Saturday, April 7, 2012

I don't know what to label this post so I won't

Regular readers may have noticed that there has been a lack of book reviews on this site as of late. It's been over three weeks since the last one. What gives? Did I stop reading?

Not hardly. Mostly, I've been growing increasingly disenchanted with our electronic world. I closed down my Facebook account (not that I ever really used it). I switched my go-to search engine from Google to Blekko because I grew weary of sponsored results. I installed Collusion for a while to see who was sharing my info with who. That was disturbing.

It's not like I was naive. I know websites track information. I just was surprised at how much of it is shared with companies who I know nothing about and with whom I have initiated no contact.

Probably the last straw came in an e-mail. I had received an e-mail about an adventure race. I opened it, read it, thought it was not something I have any interest in doing, and deleted it. For several weeks now I am seeing ads for the race all over the place. Not because I'm surfing adventure race websites, but because there's some sort of cookie that is telling websites to display this ad.

So I've been cutting back. I have been checking my e-mail less frequently. I've been trying to surf less. I was greatly disturbed with the way Stephen Colbert treated a guest of his recently and so stopped watching the Colbert Report.

I watched a little video by Gary Vaynerchuk recently and he talked about how we are becoming an app culture. That sickened me.

Facebook, Twitter, eBooks, mobile phones, apps, likes, friends. I just don't want any part of it.

That being said, I like sharing things with folks. Most everyone does, that's why we have way too many ways of doing it. Many "real-life" friends and relatives read this blog. There are also several with whom I have developed online friendships but have yet to meet. So I'm not ready yet to run off to my cabin in Montana. I don't know. I have used blogging as a creative outlet and as a way to get myself to write more and hopefully improve my writing. I don't know how much my writing has improved but I do know that my "writer's club" (a weekly meeting with my friend and co-worker JJ where we work on our respective books) has done more to get me to write my book than blogging has. Maybe at some point what I'm writing about will be what I blog about. I don't know.

If I were to stop blogging, I would miss writing book reviews the most. In case you haven't noticed, I don't read a lot of mainstream books. A little shocking, I know. Right now I am in the middle of four books. One is about the economics of the contemporary art market. Another is a German novel written in the thirties and translated in the eighties. The third is a Ukrainian/Russian detective story (again translated) that involves a writer and his pet penguin. The last is also Russian; a collection of short stories by current writers (I'm on a bit of a Eastern Bloc kick it seems). No Hunger Games. No Fifty Shades of Grey. No James Patterson. No nothing on the New York Times Best Seller List.

It's those things I like sharing. Because I don't know where else you're going to find reviews of the books I read. You'll find some of them somewhere but only I read the books I do. And I know that many of you have given some of the books I read a shot and have enjoyed them (and the number of library patrons who have read Mark Watson's Eleven keeps growing). So I'm going to keep doing that and I'm going to try and do a better job of it.

And that's another reason I've been on a review hiatus. I won a copy of D.R. "Duke" Haney's book Banned For Life. Best book I've read this year. Published by the now-defunct And/Or Press in Vancouver (one of two books they published). Excellent book. Beyond that, though, Duke took part in a book/music/life discussion on Goodreads (this was part of a Goodreads book club (internet has some use) and I found Duke to be very interesting, engaging, and entertaining. The kind of guy I'd like to hang out with, have a beer, whatever. He put a lot of thought and effort into every response he gave on Goodreads and I felt like I needed to put in equivalent thought and effort for the review. Which made me think that for you, good readers (lower case), I really need to be doing the same. I'm not doing that with this post. It'll take time to transition my posts from blogging to writing but it is something I want to do and do well. A lack of time to put forth the effort has partially kept me from doing so, also.

The last reason I have no more book reviews is that I have been reading. In addition to Banned for Life I need to write reviews of Matt Ruff's Bad Monkeys and Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. And we all have to discuss Satch and Diz in the near future. But I did take time to start a bestseller, one I had looked forward to for a couple of years. I thought the time was right for me to tackle Haruki Murakami's mammoth 1Q84. I've enjoyed everything I have ever read of Murakami's, but have never quite been able to put him in the top tier of my favorite authors. 1Q84 did not improve his status in any way. I got through 180 pages of the book, about 20 percent, and was done with it. I leafed ahead to see where it was going, to see if the effort might be worth the payoff, and didn't see any reason to continue. It also didn't feel right. I looked to see if maybe there was a different translator or something that might have prevented the writing from being enjoyable but that wasn't the case. I don't know. I do know that at least two of the four I'm reading right now are miles ahead of that book in terms of enjoyability.

What makes my disappointment worse is that the dustjacket was designed by Chip Kidd, normally a surefire indicator of an awesome book. Here's an old post on Kidd I wrote, another guy I wouldn't mind having a beer with. Also, here's a nice TED video on book design he recently did that made me applaud numerous times from my seat in front of my computer.

Thanks for reading. Hopefully we can get off the internet sometime and have a beer together, too.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cards from Number 5 Type - Part 2, The Reds

You can see the previous entry for the introduction. Here are my five favorite Reds cards I got from Matthew.

Start off with some old-timey baseball. Harry Wright and the first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Great card.

I was a big fan of Hal Morris and it's always fun to get a card of his. 

It has been widely reported that Sean Casey is an ass. We'll put him up here anyway.

The main reason why I put the Reds number two was the opportunity to get an Adam Dunn card I didn't have. Bo and lehold, I did. I'm rooting for a comeback by him this season but I'm not feeling terribly optimistic.

I always liked Kirk Saarloos. I thought he had a shot to be a big time pitcher but something happened to him during the 2003 season. Maybe the level of competition caught up to him, maybe he was hurt, but he no longer seemed to be the dominant guy he had been in college and the minors (and even the majors his rookie season). It's a shame. I think there are more sad stories in baseball than good stories. Kirk's back at his alma mater, Cal State Fullerton, as an assistant baseball coach.

His name also puts him in select company. Only three other major league baseball players have two different pairs of consecutive vowels in their last names. Can you name them?

Thanks once again, Matthew, for the cards.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cards from Number 5 Type - Part 1, Grab Bag

Matthew from Number Five Type Collection had a spring training giveaway where he had people choose five favorite teams and then distributed cards based on those preferences. He had a Grab Bag category which included minor league cards so naturally that was my first pick. I got to split those cards with two others. The Reds were my second pick and I was fortunate enough to rank them highest so Matthew sent those cards as well. There were 58 Grab Bag and 43 Reds cards for a nice total of 101 cards.

I had wanted to do a "pack break" video but after creating (no joke) seventeen video attempts, it became obvious that there's just something wrong with my microphone and the video quality isn't much better. Alas.

So you won't get to see all the great cards Matthew provided. I thought I'd highlight five of my favorites from each group, though.

There were a bunch of A&G mini cards. My favorites were these two of Impressionist painter Claude Monet. Monet is one of my favorite artists and to get both a mini and the black bordered one as well is very cool. 


There were also a handful of TriStar cards. I'd consider collecting these if the design was a bit better and if I had the Pocorabas to be collecting. This one is of Matt Wieters, likely future catching star of the Baltimore Orioles.


Has it really been three years since I was at the World Baseball Classic? Sheesh. Time flies. I did not get to see Chin-Lung Hu play nor will I likely get the chance. The Cleveland Indians had him in for spring training but released him a few days ago. I expect that he will play somewhere in Asia this season. Still, I like the WBC cards.

This last one is a fun card. Hey, wait a minute?!?! It's card #5 of this set. Should Matthew have been sending this to me? Searching his blog it looks like Stockstill was the fifth card in another set earlier in his career but this card has never been featured on Matthew's website. This card looks to be a promotional card made by TCMA in the early eighties and given away by Tulsa TV station KOTV-Channel 6.

Looking at the backs of the cards he sent, there's a whole bunch of number fives. That doesn't seem right to me for some reason.

Getting back to the card at hand, I like guys like Dave Stockstill which is why I'm featuring this card. Stockstill was a professional baseball player for 16 years. SIXTEEN! Never once saw a day in the majors. He started his professional career when I was in first grade and wrapped it up right after I graduated college. That's a long time. You can get to see some of his minor league stats at baseball-reference but it's his Mexican League numbers that really stand out and which aren't included on BBR. Here's the slashlines from his career once he headed to Mexico:

1986: .358/.454/.653
1987: .323/.430/.539
1988: .356/.449/.549
1989: .301/.412/.503
1990: .341/.427/.530
1991: .384/.474/.643
1992: .338/.435/.476
1993: .335/.432/.449

Wow! Those are some fine hitting numbers.

After the 1993 season he joined the Baltimore Orioles organization, first as a coach and then moving up the ranks to his current position with them, Director of International Operations. That gives him something like 18 years working under Peter Angelos which may be even more amazing than his lengthy playing career.

Interestingly, Dave's younger brother John was drafted by the Chicago Cubs out of high school in the tenth round of the 1978 draft. Dave was not selected in the draft but the Cubs signed him, too, and they both were started with the Cubbies Gulf Coast League team. Dave hit right out of the gate and was bumped up to Pompano Beach while John struggled and was sent to the GCL for the 1979 season to repeat the level. John earned a promotion in 1980 but struggled with the bat and was let go.

John went into the baseball business with the Cubs after he was released and he worked his way up to General Manager before rejoining Dave on the Orioles. He started with them in 2005. Dave and John actually switched positions in the Orioles organization not too long ago. John is currently the Director of Player Personnel. I wonder if their parents are proud?

So that's the Grab Bag component of the cards I received. Thanks a lot, Matthew, and if you want the Stockstill card back, I understand.