Last month I stated on my blog a goal of reading 80 books in 2013, and I asked friends to suggest methods of public shaming and humiliation if I don’t reach this goal. I did this partly for accountability and partly because I’m a whorey attention whore.
The consensus was that if I fail I must perform a public reading of Fifty Shades of Grey while wearing a hot-pink onesie. (Imagine being inside the mind of the person who envisions me in tight baby-pajamas.)
After a strong start to the year, knocking over a dozen books in January and another nine in February, 80 looked to be a breeze. But I ran into a March buzzsaw that began with a bookless week in Boston: four days for AWP—where nobody reads a damn thing—and the surrounding four days going on benders with the gang here at Chamber Four.
And then I took an assignment to review a 520-page werewolf novel, and the longer I read this book, the further away the ending seems. So between travel, dice baseball (more on that later), and these goddamn werewolves, I only read four books in March and am starting to browse jumbo hot-pink onesies.
Now that I’m firmly entrenched in this project, for the rest of the year I’m going to cover my monthly progress for you here at C4, and include a quick review of each book.
And if I come up short, we’ll include some onesie video footage here on the site. Here we go.
This book tells the story of a 1981 Triple-A baseball game that went 33 innings and ran very, very deep into a frigid Rhode Island night (it was eventually concluded days later). Among the future big-leaguers were Cal Ripken Jr., and a bunch of guys that BoSox fans will remember from the ’86 debacle: Wade Boggs, Rich Gedman, Bruce Hurst, Marty Barrett, and more. But Barry, an NYT staff writer, focuses on the stories of those players who never made it above AAA, including Dave Koza, Pawtucket’s cleanup hitter, who starred in the minors for years but never received a call-up. (He just couldn’t hit the curveball.)
Barry’s writing is stellar throughout. The book has the leisurely pace of a ballgame, but offers several moments of quick excitement—and plenty of devastating sadness and bitter nostalgia over missed or blown opportunities. (Note especially the story of Bobby Bonner, who was called up by the Orioles late one season, missed a groundball, got shitcanned by Earl Weaver and never saw the Majors again.)
This is one of the best baseball books I’ve ever read. You don’t have to be a Sox fan, or even a fan of the game, to enjoy it. And if you’re a failed ballplayer yourself, take a deep breath and plunge in. Consider it therapy.
I can’t say anything new about a Toni Morrison book. She’s a master, and is probably my favorite living writer. But this one got mixed reviews, for good reason. It doesn’t have the depth of Beloved or Song of Solomon, and it doesn’t offer the exhilarating style and intriguing narration of Jazz (the top of the top, for me). Still, even a substandard Toni Morrison novel is better than most of the shite thrown at us. And it’s a quick read, which I’ll need plenty of on my road to 80. If you’re a big Morrison fan, you’ve already read this. If you’re new to her work, start elsewhere. Like Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise, which form a stunning trilogy (of sorts).
The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop., Robert Coover
I’m on a baseball kick. The season just began, I have the MLB Package, I joined a fantasy league with my cohorts here at C4. As Nico can attest to, I’ve gone down a black hole of baseball.
Coover is partly to blame. This novel offers the story of an accountant who creates a three-dice baseball game and then totally loses his shit. He founds the UBA (see title) and its players and takes them through 56 seasons of play, but the game slowly—and then rapidly—takes over his life. At a bar, Henry envisions himself surrounded by his fictional players. Having sex, he envisions himself as his fictional players. Through Henry these players write songs, form political parties, rape a spinster in the dugout. They live and then they die, and Henry writes their obituaries. And through it all, they play: game after game after game, 80-some matchups per season. And Henry’s not even a baseball fan: he finds the real game itself boring, almost intolerable.
But when a roll of the dice on the “Chart of Extraordinary Circumstances” kills an up-and-coming pitcher, a favorite of Henry’s, he can’t find a way to work through his grief. The last third of the book is a whirlwind as Henry disappears completely into his own game. This is a riveting novel, Coover at his experimental and philosophical best.
(Warning: I found online a three-dice baseball game modeled after Henry Waugh’s. I played a couple games after finishing the book, just to see what would happen if I put myself in Henry’s shoes for a minute.
Then I played a couple more. And then a few more. And before I knew it, I was 40 games deep—and when I wasn’t playing I was thinking about statistics and how to shape my lineups and what rookies to call up. I didn’t go so far as to form political parties, but if you’re only slightly more obsessive than I am, you might. Do not Google this game!)
I got the chance to profile the small press Two Dollar Radio, and before and since have been reading through their catalogue. This book is their latest, a novel/memoir blend about McClanahan’s West Virginia upbringing, and the oddball family members and friends he grows up with. The beginning really struck me as ho-hum, and I wondered why this one is getting so much hype (small-press style). By the end, I knew.
Labeled “A Biography of a Place,” Crapalachia, in a way, does for West Virginia what Donald Ray Pollock does for his Ohio hollers: which is appropriate, since the two are so close, and not just geographically. But where Pollock’s narrators are, for the most part, detached and emotionally distant, McClanahan is very much not. This book is a funny, sharp, and surprisingly tender ode to McClanahan’s place, time, and people.