Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Alison McGhee makes me cry, damn her

I'm 6'4", 270, have a black belt in karate, am working toward deadlifting 500 pounds and I cry when I read books. I can't help it. I'm a sensitive fellow. And it isn't all books that make me cry. And most of the time it isn't real crying, just that musty allergic reaction tear-welling "crying".

Bleeping Alison McGhee is the exception. Shadow Baby is the third book of hers I've read and I haven't made it through any of them without getting saline all over the pages. I love her and hate her.

She is a beautiful, beautiful writer. But good googly moogly she writes sad books with people dying and broken familial relationships and kids suffering. The crazy thing about this is that she writes books for little kids. I'm terrified to track one down.

I may not be wrong in my fears. Here's a part of the sole Amazon review for her children's book Bye-bye, Crib:

I bought this from a book club flyer that came home from school. The retro-looking illustrations looked cute, but when I actually read the text I was appalled! How is portraying a big bed as a monster or as a place where a toddler will freeze going to help with the transition from crib to bed?

I really like McGhee's writing. Less trauma would be nice. Shadow Baby is about an eleven-year old girl, Clara winter (her last name is not capitalized by her) who brings new definition to the word "precocious". She lives alone with her mother who keeps the identity of her father and grandfather from her for mysterious reasons. Her mother attends choir practices at the church once a week and one evening, Clara looks out the window of the church and sees an old man lighting lanterns in the woods so that skiers can see.

Clara decides that she will befriend the old man and do an oral history project on him for school. They become buddies and spend time together until the old man dies. The old man is not forthcoming with as much information about himself as Clara would like so she waves intricate stories about him as she does her father, grandfather and twin sister (whose existence may or may not be real as this, too, is kept from Clara by her mother).

Ultimately, Clara does discover the truths behind most everything. I'd tell you more but you should read an Alison McGhee book and this, I think, narrowly edges out Was it Beautiful?.

Speaking of books you should read, I'm changing around my ranking system. I'm finding myself having difficulties determining what the top ten books should be because there are lots of reasons why a book can be good (writing, story, uniqueness, characters, etc.) and I don't feel comfortable saying Book A's story and characters make it a better book than Book B which is a really unusual book with great writing. So I'm going with a simple system. Two stars is highly recommended. One star is recommended. A big X is don't bother.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Joshua Prince update (Pioneer League record)

Oh, man, am I digging Josh Prince. In his second professional game he stole not one, not two, not three, not four, not five but SIX, SIX!!!!! bases. This tied the Pioneer League record for stolen bases in a game. The league has only been around for seventy years so it's not like it was that big a deal.....SIX!!!!

For the second game in a row he led off for Helena and reached base on a throwing error. Prince then stole second and third, scoring on a ground out. Prince doubled in the third but was stranded on second. In the fifth he walked and stole second. He led off the seventh with another walk and another steal of second, scoring on a double. Finally, in the eighth, he singled then stole and third again.

He has played in six games now and has reached base in all of them. His nine steals leads the league. His teammate, Derrick McPhearson, is second in the league with four. His nine steals is more than any of the other seven teams in the league has.

In addition, he has been flawless in the field. For those of you who just watch major league baseball, you may think "no big deal". Rookie league ball can be painful to watch from a fielding standpoint. Heck, you really don't start seeing smooth fielding until you hit AA. Back in 1993, I saw a large portion of the Greensboro Hornets games and watched a teenaged Derek Jeter bobble his way to 56 errors.

So far Prince has been exciting to follow.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Potential favorite player and blog format change

Effective July 1, the proposed posting schedule of this blog will no longer be in effect. Not that it really matters since I wasn't following it too well anyway. I'm not sure what I'll be writing about at this time. I need to feel it out as I continue with the problems of everyday life.

It will include:
Book reviews - like I'll stop reading. Please.
Weekly media mix - I'm having fun with it and will keep up with it.

It will likely not include:
Baseball cards - My success rate with through the mail autographs is uninspiring to me so I may put the Group of 79(80) project on hold. None of the baseball sets strike me as something I want to spend money on, even if I had money to spend. I'm done with the NASCAR cards. It just isn't of interest to me right now. I had got up to six card blogs I was reading semi-regularly but now I'm back to just Cardboard Junkie and Thorzul Will Rule.

It will probably include:
My new potential favorite player - One of the things I've wanted to do is find a new player and team to root for. I've never been a diehard devotee of any team and as much as I like Adam Dunn, I've never liked him on the level I liked Dave Righetti.

Why do I want a player to root for? It's fun. It would be cool to start another collection similar to that I had of Righetti's cards. The more I thought about it the more I decided I wanted to root for someone just starting out. We just had the major league draft and there's a whole flock of players who are starting out in pro ball.

On Tuesday I was thinking about it some more. There were 1,521 players drafted. How to narrow it down? First there was the card/money issue. I can find Stephen Strasburg cards on eBay for $500. That ain't going to happen. Second there is the anti-bandwagon issue. I like to think of myself as a bit of a contrarian. As awesome as Strasburg is, who isn't excited about him, even if he is a National? When I was in high school I started fan clubs for Steve Lake and Chuck McElroy. Give me unheralded any day.

Third is the character issue. One of the great things about being a fan of Dave Righetti was/is the man was not going to let you down. Probably the worst behavior Rags ever showed was hurling a ball over the outfield fence at Skydome. He had surrendered a homer, he got the new ball, turned and hurled it in anger. As hard as it seems to be, I'd like to root for a good ballplayer and a good human being.

Fourth is the skill-set issue. I love pitchers but it is much more fun to be able to check a boxscore everyday and know your favorite player is going to be in it. No need to wait until his turn in the rotation comes up or wondering if there might be a save situation or how many days in a row he's pitched already.

Deciding I want to root for a position player, I decided he had to be the kind of player I admire. Speed. Defense.

That narrowed it down quite a bit. How to go about weeding such players out of the draft, though? Good fortune befell me in the form of an interview with the Milwaukee Brewers' third round pick, Josh Prince. Prince seems like just the kind of player I'm looking for. No contract haggling, concerned about playing in front of his family, extremely fast, proud of his defense.

So I'm thinking I might do something with Josh Prince here. He made his professional debut on Tuesday. Reached first on an error, stole second and scored the Brewers first run of the season in his first plate appearance. Later drew a walk but finished the night 0 for 5 with a pair of strikeouts. In the field he a put out and four assists.

Photo courtesy ESPN.com.

Beyond that, we'll see what strikes my fancy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Media mix of June 17th

Think I'm going to stick with Kelly's Media Mix.

[Listen] Do you now, or have you ever, listened to new-agey music with sound effects like waves crashing and birds singing? No need to be ashamed.

Oh yeah, back in the late 1980's, I loved it. I wasn't so much into the sound effect stuff as I was the synthesized. Yanni, Kitaro, John Tesh, Synergy, Peter Buffett, Ray Lynch. Those were the ones I liked. Also had some David Arkenstone. I forget now what all I had. If it was on the Narada or Windham Hill label, I probably had it.

[Watch] What is your favorite coming-of-age film?

Tough one. I'm not a big film guy and not a big coming-of-age guy, either. Maybe Rushmore.

[Read] Which writer, living or dead, would you like to hang out with for a day?

Wow. This is a tough one. Michael Chabon immediately comes to mind just because he seems like a neat person and has the Pittsburgh connection. The creator of these questions put down Haruki Murakami which is another good one although there would be communication issues. But if we can bring back dead authors, we can have translators, too. I think, though, if we're talking hanging out for a day and just having fun, mini-golfing or what have you, I'd have to go with Christopher Morley. I think we'd have a lot in common and he was definitely quirky enough to be fun to be around.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Some nice reading this week

Finished up a book this week that took almost a month to complete and also read two others. With classes having started up again, I may not be as prolific a reader so we'll see what the weeks ahead hold.

The long book was the best. I was not familiar with T.C. Boyle until I read How to Read Novels Like a Professor. Having read Boyle I have to wonder how I never heard of him. I've never read anyone who puts together words as well as he. I liken his writing to that of Michael Chabon in that he uses a wide variety of words and is incredibly descriptive. But where Chabon usually has me running for a dictionary, Boyle doesn't use the fifteen-cent words. As a result, it's just beautiful writing.

The Women is a novel about Frank Lloyd Wright and his four wives. The story is told by a Japanese man who apprenticed with Wright. It's like a biography of Wright told through the eyes of each of his wives. The book starts with the most recent wife and ends with the first wife so the end of each section overlaps with the beginning of the previous one. It's quite an interesting way to tell a tale, both through the semi-outsider narrator and the chronological overlaps.

Typically I hate historical fiction. I love non-fiction and don't like people taking liberties with "fact". That's the case here and one of the reasons I couldn't rank this book higher. I don't know how much of this is real. Part of that is my fault for not knowing more about Wright. But that is why I would read a non-fiction book, to find out more about him. Nonetheless, as long as I don't try to talk about Wright at a cocktail party, it doesn't really matter too much and the choice of Wright as the subject is a good one. He is familiar enough to make him a good selection for the center of the novel.

My other quarrel with this book is the length. I hesitated reading it because it was in excess of 450 pages. Given Boyle's writing style, there's no way to shorten it. For it's length, I never was left bored or feeling like a section should have been omitted. Everything was there for a reason and everything fit. It's just a well-done book. When I think about it, the word crafted comes to mind. To call this a well-written book doesn't do it enough justice. I'll read Boyle again, maybe this fall when I can hopefully commit some time to another one of his books.

My other two books involved returns of one sort or another. The Learners is in our system now and I requested it. I did not enjoy it near as much as I did The Cheese Monkeys. It was much darker. The main character has graduated from college and goes to work for an ad agency in New Haven, Connecticut. There's more graphic design lessons but it seems more forced. Probably the most interesting aspect of the book is the accurate portrayal of Dr. Stanley Milgram's "obedience" experiments. That was pretty fascinating and is an interesting depiction of the form/content aspects that make up the core of the design concepts in the book. The book was just too dark for my tastes, though, especially after The Cheese Monkeys.

It got me thinking, though. I have a hard time coming up with a second book by an author whom I have read immediately after a first book where the second book lived up to the first. I think I should let time pass before diving in.

The last book I read was a re-read with a purpose. Cork Boat is a book by a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton which is about a lifelong quest by the author to build a boat made out of wine corks. I wanted to read it for inspiration and also because I knew it was a quick read which I could knock out in a day or two. It's a great story. As a young lad, Pollack, the author, collects corks with the dream of one day building a boat. He grows up, enters the workforce, becomes disenchanted and burned out, and decides to try and make the boat a reality.

One of the things I enjoy most about it is that Pollack has a tremendous support system. The amount of people who help him along the way is vast and it's nice to see someone with that kind of support for their project, especially given how out of the ordinary it is. I definitely recommend it for anyone who has a dream that has been on hold.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Craig Brazell - At bat of pain and pleasure

First the right leg, then the left leg, then the crotch, then......

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Media mix

One of the things I enjoyed doing with previous blogs was doing one of those Q&A memes where someone would come up with a bunch of questions that you were to answer in your blog. I liked them because it was sort of like a writing prompt. Here's the topic, go and write. People have different ideas about the usefulness of writing prompts. Some think that good writers don't need them, that they should be writing about whatever it is that they want to be writing. Others (like me) find it to be a useful spark when you aren't writing.

One of the most popular meme blogs was the Friday Five. It had a large following but then the creator quit and no one was able to keep it alive. Many others have similar blogs but I hadn't seen one that really interested me.

Back in April, I stumbled across one that does a Wednesday meme called Media Mix. The blogger proceeded to then skip two out of three weeks which made me question the whole idea but she's been pretty consistent since. The concept is three questions related to media, one you listen to, one you watch, one combined.

I tend to write my posts earlier than the day they appear on this blog so this is actually the meme from June 10th.

[Listen] What are some of your favorite film soundtracks?

Red Violin - Joshua Bell does a fantastic job performing the John Corigliano work. Great composer/performer mix.

The Saint - One of my favorite movies. I have both the soundtrack and score. Both are equally good for different reasons. The score has some beautiful pieces. The soundtrack has Duran Duran, Sneaker Pimps and Bowie among others.

Brotherhood of the Wolf - This is one of my favorite sleeper movies in every which way. It's a French film. It combines about every possible genre into a single film and somehow manages it to pull it off. It has a zillion characters and there's enough interesting about each one of them that you could probably take any of them and build an entire movie around them. The soundtrack similarly is a mix of styles, tempos and instrumentation. It is done by Joseph LoDuca who has done the work for a lot of Sam Raimi shows and movies (Xena, Hercules, Evil Dead, Army of Darkness, etc.). Great soundtrack.

Passion - That's the album title. Peter Gabriel did the music for The Last Temptation of Christ which is this album. He also put out an album called Passion Sources that I also have that contains traditional Middle Eastern music that inspired the work he did on the soundtrack.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - I actually bought the soundtrack before the movie was released. Another awesome composer/performer combination. Tan Dun and Yo-Yo Ma.

[Watch] Did you see the TONY awards? Had you seen any Broadway shows over the past year (or shows that began on Broadway but traveled to other cities)?

I've only ever seen one Broadway show on Broadway and that was The Scarlet Pimpernel. Never watch award shows.

[Read] In what ways has technology hindered your reading/writing styles, and in what ways has it enhanced them?

I love to read certain things online, especially design. Shorter pieces, items with pictures/graphics. These are good fits for online reading. I also like that you can read about all sorts of topics with ease at any time thanks to the internet. That's the good side of technology and reading.

One of the struggles I had with my first semester of library science was that most of the readings were online and were text-intensive. I can't read 20 pages in Adobe Acrobat. It just doesn't work for me and I have an issue with printing out online material. It seems wasteful. My next semester starts next week and something has to break in that regard.

As far as writing, I prefer to type to writing. I haven't kept a written journal in ages and being left-handed, I no longer suffer from having ink smeared along the side of my hand after writing missives like this. You also can't link to YouTube in a written journal.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Book by Chip Kidd

I was a little concerned I wasn't going to complete a book for this week, the first time it would have happened since I started this blog. I'm in the middle of two long ones and had just started a third and had been crushed by my schoolwork. Then, on Thursday, I received Chip Kidd's The Cheese Monkeys at work. I had put in a request for it and it had been out a while but lo and behold, it was finally returned.

Chip Kidd is most noted for his work in designing book covers. He's a bit more than that, though, as he has branched out into editing, music, writing. If it's creative he seems to do it. Check out this "trailer" for the sequel to The Cheese Monkeys, The Learners.

or his music video:

As you might know as I have said it before (although whether I have said it here, I don't know), I read a lot about design. It fascinates me. Kidd's book covers are just great. He has a knack for capturing the essence of a book. When browsing his website for this post, I realized I've read at least half a dozen books whose cover he has designed (only a selection of his jackets are on his site), all of them I have enjoyed. Might be a good way to start a reading list.

I don't remember why exactly I decided to request The Cheese Monkeys now, but I'm glad I did. I was completely spent after wrapping up my coursework for the semester (I finished the project for my last of three classes Wednesday night) and when I got home after work, and with the house quiet since the boowahs weren't home, I flopped down in a chair and started reading. Couldn't put it down. Wrapped it up Friday morning.

The physical book itself is amazing. I had signed out the book and put it on a shelf at work. I looked up at it later and saw grey smudges on the edges of the book. Did a double-take and realized that the phrase "Good is Dead" was printed blurrily on the edge of the book. As you read the book, the smudges on the edges of the text become clearer. The "Good is Dead" phrase becomes readable looking at it one way. If you look at it from a different direction it says "Do you see?". Neat effect. The font and text layout are nice, too. Interestingly, the font changes midway in the book, I believe when the main character starts pursuing graphic design.

And that's what the book is about; graphic design. It's a novel about a kid in the fifties who discovers the field of graphic design through his studies in college. The story actually provides a number of lessons on design and in itself is fascinating as a bit of an instructional. Even without graphics, the explanations and written depictions are done well enough that you can visualize the various works the characters create. For a design primer, it's a fun way to learn. The story, though, is really good, too. It's downright hysterical. The characters are quirky yet believable. The book is broken out like a course syllabus which works nicely to move the story along.

I always have to complain about something, though, with my book reviews. My only possible complaint about this novel is that Kidd loves him his similes and metaphors. I noticed it more in the beginning. I think that as the book progresses, it falls into place with the narrator/main character's personality and become less noticeable. It wouldn't be an issue except some of them seem a little too forced.

The Learners isn't in our library system yet but I'll definitely be reading it.

Wrap this up with an interview with Kidd:

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

You probably won't want to read one of these

Read two books this past week. The one was really great but probably won't be of much interest to most people. Herbert Landau's The Small Public Library Survival Guide is just that. All sort of tips on how to make a small library profitable. Landau has a lot of really great ideas and I highly recommend it for anyone who works in a small library or thinks they might one day.

The other book I read was OK. Fair Warning was another art related book recommended by Access PA. It sputtered early but finished somewhat strongly. I had three issues with it, all which might just be related to me. First, I really don't like female main characters in books written by guys. It seems every time I come across this situation in a book, the woman is sex-crazed. In a book like Jay McInerney's Story of My Life, where the main character indulges in just about everything, in part because she's a spoiled 20-year old, it makes sense. When the main character is a 40-something year old auctioneer working for a rival of Sotheby's, I find it harder to swallow.

This leads to issue two. When it comes to women, I lean towards Victorian behavior. Women dropping F-bombs bugs the heck out of me. It isn't ladylike. If you want to do so in a moment of passion with me, OK. But you don't need to be doing it in conversation. I guess I expect a character who is at the height of her profession, in a field that is all about culture, to not be profaning and thinking about sex with her clients.

Issue three. The auctioneer is auctioned off and rather than be won by one of a pair of suitors, she outbids both with an imaginary book bid. Seriously? Has anyone ever come across an auction of people? You see them in movies and TV for eligible bachelors and crap but isn't that what slavery was all about? Well, now that I think about it, you do have charity auctions for dinner with a movie star or a day with an athlete or such, so maybe it wasn't as far-fetched as it came across. But given that the owner of the auction house opted to have such an auction because a new client requested it....again, seriously?

The book in a nutshell, though, is this successful auctioneer has a mid-life crisis. There's really not a whole lot more to it than that. The author writes pretty well, my gender issues aside, and he did win a Pulitzer for his short stories in 1993. There are some redeeming qualities in this story. The auction background was nice but that's two "art-related" books Access PA recommended that really have little to do with art.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Refreshing College World Series

The final eight teams of the College World Series are almost set and I'm glad to see that there will be eight schools from eight different states, even if one of them is a Texas school and another is the wrong Mississippi school. Arkansas, Louisiana State, California State - Fullerton, North Carolina, Virginia, Arizona State, Souther Mississippi and either Texas or Texas Christian.

As much as I like the College World Series, the preliminary rounds are about as useful as the Women's Basketball Tournament preliminaries. Assuming Texas wins tonight, the top five seeds will be among the eight teams in the final. Southern Miss, Virginia and Arkansas are the "Cinderella" teams. Virginia and Arkansas were the number two seeds in their initial brackets while Southern Miss was a three seed.

13 of the 16 teams to reach the Super Regionals were the top seeds in their region. The other three are obviously the trio named above. So for all the games that are played, the dominant teams during the regular season have continued their dominance into the World Series.

Since every round is double elimination, the most losses any team could incur and still be in the College World Series is two; one in the Regionals and one in the Super Regionals. No one has done that. Only Virginia, Southern Miss and the Texas entry have lost a single game. The other five teams are a perfect 5-0.

You also have the major league draft beginning today. I've always liked the timing of it because for a lot of fans, this is their first chance to watch the new prospects for their team. That being said, Carolina's Dustin Ackley and Alex White and Mike Leake from Arizona State will likely be the only first round picks in the World Series. A bunch of guys will end up being drafted, though, who will be on the field in Omaha, so take a gander if you get a chance.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Wrapping up the NASCAR breaks

I continue to avoid a project for one of my classes. Needs to get done. Thought I'd get the last of my NASCAR cards opened, though. I was babbling and had to break it into two videos.

This is probably it for me and this set. I got nine new cards (counting the Cup Chase) out of 42. It's just not worth continuing at this point. Target only has loose packs now which doesn't help much.

8 of 36 NSCS Drivers
3 of 12 NNS Drivers (+1 double)
1 of 6 NCTS Drivers
2 of 12 Built for Speed
5 of 12 Nascar Scene
3 of 8 Looking Forward
1 of 11 Tony Stewart - 10 Year Retrospective
1 of 9 Joey Logano - Through the Years
3 of 12 Top 12

7 blue parallels - 2 NSCS, 1 NNS, 1 Scene, 1 Stewart, 1 Logano, 1 Top 12
4 Freeze Frames
1 Trading Paint
1 Unleashed
1 Cup Chase
and two Target cards

Total cards:
24 of 36 NSCS Drivers
8 of 12 NNS Drivers
3 of 6 NCTS Drivers
11 of 12 Built for Speed
11 of 12 Nascar Scene
6 of 8 Looking Forward
9 of 11 Tony Stewart - 10 Year Retrospective
4 of 9 Joey Logano - Through the Years
9 of 12 Top 12

17 of 36 Freeze Frames
5 of 12 Unleashed
5 of 9 Trading Paints
38 Blue parallels of 120

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Belmont Picks

Same drill as before.

10. Miner's Escape PP9, 99-1, 15-1
I don't know how you make this horse 15-1. Never has run in a graded stakes. I can only assume that the morning handicapper was getting confused with Mine That Bird or something. I think it's interesting that this horse made its debut at Saratoga Springs last August with Charitable Man (more on him in a moment). Miner's Escape finished 28 lengths behind Charitable Man and took until this past March to win his first race. Yeah, 15-1. Please.

9. Mr. Hot Stuff PP3, 27-1, 15-1
I commented before the Derby how I wish Corey Nakatani was taking the mount on Mr. Hot Stuff. Edgar Prado rode him instead. Prado is riding him again. Had a couple nice workouts recently but I think he's overmatched.

8. Summer Bird PP4, 18-1, 12-1
Kent Desormeaux will get the ride for the first time. Summer Bird is a nice horse. This is a field full of horses who like to come from behind and I don't think Summer Bird is up to par.

7. Luv Gov PP5, 16-1, 20-1
I mocked Luv Gov's appearance in the Preakness but he ran a good race. Finished 8th and a good way back but with Miguel Mena, the only jockey to win a race (out of 11 tries) on this horse, I'd be putting Luv Gov in the bottom of trifectas.

6. Dunkirk PP2, 12-1, 4-1
My favorite in the Derby and now I have him all the way back here? Prado and Gomez, both of whom have won on him, are riding other horses. Never a good sign. Ugly workout on Sunday. Too few performances to outright get rid of the awful Derby performance, even with the weather conditions. Not going to get paid for the unknowns so why risk it?

5. Chocolate Candy PP1, 11-1, 10-1
I have him 5th but I'll be betting him. I like the whole setup. I think this distance and pace will be comfortable for him and you can't say that for many horses. I like Garrett Gomez being his jockey. I like the post position. I like the time off and the workout structure during that time. Only thing I don't like is the lack of a breakout performance indicating Triple Crown ability. I think this could be that race.

4. Flying Private PP8, 10-1, 12-1
Everything I said above, reverse for Flying Private. You know from the previous races how little I think of this horse. He had a strong run in the Preakness but still fell way short. He and Mine That Bird are the only ones running all three Triple Crown Races. That's tough. Being a poor field, I think you have to have him in the exotics but there's no way I'm betting him to win.

3. Brave Victory, PP10, 10-1, 15-1
Nick Zito has trained 20 horses that have run in the Belmont Stakes. 11 of them have finished in the money. Consistent performer but hasn't raced in higher stakes (not that many of these horses qualify). If you're a believer in Nick Zito (I am), you should take a flyer on Brave Victory. Probably the best return/risk ratio you'll get.

2. Mine That Bird, PP7, 7-2, 2-1
This race is really interesting. My math models do not agree with my personal analysis. It has to do with the fact the Belmont is so freaking long. It takes a special horse to be able to run a mile and a half. It takes an even more special horse to do it after having run the Derby and Preakness not too long before. Then to ask the same horse to try and win the Belmont? Is Mine That Bird a special horse? I don't think so. My models do. He's not 2-1 in my mind. He's due for a regressive performance.

1. Charitable Man, PP6, 5-2, 3-1
This is the race his connections have had on their minds since April. He'll set the pace and I don't think any horse other than Chocolate Candy will be happy with it over this distance.

If I play the exotics it will be Chocolate Candy to win, Charitable Man and Dunkirk to place, those two, Luv Gov, Mine That Bird, Brave Victory and Flying Private to show. That's a $20 trifecta bet if you want to bet them all equally. I could put Brave Victory in the second slot as well, maybe.

Charitable Man is the horse to beat, though. So if you want the high probability bet, take him.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Reading a book on how to read a book

I know the idea sounds a little wacky, especially for a veteran reader like myself, to read a book on how to read a book but I often feel that I miss a lot of symbolism and stuff when I read fiction. I tend to think that it is because I read fiction to enjoy myself and I don't want to be thinking overly hard. Then again, I might just be a dummy. Regardless, I thought it might be good to learn from a professor, those same folks who force(d) us to look for that same symbolism and ruin some good books along the way.

I came across this book in this post by Keith Law. Well, the predecessor to this book. Foster initially wrote How to Read Literature Like A Professor and then followed it up with this one, Hoe to Read Novels Like a Professor. In one of those nice fortuitous moments, I had started to read this book, was enjoying it, when a library patron came in and donated three books to the library. One was Foster's How to Read Literature. Another was one of my favorites, Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. The third was some literary criticism thing which did find its way to the donation stack (don't worry, I made financial contributions for the books I took). So I do have the prequel if I find myself wanting to read it some day.

I probably will. I enjoyed this book a lot. I'm not entirely clear on what differentiates novels and literature in Foster's mind since so many of his references are considered great literature (Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Dickens, Austen, Nabokov). He throws some other names in their as well but if he had titled this was one How tor Read Literature, I don't think anyone would have noticed.

The book is surprisingly entertaining and not really scholarly in the least. My only complaint is that he drags on certain topics for multiple chapters and repeats some stuff. Well, two more complaints. One, it didn't help me with symbolism at all. It did help me come to grips with my perceived inability. Foster talks about how a book is really a combination of the writer and the reader. Once a book is completed, it's really out of the writer's hands as to how it is perceived and interpreted. Each individual reader will interpret it through the lens of their own understanding, their previous readings of other works (Foster spends a lot of time talking about historic influences on writing and reading), etc. So I may think that To Kill a Mockingbird is about bird hunting and there's nothing wrong with that. That's my interpretation. I might not do too well on an English test with that interpretation but so be it. Harper Lee did what she could and maybe didn't expect a reader as obtuse as the one I'm exemplifying (I know it's not about bird hunting. It's a microcosm of the war of 1812).

My final complaint is that Foster mentions a lot of books and in the end he says, "Since this book you've just finished is a giant reading list, I thought it redundant to plaster the same names in my back pages". Redundant is not the word I would have used. Helpful is. He does list several pages of other books on literary criticism but given the number and variety of books he mentions throughout the pages, a reference list would have been very nice.

Foster's book was humbling in that, despite my feeling like I read a lot, there's so many writers (great ones), that I have yet to read. Based on his repeated mentions of him, I recently started a book by T.C. Boyle and am loving it.

If you are a serious reader, you really ought to check this book out. Even if you don't learn a whole lot, I guarantee you'll learn something and will have a greater appreciation of what you do read.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Remember the Aigles

Remember the Trois Rivieres Aigles? Me neither. They were a Cincinnati Reds farm club from 1971-1977. I came across them while I was answering a question I asked myself. The question was, "Who had the best minor league season the year I was born (1971)"?

There are a lot of good candidates.

Richie Scheinblum, Denver. Scheinblum spent several weeks on the Washington Senators roster and thus, barely qualified for the American Association batting title. He played in just 106 of Denver's 140 games. Despite missing so many games, he led the league in doubles (31), triples (10), batting average (.388), and total bases (271). His 25 homers were second in the league.

Wayne Garland, Dallas-Fort Worth. 19-5 with a 1.71 ERA, 20 complete games in 25 starts, six shutouts.

James Fuller, Miami. .326 batting average, third in the Florida State League. Led the league in runs (105), hits (159), doubles (28), and RBI (110). Most notably, he led the league in home runs with 33. This exceeded the team total of two of the teams in the league. The guy who was second in the league in homers hit fifteen.

Jorge Orta, San Luis Potosi. Qualifying for the Mexican Center League batting title by just five plate appearances, Orta hit .423 on the season.

There were others, too, but as I was looking and reading, I kept marveling at the players on the Trois Rivieres Aigles. On the batting side, you had future major leaguer Gene Locklear. Locklear led the league in batting with a .323 batting average (the only player in the Eastern League to top .300). He stole 22 bases and was only caught three times.

In a league where only one player hit .300, you have to figure there were some good pitching performances. The Aigles had a lot of them.

John Jackson, the Aigles' #2 starter, was 10-5 with a 2.89 ERA. Sounds impressive but the team ERA was 2.72. Jackson did throw the second of the Aigles' no-hitters that season.

Yes, multiple no-hitters. Mickey Pless, whose control problems plagued him all season long (85 walks in 110 innings), threw the first no-hitter of the season for Trois Rivieres. Like Jackson's it was a seven inning game.

Two isn't the number of no-hitters Trois Rivieres threw, though. Four is.

The other two came primarily from the arm of 19-year old Mike Ruddell. Ruddell threw an 11-inning no-hitter against Pawtucket on June 18th, four days after Jackson had no-hit Quebec City. At the end of July, he combined with reliever Steve Blateric on a seven inning no-hitter against Elmira. Four no-hitters against four different teams. Not too shabby.

Ruddell's season was not too shabby either. Interestingly, his only shutout came in his no-hitter against Pawtucket. He went 12-6 on the season with a 2.52 ERA and led the league with 186 strikeouts in 168 innings.

Well that's interesting. Turns out Ruddell's first no-hitter wasn't really a no-hitter. He had a perfect game through eight, a batter reached base on an error in the ninth, but then he surrendered a double to Cecil Cooper in the tenth. Always good to fact check your facts.

The amazing thing about the Aigles, though, is that their bullpen was better than their rotation. The save rule was created in 1969. You can see from my mention of Wayne Garland's 20 complete games that relief specialists weren't really in existence yet.

Trois Rivieres was cutting edge. Blateric combined on Ruddell's no-hitter, but he also started two games, completing both. Amazingly, he led the league in both wins (14) and saves (15). The 27 year-old veteran dominated all season long. In 111 innings he allowed just 68 hits and 40 walks. He struck out 121 and had a 1.46 ERA.

Mike Johnson was also tough out of the pen. He won ten games and saved 12 with a 1.83 ERA.

Even the part-timers got in the action. Thor Skogan, who hammered Carolina League batters in the first part of the season as a reliever (65 K in 58 innings), joined the Aigles and was made a starter. He won 8 of his eleven starts and led the team with three shutouts.

The Aigles, in their first season, led the Eastern League in attendance and victories as they cruised their way to the lead of the National Division. They were handled by the Elmira Royals in the playoffs, though, losing the best of five series three games to one, a tendency that would plague the Aigles throughout their short lifespan.

Locklear, as mentioned, went on to have a modest major league career, mostly with the San Diego Padres. many of his teammates also had some major league exposure.

Blateric got a call up to the Reds but only appeared in two games. He pitched in three more major league games with the Yankees and Angels.

Bill Harrelson, who started a few games for Trois Rivieres, had reached the majors at age 22 with the Angels. 1971 would be his last season in professional baseball.

Mike Johnson was traded with Locklear to the Padres and spent a season in relief for the Padres.

Shortstop Jack Lind, who hit .172 with no home runs for Trois Rivieres and had a career .210 batting average and six homers through his first seven minor league seasons, would parlay a .293 batting average with 18 homers in 1974 into a couple of visits to the majors with the Brewers.

Tom Robson, the best hitter on the team in 1971 behind Locklear, (.274(7th in the league)/16/72) would have a couple cups of coffee with the Texas Rangers.

Outfielder Tom Spencer played a season with the Chicago White Sox.

The two Aigles players who had the most major league success barely impacted Trois Rivieres. After hitting .342 in the Florida State League, Ken Griffey got promoted to Trois Rivieres. In nine games with the Aigles, he had 13 hits in 32 at bats (For a Ted Williamsian .406 average). Two years later he would begin a 19 year major league career and would become Ken Griffey, Sr. after giving birth to his even more successful son, Jr.

Rawly Eastwick threw 37 innings for the Aigles with an ugly 5.35 ERA. There was little to suggest that he would be the closer three years later for the Big Red Machine.

We'll see. I think the Aigles are sort of interesting. May explore more about them in upcoming days/weeks.