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REVIEW: Out of My League

Author: Dirk Hayhurst

2012, C Hardcover

Filed Under: Memoir, Nonfiction

Find it on Goodreads.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 7

Dirk Hayhurst’s previous outing, The Bullpen Gospels, was a success largely due to its ability to relate a deeper life story through the framework of a minor league baseball season. The book was not without its flaws; namely, it didn’t have much of a narrative arc. Still its effortless humor and sentimentality made for a charming memoir that was one of my favorites of last year.

Out of My League, a direct followup, addresses the shortcomings of its predecessor, but falls a little short of recapturing what worked so well before. It’s a very good book, just one that suffers from trying a little too hard.


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The Week’s Best Book Reviews 04/11/2012

[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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Dodgers from Coast to Coast. Reviewed by Jon Thurber (Los Angeles Times).

With the Red Sox not doing much to improve an unapologetic and overrated pitching rotation, and my dynasty fantasy baseball team more or less built around the assumption that Clayton Kershaw is the second coming of Sandy Koufax, I’ve already found myself watching and listening to just as many Dodgers games as Sox games so far this year (MLB.tv’s stupid blackout restrictions have something to do with it, too.) But my fair-weather fandom aside, this book looks pretty cool. It compiles pictures of people and ephemera, but, most interestingly, it is punctuated with essays and reminiscences of famous Dodger personalities like Tommy Lasorda and Vin Scully. Baseball fans should give this a look. Also, it’s not too often you see a review of a coffee table book, so the review is neat in that regard as well.

Find it on Goodreads.

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The Sugar Frosted Nutsack, by Mark Leyner. Reviewed by Paul Di Filippo (Barnes and Noble Review).

Here’s another review of Leyner’s zany return to literature. I’m about halfway through this book myself, and having a hard time putting my thoughts about it into words. Di Filippo’s write-up is a bit more concise than the Ben Marcus review Nico briefly mentioned last week, and he’s able to sum this book up nicely:

If mythographer Joseph Campbell were still around to rewrite the Ramayana for the cast of Jersey Shore, the result might approximate Leyner’s novel — except without as many outrageously funny transgressive absurdities.

Find it on Goodreads.

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Regicide, by Nicholas Royle. Reviewed by Tori Truslow (Strange Horizons).

I really like the reviews they run over at Strange Horizons. They have a knack for dismantling a book (usually fantasy of some variety) and revealing all its faults, while still giving it the fairest shake they can. Truslow’s review of Regicide –a surreal-sounding book about an imaginary city in real-world Britain--is another example of a criticism that could very well be more interesting and entertaining than the book itself.

Find it on Goodreads.

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Quickly: Since I’m trying real hard but to have nothing but baseball on my mind this week, here’s a quality look at a whole bunch of baseball books out right now. Also: it’s a couple years old, but some guy made a pretty hefty Amazon list of baseball books that I’m really tempted to read all the way through. I loved The Bullpen Gospels, and Dirk Hayhurst’s next book is waiting for me at the library, so I’m pretty excited about that. One last, slightly different baseball-book list from the Daily Beast.

REVIEW: The Art of Fielding

Author: Chad Harbach

2011, Little, Brown and Company

Filed Under: Literary.

Get the book.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 4
Depth..... 7

For fifty pages, I was hooked. Henry Skrimshander is a small-town kid with an almost supernatural sense for playing shortstop. He’s discovered at what might have been the last game of his career and recruited to play for Westish College, a small D III school in Wisconsin. Under the guidance of Mike Schwartz, the Westish teammate who discovered him, Henry rises into the ranks of the nation’s best college players. His future seems bright and assured.

Then we’re introduced to Guert Affenlight, the President of Westish College. He’s an interesting guy, but his story doesn’t really have as much to do with Henry as Henry’s roommate, Owen, and there’s Guert’s daughter, Pella, who’s fleeing a failed marriage. Also, Schwartz is having some problems figuring out his life after graduation.

The writing is solid throughout, the characters are convincing and likable enough that I never felt totally dissatisfied, but I often found myself pushing through chapters wondering when all of this was going to get back to Henry, because (surprise) his bright future might not be such a sure thing after all. Unfortunately, Henry’s perspective and his trials on the diamond occupy less space as the novel progresses, and the work as a whole suffers for it.


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REVIEW: The Extra 2%

Author: Jonah Keri

2011, Ballantine Books

Filed Under: Nonfiction.

Get a copy at Powell’s.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 7

As a Red Sox fan, I don’t really savor the recent success of the Tampa Bay (née Devil-) Rays. Thus far in 2011, it appears that for the third year running, the three best teams in the American League will play in the AL East, meaning no matter what, they can’t all be in the postseason. Before the Rays’ ascendance, I loved when the Sox played the Rays. It sometimes got a bit feisty, and the Sox would almost always take home 2 wins. Tampa was seriously a joke. Then came 2008, and with it mohawks and 9=8, etc. Now, as a Sox fan, I see Tampa as a bigger threat than the aging, overpaid Yankees.

In The Extra 2%, Jonah Keri starts with a team that was a perennial doormat and follows them as they scramble out of the gutter hand over fist. He is probing, funny, and critical, all of which make for an engrossing and revelatory read. I particularly like the angle Keri takes on the business side. His love for the sport is readily noticeable on every page, but his contempt for the league is almost palpable.
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REVIEW: 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente

Author: Wilfred Santiago

2011, Fantagraphics Books

Filed under: Graphic Novel, Nonfiction, Biography

Get it at Powell’s

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 5
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 6
Art Style... 9

My father loved baseball. When I was young, he told me stories of his favorite players as if they were superheroes. He held none in higher esteem than Roberto Clemente. As a result, I believed Roberto Clemente had superpowers. I believed he floated through the outfield and flew between the base paths. I believed the ball exploded off of his bat and that he had a cannon for an arm.

In the years since, I have read as much about Clemente as possible. And while each article or book reinforced my belief that Clemente was both an incredible ballplayer and incredible human being, none of them seemed to satisfy the childhood fascination I had for him. I should have known, given the superhero aspects of the image in my head, that I needed a comic book. With his graphic novel, 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente, Wilfred Santiago delivered exactly what I’ve been waiting for.

Take, for instance, one of the book’s first pages:
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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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REVIEW: The House That Ruth Built

Author: Robert Weintraub

2011, Little, Brown and Company

Filed Under: Nonfiction, Historical.

Get a copy at Powell’s.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 7

Here’s a good reading choice for the start of the baseball season (although I can’t help think that I’m partially to blame for the Red Sox’s abysmal stumbling out the gate by reading a book about the Yankees’ first world series win. Oh well, at least we took 2 out of 3 in the NY series.). Ostensibly about the creation of Yankee Stadium, this is a book about a changing of the guard in baseball, when small ball National League play fell second-fiddle to the power-hitting American League. Weintraub writes like a Yanks fan, but I can’t begrudge him that, since the team is the star of his show. This is a fun and accessible book that takes a look at a just a few years in the long history of baseball.
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The Week’s Best Book Reviews 3/29/11

[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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Baseball in the Garden of Eden, by  John Thorn. Reviewed by Katherine A. Powers (Barnes and Noble Review).

I’m super-excited for baseball to start. Thursday can’t come fast enough. Here’s an history of baseball that looks to take an interesting twist:

Thorn, baseball’s most eminent historian, investigates the hanky-panky (in every sense) that lay behind baseball’s creation myth, and while doing so teases out the complicated tangle that was the game’s actual evolution.

I’m already re-watching Ken Burns’s “Baseball” this week. So this looks like a good addition to my reading list to keep up the festivities. Also, check out this post on baseball reading I did a few years back. Get a copy at Powell’s.

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Future Babble, by Dan Gardner. Reviewed by Kathryn Schulz (New York Times).

People want to know the future. Analysts and meteorologists and all kinds of other professions make calculated predictions that the majority of us consider to be at least somewhat reliable. Yet many of us see soothsayers and fortune tellers as hocus pocus. According to Gardner, mathematical models aren’t able to help predict the future with any more accuracy any more than an oracle can read bones. It’s an interesting topic, and the review is good. (I like Schulz’s observation: “To his credit, Gardner is a fox. His book, though, is somewhat hedgehoggy.”) Get a copy from Powell’s.

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The Red Garden, by Alice Hoffman. Reviewed by Valerie Miner (Los Angeles Times).

Hoffman is an excellent writer, so I have little doubt this book is good. As Miner describes it, it’s a really cool concept:

The Red Garden is a fantastical history of Blackwell, Mass., from 1750 to the present, replete with intermarried families, melancholic bears and altruistic mermaids. If you have trouble with bears and mermaids, this just isn’t your kind of book, for Alice Hoffman is a star in the burgeoning field of fairy-tale literary fiction.

The book is a collection of linked stories; sounds a lot like Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, or Alice Munro’s The Beggar Maid. Not bad company; this looks like a book to read. Get a copy from Powell’s.

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Briefly: PostSecret has an exhibit on faith. The NY Times writes up some baseball books.

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Bonus Book Trailer: Keeping up today’s theme

I Loved This Book When…, Part 2: The Natural, by Bernard Malamud

[A new entry in our "I Loved This Book When..." series will appear every Monday this summer. To keep up with this series or any other, check out the Special Features page.]

I loved Bernard Malamud’s The Natural when I hated reading books.

When I was young, before I was in school, my mother saw me “reading”—book open in front of me, finger tracing the words I pretended to read aloud. She thought it was cute, but something troubled her: my hand, while tracing the words across the page, was moving from right to left.

I’m dyslexic. Throughout my elementary years, I spent large chunks of the school day in a trailer behind the school, slowly learning how to make sense out of the jumbled mess of words I saw on the pages of books. The instructors played games with me that sharpened my concentration and perception, and improved my memory. They also spent a great deal of time reading to me, planting a love for stories that they hoped would eventually lead to a love of books.

For me, reading takes a lot of time and even more concentration. I have to put myself in a zone to read, have to shut myself off from any outside distractions. The words and their context have to be the only thing in my mind. And even when they are, even when my focus is pristine, I sometimes have to reread paragraphs or pages or chapters that don’t coalesce into something meaningful. As a middle school student, I wasn’t willing to put in that much effort.

But my love for stories was in full bloom before I ever even read a book in its entirety. What my instructors wanted me to find in books, I found in movies. The lessons of plot and character and dialog I was supposed to learn through red ferns and life on the Mississippi, became clear for me on the screen—through Jedi knights, and Ripley, and dinosaur experts who can’t stand children.
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Baseball Reading for Opening Day

baseball-bookendsWinter’s finally making its retreat, which means it time for baseball. The Phillies and the Braves kicked things off last night, and now Opening Day is finally here. This is always the first step towards summer for me. Soon I’ll be memorizing statistics that I’ll forget by November, and making excuses to watch afternoon games in bars when I should be productive.

Here’s a list of some great reading about our national pastime. These books are presented in no particular order, and there is sure to be plenty of great baseball reading I’ve missed. I’ve linked to the best ebook deal I could find when possible (also, it never hurts to go to the library). Feel free to add your own suggestions below.


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