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REVIEW: The Bullpen Gospels

[This entertaining baseball memoir is a C4 Great Read. Get The Bullpen Gospels and other Great Reads from our Powell’s Bookshelf.]

Author: Dirk Hayhurst

2010, Citadel Press

Filed Under: Memoir, Nonfiction.

Get a copy at Powell’s.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 10
Depth..... 6

Dirk Hayhurst was a pro baseball player. A long reliever in the San Diego Padres’ farm system, he was mostly a career minor leaguer. This memoir is an honest and quite fun look at a life that is often not fun. Hayhurst is slightly eccentric, a not-that-jocky dork (just google “Garfoose”). For much of the book, he is more an observer than a participant, which would feel weird if we didn’t know he was a teetotaling, twenty-something virgin during the majority of this story–not at all the type of guy you imagine in a farm league locker room.

Although the book opens with a minor league postseason series and a few key games and plays punctuate the book, the majority of the memoir occurs off the field–sitting in the bullpen, in a team hotel, or aboard a cross-country bus. Near the beginning of the book, we see Hayhurst in the off-season after a bad year in a AA league, living on his curmudgeonly grandmother’s floor and working at a local batting cage in order to afford time to work on his slider. Throughout the Gospels we learn more about Hayhurst’s unenviable home and family. His father is disabled and emotionally unresponsive; his brother is an abusive drunk; his mother is a frazzled victim caught in the middle. Mostly estranged from them, Hayhurst struggles though the minor leagues with middling success and a craving for his familial approval seemingly his only motivator to keep trying.


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Handicapping the Edgars, Best Novel 2011

[This concludes my coverage of the 2011 Edgar Awards; the awards are given tonight. Find all my Edgar coverage here.]

It’s Edgar season: another year has come and gone and another passel of dull Best Novel nominees has been held to the light as if to blind us.

That’s not fair, this year’s crop was significantly worse than last year’s—last year I recommended 3 of 6; this year 0 of 6. None of these novels should be read.

It’s not that any one novel is particularly terrible; in fact several of them show flashes of real, actual talent. It’s just that, no single book comes close to a satisfying experience. In fact, I’m not sure you could make a good novel if you cobbled together the best parts of all six.

Faithful Place had the hype, Crooked Letter had the prose, Patpong had the action scenes. Too bad nobody wrote a plot.

The awards are tonight, so without further ado…
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REVIEW: The Queen of Patpong

[2011 Edgar Award nominee for Best Novel—see reviews of other 2011 Edgar noms here, or all Edgar-related posts here.]

Author: Timothy Hallinan

2010, William Morrow

Filed under: Thriller

Get a copy at Powell’s

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 6
Depth..... 6

The Queen of Patpong opens with a marvelous set piece in which a tall white man and a kind-hearted Thai cop play out a ruse designed to scare the bejeezus out of an underage Bangkok prostitute, to make her give up the bar-girl life and run back to her upcountry village.

The tall white man turns out to be our hero, travel writer (wha? I know, it’s weird) Poke Rafferty. The set piece, in a mere twelve pages, establishes Poke as a complex hero—charitable but still cynical—and also paints a sharp, realistic portrait of both the Bangkok in which we find ourselves, and the bar girls who are almost synonymous with its name. Along the way, Hallinan delivers a heaping helping of nail-biting suspense.

It’s a shame, because the rest of the novel simply can’t live up to that first chapter.
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REVIEW: Moving Day

[This bombastic poetry collection is a C4 Great Read. Get Moving Day and other Great Reads from our Powell’s Bookshelf.]

Author: Ish Klein

2011, Canarium Press

Filed under: Literary, Poetry

Get a copy at Powell’s

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 9
Voice..... 10

I am a narrative poet, and as such, I glom onto a storyline. This can be difficult with poetry books, as they’re often populated by poems that have nothing in common but the author. Ish Klein’s poems also resist simple storytelling, but for a different reason. Most of the poems in this book seem to be told in the voice of a single speaker. This is a safe assumption because of the recurrence of certain themes and details throughout the book: protons/electrons, battlefields/veterans, actors, family, shape-shifting, identity perception, etc. But Klein isn’t really a narrative poet. While her poems tell a story, the story is not forefront and it’s not linear. Instead, like some of the best novels, Klein’s poems are character-driven. Her poems tell the story of what it’s like to be inside her speaker’s head. I’ll talk more about this later.

What I want to discuss first—what delights me—is Klein’s voice, which has remained consistent since her first book, Union! First of all, Klein is able to succeed where a lesser writer could not. Take, for instance, Klein’s use of exclamation points. Since the fall of the Romantics, it is difficult to use an exclamation point in literature without irony. A friend of mine can’t read a book without saying “exclamation point” aloud every time she sees one. And, I’ll admit, when I saw Union! I thought, ‘Really?’ (Union! answered, “Really!”) The “!” is just not doing its job anymore. But Klein has reclaimed it. Her exclamations really are exclamations. The “!” conveys her passion for life. For life! (It’s addictive.)
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The Week’s Best Book Reviews 4/27/2011

[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]

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The Tragedy of Arthur, by Arthur Phillips. Reviewed by Michael Dirda (Washington Post).

I’m not really sure what’s going on with this book. It’s a novel that purports to be a release of a lost Shakespeare play. At first I thought it had something to do with Double Falsehood. I’m not really sure quite how the book is set up, but it contains a whole 5 act play and the “preface” is 250ish pages about Phillips so I can’t help but think Pale Fire. Dirda is a book reviewing all-star, but in this case his review only lends to my confusion about this novel–I can’t tell if he’s being tongue-in cheek and playing along or confused as to if this is real or post-modernism (I have to assume the former). Still, it looks like I’m going to have to get a copy and evaluate this for myself.

Get a copy of The Tragedy of Arthur at Powell’s.

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Bottom of the 33rd, by Dan Barry. Reviewed by Stefan Fatsis (New York Times).

Nico already mentioned this book a few weeks back, but I liked this review so I’m listing it. Fastis reviews insightfully. Last time I was home my dad was talking about this book, and though it might sound kind of boring at first (an account of the longest recorded baseball game, played in AAA Pawtucket), it turns out to be rather fascinating. Pretty sure only in baseball would an archaic rulebook omission allow for an unbroken 8 hour event.

Also, it turns out there were some pretty big name players involved, including Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken. Neato.

Get a copy of Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game at Powell’s.

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The Extra 2%, by Jonah Keri. Reviewed by Jon Thurber (Los Angeles Times).

This review’s a little older, but I wanted to point out this book anyway. I just got it from the library and I’m excited to read it. Keri spent a lot of time studying the Tampa Bay (née Devil-) Rays, and documents just what they did to go from basically being another Montreal Expos to the World Series and to becoming a perennial contender in the toughest division in baseball. Sucks for Keri that the book launched alongside a 1-8 start for Tampa, but they’re playing better now so hopefully that helps his sales.

Get a copy of The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First at Powell’s.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. Reviewed by Brooke Allen (Barnes and Noble Review).

I never really cared much for Wilde, but nonetheless I find it fascinating that the original version of his famous novella has never before been published. I’m not so much amazed that the book was somewhat heavily censored, as I am that the uncensored version has apparently just been sitting on a shelf for a hundred years. If you are into Wilde, or never before read Dorian Gray, this edition is for you. Even if not, Allen’s review is smart and concise and worth reading.

Get a copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition at Powell’s.

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Bonus Book Trailer: Sticks to what I’ve dubbed the Choppy Text PowerPoint Method, but at least they’ve added a little production value and original art. (Joe Croscup reviewed one of the books in this series favorably, might be worth a look.)

REVIEW: The Pale King

Author: David Foster Wallace

2011, Little, Brown

Filed under: Literary

Get a copy from Powell’s

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 6
Depth..... 9

Fans awaiting a new novel from David Foster Wallace need not look inside The Pale King because, as the foreword, afterword, and jacket copy make clear, the book is not a novel but an artifact, a kind of literary curio that belongs next to The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Original of Laura, and The Last Tycoon—all interesting works, but hardly satisfying as novels. (The Pale King was unfinished at the time of Wallace’s suicide in 2008—in the intervening years, his editor turned a messy, sprawling manuscript into this novel.)

This is not to say there is not anything great, even brilliant, inside Pale King. There is plenty: the short, self-contained riffs are as good as anything Wallace has written, the throughlines he establishes are insidious. But there’s a lot of filler to wade through. Given the work’s subject, the maliciousness of everyday boredom, this might be exactly what the author had in mind. But in an unfinished form, this book might hold to its theme a little closer than intended.
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Story Contests Need Drama, Too

Over at the normally mild-mannered lit mag, storySouth, it’s time for the annual Million Writers Award, which highlights and rewards the best online fiction of the year. At least, that’s what they say in the press release. The truth is far more sinister.

storySouth announced their longlist of notable stories last week, and included B.J. Hollars’s hilarious nudist romp, “The Naturalists,” and Andrea Uptmor’s lyrical dream story, “Liz Phair and the Most Perfect Sentence.”

Just last summer, our collection of our favorite online fiction, The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology (which you can download, now and forever, for free), had the honor of including both Hollars and Uptmor for those very stories. Now, storySouth pits them against each other, vying for the attention of fellow anthologee and Award judge Svetlana Lavochkina, whose lovely piece, “Semolinian Equinox,” made the Million Writers shortlist last year (and was also a story selected for the C4 Anthology).

We can only assume storySouth engineered Svetlana’s Choice as some kind of study in behavioral morality. We predict Lavochkina demands pushups in the yard by week’s end. We’ll interrupt our regular schedule with breaking news, as warranted.

(In all seriousness, each of those stories is outstanding, storySouth always does great work, and their contest is well worth exploring. Here’s the link again.)

Deserted Isle Books: The Voice of Things, by Francis Ponge

[Deserted Isle Books is our new series in which our contributors discuss the one book they would choose if they were, well, stranded alone on a deserted isle forever. Read other installments of the series here, get your own copies at Powell’s, and explore other series like this on our Special Features page.]

The voice of things.

My copy of The Voice of Things, by French prose poet Francis Ponge, is well worn― split in the spine on page 32, my favorite pages turned down in the top corner.  Though he ran in the 1920′s surrealist circles of Breton and Giacometti, literary recognition came late in Ponge’s career, and The Voice of Things was not published until 1942.

Ponge takes objects and describes them― lyrically, fancifully, but mainly simply and directly.  Rain, the candle, the oyster, all become the subjects of his prose poems.  In “The Pleasures of Doors,” he notes that kings never experience the joy of pulling a handle gently until the latch clicks.
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The State of My Pull List, Issue 6B: March 2011 (Part Two)

[At the end of each month, Aaron surveys the comics he read, celebrates the best, considers the rest, and takes stock of what it means to be a contemporary comic fan. Follow “The State of My Pull List” here.]

Last time on “The State of My Pull List”: Comics in March were so good it was almost insulting, so we split the Pull List in half; Nick Spencer’s Jimmy Olsen was hilarious; Xombi #1 was spooky and dark and also hilarious; Batman, Inc. #4 wasn’t so hilarious, but it was three excellent stories in one.

And now, the heart-stopping conclusion of The State of My Pull List: Deluxe Edition!

Solid Reads

Detective Comics #875

Elsewhere in the Bat-world, Detective Comics #875 expands the story of Commissioner Gordon and his estranged, maybe-reformed son James Jr., filling in a key bit of the back story that was hinted at in their conversation in issue #874. In the present day, Gordon tracks down a man he’s deduced is the Peter Pan killer, an open case from years back that continues to haunt him. Intercut with that story is a flashback to the time of the original case, and an unsettling incident involving the disappearance of young Barbara Gordon’s friend at a lake house. Writer Scott Snyder pitches the suspense just right, so that the mystery and unexpected twists left me holding my breath during some scenes, but without resorting to extraordinary plot contrivances to keep the story going. When the teenage girl disappears, the scenes become more desperate; but the real scares are reserved for when Gordon confronts James Jr. in his bedroom, trying not to believe the worst about his own son. The tension and anxiety is made all the more real by artist Francesco Francavilla, who employs vertiginous layouts and a eerie yellow-red color scheme for the flashbacks, and a more muted blue-grey for the manhunt in the present. Some plot points are resolved here, but like all good serialized fiction this issue further complicates the story, and leaves us as frustrated and uncertain as Gordon, but in a good way.


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REVIEW: The Resurrectionist

Author: James Bradley

2008, Picador Australia

Filed Under: Historical, Literary.

Get a copy at Powell’s.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 5

A resurrectionist does not bring the dead to life. There are no literal resurrections in this book (and it’s questionable whether there are any figurative ones). No one cares much for the dead or attempts to restore them. Instead, they pull them from the ground and cut them up in front of an audience.

In 19th century London, anatomists were both doctors and entertainers to the intelligentsia. A gentleman surgeon could build esteem and a reputation, as well as his fortune, through exhibitions of successful autopsies and dissection lectures. But, despite the high mortality rate of the day, human corpses weren’t always easy to come by: laws forbade the dissection of any body not put to death for crime. So doctors turned to resurrectionists, men who would deliver bodies procured by untold means for coin, no questions asked.

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