30 October 2018

Reading List, july - september 2018

James Riley, Story Thieves. NY: Aladdin, 2015.

My niece gave me this book because she enjoyed it very much. In it Owen, whose life is boring, is excited to help Bethany search for her father by jumping into the pages of his favorite book. But when Owen replaces one the main character, he learns that boring reality might be better than fiction after all. Adults can enjoy this, too, by looking for references to other fiction from Le Morte d’Arthur, Frankenstein, and Lord of the Rings through the Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, and Harry Potter.

Martin Quigley, The Crooked Pitch. Chapel Hill: Algonquin, 1984.

I spent a summer interning at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. On my way to the library each morning, I would stop at the plaque for Arthur (Candy) Cummings, alleged inventor of the curveball, to give thanks. This book similarly celebrates the breaking ball, describing how it works and why it is needed, before dedicating chapters to each major variety and its best-known practitioners. Conversational and full of photos, it is a pitching fetishist’s delight.

Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End. NY: Ballantine, 1953.

Humanity is a childish race, as we learn when the Overlords appear. Eventually, under their supervision, humanity comes to develop its potential and take its place among the community of the stars. What is lost, however, is any sense of what humanity was.

Chinaua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah. Chicago: Heinemann, 1987.

Achebe’s final novel follows three friends as they try to govern a fictional West African country. In it, one of them observes
    "Worshiping a dictator is such a pain in the ass. it wouldn’t be so bad if it was merely a matter of dancing upside down on your head. With practice anyone could learn to do that. The real problem is having no way of knowing from one day to another, from lone minute to the next, just what is up and what is down."
This rings increasingly true to Americans, as we struggle to survive our own taste of a post-truth environment, where Blessed Leader’s whims of a moment determine life or death regardless of law, tradition, or fact. As such, the book is an important item for understanding not only Achebe’s Africa, but our own cowardly new world.

Norton Juster, The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth. NY: Knopf, 2011.

There once was a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself--not just sometimes, but always. So begins a fabulous road trip adventure, which takes Milo to unimaginable places where he and his companions dare an impossible rescue of the princesses Rhyme and Reason. This annotated edition provides much detail about Juster, illustrator Jules Feiffer, and the thought behind the story, but adds little to the surprising characters and wordplay that make it a classic.

Frank Herbert, Dune. NY: Ace, 1999.

“They’re in league with the future.” This startling observation about the natives of Arrakis, the universe’s only source for Spice, by Paul Atreides, son of its deposed ruler, changes the nature of Paul’s fight against the Emperor. Instead of working for revenge and profit, he is suddenly supporting -- and leading -- a revolution. The first in a sweeping five-book saga, Dune would be worth reading for its obvious environmental relevance even if it weren’t one of the great masterworks of science fiction.

Paul Van Herck, Where Were You Last Pluterday?  NY: DAW, 1973.

Sam is an unemployed science fiction writer who falls for a girl he cant’ afford. he buys a time machine and uses it to write a best-selling history of the Jewish people, gets rich, and tries to win her again, even though it kills him. But he comes back, again and again, to keep trying.

Constance Taylor, Growing up in Alaska. Anchorage: Fathom, 2018.

This picture book describes the first months of an Arctic Tern.  Taylor follows one family of terns for a season, from arrival and nest building after migration to chick’s first fledgling flight. Her photos capture the activity, while Charlie Harper-esqe drawings by Ben the Illustrator add hidden details like the chick inside its egg. It is a cute bit of anthropomorphizing, and includes resources at the back for further study.

Jeff Passan, The Arm. NY: HarperCollins, 2016.

This investigation of the pitcher’s tool centers on two case studies, Todd Coffey and Daniel Hudson, as they try to return to the Major Leagues after elbow ligament replacement surgery. Named after the first player to undergo this procedure, Tommy John, the surgery has saved many baseball careers, yet it hasn’t led to an understanding of why the arm breaks or how to avoid injury.

Sylvia Plath, Ariel. NY: Harper & Row, 1966.

My forty-year-old paper copy is falling apart, fragile, like the voice it carries. Yet these poems are fierce, flailing against pain while also reveling in the smallest of joys. It’s not that I enjoy them; they are full of angry images and thoughts of suicide, but they must be revisited occasionally, like old scars or family. As Plath says in Kindness, “The blood jet is poetry, / There is no stopping it.”


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