Sunday, July 31, 2011


I hadn't done any horse racing in July until today. I entered an online tournament and did well. Eight races. I had three wins and three places and finished 90th out of over 2600 entries. Quite pleased with myself. My ROI for the tournament was 107%. Love to be able to do that every time out.

A Passion for Books

In my continued quest to catch up on book reviews, I missed putting this one in the right slot chronologically. It makes sense because it took me a long time to read it. It wasn't because the book was tedious. I really enjoyed it. It's because the book had to be savored.

A Passion for Books is a collection of essays from noted figures in the book collecting world (which by default contains noted figures in the bookselling, writing and publishing worlds). There were some by favorites of mine like Nicholas Basbanes, Christopher Morley and Robertson Davies. There was one by the legendary A.S.W. Rosenbach. Umberto Eco, John Updike, Gustave Flaubert and many more. A veritable who's who.

As with any collection of work by a multitude of people, particularly one such as this where the entries ranged in length from a couple paragraphs to many pages, it is uneven. There were some really dull pieces interspersed with some really wonderful ones. There's also some lists of books and some cartoons.

I can see myself going back to this book, leafing through it, maybe even referencing it if the need arose. It's not one that I would read from cover to cover but some of the essays I liked a lot I would reread. If you're a book lover, you need to at least leaf through a copy.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

My experience with the Topps 2011 Heritage "H" Looseys

I had been reading about the Target H packs on various sites and when I found myself at a Target this afternoon, I decided to take a look and see what I could find. Having committed the appropriate code to memory, I looked through the packs and found two that had the proper identification. Bought them and went out to my car to open them.

Uh oh. Go to open the first pack and found that someone had opened the top of the pack. I slide the cards out and they are all base. Worse, there are only eight cards in the pack. Looks like a pack searcher beat me to it and shoplifted the special card. Nice.

Second pack was intact and it contained a Robinson Cano All-Star short print. So my sample size of one proves that the packs are hot.

Target took back the opened pack and refunded my money. I wondered how many people have bought those packs, taken out the special card and returned them. I tell you. This card business stuff is shady.

Here are the cards I got. I'm not collecting them so if you need something, let me know.

45 Longoria
81 Varitek
115 Soriano
160 Jones
315 Sabathia
327 Lopez
349 Bonderman
366 Porcello
467 Cano

Monday, July 25, 2011


I read and reviewed this book a couple of years back in conjunction with another book. I bought a copy for my oldest son and had to read it again. Still liked it although I wouldn't (and ultimately didn't) put it in my top ten of the year as I stated at the end of the previous review. Still a good read.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Requiem Shark

I came across this book in a funny manner. One of my co-workers had seen the book on the shelf and pulled it out, setting the cover facing forward so as to attract attention and to fill up some shelf space. The book sat there for a couple weeks and I kept looking at it and looking at. Finally, intrigued by the title, I decided I'd check it out. It's a novel about pirates! There is a lack of adult novels on pirates. I don't know why this is but I have found finding such novels to be a challenge. So I decided to check this out. Lo and behold, this book must have been withdrawn at some point and returned to the shelves without it being marked withdrawn. The book wasn't in the computer system any longer. Who knows how long it sat before I finally opted to read it?

Once I read it, I figured out why we withdrew it. It wasn't very good. It's a historical novel in the sense that it is about the life of the pirate Black Bart Roberts. The story is told by William Williams, a young man who grew up in a well-to-do family. He is forced into service as Roberts' biographer. The book details Roberts' Moby Dickesque hunt for a boat laden with treasure. Roberts leads his crew around the world in search of the boat, plundering where they get a chance and increasing Roberts' renown.

One thing I did like about this book is that it did seem to capture the reality of being a pirate. It's not Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow. No one says "arrrgh", no parrots and, surprisingly, very little in the way of battles. The typical setup is Roberts pulls alongside a ship, says he's taking them over, and everyone surrenders. Rarely are shots fired. Often times the crew, if not the boat, joins them. Reading the book, you get the idea that Roberts would make a great recruiter for some HR firm if he were to be propelled into the future.

On the other hand, the reality isn't entertaining. Lots and lots of people die, including Roberts. And Roberts doesn't die in some heroic fashion. It's not as bad as some of the other deaths that come from disease (the venereal ones were not much of a pleasure about which to read) or hunger. It was very anti-climactic.

With everyone dying, you don't get too attached to any character for too long. Williams takes up with a prostitute for a few weeks until she dies of some mysterious fever. That's the extent of romance. So you have a pirate book with no battles, no women, little conflict, and a lot of sailing. I just didn't enjoy it very much.

I ended up putting the appropriate withdrawn markings on the book and placing it out for sale. It is still sitting there untouched.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How to Sell

I feel like I'm getting back into the swing of reviewing books a bit (I lied. I wrote that a while ago and am now trying to catch up again with my reviews). My absence from my blog put me way behind and in my effort to catch up, I don't feel like my efforts in writing a good review were that great. It didn't help that I went through a spell of lousy books. But here we are with a string of one-star books and this book extends the string to four straight.

I looked for this book after reading the first part of this three part article in the Paris Review by Martin. From reading the article and then seeing the title of the book, I expected the book to be non-fiction but it is a novel. However, given Martin's background in the jewelry business and the fact that the story takes place in Texas where the narrator works with his brother in the jewelry business (as Martin did), it's not a stretch to make the assumption that a good portion of the story is grounded in reality.

As such, I will never buy jewelry again. I know, it's hard to imagine me without my bling, but it's just not going to happen. Insane markups, selling customers' items that are brought in for cleaning and then telling the customer they were lost when they were shipped out, forgery, outright lying. It's a pretty shady business. And what do you expect? A lot of characters have drug habits that need to be paid for. They cheat on their wives. Heck, the one brother is sleeping with the other brother's girlfriend (and is constantly frantic at being found out (pssst, the brother knows)).

This was another one of those books where I didn't care for the characters but the writing was excellent, making me read on despite the lack of a "hero". I'm not real sure that there was much of a plot to the book either. I guess there is in the sense that the narrator has good intentions. He just always chooses the shadiest path.

I liked it and recommend you check out both the book and the series of articles linked above.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A shortstop's struggle to hit a milestone

After several years of being considered one of the best shortstops in baseball (even though his defensive skills are often besmirched), this talented player has been having an off year. All season long he has been struggling at the plate, possibly burdened by his trek toward a nice round number of hits. His power has diminished considerably, his average is horrible and fans everywhere are left wondering what has happened to this once mighty player.

Yes, Hanley Ramirez has had it tough this season. From hitting .313/.385/.521 over the last five years, he has dropped to a .246/.336/.377. He now finds himself just two hits away from the magic milestone of 1000 hits. Surely the media crush has been weighing on him and once he breaks the thousand hit barrier, he will be back to his old self.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Snowman

This was a huge departure from my normal reading habits. I kept reading good reviews, though, and when we got it at the library, I snagged it. It is a crime novel that takes place in modern day Scandinavia.

The book starts off with a woman and her son going to a house where the woman is meeting a man with whom she has been having an affair. He is moving away and she goes for one more fling, leaving her son in the car. The woman thinks she seems someone in the window but finds it is just a snowman. Her business done, she returns to her car where her son sits terrified. He informs her that he thinks they are going to die.

Gripping, huh? And that was just my hastily written synopsis.

The story unfolds and the reader discovers that there have been a string of killings, and at the scene of each crime, a snowman has been left (time to move to Belize!). Inspector Harry Hole is put on the case. He ends up with a new partner, a babe by the name of Katrine Bratt. The pair pursue leads as the killings pile up like snow on a winter's day.

My main reason for avoiding books like this is that I feel the author is in a lose-lose situation. Give me too much detail and I'll figure out the story well before the ending. I'll cringe as the protagonist falls for the red herring and wonder why on earth I'm not out solving crimes. The other option is for the author to withhold information. I tend not to like that because the important details are revealed at the end and are often convoluted.

Nesbo's book sort of combines both. He is a really good writer (and/or this book was really translated well since Nesbo is Norwegian and wrote the book in his native tongue). Lots of detail. Lots of connections to be made among the murders. Some of them downright ludicrous. In the end, the real murderer is none of the people you thought and the conclusion is a bit out there.

The writing is incredibly compelling. It was a hard book to put down and the ending wasn't horrible. I'm giving it a star but I'm not feeling the need to read more of Nesbo's work.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Rescue Artist

Hey! We're back to one of my favorite topics, art crime!

I really liked this book as I was reading it but then I found that I forgot about it once I was done. Not sure what to make of that. Is it the summer heat weighing on my brain or was the book just not memorable enough?

The Rescue Artist traces the efforts of Charley Hill, a member of Scotland Yard's Art Squad, in his attempts to recover the famous Edvard Munch painting, The Scream. In the truth is stranger than fiction department, nothing beats this theft. You watch movies about art crime and the thieves go through all sorts of rigamarole to swipe their object of beauty. Defeating sensors, cutting through floors or going through skylights, technological gadgetry out the wazoo to pull off the heist. It is hard work. Want to know how The Scream was stolen.

A couple guys went over to a construction site and grabbed a ladder. They brought it over to the museum (Norway's National Gallery). They climbed up to the second floor (falling off the ladder the first time), broke a window with a hammer, reached in and pulled the painting off the wall.

They were in the museum a total of fifty seconds and made off with a painting valued at over $70 million. That's an hourly pay rate of over $5 billion an hour.

The book proceeds from there to trace Hill's efforts in recovering the painting, sidetracking here and there to look at some of the other art crimes he has been a part of solving. One might wonder how Scotland Yard gets involved in a crime that took place in Norway. The answer is that Hill wanted to be involved. Hill is a forceful individual who sort of found his way into the world of art crime after a number of false starts in life. He's an interesting fellow and his story is really the focus of the book. That being said, there is some background on why art thefts take place, who profits from them, and why, given that these paintings are supposedly so valuable, security measures are pretty awful.

Definitely a good book on art crime. Some better writing might have made it more memorable but it is certainly done well enough for me to recommend it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


I've been in a bit of a mood. Summer is here and I suffer from reverse seasonal affective disorder. I get miserable as the temperatures rise. Of course, my old age is kicking in and this winter was a little on the tough side for me, too, but it's nothing compared to the gloom that comes over me when the temperature hits the high 70's (never mind 80's and nineties). I need to find somewhere that is 60 and overcast with a bit of rain all year round (with maybe a snowfall or two).

When it gets hot like this, I start fantasizing about living elsewhere. This in turn leads me to turning to a pair of books on finding that place called home. I'll be reviewing the one later on. The other is Peter Cameron's City of Your Final Destination.

The thing is, I like where I live. I really don't need to be thinking about moving, hellacious heat be damned. So I steered clear of Cameron's book because I didn't need the headache of fantasizing about being elsewhere. But I did decide I wanted to read something by him and so I read Andorra.

Andorra is similar to City in that Cameron writes about a real place but makes it fictional. There is an Andorra in reality, but it is nothing like the Andorra about which Cameron writes.

Cameron's Andorra is on the coast and most of the novel takes place in a terraced town. The main character, Alexander Fox, has moved there from the U.S. after a tragedy that took his wife and daughter. Fox appears to be appropriately named as he seems to be both sly and good-looking. He quickly befriends an Australian couple, and both husband and wife fall for him. Meanwhile, one of the notable families in town also takes a shine to Fox and sets him up in a place to live and tries to get him to marry one of the daughters of the family.

We find that not all is as it appears to be, with anyone or anything. Some murders happen and Fox is suspected of being involved. This leads to some truths being revealed about the circumstances involving his family's deaths.

Despite the murder mystery, the book isn't a mystery. Despite the romances, it's not really a romance. Not sure what to call it exactly other than good. I think I have read all of Cameron's novels now and I have enjoyed every one of them.

On the downside, I didn't much care for any of the characters. They all have their really odd quirks and I can't say any of them are really likable in the least. Cameron's writing makes the book compelling even without a protagonist for which you can root. That to me is always a characteristic of a good writer. Can you make me want to keep reading, even when I don't like the person about whom I'm reading? If so, you're usually a good writer and/or have a good story going.

I do need to try and track down Cameron's short stories and give them a shot. I'm not much of a short story fan so if I like them we can say without reserve that Cameron is a favorite writer.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Men Who Stare at Goats

I picked up this book because I had been hearing good things about the author's new book, The Psychopath Test. I knew this had been made into a movie starring George Clooney but I had heard pretty much nothing about that. George Clooney and zero fanfare? That seemed unusual. So I wasn't sure what I was getting into when I picked this book up.

A big ole mess of nonsense is what I got into. The book is sort of about the U.S. military trying to use psychic powers. Ronson tracks down lots of people, most of whom deny or point in the other direction. There's not a whole lot of facts. Certainly not much in the way of paper trail and no smoking guns, dead bodies, or anything else resembling something one would call proof. Maybe the most solid portion is about psychological tactics used at Guantanamo Bay. That at least seems believable given what has come to light over the years.

The book is all over the place making me wonder how on earth this was turned into a movie (a question that does not make me curious enough to watch the movie).

While reading this I also saw Ronson interviewed on The Daily Show. Wasn't impressed there. Wasn't impressed with this book. Won't be reading The Psychopath Test.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Blind Side

I really wouldn't think that I would be disappointed by a Michael Lewis book, especially when I had read the wonderful piece on the subject matter that spawned the book (which can be found at this great new (to me) site, Byliner), and especially when I enjoyed Liar's Poker and Moneyball so much.

So why didn't I like it?

Nothing that had to with Lewis, per se. What made me dislike the book was Michael Oher and others after him got the treatment they did because they had some sort of athletic ability. Sure, it's nice to be able to pull kids from bad settings, broken homes, no finances. But when you're only doing it because the kid can play on the football field or basketball court, and strings are being pulled left and right to enable the kid to eke by academically so that he can put his skills to use for the school/team, who is it really helping?

Even for the longshot kid like Oher, who finds his way to millions of dollars as a professional athlete, what good is it? Where will they be when they can't play anymore and the money is spent? Right back where they began it all.

For those of you don't know the story, I recommend reading the article above. But in a nutshell, Michael Oher was a big athletic kid who grew up in a poor part of Memphis, Tennessee. He had numerous brothers and sisters, same mother, multitude of fathers (I seem to recall counting seven). Didn't go to school. Didn't learn to read. He was friends with a kid whose father was trying to get him into a rich private school. He brought along Oher in an attempt to do the same. Because of Oher's size, exemptions were made so he could attend. His size and athleticism made him an ideal left tackle, a position in football that is important because it protects the quarterback's blind side (assuming a right-handed throwing quarterback).

One of the families at the school adopts Michael and then later they start a foundation to help underprivileged athletes follow in Oher's footsteps.

Special treatment for athletes is nothing new and so it probably shouldn't bother me. But it did if for no other reason than you have these people with money and a willingness to help and instead of doing something that could help multitudes, they are singling out kids who can run fast or who are big. Athletes get hurt, their talents don't develop. The percentage that make it big is very low. Why not promote them learning? Why not develop skills that can be used to help others in a manner other than entertainment? It just frustrated me.

And it's frustrating because I live in a state whose politicians seem to find ways to cut funding to schools and libraries. Why educate our children (and our adults) when we can outsource all our jobs to educated people in other countries who work cheaper? Why not incur more debt? Sorry, I'm getting sidetracked in a major fashion. I just don't understand how people with money and power can be so stupid. And why smart me is so broke. Guess I should've played football or run for senate.

No stars for this one. My recommendation is to read one of Lewis' other books.