Posts Tagged ‘baseball’

Recent Reading: Baseball, Romance, YA, and More Fantasy (#s 26, 27, 28, 29)

So the thing about traveling was that I was reading as we were on the plane, but I was too busy working to write about it. And then I waffled and decided I wanted to read more than write up book reviews, so I kept reading and now I’ve got quite a backlog. Here are the first four. Yay books!

he Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America's Pastime#26: The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime by Jason Turbow and Michael Duca
A nonfiction baseball book that does exactly what it says. I find baseball’s place in culture really interesting (it’s the American studies major in me, really), and the whole culture within baseball is, too. This book does pretty much exactly what you’d expect from the title; it’s a look inside the baseball culture to explain the unofficial rules players follow. Things like when it’s unacceptable to bunt or steal a base, why pitchers decide to throw at players, etc.

There was lots of interesting stuff in this book, but it took me a long time to get through. As I’ve said before, I have problems with nonfiction because what gets me to pick up books is story and narrative, and by its nature this lacked… that. My favorite parts were the anecdotes about the rules in action, but it was also chock full of interesting bits and pieces.

It's In His Kiss#27: It’s In His Kiss by Julia Quinn
My sister loaned this one to me as a little light travel reading. It was so light that I finished it by halfway through the flight, and then promptly forgot about it entirely.

Basically, Gareth St. Clair is a bit of a mysterious rogue, estranged from his father and gossiped about in polite society. Hyacinth Bridgerton always speaks her mind and it’s made her less than popular. A diary in need of translation and a possible hidden treasure bring them together — will they fall in love?

Hint: yes, they will. There’s not much to this book, but it was a lot of fun. A+ vacation reading.

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover#28: Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter
I reviewed the first two in this series awhile ago; in short, they’re delightful YA but I was frustrated because the second one was basically just a retread of the first. It had made me hesitant to read #3, but I did and I’m pretty glad.

It wasn’t the same story and an identical climax, thankfully. Instead of just girls in a boarding school spying on a boy they like, you’ve got girls trying to find off a mysterious secret society while worrying about a boy they like. The stakes were a lot higher, which was great, and the set up (one of the spy girls’ father is running for VP and they have to protect her on the campaign trail) is great.

Not so great: equal narrative weight is given to trying to protect her as is given to the “Does this cute boy like me?? I can’t tell!!” part of the plot. Which… no. Once again, Cammie (the protag) basically loses the ability to spy she’s been training to learn for years when faced with a boy she likes. It makes me make this face: :-/

Overall, though, fun book with an exciting (if reasonably predictable) dun-dun-DUUUUN moment at the end. I want the next book, but I can wait for it to be out in paperback.

Men at Arms#29: Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett
Discworld! I’m not a devotee, but I’ve been reading these occasionally since middle school. I know I’ve read some of the Watch-centric novels before, but this is the first one I can remember grabbing me.

You guys, I have a crush on Carrot. He’s so nice and handsome! He always remembers everyone’s names! I love, love, love the long-lost king who doesn’t want to be king (but is able to put swords both into and out of stones) gag. I love his sense of responsibility. I love his ability to be a great leader and that he’s decided to only every use that power for good.

And of course I enjoyed all the Discworldiness of it; Ankh Morpork and Death and CMOT Dibbler always make for good times. The plot is nothing to get excited about but it’s not like I read Discworld for the plot. So overall, quite enjoyable!

Oh, and “Bjorn Again” is the second-worst Discworld pun I’ve run across.1

  1. The worst, of course, being Felonious Monk.

#18: The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mike Cochrane

The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mike CochraneSince Molly’s father died, everything has felt a little bit off. Especially her mother, who has become distant and unreachable. Molly has no idea what to do — until she rediscovers her love of baseball, the game her dad taught her to play, and decides to go out for her school’s team. Not the girl’s softball team, with it’s larger, softer ball, but the real baseball team — and she has a secret weapon, the knuckleball pitch her father taught her.

This book is lovely. One of my very good friends recommended it to me, because she knows I love books about baseball and family, and, well, that’s this book exactly. And there are so many wonderful things this book gets right: Molly’s exasperation with her mom, who she loves but doesn’t know how to talk to; the weird, pressure-filled feeling of talking to a boy she maybe sort of likes but maybe just wants to be friends with.

The book’s tone is distant, more like someone’s memory than an immediate story. And one narrative quirk I didn’t love that goes along with that was semi-frequent telling-rather-than-showing; scenes summed up as, “Later, he and Molly would discuss their families, and she’d get to know him better,” or, “Later, she and her mother would make up.” It does fit with the book’s tone, but at the same time, it was frustrating because some of those scenes were important character things — it would have made Lonnie’s apprehension over seeing his father and step-mom more powerful if we’d actually seen how hurt he was by his parents’ divorce, rather than a third-hand account as the narrative summed up what he’d told Molly about how he felt.

But I loved Molly, and I especially loved Celia, her best friend, who was somewhat of a weirdo. (Always with a craft project, a font of random knowledge, outspoken on social issues… basically, the character I most identified with.) I loved a few of the messages within the book: that one minor failure, even if it’s embarrassing, is really not the end of the world; and more importantly, that it’s okay to want things, and work hard for them, and be upset when they don’t work out. They’re small lessons in the grand scheme of things, but I think important ones, and beautifully presented as Molly tries to figure out how to forgive her dad for dying.

#16: 90% of the Game Is Half Mental and Other Tales from the Edge of Baseball Fandom by Emma Span

90% of the Game Is Half Mental and Other Tales from the Edge of Baseball Fandom by Emma SpanLet us be up front about this. You know I’m going to love any book where the acknowledgement section ends with, “I’d like to close by thanking Mariano Rivera. Not because he helped with this book or anything … just for existing.” The book is a series of autobiographical essays by Span, some about her experiences as a sports writer covering the Yankees and the Mets, but most are more generally focused around being a baseball fan. (Span is a Yankees fan, who is Mets sympathetic, and the book actually spends more time on the Mets.)

I loved this book for a bunch of reasons, the first of which is that I giggled aloud almost the whole time I was reading it, and kept stopping to read sections to my sister. The anecdotes are delightful — trying to interview Pedro Martinez, but waiting for him to put on pants first, only to have him never put on pants, for example — and there were plenty that made me laugh out loud while reading on the subway (the look back at the Mets’ them “Our Team, Our Time,” if only because I remember listening to that the first time and laughing so hard I cried).

It’s also the only baseball book I’ve ever read where I actually identify with it. That’s mainly two reasons: Span focuses mostly on the teams starting around 2003, which was the year I actually started watching baseball, so I’ve got a much better idea what she’s talking about than in most baseball books I’ve read — I remember Kevin Brown breaking his own freaking hand after a bad start — but also because the way she describes watching baseball is something I identify with:

When I first got interested in baseball, and stopped treating it as background noise and actually focused on it, it was the characters that drew me in, the personalities, and the drama, more than any inherent beauty of the game. I didn’t really care what kind of pitch someone threw or whether a batter had shortened his swing; I just wanted to see if Paul O’Neill was going to beat himself up all night, cursing his perceived failures in the dugout, terrorizing innocent water coolers. I wanted to see how the rookie replacing Tony Fernandez might overcome what I assumed had to be a bad case of nerves and succeed in the big leagues. I wanted Bernie Williams to do well because I wanted a shy, awkward dude with glasses to win one for sky, awkward people with glasses everywhere.

And just, yes, that’s it exactly. People complain about the slow pace of baseball, but for me, watching my first game when I was 20, it was perfect. The fact that it’s one guy batting at a time makes it much easier to figure out who’s who, and gives plenty of time for the announcers to speculate wildly about his mental state, personal life, and whatever else seems interesting. The moments of human drama were more interesting to me than the game at first, and gave me an entrance point that got me watching and kept me interested.

Finally, the book is also basically a love letter to New York. My hands-down favorite essay is “Frankie Furter, Chorizo, and Guido,” in which Span travels to Milwaukee to see a Mets-Brewers game. The thrust is that it’s lovely: the stadium is nice, and cheap, and the people working there are helpful and friendly. The Brewers fans were also nice, and totally welcoming to out-of-town fans, happy to give directions, and cheerfully inviting Mets fans out for drinks after the game. And, as she enjoyed herself there, Span realized that she wouldn’t trade in the hurried, rude, dirty, crowded New York experience for anything:

Let me just say here that I understand why people from other parts of the country get annoyed with New Yorkers’ refusal to see their city as anything other than the center of the world. It’s obnoxious and dismissive, this attitude towards the rest of America, grudging respect for L.A. and (maybe, sometimes) Chicago aside. There are lots of great cities in the United States and plenty of sophisticated people between the coasts.

That said … come on. If New York isn’t the center of the world, what is?

And you know I’ve been a New Yorker for awhile, because of my nodding agreement. (Sorry, entire rest of the country.)

Span touches on lots of other subjects, ranging from the near-and-dear-to-my-heart topic of being a female fan (and female sportswriter), to watching broadcasts of American baseball games while staying in Taiwan, to stats and why people are still arguing over how accurate they are, and so on. It’s a short, quick read, extremely smart, and extremely funny. It’s going right on to my reread list, as soon as I’m done loaning it to everyone I know.