Two New Book Reviews

Take Time for Paradise book coverTake Time for Paradise: Americans and Their Games by A. Barlett Giamatti.  New York: Bloomsbury, c1989, reissued 2011.

A book that makes my expensive liberal arts education seem worthwhile! ūüôā

It seems a bit odd to be writing an “early review” of a book published in 1989, but I’m pleased that Bloomsbury chose to reissue this classic, originally a series of lectures, adding a foreword by Jon Meacham and a touching afterword by Marcus Giamatti (son of the author).

Take Time for Paradise explores leisure activity, including sports in general and baseball in particular, using the tools of philosophy, classics, and literature.¬† Giamatti invokes Shakespeare, Aristotle, and Homer in his explorations of “Self-Knowledge,” “Community,” and “Baseball as Narrative.”¬† If this description has you rolling your eyes and yawning, imagining an “ivory tower” analysis of your favorite activity, think again.¬† Giamatti was a scholar, but he was also a die-hard baseball fan‚ÄĒtwo characteristics which made him a good National League President and (briefly) Commissioner of Baseball; they also allow him to analyze baseball in interesting and thoughtful ways.

The first chapter/lecture, “Self-Knowledge,” sets the stage by examining the meaning and purposes of “leisure” as “not-work.”¬† Leisure is all about freedom; how we choose to spend our time when we are free to make that choice.¬† Leisure is how/when most of us seek fulfillment, aspiring to our vision of paradise.¬† To me, the most interesting passages in this chapter addressed the idea that sport is (like) religion.¬† Giamatti acknowledges the similarities in terms of sacred connections, rituals, and notions of paradise, but maintains that the self-transformation of leisure/sport need not be described in religious terms.

The second chapter/lecture, “Community,” explores sport as inherently connected to cities, rather than rural/garden/suburban contexts.¬† Here Giamatti addresses several sociological issues related to sports including drug/alcohol/steroid use, the danger of the cult of the young athlete, various forms of cheating, and the role of the spectator.¬† He also foreshadows many of the “modern developments” (e.g., giant scoreboards) and the need to accommodate both new and old fans.

“Baseball as Narrative,” the third chapter/lecture brings the themes of leisure, freedom, and community together in showing how baseball is about story.¬† The “plot” becomes a literal “plot of soil” in a whirlwind tour of the geometry and details of baseball fields.¬† The meditation on “home” manages to include family, Homer’s Odyssey and Romance.¬† Giamatti ties the series of lectures together by ending with a story of a hotel lobby during the World Series.

My favorite passage in the book provides an elegant response to those who view baseball as repetitious or boring:

“The game on the field is repetitious‚ÄĒpitch after pitch, swing after swing, player after player, out succeeding out, half inning making whole inning, top to bottom to top, the patterns accumulating and making organizing principles, all around and across those precise shapes in and on the earth.¬† Organized by the metric of the game, by the prosody of the play, is all the random, unpredictable, explosive energy of playing, crisscrossing the precise shapes in lines and curves, bounces and wild hops and parabolas and slashing arcs. There is a ferocity to a slide, a whispering, exploding sound to a fastball, a knife-edged danger to a ball smashed at a pitcher‚ÄĒthere is a violence in the game at variance with its formal patterns, a hunger for speed at variance with its leisurely pace, a potential for irrational randomness at variance with its geometric shapes.” (p. 79)

In other words, all that repetition provides the framework for the quirky, unique story that is any particular baseball game.¬† Once you know that framework, and its rhythmic comforts, you can sit back (or on the edge of your seat) waiting for today’s story to unfold.¬† Giamatti goes on to compare this energy within rules to how the language of sonnets works: “The point being that freedom is the fulfillment of the promise of an energetic, complex order.” (p. 80).

I wept all the way through Marcus Giamatti’s afterword, a son’s tribute to and appreciation of both his father and the connection forged by a love of baseball.

If you find the most compelling thing about baseball to be statistics and fantasy teams, this probably is not the baseball book for you.  On the other hand, if you appreciate how scholarly analysis can combine with genuine enthusiasm to provide insightful musings on almost any activity, you will enjoy this book.


 

My Nine Lives book cover imageMy Nine Lives: A Memoir of Many Careers in Music by Leon Fleisher and Anne Midgette, New York: Doubleday, 2010

As a former musician currently struggling with a hand/arm/shoulder injury and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I found much to relate to in this memoir: the endless search for “cures;” the denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and (limited) acceptance of one’s “new” body/life.¬† (Unlike me) Fleisher was a child piano prodigy, student of Schnabel, and Outstanding Young American Pianist who later morphed into “the Bohemian” and “the young lion,” until “Catastrophe” (inability to use two fingers of his right hand) and its aftermath as conductor, teacher, left-handed pianist, and finally “renaissance man.”¬† And yes, those ten chapter titles capture the essence of Leon Fleisher’s story.¬† The joy and inspiration in what could have been a “woe is me” memoir come from the details and anecdotes that make up that arc of an 80-plus-year life.¬† Most of the stories are about music-making, but the personal stories (of famous musicians, of wives, children, god-children, students) reveal the truth of how one makes it through to the other side of a devastating “catastrophe” in life . . . “with a little [or a lot of] help from your friends.”

The writing style is very accessible (most musical concepts are clarified in everyday language so even non-musicians can follow along).¬† I particularly appreciated Fleisher’s ability to look back on some of his less-than-admirable times/behaviors with both wisdom and wit.¬† The photos at the beginning of each chapter and in a separate center section provide the reader with a glance into the full span of the author’s life.¬† My only criticism would be that there is some repetition of points and stories, which seemed unnecessary as I was reading the book cover-to-cover, but in this age of reading excerpts and single chapters, I suppose they will be helpful to some readers.

I would recommend this book to anyone struggling with a career ending/changing injury as well as to any up-and-coming young musicians out there.¬† The five “Master Class” sections inserted amongst the ten chapters are also helpful and interesting.¬† Each is a brief (almost too brief) but insightful commentary revealing one musician’s way of thinking about a particular piece: Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor; Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58; Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D Major; Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503; Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat Major.

I only wish I had read the book before Fleisher came to town a few weeks ago.  I would have made sure to get a ticket.  Instead I will have to make due with listening to some of his many recordings (a selected Discography is included at the back of the book).

Beloved Cubs icon Santo dies at age 70

Beloved Cubs icon Santo dies at age 70 | cubs.com: News.

This news shocked and saddened me.  Wept throughout my attempt to read the article.  Of course I knew about his health problems due to his diabetes, but I was unaware he also had bladder cancer.  Impossible to capture how much he will be missed.

I don’t have many memories of Ron Santo as a player, though I’m sure I watched him on WGNTV and perhaps even saw him in a game at Wrigley.¬† But I wasn’t even born in his rookie year (1960) and was only 3 when he started his string of Gold Glove Awards in 1964.¬† By 1969 I was certainly a Cubs fan . . . who could forget that heartbreaking year? (Still hate those Mets!)¬† Too bad those Hall of Fame Knuckleheads didn’t manage to give him his due and elect him to the Hall before he died.

What I remember most vividly is Ron’s voice on WGN-Radio with Pat Hughes, the two of them painting a picture of the game as it unfolded so those of us on the other end of the radio waves felt like we were there with them.¬† If you tuned in late you could always tell how the Cubbies were doing just by the tone of Ron’s voice.¬† His mood directly tied to the fortunes and misfortunes of his beloved Cubbies.¬† And whenever there was a gap in the lineup of seventh-inning stretch singers, there was Ronnie, pitching in with gusto to lead the fans in our anthem, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.¬† It’s “Root, root, root, for the CUBBIES, if they don’t win it’s a shame . . .”

RIP, Ronnie.

And please talk to the Big Guy Upstairs about letting the Cubs win a World Series.

My Year as a Twins Fan

After years as a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan, I “let go” for a year and joined Twins Territory.¬† I gave it all I have: listened to or watched most games, participated in game chats, bought Twins gear, went to several games.¬† Overall it was a great season.¬† Certainly, in terms of wins and losses, much better than most Cubs’ seasons.

So why do I feel even worse today, after the Twins were swept by the Yankees for the second ALDS in a row, than I ever did after a Cubs’ losing season?¬† I’m afraid some deeply held beliefs that “true Minnesotans” hold, but that my New Jersey-born/Chicago-raised soul just can’t accept or comprehend, may have infected Twins Territory and are contributing to their inability to win in the postseason.¬† (Perhaps it is also time for me to move, but I’ll save that for another post.)

In his post-game press conference last night, Ron Gardenhire said “I’m very proud of this baseball team.” Yes, he was basing this assessment on winning the division. Well, that’s a goal they’ve accomplished six of the past 10 years.¬† And all but once they have lost in the first postseason series, by either three games to none, or three games to one.¬† SO what exactly makes him so proud?¬† I certainly don’t feel proud of the way the team has played over the past several weeks.

I can only conclude that his pride in his team (and the resignation that many Twins fans express about the Twins’ inability to win in the postseason) stems from one or more of the following common Minnesota Codes of Belief and Conduct:

  • Minnesota Nice (my def.:¬† overt polite friendliness and courtesy which is designed to avoid all confrontation and which seeks to conceal a basic passive aggressiveness and resistance to change)
    For the Twins this seems to take the form of rarely sweeping a series (it wouldn’t be nice to show up the other team) and easing up in a game once they get ahead by a few runs (ditto).¬† Dear Twins, you are being paid lots of money to win ballgames.¬† Please don’t feel bad for the other guys (who are also being paid lots of money).¬† Sports involves confrontation.¬† If you feel bad about that and bad about winning you are in the wrong business. And Gardy & Andy . . . I don’t care if the pitcher says he’s “fine” . . . it’s your job to pull him BEFORE the other team gets ahead by six runs, even if it hurts his feelings!
  • “All our children are above average” an extension of Minnesota Nice which declares it “unseemly” to point out that some people are better at some tasks than others and rewards “trying hard” equally with actually accomplishing a task.¬† (One Minnesota College which shall remain nameless refuses to be part of Phi Beta Kappa because it requires identifying the “best” students and setting them apart with an honor!)¬† Gardy’s most frequent excuses for losses take the form of “we didn’t get it done”¬† (GEE, REALLY?¬† I didn’t know that from the zeros on the board!) I can’t be certain from this sort of response whether the manager and coaches really don’t KNOW what fundamentals are missing from their ball players’ repertoire or whether they just don’t communicate well enough to point out to the players exactly what needs work.¬† I’m afraid that perhaps “just try harder next time” is the extent of the constructive criticism provided.¬† I WAS encouraged to read that Gardy recognizes some of the reasons why the Yankees are so successful: “They’re always looking in. They pay attention to everything. It’s not like they’re robots out there. They pay attention to the game. . . . They do a very good job of getting those guys ready over there.” There is NO reason why Twins can’t achieve the same level of preparation.
  • Upon pain of death, shunning, or firing, do not express emotion of any kind. Frankly, baseball can be a rather boring game.¬† For most of three hours, very little happens.¬† One way players can help alleviate potential fan boredom is by acting like they actually enjoy what they are being paid substantial sums of money to do.¬† Say what you will about the faults of Sammy Sosa, but when he entered the playing field (by RUNNING out to RF and acknowledging the fans) everyone knew his attitude was “GAME ON.”¬† Twins fans like to say that the (cheer)leading happens in the dugout and we don’t necessarily get to see it.¬† I WANT TO SEE IT!!! Show me that you care about the game and the fans.¬† Be FIERCE.¬† Not mean, not nasty, but definitely emotionally engaged in the game.¬† (One thing I definitely did NOT miss while Justin Morneau was out with his concussion was that stoic blank stare he usually wears throughout a ball game.) Yes, Gardy occasionally gets tossed¬† for arguing with an umpire, but those rare expressions of emotion are not enough to provide energy throughout a 162-game season.

All of which leaves me with the not-so-long-anymore offseason to contemplate whether to return to Twins Territory next year, or go back to my “loveable loser” Cubbies, who even when they are losing seem to be able to show me that they enjoy this game I love AND that they really WANT to win.¬† Tune back in April to learn my answer.

I’m gonna miss “The Riot”

Cubs send Lilly, Theriot to Dodgers | cubs.com: News.

but they get Blake DeWitt (no relation) . . .

Everyone knew that Lilly was likely to go, but how can they trade TheRiot?¬† We’ll miss him and the Fontenot/Theriot Louisiana connection. Yes, I know that Starlin Castro is the latest hot young infielder .¬† . . but the Theriot-DeWitt trade doesn’t seem to add much (except a great last name).¬† The two infielders have pretty similar stats . . . .We’ll see how it all works out.

The Cubbies definitely need pitching help, so getting two new arms in the pitching part of the trade might at least shake things up out there.

Gonna miss Howry too, though I know he’s been struggling lately.¬† He was a class act.¬† Really hurts to send him away in order to make room for Zambrano to come back . . . what a waste of space on the roster that one is . . .

Enough for now . . . there will likely be more to comment on by the end of the day.

Review-a-thon

Made it through the first three chapters of Elaine Aron’s The Undervalued Self before I needed a nap.¬† I received a free copy of this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.¬† So far, the first chapter was full of lame pseudo-science and faux evolutionary theory.¬† The second (on six self-protections) and third (on childhood & adult traumas) chapters were better, but I’m not seeing much difference between “The Undervalued Self” and traditional analyses of “low self esteem”.

After nap I cheated and watched a bit of baseball.  C.C. Sabathia was on the verge of a no-hitter in the Yankees/Rays game.  But the Rays finally got a hit off of him in the eighth inning.

Time for some popcorn and Scarpetta.

BTW, my headache from this morning is still with me, despite Tylenol this morning and ibuprophen later.¬† Doesn’t seem to be a migraine (which would prevent me from reading anything), just an annoying headache.¬† My guess is it’s a “joys of Spring” headache . . .