Monthly Archives: June 2008

The Klaw 100

There’s a meme for personal blogs and online diaries: a list of movies or books or whathaveyou is passed around.  The blogger publishes the list on their blog, marking the books they’ve read or movies they’ve seen.  We haven’t done that ’round here because, for one, this isn’t really a personal blog, and, for two, we don’t really know anyone who keeps that kind of blog anymore, so no one passes them along (thank God).

Anyway, Keith Law–baseball writer, connoisseur and bookworm (he’s Mr Thursday, on HGH, if HGH did anything useful)–has decided to create a list of his favorite 100 books.  He estimates he’s read 400-500 books.  I don’t really know how many I’ve read–I’d guess it’s 30 or so per year, depending on the year.  Far more than that in high school and college, at least double that rate.  Anyway, we’re going to take his list here, and give you a few comments on the books he’s listed that we’ve read.  Or, if we have anything to say about the one’s we haven’t read, maybe we’ll comment on that.

He’s divided his list into 5 parts.  We’re just lumping everything together here, in one overlong post.

98.  The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, by GK Chesterton. The title of this blog is, in part, a reference to that book.  It’s a comic masterpiece dealing in the existence of God, in rebellion, in fear.  Chesterton’s prose is death-defyingly poetic, and, even more wonderfully, the book wraps up the whole ride in just a touch over 200 pages.  Brief, bright, and beautiful.

90.  The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle. This is, generally, considered the best of the Sherlock Holmes novels, whether written by Doyle or others (in the others category, the excellent The Seven Per Cent Solution reigns supreme).  I haven’t read the book since high school, but I loved the book at the time, and, aside from the iconic Prof Moriarty, the book has everything one could want from the grand detective.

83.  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. I used to read in bed, for at least an hour, every night.  From the time I could read until I got a driver’s license, basically.  Huck Finn was one of the two Mark Twain books I read over and over again (along with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer). Admittedly, I read these books, in part, because I was infatuated with their age–the copies my mother possessed, and allowed her grade school middle son to read, were nearly 100 years old.  If I recall correctly, the Huck Finn was a 1900 edition, and Tom Sawyer 1902.

In the end, I loved Huck Finn more than the excellent Tom Sawyer for it’s extraordinary brashness, the spectacular boldness of the story.  The book is vibrant with conmen and swindlers and children trying to escape the confines of “sivilized” life.  I can only imagine that when I, as a child, asked my mom what “nigger” means, she was both shocked at the question, and relieved that she asked at home, and not at school.

To this day, in my opinion, Twain has found no equal in his ability to capture the voice of the dialects of his characters.

77.  Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison. This is the only Morrison I’ve read, and to be honest, the only reason I haven’t read more of her is because Oprah and I have generally differed on our literary views, and because Morrison, to me, comes off obnoxiously in interviews.  The book is filled with details without being overwhelmed by them, and the imagery–from the nature of breastfeeding to Doctor Street–are haunting.  As always, whenever I think of this book, I really believe I need to get into more Morrison.

75.  Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy. I read this book last summer for the only time–though I vow to re-read it sometime.  The book is the most violent I’ve read.  That violence is crouched in allegory and bizarre, and often confusing events.  I still don’t know quite what to make of the book (though, of course, I’ve still only read it once through), but I will repeat here what I’ve said elsewhere:  when this book is “good”, it’s spectacular.  It’s well worth the read, just to experience the Judge, if nothing else.

67.  Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. Whenever this book is mentioned, I fail to understand whether it’s generally considered a triumph, or a disaster of a book.  Regardless of the opinions of others, I love BNW.  The book successfully anticipated a number of late-20th century political and social (and technological) developments, and maintained a compelling narrative for someone who read the book in 2000 for the first time.

65.  The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler. Chandler, I suspect, is someone who a reader either adores, or cannot be bothered to read.  I fall into the former group.  My Chandler love began with Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? and continued, triumphantly, into his detective stories.  The Big Sleep is the most famous, and, perhaps, the best of Chandler’s considerable work.  Phillip Marlow–the model for all grizzled private detectives–is following a case so twisted and hairy that, even without the red herrings, it can be damn hard to follow.  Even Chandler himself didn’t know who committed all the murders.  For the movie lovers out there, it doesn’t hurt to picture Humphrey Bogart as the leading man, as Bogey played Marlowe in the 1946 version of the book.

57.  Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. I read this in, I don’t know, 5th or 6th grade, for a book report, and loved it.  I ought to read it again.  And, to recycle an old debate from around here, pirates do beat ninjas.

55.  The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. I haven’t read this, but the movie in outstanding (with more Bogart–who’s to complain?), and the book has a stellar reputation.  I love the detective genre–I’ll get around to this, sooner or later.

53.  1984 (George Orwell) and 52.  On the Road (Jack Kerouac). I must be one of the few Americans who had to read A Brave New World but not 1984 in high school.  OTR is a book I haven’t read, honestly, just to avoid assimilating into the hive mentality at college, which involved romanticizing everything, playing acoustic guitar in public places (especially under trees), and reading this book compulsively.  I’ll read them eventually, but I’m in no rush.

48.  I. Claudius, by Robert Graves. As an advanced level Latin student from 6th grade onward, I’ve both read the book, and seen the exhaustive and mostly excellent series based on it.  Incest, violence, fire, insanity, backstabbing, poisoning–it’s a ludicrous soap opera, set 2000 years ago.  Personally, I don’t have much sympathy for the character of Claudius, who, at times, comes across as both cowardly and clumsy, but the chaos that surrounds him is too fascinating to look away.

41.  Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien. Love the series, and The Hobbit, to boot.  Mrs Thursday loves Fellowship most, whereas I prefer Return. The books work as a sort of Dumas story with gravitas.  Certainly not for weak-eyed readers, as the print tends to be small on these books which clock in at well over 1,000 pages.  Worth the effort of going through at least once, though I imagine I’ve read the series more than any other books, as I tried to do the trilogy on a yearly basis from childhood until college.

38.  Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. Read it.  It’s a fun book, though it wanders a bit in the middle.  The circular nature of the language is downright astounding, and even more impressive, though subtly, is the circular nature of the storytelling.

34.  The Trial, by Franz Kafka. This is not my favorite Kafka, as I think his short stories tend to be stronger than his novels, and I’ve only read The Trial once, and The Castle I haven’t read at all.  The story is disconcerting, at the least, and the stark narration is terrifying.  Dark, dark stuff.

30.  Empire Falls, by Richard Russo. This book came recommended to me by a smart and enthusiastic reader.  Normally, I avoid Pulitzer Prize winners the way I avoid Oprah recommendations, but, hey, it was there.  The climax is startling, for certain, but the trouble of small people in a small town in Maine is discernible.  Excellent book, and probably the most recent on Law’s list, though I prefer other newer books to this one.

17.  The Great Gatsby, by F Scott Fitzgerald. To be honest, when I saw this book at this spot on the list, I was disappointed.  I utterly expected Gatsby to show his face in the top 3.  This book, for me, falls in that myriad list of  books I read in high school, and while I didn’t dislike it, I struggled to grasp the hype.  It deserves a re-read, I suspect.

14.  The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami. Hey, Amazon just delivered this book to me, today!  I’ll let you know how it goes.  Honestly, would have guessed this to make the top 10.

13.  A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. Law mentions that Walker Percy was less than kind in his introduction to this book.  It’s been years since I’ve read the book, but I don’t remember him being particularly mean.  Of course, when I read the book, I was still enthralled with Percy after reading Lost in the Cosmos, which, at the time, I found outstanding.  CoD, is, of course, one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.  Ignatius is vile and lazy and utterly hysterical.  A despical Don Quixote, set in New Orleans.  Book doesn’t have a lot of drive, as it’s just about the meandering adventures of a fat guy, but it entertains enthusiastically.

4.  To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. This has long been my pick for The Great American Novel.  Worth every ounce of praise it’s ever received and then some.  The story is effective for its ability to take a very personal and quirky story and turn it into something universal and culturally significant.  The reader ends up joining the peanut gallery in the courtroom.  I’ve written a bit of fiction in my day, and sometimes, I start to hate my stories for failing to achieve that feat.  Harper Lee is called a one-hit wonder, but to me the title is misplaced.  One-hit wonder implies a failed effort at a second hit.  Lee never attempted to publish another novel.  Which, of course, is an absolute shame.   Anything half as good as her opus is well worth the read.

1.  The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov. I’m intrigued by stories that take a long time to write.  James Joyce famously took more than 13 years to write Finnegans Wake, which is a fascinating book if you’re patient but is an absolute bitch to read.  Virgil famously (among Latin scholars) spent the final 10 years of his life on The Aeneid, which he (probably) failed to complete.  Bulgakov spent (with some interruption) the final dozen years of his life, and the book was completed by his wife.  While Joyce’s Wake is enormously long and riddled with inscrutable, multi-level and multi-language punwork, and Virgil’s masterwork is enormously long (for a poem), and riddled with complex and astonishing wordplay, Bulgakov’s finest is relatively short and straightforward.

The book as all the more incredible for that.  It’s a novel of perfect economy, with no wasted words or sections.  Every phrase advances the plot, and every step the plot takes forward transforms either the characters themselves, or our understanding of them.  There are a number of memorable scenes–the broom-ride, the ball, the conversation between Yeshua Ha-Nozri and Pontius Pilate, and, perhaps, no scene more wondrous than the opener, which is much like that of The Man Who Was Thursday, except that the devil gets involved.  While Blood Meridian’s Judge as Satan is all horror and vile, black, evil, Woland is a tempter, dignified and polite and cunning.  His works are more subtle, but just as damning.  I don’t think I’d call it my favorite book, but Klaw certainly didn’t make a bad choice here.

The Klaw 100: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.


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Advice From a Man With a Condo

Bill Conlin is known in these parts (well, “these parts” loosely referring to blogs, though not necessarily this site) as a sort of crotchety old sportswriter.  He overwrites.  He harangues.  He says that Hitler would’ve wiped bloggers from the blessed earth.

Personally, I’ve got a soft-spot for Conlin.  I loved him when I was young.  When I was coming of age, baseball-wise.  Yes, he over-wrote then, too, but he was comfortable in his element, and his columns were more inclined to praise the merits of the bullpen than to lament that catastrophe of the owners.  At this point, he’s cranky more often than not, and when he goes too far, I feel mostly disappointment.  He’s been a good writer for a long time, and I expect better of him.

Every once in a while though, Conlin refinds his stroke.  Today, he writes a column giving advice to young people who want to get into Conlin’s “industry in crisis”.  My favorite bit:

All religious references are out, of course, from Anglican to Zoroastrianism. And never tell a joke that begins, “A Protestant, Catholic and Jew were . . . ” Everybody will laugh but the guy who e-mails the editor.

Other individuals to avoid hooking up to snappy one-liners during your TV appearances include: Charles Manson, Charlie Starkweather, Ted Bundy, The Boston Strangler (unless the line involves a Boston team choking), Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, David Berkowitz (Son of Sam killings) and the Zodiac Killer. Hannibal Lecter is probably OK; he was only a movie.

Nor is it trendy or cool these vigilante days to toss any of these names into your copy and hope they slip past an editor: Genghis Khan, Attila The Hun, Tamerlane, Joseph Stalin, Pontius Pilate, Torquemada, Chairman Mao, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, John Dillinger or Jesse James.

It goes without saying that entendres are finis, both single and double. And be careful, very careful, when writing about any sporting event involving male figure skaters and female professional golfers or basketball players. Not that there’s anything wrong with them.

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Watching the Game, Under Elvis Presley’s Glass-Encased Longjohns

It’s official.  This site has, for the time being, become the Shysterball Wide-Eyed Little Brother blog.  That is, we’ve got another post that comes from a topic brought here by Shysterball, so we’re kinda following the guy around, even though he’s all, “back off, I’m trying to make out with Lady Shyster”, but we’re still, “But Shy-STER, we want to play!”

It’s kind of awesome.

Anyway, Shyster informs us:

New Yankee Stadium is sounding increasingly awful:

A Hard Rock Cafe will open in the new Yankee Stadium.


You know, if you’re going to install a crappy, kitsch-filled barfatorium like Hard Rock, you should probably at least install a couple of windows so people can watch a ballgame while they eat their $17 Clapton-Burgers.

The comments generally display the kind of disdain for both Hard Rock and the Yankees that you’d expect.  We even lead things off in that department, but as always, got distracted talking about the Phillies and streakers.  People get focused after that, and everyone gives the big Thumb Down to the parties involved.

Honestly, I don’t think the issue here is really that a Hard Rock is going in, though the big name does put the situation into sharp relief.  Many, if not all, of the new ballparks are putting this kind of trashy, money-grabbing crudpub into their stadiums.  In this sense, it’s only appropriate that the Yankees would jump on what is easily the most famous of the available options.

To me, at least, the larger issue is that this isn’t something the Yankees need to be doing.  The Hard Rock will attract upwards of zero people to Yankee stadium, ESPECIALLY during baseball season, when the area will already be crazy crowded.  The Yankees, as others have noted, like to tout their history whenever possible.  Or, at the very least, they enjoy a certain level of esteem as other people tout said history.  More appropriate, I think, would be something with an inherent sense of history and class of its own, that might attract non-ballfans on its own.

My proposal?  Put a jazz club in there.  Open the place up to the stadium with a porch.  Put all those black-and-whites of Babe and DiMaggio and Yogi and the grainy color shots of Guidry and Reggie and, hell, even Jetes, and put a little stage in there for cats both local and famous to bop all night.  Give the bands explicit orders to “lively” stuff.  If you wanna go really crazy with it, look into the local jazz scenes of your opponents, and see if you can book bands from the city the Yanks are playing.  The Reds are coming to Yankee stadium this weekend.  How cool would it be to hang out on a porch at the game, eat a burger, and listen to Petra Van Nuis instead of Cotton-Eyed Joe?  Personally, if the Phillies got rid of McFaddens and allowed us to combine this with this, we might force Mrs Thursday to bury us under the stadium.  Just sayin.

At the very least, it couldn’t be worse than the fucking Hard Rock.

Oh, and thanks to Osmodious for the title.

Maybe if we keep this nonsense up, Shyster will as us to do weekends over there, so we don’t keep ripping him off during the week.  Probably not.

Shysterball: Yankees… Hard Rock… Why, God, Why?


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Watching Tiger

Every Easter, my parents would take my brothers and I in the family station wagon to my aunt and uncle’s house.  Aunt Cookie and Uncle Dom only lived about 5 miles away, so the commute wasn’t long, and we saw them frequently, anyway, but this is what we did.  This was the Easter event.  And every year, eventually, my brothers and I would get sick of conversations taking place outside, and we’d be banished from ball-tossing by Uncle Dom, and so we’d retire to the living room and put one whatever was available.  Until our other uncles–Bob, John, Ed, Murph, and Dave–with the backing of Dad, would force a channel change, and we’d be stuck watching the Masters.  Like clockwork, every year.

I remember watching Fred Couples win in 1992, and watching Tiger being his reign of dominance in 1997, watching Greg Norman fall apart, Jack Nicklaus in 1990 (and 1998).  I have a lot of memories forced upon me from the Masters.  I can’t tell you much else about the other golf tournments, even the other majors.  I know the British Open is sometimes at the Royal and Ancient in St Andrews, which I like because I’ve been there, walked that course, played miniature golf on it.  I have physical memories of the geography to associate with the action on the TV.  But, I don’t watch the tournament, hardly ever.  I don’t even know where they play the PGA Championship, and I don’t really care.  If you had asked me on Saturday where the US Open is played, I couldn’t have told you.

I don’t have anything against the sport.  I go to driving ranges every once in a while, and I completely understand how and why people get into the game.  I just can’t watch it.  From my perspective, every major tournement starts off like the World Series of Poker, in which there are the guys you’ve heard of–Tiger Woods, John Daly, Phil Mickleson–and then the city of Pittsburgh playing in the opening rounds.  By the weekend, the field is cut down to Woods and Phil and just a few dozen ‘Burghers.  There are just too many stories to follow, for me, too many blank players.  No  villains, nor heroes.  Just masses of people swinging sticks.  Without a narrative, I can’t sustain the broadcast.

But I love Tiger Woods.  I love his inscrutability. I love the way, with every successive win, sportswriters retread the same story: Tiger amazing, relentless, hyper-competitive.  I love the expectation of perfection.  I love the way he acts like a petulant child when he makes a mistake, throwing a club and muttering to himself.  I love the way he can tune out the howling throngs that follow him hole-to-hole, but can hear the tiniest camera click, or murmur in the audience, disturbing his peace, as he tries to make the next shot.

There’s a cliche about things that are inevitable: “Rooting against [that] is like rooting against gravity”.  Which is to say, there’s no point in getting bothered about something that was always bound to happen anyway.  Extended, the cliche almost says Tiger Woods’ victories are so imminent, so frequent, so constant, there is no reason to celebrate or mourn them.  He’s automatic.  He’s an android.

But, personally, that’s my favorite thing about him.  He’s too good.  We now expect him to falter, to be human.  To have that one weekend when he’s not up to the task.  And yet, he doesn’t.  He continues to make every necessary shot, to stumble just a little bit less than every other competitor.  I like watching him because it’s like being able to SEE gravity.  To see the force the propels everything else.

Tiger Woods won, again, today.  And, again, we were all amazed at the drama and routine of him.

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Cleveland and Philadelphia: Bosom Buddies

So, yesterday, I linked to a post on ShysterBall, which featured the deranged rantings of yours truly.  Shyster had written a post earlier in the day about championship futility.  I wanted to chime in with my two cents, but, in typical Curious Mechanism fashion, my two cents turned into 8.95, and I had to email the comments to Craig (that is, Shyster hisself), who later posted them.

Well, in the comments on the post, there can be found this comment:

Blogger Peter said…
Dear Philadelphia,

Call me in 2024, when you’ve gone 44 years without a championship in a major sport.


So, Peter, this post is for you, mostly.
They say that misery loves company, and thus, I ask, why must you belittle my misery?  I don’t know you, but I know I can understand your pain, as no Philadelphia teams have won a championship in my lifetime.  Let us commiserate together.

Obviously, there’s a high degree of subjectivity in talking about the “most futile” franchises.  Cleveland has seen (I think) 137 seasons pass since its last championship, between the Tribe, the Browns, and the Cavaliers.  That hurts.  Philadelphia, between the Sixers, Phils, Eagles, and Flyers have suffered 100 losing seasons.  I don’t think any other cities are particularly close to us.

I wouldn’t want to argue which town’s sporting life is more worthy of mourning and pity.  That kind of thing seems to me more life a cry for attention–we’re not arguing over the respective glories of a team.  We’re arguing who’s had the rougher fan-life.  Any victory would be, undoubtedly, Pyrrhic.  I don’t knock the suffering of Cleveland or Boston or any other fans in my email.  The closest I come to it is a bit of a knock on Dan Shaughnessy, but I don’t mean that to say that Red Sox fans weren’t suffering.  I’m sure they did.  I meant to belittle the idea of a “curse”.

To me, the idea of a curse is to glorify a lousy team, or many years of lousy teams.  It’s a device to make fans feel better about their lot by throwing undue attention about the pale basement dwelling team to which they’ve given their time, money, lungs, and spirit.  While Boston might have been gloriously cursed (by Babe Ruth, no less), and the Cubs have long been the Lovable Losers, the Phillies, and by extension, their fans, have mostly lived in either anonymity, or in the enmity of other fans.

From where I sit, Cleveland’s had plenty to be upset about, even aside from the number of years and seasons of losing.  I can only imagine what it’s like to hear the ESPN talking heads pontificate on how native son LeBron James will someday soon leave his hometown team for the Big Money, Big Market, Big Fame.  It must sound like a reminder that Cleveland Just Isn’t Good Enough.

The Tribe is a team that has seen more than its fair share of awful squads, and if you go back in history, you can’t help but notice the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, who sported, I believe, the lowest winning percentage in baseball history (an unnecessarily brutal .130 mark).  Over the past decade, things have more or less been looking up, teamwise, though the amount of flak the team takes for Chief Wahoo seems to be gradually increasing.  I can only guess at what it’s like to reminded that you’re rooting for a team whose founding racism is so front and center at all times.

The Browns…  Okay, I’ll be honest.  I don’t follow the NFL very much, and I especially don’t really follow the AFC, so I can’t speak much to the mind-numbing experience of rooting for the Browns.  But, from my distant perch, the Browns have always seemed to me to be football’s Cubs–that is, the Lovable Losers.  You’ve got the Dawg Pound, right?  And the teams have had a few outstanding players since 1964, but not enough good ones around them to do much.  Of course, there are those legendary losses, and I imagine that “John Elway” tastes sour on your lips.

I’m 24 years old.  I was a fetus when the Sixers won Philadelphia’s last championship.  I don’t know if my sporting experience would be more infuriating and depressing and relentlessly addicting in Cleveland than in Philly.  Honestly, I don’t.  My best guess is that it wouldn’t be harder or easier, just different.

I’ve long felt a kinship to the sports fans in Cleveland.  No other city, I think, understands the drowning feeling of rooting for losing teams year round.  Boston had the Patriots, and before them, the Celtics to keep things happy while the Red Sox lost.  Chicago had the Bulls.  But Philly and The Cleve, Peter, they only have each other.

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Shameless Self-Promotion

Shyster says nice things about us, and then we go and spoil the mood by saying nasty things about, well, you know who.

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