Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A kid book and a baseball book

It was really slow on Thursday at work and I was browsing the new fiction (I needed a break from repairing children's board books which is what I had been doing during the lack of patron attendance). I came across the book The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart and picked it up. I read the back cover and laughed. I read the left dustjacket flap and laughed some more. So I signed it out and took it home.

Started reading it (it's a miracle I finish any books because I do crap like this. I'm already in the middle of three books (not to mention my readings for school) and I go and sign another book out) and thought, "This should probably be a Young Adult book". Look at the spine and there's a young adult sticker. Oh well. I'm digging the book and I keep reading it. I couldn't put it down and eventually just went ahead and finished it.

The book is about a teenage girl who attends a boarding school in Massachusetts. Her father had gone there when it was an all-male school and was part of a secret society called The Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, who use and maintain their Old Boy network connections well into adulthood. The girl, the Frankie of the title, discovers that the secret society still exists but is still exclusively male and has become pretty lame over the years. Frankie finds a way to take control of the group and restore the image of the Basset Hounds.

I have a hard time writing reviews. I don't want to tell you the story. You should read it. It's a good look at the trials and tribulations of teenagers. The boarding school setting is nice in that it has a collegiate feel about it but isn't as mature as a college setting would be. I had started to subscribe to the Bill Simmons (an ESPN writer) theory that losing your virginity before college wasn't a big thing anymore, whether or not you had been in a threesome was. Media will do that to you.

It's also about the importance of not underestimating people, especially on the basis of gender. I really liked it and I admit I had underestimated how good young adult writing can be.

Adult writing can be pretty good, too. Especially that of Bill James. His Gold Mine book is sort of a 21st century Bill James Abstract in that it is organized by team, contains all sorts of unusual stats, and some good essays. It differs in that there are a lot of prose blurbs rather than essays for each team. I find that good and bad. I like James's writing and enjoy reading his essays. The blurbs are fun but I'd rather see more indepth pieces.

The structure of the book really prevents it from being something you read to cover to cover. I did it anyway. I don't think the editors of the book did. The book is rife with misprints but my favorite error(s) involve "Houdinis", a term James uses for a pitcher who loads the bases but then gets out of the inning without allowing any runs. Check out these citations:

p. 79 - "Six times last year, Indians opponents performed a Houdini...That level of failed promise led the majors - the Rockies and the Giants each did it five times".
p. 92 - "The Rockies pray that they don't get fooled again...They fell for the Houdini trick more than all but one other National League team. The opposition magician left the Rockies gasping six times, tying them with the Giants".

Stuff like this really bugs me in quantitative and/or reference works. It leads to the whole work being cast in doubt. If you can't tell me with certainty that a particular event happened five or six times, why should I believe that Ricky Nolasco allowed 4 of 42 batters he walked to score. Maybe it was six. Maybe he walked 44 guys. You say it was the lowest percentage in the league, but was it?

I realize that it is impossible to have a book of such magnitude error free (I know that Going for the Fences, the book I edited, is bound to have some mistakes). There's so much room for error, from collection of the data, to entering it, to publishing it. Lots of numbers and lots of ways to make mistakes. It's just painful to have them be so obvious. I still enjoyed the book immensely and will likely get the 2010 edition when it comes out next year.

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