Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Catching Up

Book Challenge 2009 has been going well so far. Even though I ordered two books from Daedalus last week, I'm still ahead in the game.

(Not that You Asked) is a funny and thoughtful collection of non-fiction essays by Steve Almond. I had read Almond's Candyfreak on a recommendation from someone at The Book Cellar (one of those little handwritten cards on the shelf). Even though the subject -- famous regional sweet treats -- didn't excite me that much, I enjoyed his writing style. I bought (Not that You Asked) at the same store.

The book gets off to a rough start with a series of letters written to Oprah which aren't as funny as Almond probably intended. The next section about Kurt Vonnegut is fascinating even though I've never read his work. The essays about sex are hilarious, and "Red Sox Anti-Christ" is a thoughtful tale about what makes us baseball fans as well as the perils of being a hometown fan outside your hometown. The next few essays are a mixed bag, but I really enjoyed the "In Tribute to My Republican Homeys" section. This includes the story of how he quit his adjunct professorship at Boston College because they invited Condoleezza Rice to give a commencement speech. Then he describes his experiences within the right wing noise machine, which he calls the Hateocracy, culminating in an appearance on the always fair and balanced Hannity & Colmes show. The final essays about having a baby are pretty good, too.

This week, I also finished George Plimpton's Out of My League: The Classic Hilarious Account of an Amateur's Ordeal in Professional Baseball. I first knew Plimpton as the TV spokesman for the Intellivision video game system, which I owned and loved (everyone else I knew had Atari 2600s) and later as the author of a Sports Illustrated April Fool's Day 1985 story about pitcher Sidd Finch.

Out of My League takes place in 1960, the first of a series of regular-guy-plays-with-pros adventures that Plimpton documented in Sports Illustrated articles and books. The author pitches against top hitters in Yankee Stadium prior to a post-season all-star game. I was surprised that he didn't practice more for his big day, but he didn't have much time. The most amazing thing to the modern reader is the part where Plimpton is told that if he wants to interest the major leaguers, he has to get Sports Illustrated to put some money on the line. How much? Well, this is 1960, so it takes $1,000 to be divided among the eight hitters (pitchers didn't bat) on the team that gets the most hits off Plimpton. These days, you couldn't get a pro baseball player into the on-deck circle for $125!

I'm always skeptical of books that use "hilarious" in their subtitles, but Out of My League is pretty amusing. It's also a quick read that should entertain any baseball fan, especially one familiar with the stars of the time. However, I can't help thinking it may have been better in its original, more concise magazine form. Also, the $12.95 list price is a bit steep for such a thin volume, but I found it at Half Price Books for $1.00.

Current tally: 10 books finished, 9 books acquired

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