Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Survival of the Bark Canoe

Published in 1982, this a story of a New Hampshire man, Henri Vaillancourt, who has kept alive the Indian tradition of making canoes from birch bark. Despite being written over a quarter century ago, Vaillancourt is alive and kicking and still making bark canoes.

The author, John McPhee, spends the beginning of the book talking about the canoes, Vaillancourt, and the history of the bark canoe. The latter half of the book is about a canoe trip the pair take with some friends of Vaillancourt's using bark canoes.

I think anyone who enjoys the outdoors will appreciate and enjoy this book. Vaillancourt, like many people who have a narrowly focused interest, comes across at times as shallow and unlikeable. McPhee does allow Vaillancourt's passion to shine through and although McPhee does seem like a bit of a fanboy at times, bashing modern canoes (despite Vaillancourt not behaving in a similar manner), it's still a well-written book that made me long to grab a paddle and hit the water.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Never Let Me Go

I really liked this book and I'm not sure why. The characters are not well-developed. The plot leaves a lot to be desired. Ishiguro is a bit gimmicky in how he gets the reader to keep wanting to progress through the book. Ultimately, though, it works. Ishiguro is a really good writer and despite knowing how he's making me want to read on, I did very much want to read on.

The unfortunate part of this book is that I can't really tell anything about the story without telling the story and ruining it. It takes place in Britain although for some reason (maybe because of Ishiguro's heritage?) I pictured the characters as Asian. There is very little in the way of physical description of the characters which enabled me to envision them as I wanted. It follows some children in a special boarding school and their relationships.

As much as I don't like reading books with messages or hidden meanings, this definitely had some political/religious connotations. Or at least I could parallel the story with some issues.

Haruki Murakami called this the best book of the last fifty years but he's too kind. This doesn't measure up to anything Murakami has written. I liked it enough to give it one star, though, and it is a very quick read because of Ishiguro's ability to force you on.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Toy Story 3

A whole bunch of interns (I think half of us) went to see Toy Story the night it opened here in Oneonta. Good flick. Andy is all growns up and is heading off to college. His Mom, in an apparent hurry to move his sister into Andy's room so she can have a sewing room, is having Andy pack up everything he owns to take to college, put it in the attic, or get rid of it.

Andy is much too old for Woody, Buzz and the gang but he has fond memories so he bags them up to put in the attic. Mom mistakes the bag for garbage and the toys are off across town.

They escape and end up in a daycare which looks like a dream come true. Lots of kids who want to play with them. No more lounging around in a toybox for years on end. Woody, though, loyal to the end, wants to return to Andy.

Adventures ensue. The movie was in 3D which may be the first I watched since I wet my pants when I was six watching Creature from the Black Lagoon. It wasn't that I was scared. My elementary school showed it after school but wouldn't let anyone use the restroom. I gave up on the movie to try and make it home to use the bathroom (I walked to school) but didn't quite get there. I don't think this is the reason I haven't seen any 3D movies since but I had no bladder troubles. Just thought I'd share.

This is the darkest of the three Toy Story movies by far. So much so that I would question bringing little kids. It was an excellent movie. It felt very new. They could have rehashed jokes or relied on references to the earlier movies but references were limited. It's fresh and there were some who went with us who had not seen the previous Toy Story flicks but still enjoyed this one.

Definitely go out and see it. I'm not for movies in theatres but I think this is a must see on the big screen.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Nabokov's Butterfly

I really enjoyed this book. Book collecting is an area of collecting that has its differences from other types of collecting. Rick Gekoski explores the reasons that certain editions of famous authors are highly sought after and offers a unique look into the realm of high-end book collecting.

Gekoski deals in high-end books. Although Gekoski was born in St. Louis, he went to school, worked and lives in England. This in itself provides a different perspective to collecting. Mostly, though, it is the fact that Gekoski has established himself as a friend to many authors, even publishing limited edition tomes of their works through two presses he started himself, that sets him apart. The books you read about aren't ones that most people are going to try and acquire. They are too rare, too unique, and too expensive. Just as many of us are fascinated by those more famous or well-to-do, this book appeals to those who appreciate the existence of these books, even if acquisition is difficult.

Gekoski looks at books by famous authors such as Tolkien, Nabokov, Golding, Joyce, Toole and on and on. Some of the books are well-known ones, others are more obscure. Every one of them is fascinating, though. Gekoski tells why these books are sought after and what makes them worthwhile. In some cases he talks about his own personal encounters with these books.

The downside to this book is threefold. One, there is a lack of humility on Gekoski's part. He's not quite arrogant but the smugness that he is in an exalted position in the bookselling world definitely comes across. Two, you really have to appreciate books to like this book. Ed Rendell isn't going to like this. Kindle users probably won't appreciate it. You don't necessarily have to collect books, but you do need to appreciate them.

The last downside is bit humorous to me. Nabokov's Butterfly is the American edition of the book Tolkien's Gown which was printed in England. In the book, Gekoski complains about poor editing. He has two presses, it makes sense. All except for the fact that the introduction was not corrected when Nabokov's Butterfly was released. The introduction talks about Tolkien's Gown. Oops. That's not going to knock my appreciation of the book down, really, but I thought it was funny that Mr. Smug Editor erred on the very first few pages.

If you like books, though, check this one out. It's a fun and informative book.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hall of Fame Classic

I've wanted to try and get a post up here but there hasn't been too much to say. For the past two weeks I've been working pretty steadily doing assorted research at the Giamatti Research Center at the Hall of Fame. Steadily and hard. So much so that my attempt to track the research I do has flopped. There's just been too much. Add a group project and an individual project plus an occasional seminar or two (and artifact spotlight presentation preparation) and there has been an awful lot.

We just got back a little while ago from our second big event of the summer, the Hall of Fame Classic. Up until last year, there was a Hall of Fame game played at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. This was an exhibition between two major league teams. Presumably (I've not heard an actual story) the travel was too much to ask of two major league teams in the middle of the season just to play an exhibition game. Thus, the Classic Weekend was born.

I had to work the Classic Weekend and I have to say, it is a nice family oriented event. For me, it began Saturday with Doubleday Field being open for people to come out and play catch. Being the day before Father's Day we had a lot of fathers and sons of various ages out throwing. Great Field of Dreams moments. My favorite was an older man (70+) who had had a lung removed years ago and had not played catch in 25 years.

In the afternoon, there was a skills clinic for kids with former big league players. I and another intern were in charge of the seven year olds of which we had eighteen. All totaled, I think there were about 130 kids and they cycled through eight stations.

In the first station, Dennis Rasmussen taught the kids how to throw the four seam fastball and Dickie Noles caught the kids. Station two had one of my favorite instructors, Mark Whiten, teaching kids how to field the outfield position. Whiten was a last minute substitute for Jay Johnstone and I thought Whiten did a great job. He kept the kids interest and taught them some things.

Our third station has Paul Blair give some tips on hitting. Given the ize of the groups, the kids couldn't hit so it wasn't as useful as one would hope. Station three had two old-timers, Jon Warden and a gentleman whose name I forget (ironic in that I easily committed the names of my 18 seven-year-olds to memory (I'm really good with names)) taught bunting. They bemoaned how it wasn't taught well now, if at all.

Tony Saunders and Rich Surhoff did some pitching instruction at the next station. My other favorite station was the infield instruction. John Doherty and Steve Cambria did that and they were great with the kids. I've been in New York for three weeks now and Doherty has the biggest, boldest, brashest New York accent of anyone I've encountered. He was born in the Bronx so that makes sense.

Drew Marino, a former Mets coach, talked about how important the position of catcher is and then Steve Grilli wrapped it up with baserunning instruction. The kids seemed to have a good time and I think a few picked up some useful tips.

Today was the Classic itself, a sort of pickup game between former players. You had Team Feller against Team Killebrew with Bob Feller and Harmon Killebrew "managing" the two teams. Everyone loves Bob Feller. The only player who may have received more applause was Ozzie Smith.

Before the game there was a parade through Cooperstown and then a Home Run Derby took place at Doubleday Field. Bill Madlock, Kevin Bass, Mark Whiten and defending champ Jeff Kent were the competitors. Kent was obviously the favorite as he is not too long retired and was quite the slugger. Whiten and Kent moved on after the first round but Whiten surprisingly took the title.

The game itself was a blast. You had old-timers and semi-recent retirees. Plus, there were four players from the Military All-Stars, a team comprised of military players who have to actually try out for the squad and who then participate in exhibitions all over the place.

It is a lot of fun and few of the players take it seriously. In the first inning, Ozzie Smith hit a grounder to first. Phil Niekro, who was pitching, tried to cover the bag. That would have been tough back in the day. As it was, the 71 year old Niekro was about three steps behind Ozzie getting to first.

Team Feller crushed Team Killebrew 9-0. Mark Whiten was player of the game with two home runs. Military All-Star Robby Hisert added one of his own. One of my all-time favorites, Dave Fleming, former pitcher for the Seattle Mariners, played in right field and pitched an inning. He also laced a double down the rightfield line. Go Dave!

The second basemen were a treat to watch. Jeff Kent did a running over the shoulder basket catch, ala Willie Mays. Tim McIntosh made a nice play behind second, just getting to the ball, flipping it with the glove to Desi Relaford who turned the deuce. By far the best play was a play you will never see in a major league game because it is illegal. The Hall has video but you can't see it well.

Jeff Kent blooped a ball into shallow right-center. McIntosh turned to give chase, saw that he wasn't going to get to the ball, and threw his glove at the ball. The glove hit the ball, the ball shot straight into the air and McIntosh caught it with his bare hands when it came down.

There were seven Hall of Famers involved with the game. Niekro, Feller, Killebrew, Smith, Gary Carter, Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage.

That's it for me with the weekend events until Induction Weekend. The Hall does a great job putting on events and if you get a chance, the Classic is a great opportunity to enjoy a special event without the insanely gigantic crowds and hotel prices of Induction Weekend.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Enjoy this blog as if you were at the World Cup

Too peaceful at your home or workplace reading my blog? Well now you can experience what it would be like reading it at the World Cup.

I hope to post more some time in the near future. They are keeping us hopping here both during the day and after.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Last winter I took a research collection development course and did a project assessing collections of non-gambling related horse racing books. This book is the most widely held by libraries around the country. I always found it surprising, too, that this a New York Times bestseller. It's about horse racing for crying out loud. More to the point, it's about a horse. What can you say about a horse other than he ran?

There's a reason for so many people buying and reading this book. It is superbly written. It's really amazing. Hillenbrand ties the horse Seabiscuit together with trainer Tom Smith, jockey Red Pollard and owner Charles Howard to weave a fascinating and exciting story. The foursome are a bunch of outcasts (made exaggeratedly so in the movie which I enjoyed very much long before I read the book). Howard, the former bicycle mechanic turned automobile dealer is so set on being different that when he is looking for horses, rather than spend tons of money on a stable of high-end horses, he sends Smith scouring the country for sleepers.

Smith gets along with horses far better than he does with people and has an amazing way of turning horses around. The movie makes Pollard the central figure but I got the sense that he was almost along for the ride. Pollard suffered through numerous injuries and Seabiscuit was ridden by other jockeys, most notably George Woolf, with success. Also, it didn't seem as if Pollard fared well riding other horses. He's an interesting fellow. I just don't think his impact on Seabiscuit's success was as large as Smith, Howard or Seabiscuit himself.

Hillenbrand writes well and ties together articles with interviews to make a very entertaining story. One of the things that makes a great non-fiction book for me is my desire to learn more about the topic or related topics. Hillenbrand does that. There were two side characters that really fascinated me about whom I wanted to learn more: Woolf and Cowboy Charlie Irwin. Both seemed like complex individuals who would make excellent subjects of books.

Finding out more about Hillenbrand, I found that she struggled through health issues as she researched and wrote this. I find it all the more impressive and amazing that the book reads so well given her health struggles.

This is just a great non-fiction book. You don't need to have an interest in horse racing to enjoy it and if you do, all the better.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Cooperstown Symposium

The Hall of Fame puts on many events over the course of the year, the most notable being induction weekend when the newly inducted Hall of Famers are welcomed into the Hall of Fame. For the library staff, though, the big event is the Cooperstown Symposium. This is the 22nd year that the Hall has put on the Symposium, an academic conference that brings together scholars from all over the country to present their papers on baseball and American culture.

Because the library is the entity that really conducts this, we close down during the Symposium. For myself and the other research intern, it meant we split our time working the desk (where we would do research when not helping out conference attendees (which in some cases meant doing some quick fact-checking for them)) and either attending lectures or working the door.

The lectures took place in two rooms, the Bullpen Theatre and the Education Gallery. The Education Gallery holds the most popular exhibit in the Hall which is why we had to work the door. Because there were lectures going on, we had to shut down the exhibits in the room including this one. Any idea what the most popular exhibit in the Hall of Fame is? 35,000 artifacts, what would people most want to see? Hmmmmm.....I'll save you a trip. Here is the most popular exhibit in the Hall. Amazing, huh?

Working the door was fine, though, in that you got to hear the talks being given. My favorite was one Lisa Neilson of Marist College did on the Kingston Colonials semi-pro team. I love local baseball history and she did an awesome job of telling the tale of this powerful New York semi-pro club of the 1920's. There were lectures on all aspects of baseball and culture: media, integration, women in baseball, business of baseball, baseball in literature, etc. Claire Smith of ESPN was the keynote speaker and talked of her own experiences and challenges as an African-American female sportswriter.

Another great experience of the Symposium was the Thursday night dinner. After the conference, they hold a Town Ball exhibition outside (which I did not attend). At the conclusion of that, they held a dinner for the conference attendees in the Hall itself. It's a neat experience having dinner among all the plaques. I liked that I was in front of Stan Coveleski and Ducky Joe Medwick. It's surreal enough as it is that I have to walk by all the plaques every morning to get to the library but having dinner in the Hall was beyond even that.

The dinner concluded with Director of Research Tim Wiles dressing as an old-time ballplayer and reciting Casey at the Bat and a couple other baseball pieces then leading us in the full version of Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

The Symposium was a lot of fun and very inspiring. Right now, I am planning on submitting a paper for next year's conference.

As for the research I've been doing at the Hall, I'm keeping a list of every request I complete. I'm anxious to see in the end how much I did.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes

As I tried to iron out all the final details of my trip and tried to make sure all my i's were crossed and my t's dotted, I had to put my book reading on hold a bit. A friend of the boowahs had loaned them a bunch of Calvin and Hobbes books and so I grabbed this one and went through it.

I'm somewhat surprised at the staying power of Calvin and Hobbes. This book was published almost 20 years ago and I read Calvin and Hobbes as a kid and now my kids are. This book is one of the top 12,000 on Amazon right now, a claim a great majority of the books I've read this year cannot make.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. Calvin and Hobbes are funny. Calvin is way too bright for your average six year old. He gets in trouble but his antics are far tamer than stuff you see in cartoons with kids (Simpsons, South Park, etc.) and much more humorous and endearing. When you add in a stuffed tiger sidekick who has more sense and is all for smooching girls, well, what more can you ask for really?

In my case, two things. More snow cartoons. Any strip with Calvin and snow has about a 99% chance of being downright brilliant. The other thing is that some of the cartoons are dated. Calvin complaining that the family car does not have a cassette deck, for instance.

I find it hard to imagine that anyone reading this hasn't read Calvin and Hobbes but in the event you just were cryogenically unfrozen recently, check them out.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

First days in Cooperstown

We finally got internet service here at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, where the Steele Interns are lodging this summer.

I failed to mention (for all the card collectors out there) that the Steele who sponsors these internships is Peggy Steele, wife of the late Frank Steele. You might be familiar with them because of the Perez-Steele connection with baseball cards (postcards, Diamond Kings, etc.). The Hall of Fame played an important part in their success and when Frank passed away, Peggy felt it would be good to give back to the Hall. Getting to meet her has been a treat in and of itself.

Not everything has been a treat. Got here yesterday and it was sweltering. We have no air conditioning. I don't have air at home but I guess in my head, college dorms should have air so I was mildly irritated at that. Of course, it was gorgeous and cool today and this evening so hopefully we'll be all right.

I will try and share notable experiences here as they happen. Today was centered around orientation. I had tremendous good fortune with the two draws I was involved in. First, every year one of the former interns donates two pairs of tickets to a Red Sox game at Fenway. One pair goes to an intern, another pair goes to an intern supervisor. My name was randomly selected from the 22 interns so I will be heading to Fenway Park in August.

Speaking of the 22 interns, we were told that over 480 people applied for these internships. I was surprised at that number and even more pleased that I was chosen for the honor. That wasn't the other random draw (I don't think).

The other draw came when we were choosing topics for our artifact presentations. The Hall has over 35,000 three dimensional artifacts of which only 7-10 percent are displayed at any time. This makes for a lot of stuff in storage. To help get some of this stuff out they do artifact presentations where items are taken out of storage and talks are given about them.

We were told about these during the interview process and I had this sense that we would get to roam around and pick out things that interested us. In the back of my head, I wanted to do something on Addie Joss. I feel he is tremendously underappreciated and he is one of my favorite Deadball Era players.

Alas, we did not get to roam around. The staff had ten sets of paired artifacts, each with a theme. We each had to pick a pair but only two people could pick each pair. Numbers 21 and 22 would then get their choice to be the third to cover a set (sometimes there is a benefit to being last). For each pair of artifacts, we have to hit the library and research the items and prepare a talk to be given to the public at least three times while we are here. While we may have the same topic, each of us is to do our own research and prepare our own talks on the artifacts.

The pairs were unveiled and I was underwhelmed initially. Oddball bats was leading my list followed by Olympic Baseball when set nine was revealed. The minor leagues! Aw, yeah! I'm all over the minor leagues. But then set ten was made known to us. Recent retirees and inductions. The two artifacts were a pair of Randy Johnson's cleats and the trophy from the benefit game played in Addie Joss's honor to raise money for his wife upon his death.

I was greatly torn. My heart lies with the minor leagues but I wanted to do Joss and here I was given the opportunity. We drew numbers for our picking order and I was fourth up to choose. The first person chose the minors and then so did the third. I guess it was meant to be. I will be presenting on Joss, just like I wanted.

If you go back and look at my card breaks, you will notice something hanging on the wall behind my head. It's this photo of the rosters of the benefit game.

Fun fact about this photo. Look at the third played from the left and the last player on the right. See any similarities? It's Jack Graney both times. In those days, these panoramic photos were done with long exposures as the camera slowly panned across the subject matter. Graney got in position, waited until the camera went by, ran behind the line and got back in line at the end so he appears twice.

Another interesting thing about that photo....check out the third player from the right? Why it's Ty Cobb and he's in a Cleveland uniform! Cobb's uniform was lost on the train and he was forced to don a Cleveland uni for the game.

As to the success of the benefit game, the game raised almost $13,000 for Joss's widow, a testimony to how liked and regarded Joss was.

Of course, I will not be talking about the photo. I'll be talking about the trophy. But it's nice that I have a bit of a head start. If you think you might be in the Cooperstown area this summer and want to hear my talk, let me know and I will let you know my dates as soon as I know them myself.

Thank you, too, for all the well-wishes via the comments and e-mails. I've only been here two days but it has been a tremendous thrill and a great experience already. I'm looking forward to what else is in store.