Darling, Ron. The Complete Game: Reflections on Baseball, Pitching, and Life on the Mound. Knopf, 2009. ISBN 978-0307269843 288 pp. $24.95
Former Mets’ pitcher Ron Darling dishes on what it’s like to be a major league pitcher, approaching pitching holistically, from standpoints of stamina, science, mental focus, statistics and more … this as-told-to memoir is not intended to catalog Darling’s achievements, but to illustrate the lonely position that so much of America’s past-time hinges on.
The writing is straightforward but mundane, and the blow-by-blow didn’t hold my interest much past the 50 page mark, though the structure is interesting, with each chapter modelled after an inning in a key game to illustrate the author’s points.
Peters, Cash. Naked in Dangerous Places: The Chronicles of a Hungry, Scared, Lost, Homesick, but Otherwise Perfectly Happy Traveler. Broadway, 2009. ISBN 978-0307396358 368 pp. $
I got about a hundred pages into this real-life glimpse into a short-lived reality-TV travel series, then skimmed to the end; it was a lot of the same thing in different locations, with little insight or growth along the way: Non-nature boy is thrust into survivor like situations, with some degree of scripting. It was an interesting look at how reality TV shows are put together, at the very least.
The footnotes were the funniest and most interesting part of the book. At the end, Peters is asked to speak about his experience, and puts together a really good list of things he learned along the way; it’s too bad he didn’t go that route, for the narrative.
Weber, Bruce. As They See ‘Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires. Scribner, 2009. ISBN 978-0743294119 352pp. $
Did you know it’s more difficult to become a major league umpire than to become a major league baseball player, based on the number of slots available–and once someone rises to the majors, he holds onto the position like a supreme court judge? New York Times reporter Bruce Weber covers all aspects of umpiring–from myths to history to politics–like an anthropologist, even going so far as to attend one of the two grueling 5-week umpire schools in the country to round out dozens of interviews with hired, fired and retired umps.
Although the writing is thoughtful, excellent and engaging, the focus on the minutia of baseball’s complex rulebook may only be of interest to hardcore fans. Overall, Weber is a good storyteller (though ocassionally repetitive) and the details of who he couldn’t get to talk are nearly as interesting as the stories he wrangles about diva players, apoplectic managers and legendary games. The tale of professional baseball’s underdogs is fascinating reading for the this rabid Red Sox fan, and changes the way I look at the game. After the Indians’ manager Wedge got ejected from a Red Sox vs. Indians game on Monday April 27 after questioning two (correct!) calls by the umpire at homeplate, I found myself paying attention to details and commentary like never before.
Yardley, Cathy. Turning Japanese. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2009. ISBN 978-0312378806 310 pp. $
This is sort of the Devil Wears Prada with less angst and drama, set in Japan: girl takes internship in publishing field with her hard-to-get-along-with boss; conflict with boyfriend and family ensue.
Italian/Japanese American Lisa hates to travel and dislikes change, but it doesn’t stop her from entering a manga drawing contest where the first prize is a one-year internship in Japan with a manga publishing house. At first she just erases pencil lines, then conspires to help another editor and unknown artist to create a comic that is part American, part Japanese–just like her. Culture shock abounds in a myriad of ways: a complicated written language, conflicts with her supervisor and a prima donna manga creator, conflicts with her host family.
Yardley starts out strong with great anecdotes about attending Comic Con and getting lost once in Tokyo, ending up in the red-light district at a love hotel. The initial snarky edginess disappears bit in the day-to-day office grind and repeated conflicts with the family. Supporting characters lack depth, and there is some predictability to the story.
Beckett, Bernard. Genesis. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. ISBN 978-0547225494 150 pp. $20
Set in 2075, this novel follows the four-hour entrance examination of a prospective student to the prestigious Academy. Anax has chosen to be tested on her knowledge of a historical figure who was imprisoned for defying the rules of the isolated Republic where he was born by allowing a stranger with potentially harmful germs to come ashore on the island.
Reading almost like a play, the narrative is take up with the examiner’s questions and Anax’s responses, interspersed with her short breaks each hour. The book is an exercise in rhetoric, philosophical and introspective in tone.
The plot is unique and the writing is very good, but the story itself a bit dry and slow. The author withholds key information from the reader that is revealed in a surprise twist ending, frustrating for readers who prefer to figure things out on their own.
Turgeon, Carolyn. Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story. Crown, 2009. ISBN 978-0307407993 279 pp. $
I’m a sucker for a good fractured fairy tale; I think it stems all the way back to when I was 6, and there wasn’t a gifted & talented program at my school, so the administrators had me meet with the librarian (Miss Hathaway!) to read and discuss fairy tales that featured princesses.
In Godmother, Lil is a former fairy who was kicked out for failing her mission to get Cinderella to her prince. Now, hundreds of years later, suffering as an elderly woman in a human body with wings that she must keep hidden, Lil has an opportunity to connect two more star-crossed lovers.
Characters, from fairy sisters to Lil’s bookish employer to a vivid customer are wonderfully drawn; Turgeon’s descriptive style is akin to Francesca Lia Block, but a smidge less outrageous and lush. The New York setting is nearly a character in its’ own right.
Highly appealing for urban fantasy fans who prefer romance to epic battles.
Steiner, Leslie Morgan. Crazy Love. St. Martin’s Press, 2009. ISBN pp. $
This autobiography reveals how a young woman was courted and wed to a man who was abusive to her on many levels. It is pretty straightforward in narrative and language; nothing outstanding. It was a frustrating book for me to read, not because the writing was bad or cliche or the topic was uncomfortable, but because she didn’t make me understand WHY she would stay with an abuser. I didn’t get enough
motivation or even introspection. I can understand how this is a very sensitive topic, and probably a difficult book to write, but there is a depth that is lacking here; I get the sense that Steiner is only scratching the surface, which is a shame, because this is an important topic.
Bégaudeau, François. The Class. translated by Linda Asher Seven Stories Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1583228852 272 pp. $17.95
Sort of an international version of Stand & Deliver, the narrator, an instructor of French language & literature in France, has such disdain for his students that he’s not going to endear himself with a potential youth audience! The structure of the dialogue, with so little attribution, may be somewhat challenging for readers to distinguish whom is speaking.
Keyes, Ralph. I Love It When You Talk Retro: Hoochie Coochie, Double Whammy, Drop a Dime, and the Forgotten Origins of American Speech. St Martin’s Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0312340056 320 pp. $
I really liked the premise of this one: an examination of slang terms and allusions that are quickly going out of date; for example: “you sound like a broken record” may not make any sense to youth who grew up listening to tapes or CDs. Author gives context for hundreds of terms.
The book might have been a little more readable organized into one or two line bullets of information; the narrative encased in formal paragraphs, with terms in bold, didn’t work for me at all. I love linguistics, but this wasn’t engaging.