, one which traces both on- and off-field development of the sport from a children’s game played in New England and New York through its growth into our National Pastime. With heavy emphasis on the magnates who saw profit in entertainment, it also brings to light much of the unsavory behavior that went into making the National League a monopoly, and makes a hero of Ban Johnson, who turned the minor Western League into the only lasting challenger of that dominance.

Robert Gorman & David Weeks, Death at the Ballpark, 2nd edition. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015.

Another macabre reference from McFarland, the new edition of this title lists and describes over 2000 deaths occurring in and at at U.S. baseball games of all levels. While baseball is not a contact sport, it still involves a small, hard object moving very quickly, and this is dangerous. Players can be hit by pitches, other thrown balls, bats, or other players; they may even over-exert themselves (“I’m a ballplayer, not an athlete”) or encounter violence. Even the weather can kill. But players aren’t the only fatalities listed: field personnel and fans are also at risk. The back of every ticket warns that balls and bats may enter the stands, and each season we read about people hit by them. By collecting the record of every such account available, the authors have compiled both a memorial to those who have died and a graphic warning of the dangers inherent in our national pastime.

Peter Carey, True History of the Kelly Gang. NY: Vintage, 2000.

The fictional autobiography of a real-life Australian outlaw, told in a voice that sounds authentic by a Booker Prize-winning novelist, this True History makes viscerally evident the hardships endured by members of the British penal colony, even if innocent themselves.

Wright Morris, Plains Song. NY: Penguin, 1981.

The simple beauty and beautiful simplicity of a spare, exacting prose sketches the life of Cora Atkins, a tall, uncomplaining woman who might have been my father’s mother, from her marriage to a Nebraska homesteader through her death, where the story begins.

Bill Watterson, Something Under the Bed Is Drooling. Kansas City, Andrews & McMeel, 1988.

One of the great daily cartoonists of the late 20th century provides comfort food for the starving artist is this collection, featuring, as always, the adventures of an irrepressible, unintentional little philosopher and his stuffed tiger.


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