Friday, July 30, 2010

True Believer

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Don't tell anyone, keep this to yourself, but I'm a bit of a book snob. I know if you read this blog, you will be shocked at this news but yes, it is true. Probably the biggest difficulty I had working at a public library was that the masses of people read the same authors as they crank out book after book that are largely the same formulaic drivel. James Patterson, Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, The Kellermans, David Baldacci, Nicholas Sparks. If you've read one, you've read them all yet people read them all. I don't get it. There are tons of books out there. Try something different.

The thing is, for the most part, I have not read any of those authors I named.

Well, this past weekend was Induction Weekend at the Baseball Hall of Fame. I was assigned to one of the media rooms for the entire weekend. One was the library at the Hall, the other was the gymnasium at Cooperstown High School. We were told that this assignment was largely boring and to "bring something to read". Friday I was at the library and it was true. We had a handful of media throughout the day, none of which needed any assistance. But I was in the library and did some work.

I assumed that all the media must be at the high school and so I figured Saturday would be busy and I did not bring a book. Wrong in a big way. The media attend the event and then go somewhere pleasant to work, not a small library a mile away and not an un-air-conditioned high school gymnasium. Nothing to do again. Fortunately, one of my fellow interns brought an extra book. Unfortunately, it was a Nicholas Sparks title.

Given the choice of Sparks and twiddling my thumbs, I opted for the former. Besides, it would allow me to disparage said "literature" from an informed standpoint. It is a great book. It must be since it has spent a month on the New York Times bestseller list, right?

Mr. Sparks did not disappoint. Simplistic language, stereotypes galore, extremely predictable story, inane conversations as filler, narrative jumping from character to character with no rhyme or reason. In this particular story, an investigative reporter from New York City goes to a tiny town in North Carolina to examine reports of unusual lights attributed to ghosts. The town librarian is a babe. The two fall for one another. But how will it work? He's a big city reporter and she's a small town librarian? Will true love prevail? And are the ghosts real?

Who cares? Not me. The pair are good-looking, make a comfortable living. Their lives are very nice before the "conflict" of their mutual attraction. There's nothing gripping about them. It's the literary equivalent of Brad and Angelina. It's sort of cute and Sparks does keep things moving which is the only reason I'm not rating it a don't read.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pure Drivel

I like Steve Martin for a bunch of reasons. Probably the least of those is as an actor. I enjoyed Roxanne, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner. Any other flick I've seen him in I would not care if I never saw or thought about it again.

I do admire Martin for his ability to be successful on so many fronts. I think he is funny. He's a talented musician and a very good writer. Shopgirl and Pleasure of My Own Company I would rate as one-star books on my scale. So when I saw Pure Drivel at a used book stand for a buck, I figured I had a bargain on my hands.

Pure Drivel is a collection of short, mostly satirical essays. The first, spoofing the apologies of public figures, is probably the best of them. Michael Jackson, I Love Lucy, Mensa and Lolita are all topics but none of them are very good. All in all it was pretty much a disappointment. So much so that I think I have to put it in the don't read category. If a fan of Martin's writings like myself can't find much positive about which to write, why bother?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Sex Lives of Cannibals

Sex sells. How else to explain that this book, published six years ago, is in the top 7500 of Amazon sales at the time of this posting? Well, there are some other ways to explain it. It's a pretty entertaining book. The author, who for some reason I picture as looking like Timothy Ferriss, heads off to the island of Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean with his girlfriend. His girlfriend has landed a position as country director for the Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific, sort of a Peace Corpsesque operation.

The author, in Tim Ferriss fashion, never really finds employment and spends his time bodysurfing, looking for food and doing a bit of freelance work as he fails to write the novel he wants to write. He does, however, write an humorous travelogue about his adventures which is this book.

The title is a misnomer. There's not much about sex lives, and certainly none about those of cannibals. What there is is a lot of funny stuff on the harsh life of living in the equator, especially when you come from Scandinavian stock.

The harshness comes through quite a lot and the book sways from hilarious to sober. Troost has a definite gift for writing and he somehow finds light in the darkest moments.

I tried to think of whose humor Troost reminds me of and I really struggled. His is a somewhat unique voice. He is very detail oriented which helps portray the difficulties of living in such an unusual environment.

The number and length of the down times is what makes this a one-star book instead of a two for me. If the dips weren't as deep, I think it would still be enough contrast to be exceedingly witty.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Leaven of Malice

I hit the serendipitous jackpot with this book. Foreign author (Canadian), older work I hadn't heard of (1954) and a downright entertaining good book.

The book won the Leacock award for best work of humorous Canadian literature. It's a wonderful satire on small towns and the newspaper business.

The book begins with an engagement notice being printed for a couple whose wedding is to take place on November 31st. The father of the bride-to-be has had his own private feud against the deceased father of the husband-to-be because the deceased was selected over him to be dean at the local institution of higher education. Because of the feud, he views the notice as a slight (as the two have hardly met, yet alone want to be married to one another) and sets out to sue the paper for libel.

Davies continues to add more and more characters to the novel to the point where it sometimes becomes difficult to remember who is who or why they are even needed. That to me is the only downside of the book. It is really funny as the engaged couple find themselves running into one another, the editor of the paper tries to keep everything running smoothly in the face of a lawsuit, two lawyers in the same firm get involved in the case, the head of the church where the wedding takes place gets involved as does the organist....Good googly moogly there are a lot of characters. And I may have not mentioned a crucial one or seven.

This is the second book of the so-called Salterton Trilogy by Davies (the town where the story takes place is called Salterton). Davies did not write the books to be a trilogy and all three books are supposed to be fine on their own. I can definitely speak for this one.

For being over fifty years old, the humor holds up well. The importance of the local newspaper within the town seems a little quaint but not unbelievable given the fact it is a small town. A very entertaining book and I am sure I will return to Davies in the future.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Marino returns to Miami

Former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino may be returning to the city where he played his entire career. Marino's agent, L.E.M. Ming, released a statement today that Marino had reached an agreement with the Miami Heat for a two-year contract.

"Dan feels as if this is his best opportunity to finally win a championship and he has tremendous respect for coach Pat Riley."

Joining a Miami Heat team that should include 213 current and former NBA players and friends of LeBron James, Marino, 48, may struggle to find playing time, especially given his lack of basketball experience. Marino, however, seemed upbeat.

"The city of Miami deserves the championship I was never able to bring them. I see myself being an integral part of the team. I can make those long inbound passes pretty easily. Plus, Isotoner gloves for everybody!"

On his Twitter feed, James posted: "Happy DM is joining the party. Maybe I'll play WR for the Dolphins in the offseason"

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Witnessing not-so-greatness

It's hot. Not as hot here as in many places in the country right now but hot enough whereas I am up at five in the morning because the heat is too uncomfortable for sleeping.

I'm not the only one struggling with the heat, though. Last night, while watching the hometown Oneonta Outlaws of the New York Collegiate Baseball League take on the Mohawk Valley Diamond Dawgs, I witnessed something that has only occurred once in major league history and that was 120 years ago.

Aaron Stull of Newport, North Carolina took the mound for the Outlaws last night. He looked a little shaky early on. He retired the first batter he faced, walked the second, surrendered a single, threw a wild pitch after getting the second out and stranded both runners with the third fly out of the inning.

In the second inning, everything fell apart for him. He had trouble gripping the ball, presumably from sweat, and he uncorked five wild pitches in the inning. Lest you think he is naturally wild, Stull had thrown one wild pitch in his previous three starts.

Native Delawarean Bert Cunningham holds the major league record with five wild pitches in an inning when he pitched for Buffalo of the Players League in 1890.

Amazingly, the Outlaws battled back to win the game. It was truly one of the more bizarre games I have ever seen and one of the reasons why baseball is such a great sport. You never know what you're going to see or who will accomplish what. There was no reason to think Stull was going to struggle like he did. The guy is his high school's all-time leading passer in football. He grew up on the coast of North Carolina. For whatever reason, he struggled last night. And despite his struggles, his teammates battled back and won the game.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Oneonta/Cooperstown eats

My time with the Hall of Fame Library is half over. Unlike other classes of interns, we have not done the whole bonding for meals that our predecessors seemed to accomplish. As a result, there is a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (or peanut butter and Hershey bar sandwiches for one intern), pre-packaged meals, etc.

We seem to avoid eating out due to budgetary reasons but I likes me my food and have hit some places. In the event you're planning a trip to the area, hopefully I can steer you to some good spots. Likewise, if you've been here and can suggest something, please do so.

My food consumption in Cooperstown proper has been limited. I've had two sandwiches from Danny's on Main Street and would happily eat there every day if the budget allowed me to do so. I'm not a bread fan but I love theirs. They also have yummy cookies.

We have donuts supplied to us on Fridays and one of the interns bought me one from Schneider's which tasted like those we get on Fridays. Nothing special. Pricey.

Heading out of town we hit China Wok. Much like any Chinese takeout place across the country but the veggies seem really fresh and the service is really nice if you do choose to eat in (even though it isn't a sit-down place to eat). It is unfortunately near Dreams Park and so is a frequent haunt of the Little League families through the summer.

There are quite a few barbecue and ice cream places out this way. I've not had ice cream and I only ate barbecue at one place. Brooks in Oneonta is supposed to be the premier place. I had their sampler plate which consisted of chicken, beef, pork and ribs. The chicken was fantastic. Sort of smoky and tangy. Moist. The rest of the meat was nothing special. The ribs would have been much better had they been slow-cooked. The meal comes with a salad bar which is very limited. Also had a side of snap peas. The fact that this is considered the best place for Q does not bode well. Especially given that the line to get in was huge. We waited forever until a staff member came out and told us there was room at the counter if we didn't want to wait. I normally won't wait in a line for a restaurant (there's plenty of other options) so I doubt I would go there again. If I get suckered into it, though, I'm going chicken only.

We continue our dining journey by following Route 7 from Brooks into Oneonta. You have Burger King which is my favorite fast food option and the only fast food I've eaten here. Nothing special. It's The King. You know what you're getting.

Beijing House is right there by Burger King. Had the chicken and scallop hibachi. Standard hibachi. Mildly entertaining. Overpriced.

Damaschke Field is the home of the Oneonta Outlaws. They have typical ballpark fare. Seems a little pricey since it is a collegiate summer league and we're looking at minor league prices. But what the heck, right? Nothing like a hot dog at the ballpark.

My second favorite place I've eaten is Athens. It is a Greek restaurant on Main Street in Oneonta. I had the stuffed grape leaves, souvlaki and a piece of baklava. The number of grape leaves they give you is unheard of (I seem to think they gave me eight) for an appetizer and they were really tasty and not all that oily. The souvlaki was outstanding. Moist, great seasoning, good veggies. Would definitely go with it again. The baklava was uninspiring. I've had much better and didn't think it was worth the price. Great sports bar atmosphere if you like European sports. Soccer jerseys everywhere and they were showing rugby scrums on the telly.

Without a doubt the best meal I have had here was at a place that advertises itself as "Oneonta's best kept secret". The Italian Kitchen is certainly not easy to find. It's in the middle of a neighborhood and not anywhere where you would be apt to drive by and stop on an impulse. No other shops around or anything. It is a small restaurant but seems to do a good deal of takeout. Despite having takeout, I didn't see anyone getting pizza and I'm not even sure they offer. The atmosphere is casual but comes across as more like fine dining. The staff dress in black. Italian music in the background. Semi-romantic lighting (a tad on the bright side and the decor is not inspiring in the least. In fact, it's virtually non-existent).

They start you off with a nice loaf of bread (and remember, I hate bread). It comes with a small bowl of olive oil which has blue cheese, roasted red peppers, seeded Kalamata olives and garlic floating in it. Has a little spoon for you to put the stuff on your bread and meanwhile the oil gets a little infusion. Very tasty.

My meal came with a side salad which was outstanding. Mixed greens, not iceberg lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and seeded Kalamata olives. The dressing was supposed to be a red pepper vinagerette or something but it resembled French. I liked it.

For the meal I had lasagna. It was a gigantic serving and could really have provided me with two meals had I been so inclined. Lots of ground meat and cheeses. The sauce was amazing. Very fresh tasting. Outside of my friend Eric's Mom, I've not had better lasagna ever. The prices of the entrees were excellent given the quantity and quality of food. Service was attentive but not overbearing. I whole-heartedly and stomachedly recommend it.

Well, I have eaten at more places than I thought. Thank goodness for Clark Sports Center.