Saturday, December 31, 2011

Baseball Book Club - Deciding the first book

It looks like we have some interest in having an online baseball book club so let's get under way and pick our first book. If you're interested in taking part, please leave 1-3 books that appeal to you RIGHT NOW in the comments. Feel free to make a case for them if you'd like. If someone suggests one that appeals to you, say so. I'd like to avoid setting up a poll and taking up more time but if need be, we will. It would be nice to just find a book that a lot of us want to read and we can try and get it and get reading.

I'd like the book to be easy to acquire, published or reprinted relatively recently (say in the 2000's) and have at least some mass appeal. All three criteria aren't completely necessary, especially since we have some serious baseball fans taking part, but they're nice to consider.

The three books that strike me as good candidates are:

Mike Sowell's The Pitch That Killed. I had initially eliminated this from consideration as I thought it would be difficult to get. Turns out it has been reprinted and might be easily attainable for purchase or libraries. It's about the Carl Mays - Ray Chapman incident and the 1920 season. 1989 Casey Award winner.

Joe Posnanski's The Soul of Baseball. The 2007 Casey Award winner. I know we have fans of Posnanski and fans of Negro League baseball who read this site so this biography of Buck O'Neil seems like a good contender.

Jonah Keri's The Extra 2%. Sort of the Moneyball of the New Era. Looks at the 2008 Tampa Rays and how they have used experience in the financial markets to run the Rays.

We'll see how things look around Tuesday and go from there. Look forward to seeing what other folks want to read.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday Faves #8 - Favorite books of 2011

Here it is the end of the year and what better thing to look back and reflect on than the books I read over the course of 2011. I read 85 books this year, the second most I've read in a year (I haven't tracked this number all my life but it's probably second most regardless) and 2009 being the most I've read which just goes to show, if you want to read a lot of books, being a librarian is a good way to go about doing it.

2011 had some really fantastic books, as well as some serious clunkers, but all in all I felt that it was a good reading year. I learned a lot, was entertained a lot, revisited some old favorites and found some new authors that excite me. These five, though, stood out.

#1 Running the Books by Avi Steinberg - A clear cut standout. Usually when you get out into the tail of the bell curve, the differences between any two points isn't that large. Not the case with this. No other book I read this year came close.

#2 Eleven by Mark Watson - My feelings about Steinberg's book say a lot because Watson wrote a really good novel. I would almost always rather read a good work of non-fiction, though, and so while Watson wrote what I almost consider a perfect novel, it's still a distant #2.

#3 Blood Horses by John Jeremiah Sullivan - I wish there was one book on baseball even remotely as good as this. This is a book that made me more passionate about something of which I was pretty passionate already. I'd think about making it number two on the list but I may be overweighting it because of its recency. No shame in being third on this list anyway. And Pulpheads will be read in 2012. Of that there is no doubt.

#4 Ghosted by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall - If not for the one scene, this might be #2 or 3. Unlike Eleven which is just done so well but is sort of "traditional" in a sense, Ghosted stands out because of its being so entirely different from anything I've read. And as much as I hated the one scene, it will help me remember this book decades from now (not that the rest of the book really needs help being remembered).

#5 Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer - Those damn Foers with all their writing talent. I can't wait for one of them to write something else.

Honorable mention:
Art of Possibility and A Barn in New England - I could put these two at 4 and 5 and be fine with it but they are re-reads so I will exempt them from the list. I wrote about them yesterday and so am not relinking.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand - At the start of the year I thought it would be hard to top this book. It speaks to how great a year in reading this was for me that this doesn't crack the top 5.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender - My friend and co-worker JJ were looking over our reading lists the other day and we discovered that she had read six or seven of my two-star books from this year after I had read and recommended them. This was the only one of those she didn't like. I said in my review that this is a no-middle ground book and she helped prove that out (my friend Jason read it and loved it). I thought it was great but then I also have a Aimee Bender bias/crush.

How about all of you? I'd love to have some reader input on these for a change? Anything you read this year that stood out to you?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Art of Possibility by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander

It's sort of funny that I had four re-reads this year. Given the number of great books out there I want to read, I'm not really one to go back and read a book over and over. There's a reason for everything, though. As I wrote yesterday, Walk Through the Woods was the literary equivalent of channel surfing and coming across The Shawshank Redemption. I was bored and nothing else appealed to me. Emergency I re-read because I got a copy for my son. I was feeling restless and hot this summer so had to read A Barn in New England.

I don't know if was the restlessness continuing or what that made me feel the need to read Art of Possibility again. I think I needed some positivity. 2011 was a very difficult year for me in some ways. In others it was a great year. Actually, if it weren't for my weight and finances, I'd probably say it was a great year. Those are two important negatives, though, and I desperately need change on both counts which is why I turned to this book.

The Zanders do such a good job of putting life in perspective and showing how reframing thoughts can be beneficial. It's a very useful book both for the motivation it provides and also by providing the tools to help open yourself to possibility. There's a lot of self-help schlock out there. This is not one of them.

And since I did read it twice before (in 2009), I'll link to those two reviews. And since it's always worth watching, here's a TED talk Ben Zander did:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

You know how it is. You come home after a long day of work, throw yourself down in a chair and look for something to entertain you. Some options are too serious, some you've come across a zillion times before. You just don't know what you want. Finally something captures your eye (or you're just too tired to care) and you say, "Fine, I'll read that" and reach over and open the bookcase (you thought I was talking about channel surfing, didn't you?) and pull it out.

You might not know this about me, but I love to read. It's a shocker, I know. I take great pride in the fact that every room of my house except the basement (because of mold issues, most likely) has books in it. I've got bathroom reading, cookbooks in the kitchen. I even have home repair books in my mud room.

The majority of my books, close to 1600 of them, can be found in my library. That makes sense. When you have a lot of books, a library is a good place for them. Those are just baseball books, though. I keep my non-baseball books, of which there are probably only about two hundred, in a barrister bookcase which is where I found myself sitting in front of in the opening paragraph. I rarely acquire books that aren't baseball and so most of the books in the case are ones I've bought and read and felt the need to keep.

I mention this bookcase because it is a treasured possession. It belonged to Judge Jonathan Langham, who was a neighbor of my grandparents. When he passed away, my grandfather purchased the bookcase and it has been passed down to me. I like the idea that a piece of furniture I own has some history. I digress. Back to the book.

I don't remember when I first read A Walk in the Woods or even how I came to have a copy of it. It was probably around the time I was really into hiking. That would make sense given that this is about Bryson's attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail with his friend Stephen.

Bryson and Stephen discover it isn't all they expected. They begin at the southern end of the trail, in Georgia, and make their way north. They hike for several weeks and come across a rest area in Tennessee that has a map of the trail. When they discover that for all the effort they have put in - through all the difficult terrain and bad weather and poor eating and sleeping, they haven't hardly begun - they decide to give up on hiking the whole thing. They leave the trail and find their way to Roanoke, Virginia. Having decided they aren't going to do the whole thing, when the Virginia portion of the trail is lackluster, they halt their tandem efforts.

Bryson makes road trips into Pennsylvania to hike short sections of the trail but discovers the Pennsylvania portions of the trail are perhaps the most lacking in scenery. He does parts of the trail in New England (where Bryson lives) and he reunites with Stephen to do a portion of Maine at which point they are so sick of hiking you wonder if they'll ever do so again.

If you're looking for a book to inspire you to hike, this probably isn't it. If you're looking for something that is a pretty accurate description on what it's like to hike for weeks on end, it's a good book. Bryson is funny, likes to delve into the history of things, and doesn't pull punches when he encounters things that bother him. Sometimes he has a holier than thou attitude about him which rubs me the wrong way.

While I claim this isn't a book to inspire one to hike, it actually made me realize that I miss hiking. My oldest son and I have been talking about some hiking achievements we would like to accomplish (coincidentally, he recently wrote a paper for school about our attempts to hike the Maryland portion back in 2006) and we've decided we're going to do some hiking in 2012. I'm looking forward to that and who knows, maybe I'll find something to write about that will be as entertaining as Bryson.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Blood Horses by John Jeremiah Sullivan

I read various things online about books. I'm always on the lookout for something new and interesting to read, something out of the ordinary, or just plain old good writing. Everyone is doing their end of the year reviews (don't worry. Mine is coming soon.) and time after time I have been coming across the name of John Jeremiah Sullivan. I don't think I have read a single negative thing on his newest book, Pulpheads, which is his second book. Blood Horses is his first and given my love for the horsies, I thought I would read it first.

If you couldn't care less about horsies, you'd still love this book. I've been trying to communicate my feelings about this book to a few people and I haven't been able to adequately express it. Reading this book made me feel smarter. This is different, I think, than what you think. There are many books that I read where I learn something. That makes me more knowledgeable. Sullivan makes me feel smarter. It's as if he found a way to ignite my brain cells to understand and explore things in ways I never have.

I think a lot of this comes from Sullivan's style. While this book is about horses, it's really about everything. Sullivan grew up in Kentucky and his father was a sportswriter so he has had a lot of personal connection with the sport of horse racing. He weaves his own personal history into his own personal present and ties it in with historical and current equestrian issues. He'll be talking about his Dad and next thing you know he's talking about Hitler. And even though you're suddenly reading about something you don't think you were reading about a page or two ago, you really are. Sullivan entwines everything marvelously. The changes aren't jolting. There are no non sequiturs. The transitions are smooth.

Sullivan does fantastic research and tells great stories. He has a gift for detail which is just amazing. After finishing the book, I found that I had made note of four books he referenced in the text that I wanted to read some more. Two are on their way to me now through Interlibrary Loan. And readers of this blog know that one of the things I look for in good non-fiction is how much it makes me want to learn more about whatever it is the author covered.

The book itself is really comprised of a lot of different essays of various length. They work so well together, you don't even realize that these are all separate components. It reads like a book, not a collection of essays, if that makes sense.

The only downside of the book were the illustrations. There are a large number of them but they are all in black and white and very little, if anything, was done to them to enhance the image quality. Some are so dark as to be undefinable. There are some neat photos and some interesting piece of equine art pictured and it would have been nice if more effort had been made by the publisher to showcase them rather than make them seem like filler.

If you received an Amazon or Barnes and Noble's gift card for the December holiday of your choice and are looking for something on which to spend it, it will be well worth using your card on this book. As for me, I'll probably try and read Pulpheads in 2012 and will review the two books that Sullivan led me to sometime in January.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday Faves #7 - Favorite baseball seasons where a player led the league in hits and walks

Killing two birds with one stone on this one. I hadn't given the Friday Fave a lot of thought this week but had been looking at various baseball related things. I started with the Hall of Fame ballot which got me thinking about a smaller Hall of Fame which got me thinking about a statistical based Hall where certain thresholds have to be met to qualify. Personally I think it's a horrible idea because the game changes and so criteria meaningful now might not be in the future, but it is sort of fun. Like I was toying with the idea of limiting the Hall to those players with a .400 OBP and 250+ combined SB and HR. No reason except that it narrows the Hall to about forty players. 21 current HOFers like Musial, Cobb, Collins, Gehrig, Ruth, Mantle, Williams. Then 18 guys who aren't in, my favorite being Roy Thomas. Of those 18, though, thirteen played in the past decade and seven are active. A definite imbalance. Like I said, a bad idea.

But then that got me thinking about getting on base. The thirteen above who have played in this decade were all power hitters in the heart of the order (Bonds, Thome, Ramirez, Thomas, Chipper, Pujols, Bagwell, Giambi, Walker, Berkman, Helton, Edgar and Giles). Where are the leadoff hitters? That got me wondering what leadoff hitters led the league in both hits and walks. I figured there would be a bunch of them. After all, that's what you want from a leadoff hitter; a guy who gets on, ideally by hits and walks.

So I looked and there have been a whopping total of six players to have achieved the feat, one of whom did it twice. Blew me away. I wouldn't think it was that tough. Heck, I thought some non-leadoff hitters might make the cut. Like Lou Gehrig. Gehrig had seven seasons of 200 hits and 100 walks. He never led the league in both categories, though (he was second in both categories in both 1927 and 1934).

Not having a Friday Faves lined up, I thought I'd cheat and make this my topic for the week. Here are my favorite performances by players who led their leagues in hits and walks in the same season.

#1 Rogers Hornsby, 1924 St. Louis Cardinals - This was my favorite for a number of reasons. First, Hornsby achieved the feat batting third and despite missing eleven games. He did it primarily by hitting .424. His 227 hits led the league as did his 89 walks which gave him an OBP of .507. It doesn't seem right to me that a major leaguer can achieve an OBP over .500. Getting on base every other time to the plate? Wow. Hornsby also led the league in doubles and was second in homers giving him a SLG of .696. Yet he only drove in 94 runners which might explain how the Cardinals went 65-89 that season. One man can't carry a baseball team.

#2 Ross Barnes, 1873 Boston Red Stockings - Barnes was the first player to lead his league in hits and walks, pacing the National Association in 1873. It doesn't look too impressive on the surface because the Red Stockings only played 60 games. So Barnes' 20 walks look a little mundane. Given that he led the league in runs, hits, walks, doubles, triples and steals, though, the relative performance is mighty fine, even if the raw counts don't boggle the mind.

#3 Ross Barnes, 1876 Chicago White Stockings - Barnes also was the second player to lead his league in hits and walks. Different league, different stockings. 20 walks again, 138 hits again. Kind of spooky. This was the end of the line for Barnes. Injuries curtailed his career and he never experienced any degree of success after 1876.

#4 Sliding Billy Hamilton, 1891 Philadelphia Phillies- When you get on base 290 times in a season and your nickname is "Sliding Billy", you might expect a lot of stolen bases. Hamilton did just that, tying his own record of 111 and marking his third straight season with over 100 stolen bases. He would also steal 100 more in 1894, a season where he had an OBP of .521 (led the league in walks and was second in hits) and score 198 runs, a record that still stands.

#5 Richie Ashburn, 1958 Philadelphia Phillies - I think my preference for old-timey baseball is shining through on this list as Ashburn is the first player on this list to play after Babe Ruth ruined baseball. Ashburn comes in at #5 because I liked him as a broadcaster. His season leading the league in hits and walks is probably the most "empty" as his SLG (.441) just eked out his OBP (.440).

Honorable mention:
Carl Yastrzemski, 1963 Boston Red Sox - I've never appreciated Yaz and I think it is because my birth coincided with his decline. Up through 1970, he was definitely one of the elite players in the American League. The 1963 season was just his third in the majors and there he was, leading the league in hits and walks. In 1967, of course, he won the MVP as he paced the league in average, homers and RBI (and OBP and SLG). In 1968 he won his third batting title. In 1970, he led the league in OBP and SLG again. From 1971 to 1983 he was "just" a star player. The only thing he lead the league in over those thirteen seasons was runs (in 1974). By the time I saw him play, he was old and slow and a decent hitter. Sorry, Yaz. Your timing was off.

Lenny Dykstra, 1993 Philadelphia Phillies - By contrast, I saw Lenny Dykstra play at his peak, which was this season. If you remember this season, you remember how out of nowhere it was and how Nails credited his "good vitamins" for his successful year. After this incredible year, Dykstra played just 186 more games in his major league career. Of course, Lenny has been in the news a lot in the decade and a half since his retirement. A lot of people, especially in Philly, appreciated his hard nose play. Me, I found it hard to get past the constant tobacco spitting.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What's Gotten Into Us by McKay Jenkins

This was a book I had meant to read for some time and didn't until it came time to remove it from the new book shelf at work. I know the author in passing from my time as a Public Administration student at the University of Delaware. My specialization was watershed management and I did some volunteer work with the Water Resources Agency on campus that brought me in contact with Jenkins a couple of times. My first encounter with him was when he was the keynote speaker at the Drinking Water 2001 conference. His talk was incredible and I thought that anyone who speaks as well he does, has to be a good writer, too.

I had read one of his books, The White Death, previously, and it was fantastic. My ex bought it for her Dad for Christmas and he, too, liked it. She bought him two other books of Jenkins' which also were appreciated. So needless to say, I had an expectation of this being a good book.

Unfortunately, I don't feel it was. I felt like a good portion of it was a bit of shock journalism. Jenkins explores how things we encounter in our every day life are causing illnesses and disease. Not things like Jenny McCarthy's accusation that vaccines cause autism but more stuff like lawn care chemicals causing health problems.

Jenkins' biggest issue seems to be with phthalates. These are substances added to plastics to make them more flexible and durable. They are found just about everywhere and they presumably cause health problems.

I say presumably because, really, what doesn't? I have read several times this past year that 1 in 2 people will develop cancer during their lifetimes. It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out that much of the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the things we use, cause illness. And it doesn't take much to figure out that there is little reason for the companies that provide us with this stuff to change. We can get in an uproar over lead paint in toys from China while we inhale chemicals from our carpets or phthalates that come from our electronic devices aging.

Jenkins cites some studies of people living in rural areas, presumably away from a lot of these contaminants, whose bodies are loaded with toxins. You can't escape it. And the world grows and gets more congested and more contaminated and eventually we'll hit a breaking point and the apocalypse will arrive. That last bit is from me, not Jenkins.

Jenkins is a little more optimistic. He thinks we can make changes to personal lifestyles that will enable us to avoid some of the detrimental junk. Eat organically, for instance. Use cleaners made only of natural substances. An assortment of other options available primarily to those with money.

I'm letting my personal feelings get too entwined in this review so let me focus more on the straight content. Jenkins' viewpoint is very one-sided. He looks for things to support his case but doesn't really explore the possibility that stuff might not be as bad as he is making it out to be. Like I said, it felt like shock journalism. There isn't a wealth of scientific evidence cited. What there is tends to be limited in scope and not entirely conclusive.

It didn't surprise me either that I thought the best chapter in the book was about water and it relied heavily on the work of Jerry Kauffman, who heads the Water Resources Agency. That chapter just felt like it was the most grounded in actual science.

Although I didn't care for the book, it might make a good primer if you aren't as naturally cynical as myself and it hadn't occurred to you that your environment is killing you. You might get something out of it. For a McKay Jenkins fix, though, you ought to read The White Death. Awesome book.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I am the Messenger by Marcus Zusak

After reading The Book Thief, I wanted to read the book Zusak had written immediately before, I am the Messenger. Someone donated a copy to the library and so I thought it would be a good time to read it.

I am the Messenger is about a group of people in their late teens, early 20's who live in Australia. There are four friends, all of them sort of struggling to find their way through life. The main character, Ed Kennedy, is a taxi driver whose most notable characteristic is that he is in love with his best friend, Audrey. Audrey appreciates Ed's friendship but never wants to let their relationship evolve into more. In the meantime, she sleeps around, driving Ed nuts.

The story begins with Ed standing in line at the bank with his friend Marv, whose defining feature is hoarding all his money while driving what is arguably the worst functioning automobile on the planet. While the pair are in line, the bank is robbed. The robbery does not go smoothly and the robber's getaway vehicle takes off without the robber. The robber grabs Marv's keys, drops his gun and tries to escape. The car, naturally, doesn't start, and Ed retrieves the gun and holds it on the robber until the police come to apprehend him.

Ed becomes a minor hero in the papers. He is surprised one day to find a playing card of the Ace of Diamonds with three addresses on it. Ed comes to the realization that he is to provide a message to the people living at these addresses. What the messages are and how he is to deliver them is uncertain.

Ed eventually figures out a way to accomplish his task which then leads to another card with another cryptic assignment. All four aces arrive in Ed's hands, the last one relating to his three friends.

Upon completion of the tasks, the reason behind Ed being chosen for these messages is made clear but the ending takes on a bit of a meta-fiction feel which I didn't much care for.

All in all, I did like the book, even with an ending that was a little empty. The characters are different. There's a level of shallowness in them but enough depth to keep them interesting. The book is intended for a young adult audience and so there is nothing special about Zusak's language and the writing. He's just a good storyteller. If anything, it made me appreciate The Book Thief all the more.I feel like the shortcomings in I am the Messenger were eliminated in The Book Thief. It definitely feels like Zusak grew as a writer between the two stories.

Can't go wrong with either but The Book Thief is considerably better.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman

I liked this book but was disappointed by it. I had a lot of hope for it and was motivated to read it after watching the trailer for it.

The book consists primarily of two characters. A psychologist by the name of Victoria Vick and a patient of hers known as Y. The book begins as if Vick is writing it and she is writing the publisher concerning events in the story. The story is told as if this is the draft of the publication she is submitting.

Vick's contact begins with a phone call from Y. He is trying to understand more about what he does and is seeking psychological/moral guidance. After a few phone calls, Y comes in to the office and their sessions continue.

It turns out that Y is a scientist but has been bothered by the question of the true natures of people. He sets out to see if he can understand better by observing them when they are alone.

As the pair continue to meet, their relationship evolves into something more than your standard patient/therapist situation.

I apologize in advance for the crummy review of this book but to say more reveals the story and it is one that shouldn't be spoiled. My disappointment came from the direction the book went. This had a lot of potential, at various times through the book, to be more dark and gripping. It never went that direction. It felt like getting into a Ferrari and finding it had a spoiler that prevented you from driving above 50 mph. Yeah, you're driving a Ferrari but what's the point? I felt the same with the book. It should have been creepy. Don't you think the trailer is creepy? That's what I was expecting. Never got there.

I liked it. It just didn't meet expectations.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Baseball Book Club

In my last post I mentioned that I wanted to read more baseball books in 2012. After the success of the baseball book draft (both in terms of the fun Jason, Mark and I had as well as the number of comments and e-mails I received after the fact from folks), I think there might be enough interest among folks reading this blog to have an online baseball book club.

Here's my proposal. We take six weeks for each book. Two weeks to choose and acquire, two weeks to read and two weeks to discuss. That gives us eight books over the course of the year and gives us four weeks to play around with in the event we choose to read Art of Fielding or something and need some extra time.

The decision as to what books to read we'll figure out based on the number of participants. If it's a small number, we can alternate choosing. A large number and we'll put it to vote. Or maybe we'll put it to vote regardless. We'll see.

Ideally, I'd like to read books that are readily available to everyone regardless of their preferred method of acquiring and reading. For example, I wouldn't mind reading Mike Sowell's The Pitch That Killed but it would probably require everyone trying to find a used copy through a dealer or something (or heated bidding wars among our members on eBay). Most libraries aren't going to have it and I doubt it is available as an eBook.

That still leaves a lot of books. I think this could be a lot of fun. So how about it? You in?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Faves #6 - Favorite Books I Read in School

I've decided that in 2012 I'm going to mix up my reading a little bit. I have two objectives. One, I want to read larger (500+ pages) books. Two, I want to read more baseball. I'll have more on the latter in the near future. In the meantime, I got underway on a large book which I figure I'll finish right around the new year. Manning Marable's Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention was a finalist for the National Book Award in Non-Fiction this year. Unfortunately, Mr. Marable also passed away this past spring.

I wanted to read this book because I really enjoyed The Autobiography of Malcolm X when I read it in high school. I questioned whether a biography was really necessary given Malcolm X's autobiography but so far, I'm enjoying Marable's work.

So that's what spawned today's faves. Here we go:

1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. A hysterical novel on World War II. Most notable for the ridiculous characters. I passed down my copy to my son and it is one of his favorite books, too. Hopefully, he'll find a pdf to give to his children.

I've read some other Heller works and nothing even comes close.

2. Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. One of the few plays I enjoyed reading in school.

3. Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X. Just an eye-opening book for me in many ways. History, biography, cultural differences. I learned a lot from this book.

4. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. Loved everything about this book. I think this was one of the more powerful books I read in school in terms of feeling like I got everything the author wanted me to get. Not an easy thing to achieve with a high schooler.

5. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. If you're going to write one book, it might as well be awesome. This one also found its way to my son but he hates it. Must be his mother's genetics.

A rare case where the film and the book are equally excellent.

Honorable Mention:
Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare - I think it's a shame that kids are made to read Shakespeare before college. I just don't think it is possible for most kids to appreciate it and so they grow up thinking Willie is overrated. If we let kids mature a bit more and expose them to other literature, I think Shakespeare can be better appreciated. I know I couldn't stand anything but this and Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare - I read this in eighth grade and it makes the cut because of Mercutio and a quote from the book. We had to memorize a section of the play and present it to class. Everyone did "Romeo, Romeo, where for art thou". Me? Strangely, I avoided the mainstream and went with a section involving Mercutio in Act II, Scene IV:
An old hare hoar
And an old hare hoar
Is very good meat in Lent.
But a hare that is hoar,
Is too much for a score.
When it hoars, ere it be spent.

And yes, I just typed that from memory.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison - I grew up in a rural, somewhat wealthy area of Pennsylvania. It was a very homogeneous population. We had four African-Americans in the whole school during my time there, three in my class, one who ended up transferring to our rival school and then found his way to a reform school. This resulted in him being an answer to a trivia question I proposed during a three-team track meet - "Who is the only person competing today to have attended all three schools in the meet?". I digress.

My point is, much of my initial exposure to other cultures came from reading. I like to think that the powerful nature of books like this and Malcolm X's helped me be open minded and appreciative when I finally got out of my insulated environment.

That's the list. I definitely read more interesting things that I "had to" for high school than I did college. College English was horrible. Oh, I'll include a couple other things. Anything by Edgar Allen Poe (I had to read a lot of his work starting in junior high). And D.H. Lawrence's The Rocking Horse Winner. I'm sure you never would have expected that.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale

I grabbed this as part of a mixup at work. A fellow had requested this book, came in to pick it up, and it turned out he wanted the movie. So I grabbed the book. I know I have seen the movie but I remember nothing about it outside of the fun theme song.

Having read the book, it's no wonder I don't remember the movie. I don't know how exactly you make a movie out of this without taking a lot of liberties. Abagnale was a con man but not a very interesting one. He was handsome, apparently looked a lot older than he actually was, and was able to dupe people, largely by producing fake documents. Most of his cons involved flying for free and writing bad checks with an occasional getting to play grown up here and there.

Writing bad checks and making fake checks was his primary con. Get rid of that and you have a guy who pretended to be a pilot so that he could travel for free ("deadheading"), taking advantage of airlines perks for flight personnel. Once he got busted for that, he pretended to have gone to law school to land a job as an attorney. He eventually passed the bar and practiced law briefly which says more about the profession, I think, than Abagnale. He also pretended to be a doctor but worked off hours and let residents handle any actual medical work.

He eventually got caught and spent some time in prison in a few countries. When he finally was turned over to the U.S., he negotiated a lighter sentence in exchange for helping government agencies fight against the same practices he had done.

I just couldn't appreciate his cleverness if there was any. Abagnale is very egotistical in the book. He repeatedly talks about how he would never hurt individuals, even as he often did. I didn't find him interesting at all. As I said, I don't remember enough about the movie to say anything about it but don't recommend the book at all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

This was a fun twist on your typical Western. The Sisters Brothers, Charlie and Eli, are hired guns. They work for a fellow known as The Commodore and The Commodore has asked them to go to California to track down and kill a man by the name of Hermann Kermit Warm.

The book is narrated by Eli, the younger brother, and the more thoughtful of the pair. Eli is overweight and sometimes seems like he may be viewed as the lesser intellect of the brothers. Eli is clearly the conscience of the twain and wants nothing more than to return home to his mother and open up a hardware store. Charlie, though, wants to be rich and powerful. He dreams of one day supplanting The Commodore. He also enjoys killing because he's mighty good at it (and drinking).

As the duo make their trek towards Sacramento where they are to meet an associate who is watching Warm, they have numerous encounters with an interesting cast of characters. The reactions to these encounters, especially those of Eli, are what make the book so good.

Perhaps some of what makes Eli seem a little light on the intellect side is the writing style of the book. It is very simple. DeWitt finds a good balance between making Eli seem uneducated (and hired guns during the Gold Rush Era aren't going to have degrees from St. Olaf's) but doesn't try and over do it and make him a caricature. But his apparent lack of intellect may also be due to a bit of naivete. At one point he falls for an innkeeper, giving her a good deal of money and dreaming of one day returning to her and making her his wife. Meanwhile, she's had sex with Charlie which Charlie paid for along with his bath.

Upon finding the associate and Warm, they are faced with a conflict that involves them going against The Commodore which results in a bit of an unexpected ending.

The contrast between the two brothers is nice even if they are a little too polar opposite for my liking. The story being told exclusively by Eli also makes things a little too limited. I liked how pretty much every scenario the brothers face results in some sort of moral and ethical analysis. Deep thinking by hired killers....whoda thunk it?

It was a really fun book and one I recommend but it falls short of the top echelon of books for the year.

Seriously, Google?

I'm getting tired of "smart" devices and software thinking I know better than I do about what I want.

Google, when I do a search on bibliography, I was not searching for biography and my clumsy fingers slipped and inserted an extra "bli". Come on. I don't even get one of those stupid "Did you mean" options. Google just assumed I wanted biographies.

Are people really that dumb that Google assumes the person was more likely to have made a mistake than they were in typing correctly?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Timbuktu by Paul Auster

I had somehow almost made it through the year without even thinking about reading something by Paul Auster and then a patron returned Timbuktu.

Timbuktu is told from the perspective of a dog, Mr. Bones. Mr. Bones lives with Willy, a down on his luck man who spends most of his time homeless. Willy has suffered from a terrible cough that is only worsening and the two make their way to Baltimore in an effort to find an old English teacher of Willy's.

Willy knows his life will be ending soon and tries to prepare Mr. Bones for his departure. He calls the afterlife Timbuktu. Mr. Bones is worried about whether or not he'll get to see Willy again in Timbuktu.

Willy passes on and Mr. Bones is left to fend for himself. He strikes up a friendship with an Asian boy but has to leave him once school starts. Mr. Bones is then adopted by a family in Virginia where he spends the rest of his days until he is reunited with Willy.

Typical solid effort by Auster. The story being told from the dog's point of view is really interesting, especially dealing with things like the afterlife. Never mind the idea of smells, the vet, getting fixed, and a host of other concepts. Definitely a fun book and far less bizarre than most of Auster's works.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday Faves #5 - Favorite Left-handed Pitchers of My Lifetime

My friend Jason wrote me this week. He had found a list of pitchers that threw left-handed and batted right-handed. As part of this quirky group himself, he liked the list. Furthermore, some of his favorite pitchers of all-time were on this list. He then asked me about my favorite pitchers which spawned today's fave list. But as if I needed more motivation, yesterday I came across this review of a book on left-handedness. It's a sign, I tell ya.

As a baseball researcher and historian, I've developed a level of appreciation for pitchers of the past, especially the Deadball Era. If I don't think about it, I would likely just rattle off Christy Mathewson and Addie Joss as being two of my favorite pitchers. But would that be a reasonable statement to make? Can someone you never actually experienced pitch be a favorite? I can appreciate them and think highly of what I know about them as both players and people but can they really be my favorites? I don't know. Maybe it's just an issue of semantics. Regardless I opted to limit this list to left-handers during my lifetime. Guys who I at least theoretically saw pitch. But even that's shaky. I didn't have cable television until I was 17 so the only American League pitchers I saw pitch were the handful of Orioles games I made it to live. Should that limit consideration of Mark Langston and Frank Tanana? Because if you asked me as a kid who my favorite left-handed pitchers were, those would be the two I would probably name. So take this list with a grain of salt that even though these are my favorites, I really have no idea what I'm talking about because I've overthunk this too much.

And please feel free to link to your own lists or post yours in the comments, for this and other Friday Faves. This isn't a fascist blog.

#1 Dave Righetti. Easy enough choice. I'll add something else, though. I'm hoping with Tony LaRussa retiring that the talk starts picking up for pitching coach Dave Duncan being added to the Hall of Fame. Why? Because then he'll open the door for Righetti.

First, Righetti has been the pitching coach for the Giants for ELEVEN years. Right there you know that he's doing something right. He's coached Tim Lincecum to two Cy Young wins (a mere mortal coach might have tinkered with Lincecum's unorthodox delivery). Matt Cain, pretty universally known as a guy with zero stuff, has been a top notch pitcher for them. He got 1500 innings out of Kirk Rueter (more on him in a minute), for crying out loud! Plus, there's this. Hall of Fame.

#2 Steve Carlton. My oldest son is named after him. He's probably the lefty I saw pitch most growing up. He was called "Lefty" for crying out loud. I don't think I really need to say a lot about Carlton.

#3 Ryan Karp. Yeah, a guy who pitched 17 innings in the major leagues makes this list. I never looked forward to seeing someone pitch as much as I did as Karp in Greensboro in 1993. If he was on the road, I was scrambling to find a newspaper with a boxscore. At home, I was there in the stands.

For Greensboro, Karp made 17 starts, going 13-1 with a 1.81 ERA. The Hornets kept him at Greensboro until he lost a game at which point he got promoted to Prince William. His final stats at Greensboro included 132 strikeouts in 109 innings. I still vividly remember a 12 strikeout performance because it seemed like 27 K's, he was so dominant.

I managed to buy Karp's Prince William jersey at the end of the season which is another blog post of its own someday. All in all, my favorite minor league pitcher of my lifetime.

#4 Kirk Rueter. I loved this guy. I could put him #2 on this list and be fine with it. Has anyone done more with less?

I need to make something clear when I say that. Kirk Rueter was a major league pitcher for a long, long time and while I feel he (and others) benefited from Righetti's tutelage, all those guys have talent. When I say Rueter did a lot with less, I mean he was atypical. He didn't have the zippy fastball. If you give someone in baseball a choice between someone who had Kerry Wood's stuff and someone who had Kirk Rueter's stuff, they would choose Wood every time (quick, name Kerry Wood's pitching coach when he got hurt). But what I liked about Rueter was that he found a way to get it done with all the little things. Let me drop some science on you. I always loved looking at the STATS Major League Handbooks and seeing where Rueter showed up on the goofy leader lists. Beginning with the 2002 season they started looking at pitch type. Let's take a gander:

2002: 2nd slowest fastball in the National League (85.1 avg). Yet threw the fourth highest percentage of fastballs among NL pitchers (70.7%).

2003: He didn't pitch enough innings to have pitch data but at the end of the season, he had the lowest career SB% against percentage of all active major league pitchers and the 8th highest GDP rate.

2004: 2nd slowest fastball again. 6th highest fastball rate.

This was at the end of his career. He's not throwing junk. He's throwing slow balls across the plate. He's about contact. Runners get on, he's getting double plays and making sure they don't steal bases.

He was about contact at the plate, too. In 740 PA, Rueter struck out just 105 times; less than 1/7 of his PA. The only guys in the post-expansion era to have had more plate appearances with such a slow K rate were Livan Hernandez, Rick Rhoden and Fernando Valenzuela - all known for their great hitting.

Rueter wasn't a great hitter. You might think, "Oh, he wasn't striking out but he was hitting into double plays". Just 9. And 86 sac hits. Just like when he was on the mound, he did every little thing right.

He fielded his position well, too. He was in the top 5 in the league in assists four times in his career. He had a better fielding percentage than his peer, eighteen time Gold Glove winner Greg Maddux.

Rueter did nothing great but every single little thing at least pretty well. His was a career that I enjoyed a lot.

#5 Mitch Williams. I have to admit, I appreciated Mitch Williams more at the beginning and end of his career than in the middle. At the start of his career, he seemed dominant. He was a hotshot rookie with the Rangers who used him in over half their games his first two seasons. He then got sent to the Cubs in a lopsided trade for Rafael Palmeiro where Williams made his only All-Star team. That was the beginning.

Then he came to Philly and I got to see him pitch a lot more as their closer and that was a level of excitement no baseball fan needs. Then there was the Joe Carter home run.

I got to see Mitch on the comeback trail pitching for the Richmond Phils (with their dandy young third baseman Scott Rolen) and I loved it. Same Mitch Williams. Throwing as hard as he could. Falling off the mound each time he did it. No idea where the ball was going. Mitch Williams pitched his own way right to the end and he was unlike any pitcher ever to take the mound.

Think I'm exaggerating? Here is a list of every pitcher in major league history to throw more than 500 innings and who walked more than seven batters per nine innings:

Mitch Williams

Or how about a list of every pitcher to throw 500 innings and walk more batters than they gave up hits to:

Mitch Williams

You have to be something special to be allowed to throw that many innings while walking that many people. Mitch Williams was special.

Plus, another memorabilia story. I went to a Cubs-Phillies game in 1990 and Williams was playing for the Cubs. Before the game I asked him for his autograph on a Bowman card which had a facsimile autograph. He looked at it and said, "Whose autograph is that? That's not mine. Let me fix that", and signed the card. Wait a minute. Let me see if I can dig up the card. Yep. here it is:

Honorable mention:
Mark Langston and Frank Tanana - I may have seen each of them pitch but I don't remember so I don't feel like I can include them. I would have loved to see Tanana pitch as an Angel when he could still bring it. It always amazed me that after a lifetime (and five years in the majors) as a power pitcher, he was able to rework himself into a finesse pitcher and threw 3000 innings as a 100 ERA+ guy the rest of his career. That's impressive.

Chuck McElroy - I started a fan club for him and his glasses in high school/college. Even sent out a newsletter for a while. But in an era of pre-internet (when you couldn't follow the minors real easily), when he threw 14 horrible innings in the majors, I hung it up to pursue other things.

Steve Avery - My oldest son is named after him. My wife and I decided that we were going to name our first son after two great left-handed pitchers (I'm a southpaw, too). She ruled out Ford Gomez. So we went with Carlton Avery. Lest you forget, Steve Avery was one of only 12 lefthanders to win 50 games in the majors by age 23 (CC Sabathia became the 13th). He looked like he could be one of the greats. Alas.

John Smiley/Denny Neagle - The appeal of baseball has changed for me over the years. From the age of 7 until the late eighties, I loved baseball for the numbers. All I cared about were baseball statistics. Then from the late eighties into the early nineties, I really grew to appreciate the game itself, the beauty and art of what was going on on the field. I still do but at some point in the nineties (probably about the time I really started developing my research library), I shifted yet again and really began to enjoy the wealth of history on the game.

When I thought of this list, these guys immediately came to mind. I loved watching them pitch. They were traded for each other. They are each on the others' list of top ten similar pitchers ( I feel like they cover all three phases of my appreciation of baseball. Not sure if it makes sense, but it does to me.

Tom Browning - We share the same birthday. I fondly remember him being a terror on the basepaths (FIVE stolen bases!!!). A perfect game. Another guy who always seemed better than he actually was.

I need to stop this post before I end up with 1,742 honorable mentions.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reviews of a couple of things I didn't finish

I wanted to review a couple of things here because even though I didn't finish them, I think they're really good and that a lot of people would enjoy them.

First is a baseball book I had never heard of until a few weeks ago. That in itself is something. I like to think I'm aware of 98%+ of books written about baseball. The book is called Baseball Hacks by Joseph Adler. I borrowed a copy because I'm developing a baseball website and this looked like it had some potential in giving me some useful tips, particularly with PERL.

The book is really two books in one. Part of the book talks about the "new-fangled" baseball statistics. The book came out in 2006 so for most of you, I would expect, you'd be like me and not get a lot of out of that portion of it. We're beyond a lot of those "new" metrics like WHIP and ERA and OPS+ .

The other part of the book involves writing code to access data from baseball websites. If you have a little bit of programming experience and would like to have a way to pull together statistics for your fantasy league from a website, for example, you can understand how to do that from this book. You can see what all is contained in the book here. It was a neat book and it would have been nicer if I had known of it five years ago. Alas.

My other review is of the audiobook version of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. I love Lolita. I think it's a brilliant book. But as you probably know, as much as I like reading to people, I really can't be read to. This audiobook, though, looked to be the best candidate to change that.

Jeremy Irons is the reader and he does an absolutely fabulous job of reading the book. He captures Humbert Humbert so well. His pacing and his timbre and his volume and his enunciation.....just perfect.

I'm always astounded by this book in that Nabokov wrote this is his second language, English, and writes better than most people do in their native tongues. Irons captures all the literary twists so well. The alliterations, the humorous little comments. Irons is downright musical in his reading. I was completely right in thinking that an audiobook could not be done better.

It didn't matter. I still couldn't enjoy listening to it. I found myself "translating" it in my head. I would hear Irons speak then turn his words into printed words in my head and then read those printed words with my mind's eye. Is that whacked? I think so. I could either enjoy Irons' reading or try to enjoy the story as it was written. I couldn't do both. Audiobooks just don't work for me.

If you do like audiobooks, though, I honestly cannot imagine anyone doing one better than this. Definitely, definitely check it out.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Inspirational and funny

Not safe for work the last minute and half because of some profanities by the MC. Don't let it keep you from watching the first 8:30.

courtesy Stellar

Fascinating guy.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

In the King's Arms by Sonia Taitz

One of my favorite places to read about reading and small presses is The Next Best Book Blog. Lori, who runs the blog, had a contest in October to give away copies of this book. A condition of winning was to take part in a book discussion on Goodreads involving the author. I entered, won, and read it.

I thought it was an absolutely horrible book. Every time I picked it up, I found myself groaning within a few paragraphs. The story is about an American girl, the daughter of Holocaust survivors (and when I noticed a new novel in our small press collection also was about a Holocaust survivor, I commented to a co-worker that there seems to be more novels about Holocaust survivors than there were Holocaust survivors), who goes to Oxford for graduate school, and I don't mean Ole Miss. She falls in love with a shallow, good-looking guy who happens to be the brother of a friend of hers. The family of the brothers are anti-Semitic, apparently for no other reason than as a plot device. The heroine gets impregnated, the lover flees, they find themselves back together for some reason. The end.

It's supposed to be a tale about love conquering all but it was just so bad. The dialogue is brutal. The heroine is fanatical about being the daughter of Holocaust survivors and the injustices done to her parents, but her Judaism seems to be important to her simply as a point of contention, just as the anti-Semitism by the boyfriend's parents lacks grounding in anything. The characters are downright insipid. They're empty husks whose sole purpose is spouting the awful dialogue.

Part of the reason I wanted to win a copy of the book was to put it in the small press collection. The publisher, McWitty, is new on the scene, having only put out five books of which this is one. They didn't help matters. The covers of the book (it's paperback), mysteriously curled. I've never had that happen to a book before. There were a couple of typos I noticed and several spots in the dialogue where it was difficult to determine whether they were typos or the character was supposed to be stammering and it just wasn't printed in a clear fashion.

Something I found strange, too, is the author wrote this book 25 years ago. In the discussion I asked why she waited so long to try and find a publisher and I also wondered whether she had made any changes when she submitted it to McWitty. The answers were she knew the publisher was the right fit for the book and no.

I really wish that someone had opted to make some changes with the book. I feel that the quality of the book, both the content and the physical manifestation of the book itself, doesn't help promote small presses.

Others have rated the book on Goodreads and given it decent marks. I'm hoping the discussion enlightens me as to some merit this book has because right now I think this beats out Time Travelers Wife for worst book I've read.

Update: Well, the Goodreads discussion ended and nothing good came out of it from the standpoint of appreciating the book. There was no actual discussion of the book and I wondered if any of the other winners read the book. One said she had not.

On the other hand, Ms. Taitz was very entertaining and engaging. She realizes that her writing isn't for everybody and is cool about that. She has a wonderful optimism about herself and her writing that I appreciated a lot.

Nice author, horrible book.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

December Fools! The real Friday Faves #4 - Favorite Christmas songs

I was just kidding yesterday. I was cracking myself up with the idea of someone just loving Little Drummer Boy and all the possible variations on it. According to Wikipedia (pardon my usage of Wikipedia), there are over 220 recorded versions of Little Drummer Boy. I honestly do like the Jars of Clay variation. That was nicely done. Justin Bieber's version was downright horrible as was The Almost. I can't believe that someone somewhere - whether it be Biebs himself, his agent, the song's producer, someone - didn't speak up and say "Biebs, this song is a really, really bad idea".

I like Johnny Cash but his version wasn't very good either. Outside of Jars of Clay, I would likely never deliberately listen to any of the ones I included yesterday. All in good fun.

Today I have my actual favorite Christmas songs. I hope you find them more enjoyable.

#1 Gabriel's Message by Sting. I first heard this as a kid and it took me forever to get a copy of it. Even now, the album that has this song, the Very Special Christmas album, released in 1987, is sold at full price whenever you find it at stores. Sort of ridiculous if you ask me. Thank goodness for the ability to buy single songs digitally now.

#2 Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy by David Bowie and Bing Crosby - I actually do like The Little Drummer Boy a lot and I really enjoy this version by two greats.

#3 O Holy Night by Johnny Mathis - This song epitomized Christmas for me, more than any other song. My folks would play it every Christmas. It's well done, it captures the spirit of Christmas, and I think Johnny Mathis is greatly underappreciated here in the 21st century.

#4 Hallelujah Chorus by the Opera Company of Philadelphia et al - There's a lot better renditions than this one and I really don't like it being done with a pipe organ normally (I think singing Christmas songs in church is too stuffy and I associate pipe organs with singing in church), but this was just an awesome effort organized as part of the Knight Foundation's Random Acts of Culture. I would have loved to have caught it live instead of just hearing about it.

#5 Carol of the Bells by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir - It was tempting to make this song an honorable mention for two reasons. One, it's really hard to find a good rendition of it. It's too easy for the lyrics of this song to get muddled because of instrumentation and choir size (as well as overestimating your middle school choir's ability). Two, it's a really short song. I love it, though, and I do like this particular recorded version as opposed to others by the MTC. I think a lot of their live versions have that muddling. The instrumentation here is nice and the lyrics stay somewhat crisp.

Honorable mention:
This Christmas by Yutaka - The first Christmas album I bought as an "adult" was A GRP Christmas Collection. I immediately liked this song as a then-modern song that captured the holiday season unlike, say, songs like Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. It was refreshing to hear something other than the Christmas classics that still epitomized the Christmas spirit a bit.

Happy Holidays by Andy Williams - You have no idea how many Christmas songs were disqualified from consideration on this list because I played the bejeezus out of them as a saxamaphonist. Especially in high school where I had rehearsal every day, it got really tiring playing the same song over and over and over and over in preparation for concerts.

One song, this song, was an exception. I played this as part of the University of Pittsburgh's Marching Band. We only rehearsed it for a week or two since we only performed it for the last football game of the season. Even that was miserable, though. We practiced at night and night time in a football stadium in Pittsburgh in November is never a fun time.

What made things worse, though, was that the assistant band director, Dave Moi, got to "produce" this song, the only song he got to do over the course of the season. He took it WAAAAAAY too seriously and pretty much angered all of us. We'd do the regular show in the freezing cold, be ready to go back home, to the dorms, or really anywhere, and then Dave would get to take the reins and grind us into the ground for what seemed like another seventeen hours.

During the song, parts of the band were to stop playing and actually start singing "Happy holidays" with another part of the band responding like Andy Williams does with his chorus in this recording. After a few rehearsals, the response to "Happy holidays" was "Dave Moi's an ass". Even now when I hear this in a store or something, I'll respond to Andy Williams with "Dave Moi's an ass". Totally in the Christmas spirit.

Last Month of the Year by The Kingston Trio - The particular recording I have below is poorly done but it's the only one I can find. My folks wore out this record at Christmas time and I really didn't care for the Kingston Trio except for this song.

Having put together this list, I'm not entirely sure it's better than a whole lot of versions of Little Drummer Boy but when Christmas comes around, these are the songs I think of and want to hear.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday Faves #4 - Favorite Christmas songs

It used to be that after Thanksgiving, one or two radio stations would go to an all-Christmas format, playing Christmas songs and Adam Sandler's Hanukkah Song, until December 26th when they returned to ordinary programming. Now it seems that only one or two radio stations keep their traditional programming. So having been inundated by Christmas songs whenever I'm in my car, I thought it would be a good Friday Fave to list my five favorite Christmas songs.

#1 Little Drummer Boy by Jars of Clay. Is there a better Christmas song than Little Drummer Boy? I like the instrumentation and vocals on this version.

#2 Little Drummer Boy by Johnny Cash. Is there a better Christmas song than Little Drummer Boy? Who better to sing it than the Man in Black?

#3 Little Drummer Boy by Justin Bieber and Busta Rhymes. Is there a better Christmas song than Little Drummer Boy? When you take the greatest musical artist of the 21st century, AutoTune him, and add a legendary rapper, you have something that completely omits the religion from Christmas and turns it into crass commercialization. I love how Biebs brings the sexy on this one.

#4 Little Drummer Boy by The Almost. Is there a better Christmas song than Little Drummer Boy? It's even a good song when you have someone who isn't trying to hit the right notes.

#5 Little Drummer Boy by The Toasters. Is there a better Christmas song than Little Drummer Boy? I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Yeah, those are some good versions, but I like something I can listen to when I'm enjoying some greenery, and I don't mean my Christmas tree". This version is for you.

Honorable mention:
Little Drummer Boy by Hoodoo Gurus. This makes me think of the Brady Bunch tiki episode guest starring Vincent Price which makes me sad because Christmas isn't Christmas without Vincent Price. Otherwise this would make the top 5.

Little Drummer Boy by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Like I need to explain this one.

Little Drummer Boy by Marlene Dietrich. It isn't Christmas without at least one song in German and what better song than Little Drummer Boy?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fantastic Women by Rob Spillman

Fantastic Women is a collection of short stories edited by Rob Spillman and published by Tin House Press. There are eighteen stories, each written by a different female author and each being quite odd.

I've mentioned recently how the short story has been growing on me and how I've been learning to appreciate them more. This book was a mixed bag for me. Some of the stories were done very well. Some I thought did not make use of the short story mode adequately, being too abrupt. Some of the stories I just didn't like.

The stories are presented in alphabetical order by author and the first one was the one I enjoyed most. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was by Aimee Bender, my second favorite female author. Her story, all of six pages long and titled Americca, involves a ghost who leaves gifts for the narrator's family.

Then came four stories I didn't like, followed by a bizarre "story" by Lydia Davis called Five Fictions from the Middle of the Night which seem to be ideas for stories. Each is one or two paragraphs in length. By this time I was starting to weary of the book but then Rikki Ducornet, author of Netsuke, revived my interest with a dandy of a story called The Dickmare. It is also very short (six pages) and was about the relationship of a couple of oysters.

After a couple of odd, well-written stories that I didn't particularly like, Miranda July put forth an awful one. I have never understood Miranda July's appeal. I don't get her as an actress. I don't get her as a filmmaker. I don't get her as an artist. I don't get her as a writer. I didn't get her story Oranges. I don't understand why people are gushing about her new project, It Chooses You other than it's Miranda July. Ooh, ah, ooh. If Sean Hagins or Jenny Hohensee did this, no one would care. If I ranked all eighteen stories in this book, July's would be 18th, even behind Davis' lame effort.

The last half of the book is strong. Kelly Link writes the longest of the stories, Light, which is a strange sci-fi feeling piece. I will definitely look for more by her to read. Plus, she and her husband operate Small Beer Press, a well-regarded indy publishing house.

Three other writers in the latter half of the book - Lydia Millet, Gina Oschner and Karen Russell - also wrote stories so good and so well done that I'll be looking for more to read by them. Millet had a collection of short stories that was a finalist for the Pulitzer. Karen Russell has written two novels that have received a lot of attention. A former volunteer at the library had read both and thought they were mediocre and so I held off on them. No longer.

I liked this book as a sampler of authors. I found some unfamiliar names that I'd like to explore further. I reaffirmed my likings and of Ms. Bender and Ms. Ducornet and my dislike of Ms. July. And I read some folks I'll probably never read again. All in all a solid book and one I'd recommend, despite it's unevenness.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

About six weeks ago I came across a video in the Crossfit Journal by a nutritionist, Dr. John Berardi where he talked about the differences in knowing what to do and doing the right thing. He was inspired by change psychology and discussed some really simple things people can do to lose weight. The first thing was to eat slowly. I have always been a very fast eater and I've known that that is a problem with my eating habits. I once tried eating with chopsticks as a way for me to slow down my eating and instead I just got really good at eating quickly with chopsticks.

Nonetheless, I really tried to focus on slowing down my eating and being aware of my actual hunger levels. I'll eat because there's something tasty around, even if I'm not hungry. This is especially true at my parents where they always seem to have delicious junk food that I don't buy.

The result has been a loss of almost ten pounds. I haven't really been paying attention to the numbers, just to what I'm eating, when I'm eating it, and how fast I'm eating. So that's been going well.

Dr. Berardi recommended some books on change psychology, one of which was this book, Switch by brothers Chip and Dan Heath. They also wrote Made to Stick which I seem to recall reading but was either unimpressed with it or I actually didn't read it (I'm 75/25 sure it's the former).

I really liked Switch. Although it related more to businesses, there is some individual application to be found. The essence of the book is that changes rely on three things which they label The Elephant, The Rider and The Path.

The Elephant is your emotional side. It's the part that craves the junk food or the Coach purse or says that we've always it done it this way so we'll keep doing it this way. The Rider is the rational side of you. It wants the healthy body to live longer. It wants to innovate. It sees the long-term picture.

The Heaths use the two terms because the rational side is in charge of the emotional side, as best as a person riding an elephant can be. It's hard. One of the reason why it's hard is that there is often little concern about external influences or The Path. Say I crave food. My mind is trying to control my belly but my belly wants to be satiated. How can I change my path? Maybe not visiting my parents would be an example. Or for most people, staying away from buffets. I go to buffets and I always joke that I have yet to see a supermodel at one of them. Coincidence? Or, a scientifically proven example, use a smaller plate at meal time. With a small plate, you don't put as much food on it and you tend to eat less.

Fooling with the path is also good because it lets your Rider use its wits to affect the Elephant with its own emotions. The Heaths use an example of getting a business to change their habits in filing expense reports by appealing to workers on an emotional level to make things easier for the well-liked HR person.

There are a lot of good tips, many of them common sense, like shrinking the change. Instead of focusing on losing fifty pounds, focus on losing five. Then once you hit that, go for five more. Etcetera.

Despite my examples, the book has very little to do with individual change. It is definitely a book geared to businesses and one I think should be essential reading for any business. It is primarily case studies and not a whole lot of "how-to". Given the business focus and the lack of practical implementation ideas on an individual level, I'm giving the book one star.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The World As We Know It by Joseph Monninger

I definitely was concerned about reading Joseph Monninger's The World As We Know It. His book A Barn in New England is one of my all-time favorite books and one of my most read books. It is one of those few that I will go back and re-read (that seems like a good topic for a Friday Fave). I really doubted Monninger could write two books that I thought were awesome. Plus, The World... is a novel while A Barn... is non-fiction. I had a degree of skepticism.

I shouldn't have. It was really good. The World... is about two brothers living in the little town of Warren, New Hampshire (where Monninger lives). The story begins with the two brothers in their early teens. It is winter and they are trying to ice skate up a river to Canada. They round a bend and find a young girl and her dog have fallen through the ice. The two rescue her and the girl, who is the youngest brothers age, and the younger brother fall in love.

The book goes on and details the very idyllic life of the trio and their families. The girl, Sarah, has recently moved to Warren because her father won the lottery and they were looking to "get away from it all". The brothers, Ed and Allard (Allard being the youngest), have dreamed of starting their own film company, making nature documentaries. Sarah helps them and the three grow up in a wilderness filled with love for nature, their families and each other.

Once they reach college age, Ed goes out west for college and meets up with a noted nature cinematographer and begins working for him. Allard goes to school and gets an internship with Ken Burns. Sarah pursues journalism at an Ivy League school. Even being apart from one another can't break apart the bonds of the trio. Sarah and Allard decide to get married.

By this time I'm more than halfway through this book. I'm really enjoying it but I'm bothered by a few things. First, the absolute perfection of these folks lives. It's like they grew up in the Garden of Eden, pre-apple. Even the spat Sarah and Allard get into is resolved quite quickly and painlessly. Which leads to the second point that bothers me. Uh, Mr. Monninger....novels are supposed to have conflicts. And choosing which Ivy League school a character goes to is not a conflict (why doesn't anyone ever send their characters to St. Olaf College? Some smart college PR person needs to pay filmmakers or authors to insert their liberal arts school into their work. I'm tired of people going to Yale and Harvard and Stanford. I digress.).

It takes a long time - just after the point when I started wondering where it was and yes, more than halfway through the book - but Monninger gets his conflict in with a doozy. Everything is shaken up. The marriage does not go off. Tragedy strikes. Allard vanishes. Sarah finds another. But then it all works out in the end. Love conquers all.

I did enjoy the book. Monninger is a great writer, especially when it comes to writing about the outdoors. I was reminded a lot of another great nature writer, David James Duncan, as I read it. But Monninger also does a nice job with character development and dialogue. The story is what prevents me from putting him in the two two-star book author category. It's a little trite and sappy. The conflict takes way too long to appear and given how long it takes to get there, it doesn't leave a lot of time for the resolution. Also, the lives of the characters are just way too perfect. Ken Burns? Ivy League schools? Lottery winners? Oh, and Sarah just happens to work for National Geographic upon graduation. Not the Frog Blog or the Montpelier Times or something. Just one of the premiere magazines in existence. Why not?

I can understand wanting to provide contrast for when the conflict occurs but a great life is fine for that. You don't need perfect. So that rubbed me the wrong way. Still, Monninger's writing is great. It has a masculine feel to it but he yanks on your emotions, too. It's like coming across a group of flannel-clad lumberjacks crying. Not easy to do, I don't think.

So check it out. I think you'll like it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Faves #3 - Favorite board games

I'm a lifelong board game player and not surprisingly at an early age I found myself straying from the mass-marketed fare (Candy Land, Sorry, Monopoly, etc.) and moving into the more complex games. At age 8 I bought Avalon Hill's War at Sea at a garage sale for a quarter and played the heck out of that which exposed me to wargames. At age 9, I got into role playing games (Dungeons and Dragons, of course, was the first there).

I also was into sports games at an early age, too. My first sports board game was Charlie Brown's All-Star Baseball. Tim Wiles, the Director of Research at the Hall of Fame, had a copy in his office and that was a blast getting to see it again when I was at the Hall (my copy vanished long ago). From there I went to Cadaco's All-Star Baseball, then Avalon Hill's Statis-Pro Baseball. Statis-Pro held me through high school when my girlfriend at college got me Strat-o-Matic (SOM) for Christmas which led to me becoming a delinquent and having to transfer to a college in North Carolina. That, in turn, led me to my first job out of college as Technical Manager of Pursue the Pennant (PTP). Despite not getting SOM baseball until college, I did have football, basketball and hockey during my grade school years. Go figure.

Board games were a huge part of my friendships. Myself and four friends in particular would often game on the weekends through high school. Once I transferred colleges, I stopped playing until I worked for PTP and then I only played PTP. When I had kids of my own, I started getting new games (I had pretty much sold off or given all my old games to my friend Eric, who is obsessed with games as I am baseball). My sons both enjoy playing a lot and we try and make a weekly thing out of it.

Keith Law put up a post of his top thirty games this week so I thought I'd keep with the theme for this week's Friday Faves. All of them are current faves. I'll address old-timey faves in the honorable mentions.

#1 - Settlers of Catan. This game is my favorite because it has just the right blend of luck and strategy. The board changes every game which keeps it interesting and there are multiple ways to go about winning. It is rare that a game of this isn't fun.

#2 - Dominion. Keith Law kept Dominion and Dominion: Intrigue separate but I'm lumping Dominion and all it's expansions together. We have the original game, Intrigue, Seaside, Prosperity, Alchemy and some promo cards and our method of playing is to randomly generate ten sets of Kingdom Cards from the combined sets for each game. This is the most played game in our household and it also holds a lot of appeal because every game is different (and we usually play three games at a time when we break it out) and there are multiple ways of winning. I also like both this and Settlers in that everyone usually has a shot of winning, even if you're playing someone with decades of gaming experience (important as a Dad if you want to keep your sons playing).

#3 Strat-o-matic baseball. I got rid of my set once I went to work for PTP but then reacquired the game once I moved on with my career and when SOM put out their 1911 cardset. I can't get anyone to play with me so I play solitaire when I play and it saddens me sometimes to think of the pages of notebooks and scoresheets I have filled over the years in a J. Henry Waugh-esque compulsion for playing these games. Is the time and energy devoted to playing "worth" it? Could I or should I have been doing something more "productive"? Of course, I'm mulling this piece of existentialism as I "productively" blog (and as you productively read after taking time off from Angry Birds). All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

#4 Um Reifenbreite. Another game that no one will play with me. I didn't think it possible but this is actually a pretty accurate recreation of a professional bicycle race. The game is in German and so I had to translate it all. It's a lot of fun. Each person has four riders. Each rider has different riding ability but each team is comprised of the same four rider sets of riding ability. The majority of the game involves determining when to breakaway and when to draft and figuring when to best expend a rider's energy. I love the strategy and I think no one will play because as a former bicyclist and fan of cycling, I knows me my bicycling strategy and so I make this game no fun for novices. It's still a very cool game.

#5 Puerto Rico. It takes forever to setup but I think this is the closest thing to an old school strategy game that we play. We don't play it enough that any of us have figured out the best way to approach the game which is part of the charm. From things I've read, frequent playing reveals optimal strategies. Plus, this game has a real minimal amount of luck so once those strategies are identified, I expect this game will cease being enjoyable.

Honorable mentions:
Talisman - Of all the games I played as a youngster, this is the one I miss the most. Eric had all the expansions and it seemed as if each game took hours but was never boring. The characters you could be were really interesting (I loved being either the Chainsaw Warrior or the Swashbuckler) and somehow every game seemed competitive.

Formula DE - I never played this much thanks to an intervention by Eric. He had it with most of, if not all, the expansions. It's a very detailed auto racing game and each expansion contains two different tracks. When I played it, I could see myself drawing up detailed schedules and keeping all sorts of stats and playing entire auto racing seasons (speaking of which, congratulations Tony Stewart on championship #3!!!). Thankfully, this never came to fruition as Eric would not let me borrow it.

Bossman Baseball - this was a game that PTP tried to sell on the side that someone else had created. The game has nine innings and you go around and acquire Hall of Famers and try and build a team. The trick is that you have to pay each player on your team their salary every inning. So if you acquire Babe Ruth for $2 million in inning 1, you're shelling out $18 million over the course of the game which is a lot of money to be paying for one player. Despite the baseball theme, it's actually a money game and I never win which makes it really fun for people who think "How could YOU possibly lose a game involving baseball?". The answer being that I have favorite players and will pay 27.3 million for Christy Mathewson and then be stuck paying $100,000 for Rick Ferrell, Rabbit Maranville and not having enough for outfielders or any other starting pitchers. I'm smart like that.

Elixir - This was once fun but my youngest son abuses the rules as to make the game unfun. The game is played with two decks of cards, a spell deck and an items deck. Everyone starts the game with so many points worth of spells, usually around 9-11 depending on the number of players. Each spell is 1-4 points and takes 1-4 ingredients to cast it. Level 3 and 4 spells change the game. Level 1 and 2 are more goofy. My youngest likes to stock up on Level 1 spells which tend to have things like "Your opponent must say "Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle" before they speak for the rest of the game. We had to limit the number of level 1 spells you can cast because it was tough remembering what everyone was supposed to be saying. It really turned the game into a farce and who wants that?

Grass - a card game about dealing marijuana. Wholesome? No doubt. Competitive? The game had a card labeled "Screw Your Neighbor". We played this a lot in high school. A lot of different people had the game. Once I was married I picked up a copy and there was no better way to anger my wife. The last game of it we played ended when she threw her hand of cards in my face. The game wasn't over. She just had had enough of playing it. I ended up giving my copy away. One of, if not the most, cutthroat games I ever played.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

I'm often torn when it comes to meta-fiction. Is it clever or is it gimmicky? I think it can be a fine line and Charles Yu's How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is right on that line.

The main character in Yu's book is Charles Yu. He's a time machine repairman and is a lonely fellow. As a child, his father was passionate about time travel and he recruited young Charles to help him in his pursuit of a working time machine. One day his father disappears and story Yu longs to find his father and learn why (and where or when) he vanished.

Story Yu suffers from a general ennui. He puts his time machine in a sort of neutral, keeping himself from moving through time except for the occasional call to help others with their machines. His only companions are his female computer system, Tammy, and a non-existent but existent dog named Ed.

When Yu is called in to have his own machine serviced, he is stunned to discover his future self appearing. Despite having been trained to run from one's future self, Yu instead draws a gun and shoots his future self then escapes in his time machine into the future. He discovers that his future self has left him a book that he will write in the future called How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. As he reads the book, he sets out to write it knowing, however, that he will eventually go back in time and be killed by himself.

See what I mean? Clever or gimmicky? I think it's clever in that usually when you have a story about time travel, the future person goes back to change the past. It's sort of novel to have the present change the future while the future is on it's way back to the present.

While in this loop, he discovers a little more about his father and seems to be making headway right about the time he goes back to the point where he shoots himself.

Despite the meta-fiction aspect, it's a nice story about father-son relationships with a special guest appearance by one L. Skywalker. Well, of course, you may say. Is there a more notable science fictional father-son relationship than Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker? Well, it turns out the L. Skywalker is Linus Skywalker, Luke's son, who has really had a tough time coping with his father's fame. Funny little twist but really the only external reference to science fiction.

There's quirks like that. The number 31 plays an important part although I don't know why. Yu's time machine model is a TM-31 and he travels through Minor Universe 31. The book How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (the one I read, or the one Yu wrote or both?) has 31 chapters. Nice number, 31, but I must have missed the significance.

Then there's all the book references to itself. He mentions something happening on a page in the book which is the same page that it appears on in the book you're reading. Stuff like that.

It's a cute book. Very brief. I'd put it at like a 55/45 clever/gimmicky split which makes it enough to recommend.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Someone you should read

My friend Jason, an excellent writer who is currently shopping his first novel, has suffered horribly for some time. Why? NO WEB PRESENCE! Ridiculous! It's like they said in Glengarry Glen Ross. ABC - Always Be Celling. Or something like that.

Anyway. He commented in my last post and I am happy to be able to link to some reviews of his.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Faves #2 - Favorite female authors

I have to talk about books. I can't help it. I'll try and mix up the themes of these from week to week and I did a listening/watching one last week so we'll go with books this week.

I had been thinking about female authors a lot this week for a few reasons. One, I'm reading a collection of short stories by women. Two, I just got done reading a not particularly enjoyable book written by a woman. Three, I got to thinking a lot about a trio of my favorite women authors and their capacity to write more than one excellent book. I figured I'm thinking about them anyway, I might as well write about them.

So here we are.

#1 Laura Hillenbrand - One of the things I was thinking about this week, after reading Joseph Monninger's latest novel, was the difficulty in writing more than one masterpiece. I loved Monninger's A Barn in New England and I approached his new book with a lot of trepidation. Could he possibly match the quality of Barn in New England? No. It was a really good book but creating multiple masterpieces is a hard thing to do. I tried to think of, say, my top fifty books. Who would have two or more on there? Not Michael Chabon. Not T.C. Boyle. After thinking and thinking, I came up with two. Jonathan Safron Foer and Laura Hillenbrand. And Hillenbrand is questionable. I loved Seabiscuit. You can't do a non-fiction book better than that. I don't care what your interest in horses, non-fiction, or reading is, you'll enjoy Seabiscuit. Unbroken was superb as well. Top 50? I don't know. I gave it two-stars. But I'm nitpicking the right tail of the bell curve. Hillenbrand is immensely talented and that's why she's number one on this list.

#2 Aimee Bender - based on two excellent novels - The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and An Invisible Sign of My Own and a short story in the collection I'm reading which should be reviewed in the next couple of weeks. Bender is really quirky and I think that's what appeals to me the most about her writing.

#3 Elizabeth Gilbert - based on her TED talk and two excellent non-fiction books - Eat, Pray, Love and The Last American Man. Eat, Pray, Love is funny in that I think I regard it more highly now than I did at the time I read it. I may have bought into the hype a bit. I didn't care as much for Committed and I still need to read some of her fiction.

#4 Alison McGhee - likely the least recognized name on this list. Four strong novels, all of which probably made me tear up. Rainlight, Shadow Baby, Was it Beautiful? (my favorite), and All Rivers Flow to the Sea. She seems to have made the transition to children's books which I find disappointing. Her books tend to be about families and grief, which is what makes them so sad. They're lovely, though, too.

#5 Jeanette Winterson - very much in danger of becoming a Friday Fave Emeritus in that she's in my top five based on two awesome books - Written on the Body and Sexing the Cherry - which were published in 1993 and 1990, respectively. She went downhill from there. I enjoyed the writing, but not the stories, of Gut Symmetries, The Powerbook and Lighthousekeeping. I picked up The Stone Gods not too long ago and put it back because it looked goofy. Like McGhee, she seems to be turning towards a younger audiences (although not as young as McGhee). Winterson released a memoir a few weeks ago which I might read.

Honorable Mention:
Suzanne Clarke - Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is one of my favorite books. Like top five favorite. I read a collection of short stories by her which paled in comparison and one book isn't going to get you into the top five, no matter how fantastic.

Mary Roach - really oddball non-fiction in Packing for Mars and Stiff. Before I read her books, I used to read her column in Reader's Digest, the only reason I even picked up the magazine.

Pre-hack Anne Rice - the first female author I really enjoyed. Feast of All Saints and Cry to Heaven were incredibly enjoyable and the first two books of The Vampire Chronicles are almost legendary. What came after and the stuff she wrote under a pseudonym is just a mess of horrible.

What do I mean by pre-hack? Interview with the Vampire came out in 1976, Feast of All Saints in 1979, Cry to Heaven in 1982, and The Vampire Lestat in 1985. See a trend? Three years, like clockwork. With The Vampire Lestat, the Vampire Chronicles put Rice on the map and people started buying the brand. Her next books came out in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 (x2), 2001, 2002 (x2), and 2003 (x2). That's ridiculous, especially when you consider she had health problems and spent time in a coma.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton

I don't think my opinion of a person has ever swayed so much across the like/dislike spectrum as it has for Wil Wheaton. I first encountered Wil as the extremely annoying Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG). Good googly moogly, I hated that character. It made me long for original Star Trek episodes where a landing party would beam to another planet and some extra on the show would buy the farm. Oh, how I wanted Wesley Crusher to be that unfortunate landing party soul.

I'm hard pressed to think of another character that evoked such distaste. Maybe Sarah Jessica Parker's character on Sex and the City. The sad part is (outside of my admitting I've watched Sex and the City enough to dislike Sarah Jessica Parker's character) that Star Trek: TNG was my entire exposure to Wheaton. I never saw the movie Stand By Me (his other notable role), and then he sort of vanished. In the late nineties I remember reading about his starting a blog popular among Trekkies and other assorted geeks and nerds. I checked it out but it didn't particularly interest me (watching Star Trek: TNG was after-school decompression. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe served the same purpose. Only reason I was watching was because I was in front of the TV and it happened to be on).

Years and years passed. Almost as if I were on a spaceship exploring unknown planets or something. But instead, I was watching a show by Felicia Day called The Guild. This show I was watching because of my internet crush on Felicia Day. In the third season of the show, an absolutely splendid bad guy shows up. "Oh, wow. I don't know who that actor is but he is awesome", I said to meself. Lo and behold, it's none other than Wil Wheaton. And in my opinion, he was the best part about The Guild, Day-crush and all.

As it turns out, while Wheaton was struggling to land acting jobs, he became a writer and put out several books, mostly about his life as a struggling actor. Goodreads recommended a different one but Just A Geek was the only one available near me. So I read it. Wheaton's not a bad writer. I wouldn't say he's a good writer, either, but definitely on the good side of the spectrum.

A lot of the book came from his blog. It's an interesting look at the difficulties actors face, especially when type-cast. More so, it's interesting from the standpoint of Wheaton's deciding whether or not he should try and detach himself from TNG. On the one hand, Star Trek is a huge thing and to have been a part of that has its perks. But more to the point and something everyone has to deal with, your past is part of you. You can't escape it. When Wheaton finally accepts that fact and embraces his past a bit more, he feels better about himself.

Just A Geek was a fun, quick book to read. I'd have to think long and hard as to whether or not I've ever read a book about or by an actor before. Hold on while I think about that.......Steve Martin, but he's a polymath, not an actor. Oh, and I read Hugh Laurie's The Gun Seller. But I think that's it. The book was a departure for me and, wait a minute....why did Goodreads recommend the other Wheaton book? Hmmm. Because I read The Soloist. Go figure.

If you're a nerd/geek/fan of TV, I think you'll like Just A Geek. But I know that most of the people reading my blog are far from being nerds and geeks. You're cool like me.