Moneyball: the Art of Winning an Unfair Game

Lewis, Michael. Moneyball: the Art of Winning an Unfair Game. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2004.

Reason read: the World Series is held in October every year. Read in honor of baseball’s biggest moment.

On the surface, Moneyball is about the Oakland Athletics baseball team. They don’t have enough money to buy the big name players and yet they keep winning. Their manager, Billy Beane, is working some kind of statistical magic. What is his secret to success? As Lewis takes his readers on a strange journey into the world of armchair pitchers and amateur baseball theorists I couldn’t help but think of a Dungeons and Dragons meets sports enthusiast group of geeks. This is truly a book with a dual audience. Moneyball, for obvious reasons, appeals to the sports fanatic, but the nerd with a mathematical slant can geek out as well. To win one must understand sabermetrics.

Author fact: Speaking of geeking out. I had a moment when I found out Lewis is married to Tabitha Soren.

Book trivia: Moneyball was made into a movie in 2011 starring Brad Pitt. You guessed it. I haven’t seen it.

Nancy said: Pearl said Moneyball turned her into an Oakland A’s fan.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 700s” (p 71).

It Looked Like Forever

Harris, Mark. It Looked Like Forever. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1979.

This is the last Henry Wiggen story. This time when we meet up with Henry, he is a flagging veteran, just let go as lefty pitcher for the New York Mammoths. In this day and age he would have been traded years ago, but in the world of Mark Harris, Wiggen hangs on. He still wants to play, even if it means playing in an obscure Japanese town no one can find on a map, or as a relief pitcher anywhere else. However, Henry is now 39 years old with looming health and family issues. His prostate is squawking and his daughter, Hilary, is a screamer; she screams for no apparent reason. Henry has to adjust to being a normal citizen without the perks he once had as a famous athlete (although, interestingly enough, he didn’t know what being famous actually meant). A good portion of the story is Henry trying to get back into baseball while at the same time trying to mollify his screaming daughter.

Two quotes that gave me a chuckle, “Do not read pornographic literature as it causes excitement without gratification, which is bad for the prostate gland” (p 54), and “No, she had 100’s of photos of me including photos of me with my eyes poked out with her hole making machine from the office and photos of me pasted on top of photos of various people on the obituary page of the paper” (p 105).

Reason read: This is the final book in the Henry Wiggen saga. I started it in October in honor of the World Series. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Yay Red Sox!

Author fact: Harris wasn’t limited to writing fiction about baseball. He also wrote many nonfictions, including one about Saul Bellow.

Book trivia: The dedication in It Looked Like Forever is cute: “For Henry Adam Harris, who once complained that no book has been dedicated to him…”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Take Me Out To the Ballgame” (p 229).

Ticket for a Seamstitch

Harris, Mark. A Ticket For a Seamstitch. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957.

When we next meet up with Henry Wiggen he is still pitching for the New York Mammoth baseball team. He is still selling insurance during the off-season. He also still writing (and getting published so his nickname of Henry “Author” Wiggen is getting around). He is now a veteran ballplayer. The plot of Ticket for a Seamstitch is super simple. A seamstress fan of Wiggen writes to ask for a ticket to a game on the fourth of July. Fellow (and very single) teammate, Piney, reads the letter and becomes involved, thinking the girl is a “looker.” He has hopes she might be a potential girlfriend in the future. Only when she arrives, all the way from California, she is not the girl he thought she was and very married Wiggen is left to entertain her. This third book in the series is lighter on the play by play baseball and took me only an afternoon to read.

Lines liked: “The only thing bothered her sleep was in the middle of the night the boys all come banging on her door, wishing to discuss baseball, they said, she said” (p 71), and “What is philosophy to Piney Woods who is off to the moon on a motorcycle with a dream of a perfect and naked girl in his mind, and he will solve it all by science when he gets there” (p 99).

Reason read: This is the third book in the Henry W. Wiggen series. I started the series in October in honor of the world series. Yay Red Sox!

Book trivia: This is the book that put Harris on the map. Although, I’m not sure why. It isn’t as dramatic as the last one. The full title is A Ticket for a Seamstitch, Henry Wiggen but polished for the Printer by Mark Harris.

Author fact: According to the back flap of Ticket for a Seamstitch Harris spent time in New York, California, South Carolina, Georgia, Illinois, New Mexico, Colorado, and New Hampshire.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” (p 229).

Bang the Drum Slowly

Harris, Mark. Bang the Drum Slowly. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003.

When we rejoin Henry Wiggen he is now married to Holly and she is three months pregnant. Henry has been in the big leagues for several years and sells insurance on the side. His friend and fellow ballplayer, Bruce Pearson, is dying of cancer. Henry’s life becomes a balance of baseball, family, and friendship as Bruce’s condition is kept a secret from the rest of the team. Henry (“Author” as he is called by his teammates because of his first book) grows up a great deal in this second book. When Bruce’s prostitute girlfriend wants Bruce to change his will Henry must step up to protect his friend. At the same time he becomes a father and a leader of the Mammoths.

After the fact: I can’t stand library books that have been marked up, even if the marking is all in pencil. Ugh.

Line I liked, “I used to pee away money like wine until I got wise to myself” (p 6). Just another example of how Henry grows during this time.

Reason read: October is World Series month for baseball (Yay Red Sox!) and Bang the Drum Slowly is a continuation of the story I started last month.

Author fact: Mark Harris added a new introduction to Bang the Drum Slowly. I think he felt he needed to apologize for the screenplay.

Book trivia: Here’s what it says on the title page: Bang the Drum Slowly by Henry W. Wiggen Certain of His Enthusiasms Restrained by Mark Harris. Interesting.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” (p 229).


Harris, Mark. The Southpaw. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1953

From the very beginning of The Southpaw you know you are in for a treat. Just read the dedication to know why. Then, for further evidence, move on to the “Special Warning To All Readers!!!”
Henry Wiggen is a left handed pitcher reflecting on his career in baseball. Although Henry is obsessed with the game from the very beginning there is a real defining moment when, at sixteen, he replaces his father on the mound during a game against the Clowns. After that, he tries out and is subsequently signed to play for the New York Mammoths. During spring training in Florida Henry learns what its like to be a ballplayer in the big time – competition, women, egos. The only “criticism” I have of the book is that one must love baseball in order to really love The Southpaw. There is a lot of play by play action that can get a little tedious at times.

I’ve read a few reviews where people were bothered by Henry Wiggen’s uneducated manner of speech. It didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I thought it added realism to the character.

As an aside, I was a little bothered that Mark Harris used a C. Marlowe poem (“The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”) but doesn’t give credit where credit is due.

Quotes to mention, “I was a terrible kid for flinging things at people” (p 25), and “But throwing a baseball and throwing a hand grenade is 2 different things, and I am at my best with 1 and scared to my toes of the other” (p 37), “That first night I had the regular blues, lonesome as the moon and not a soul to talk to” (p 137),

Reason read: The world series is in October.

Book trivia: The version I read boasted of “punctuation freely inserted and spelling greatly improved.” Whatever that means.

Author fact: According to the back of The Southpaw Harris wanted to be a ballplayer but his stature of only 5’7″ deterred him.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” (p 229).

Diamond Classics

Shannon, Mike. Diamond Classics: Essays on 100 of the Best Baseball Books Ever Published. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarlane & Company, Inc., 2003.

According to Shannon, one of the major purposes of Diamond Classics is to “function as a sort of “Reader’s Digest” of baseball books” (introduction, p xiii) and he is right. It is jam packed with information about all kinds of books about baseball. I think he covers every type of book from every perspective. The information is extensive. For starters there is the mandatory title, author, publisher, page numbers information (in other words the perfect citation). But it goes further than that. This is a great book for research purposes. Let’s say I wanted to write an essay on the great Jackie Robinson (since there is a new movie coming out about the legend). I could use Shannon’s Diamond Classics to compile all the relevant and useful baseball books that feature Jackie. But, wait! there’s more. Shannon reviews each book for writing style as well as content. He includes the critical reception to the book (if there was one). Shannon is careful to add other baseball books written by the same author. Even his reviews of photography books are descriptive and analytical. He includes books by seasoned sports writers, former athletes and even fans. And, and! And, everything is in alphabetical order…but of course.

Reason read: April 1st marked the first day of the official baseball season. Opening day saw the Red Sox beat the Yankees. Yay.

Author fact: Mike Shannon is a huge baseball fan. You can just tell by the many other books he has written on the subject.

Book trivia: It was cool to see some of the books I’ll be reading for the Challenge reviewed inDiamond Classics.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” (p 230).

October (2009) was…

October has always been my “hang on”” month. It’s the month I hold my breath for while waiting for September to release me. This October was no different. It started with a trip to Maine to see West Coast family (and a great foggy run), a trip homehome andandand Kisa got to go (yay), Hilltop got a much needed haircut, there were a ton of new Natalie sightings, and, dare I say, the promise of a Hilltop Thanksgiving? The end of the month was a little stressful – a lump in the breast and a missing ovary. No wonder I read so many books and here they are:

  • Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis ~ sci-fi story about a man who is kidnapped and taken to Mars.
  • The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis ~ coming of age story about a young girl who is a chess playing phenom.
  • A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle ~ a ghost story about a man who lives in a graveyard for twenty years.
  • Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters ~ a mystery about two unmarried women traveling through Egypt and being pursued by a mummy.
  • The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan ~ nonfiction about the role of women through the ages (up to the 1960s when the book was written). Oh, how far we’ve come!
  • House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier ~ a spooky tale about time travel.
  • When Found, Make a Verse of by Helen Smith Bevington ~ a commonplace book full of poetry, proverbs and excerpts.
  • Empire Falls by Richard Russo ~ a novel about small town life (read because October is the best time to visit New England).
  • The Natural by Barnard Malamud ~ a novel about a baseball player (read because October is World Series month).
  • In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu ~ a compilation of short stories all on the dark side (read in time for Halloween – you know…horror, fantasy, mystery, etc).
  • The Life You Save May Be Your Own: an American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie ~ biographies of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy in one book (read for Group Reading Month).

For fun, I am rereading Mary Barney’s Ring That Bell (2003) because I want to challenge my cooking and make every recipe in the book. So far I’ve cooked/baked my way through nine recipes.

For the Early Review program from LibraryThing I was supposed to read Ostrich Feathers by Miriam Romm. It hasn’t arrived as of yet, so it may very well turn into a November book.

The Natural

Malamud, Bernard. The Natural. New York: Dell, 1952.

Even though the Boston Red Sox didn’t make it to the world series this year, I still wanted to read a baseball book before the season was over. The Natural seemed like the perfect choice to wrap up October 2009 even though it was on the depressing side.

Despite being only 180 pages long Bernard Malamud packs a lot of action into the plot of The Natural. Roy Hobbs is a rookie baseball player on his way to try out for Chicago’s pro team, the Chicago Cubs. Just as he arrives in Chicago he is shot by a serial killer, a woman bent on killing professional athletes. Fastforward 16 years and Roy has survived being shot and is now playing for the New York Knights. He has made it to the big time only to have to deal with a mid-season slump, a crooked co-owner, Judge Banner, an infatuated woman who says she is carrying his child, Iris Lemon, and his unresolved relationship with the fans. When Hobbs is bribed to throw the game, he counters with a bigger bribe and the deal is done. The book ends with a newspaper boy confronting Hobbs after the game, asking “Is it true?” and Hobbs cannot reply.

I didn’t really find any lines that struck me serious.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” (p 229).

December Was…

img_0030December started off being my fresh start. New houses, new atttitude. It would have been a return to charity walks (or runs?) had a little thing called house hunting not gotten in the way! December ended up being a really, really difficult month. Lost another house, craziness at work, mental health taking a trip south, a passing of a friend and coworker… Here are the books I read escaped with. It may seem like a lot but, keep in mind, I cheated. I was able to read the first two in November.

  • The Quiet American by Graham Green ~ I read this in three days time…in November. Was really that good!
  • A Dangerous Friend by Ward Just ~ Another book I read in just a few days time, again…in November.
  • Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver ~ probably one of the best court-room dramas I have ever read.
  • I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away by Bill Bryson ~ funny, but repetitive!
  • A Family Affair by Rex Stout ~ very strange yet entertaining.
  • Lincoln’s Dreams by Connie Willis ~again, strange but entertaining!
  • Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella ~ okay. I’ll admit it. This one made me cry.
  • ‘Sippi by John Oliver Killens ~ powerful – really, really powerful. That’s all I can really say.
  • Snobs by Julian Fellowes ~ silly story about what happens with you combine boredom with good old fashioned English snobbery.
  • Choice Cuts by Mark Kurlansky ~ really interesting, but a bit dry at times (no pun intended).

For LibraryThing it was the fascinating Honeymoon in Tehran by Azadeh Moaveni (really, really good).

Confession: I started Le Mort d’Arthur and couldn’t deal with neither volume one or two. Just not in the mood for the King, no matter how authoritative the version.

So. 11 books. Two being in the month of November and nine as the cure for what ailed me.

Edited to add: someone asked me to post “the count” at the end of each “— Was” blog. What a great idea. I will be starting that next month – something new to start 2009 with. Thanks, A!

Shoeless Joe

Kinsella, W.P. Shoeless Joe. New York: Ballantine, 1982.

This week of reading seemed to be all about dreams. First, Lincoln’s Dreams by Connie Willis and now Shoeless Joeby W.P. Kinsella. The movie “Field of Dreams” was based on Kinsella’s book. I don’t know if my memory of the the movie chased my reading, but it seemed easier to get through the 224 pages faster than usual.

Ray is a man possessed by love. Love for his family, love for the sprawling farmland of Iowa, and most importantly, love for the game of baseball. It’s this love that makes Ray take chances with all three. Spurred on by a mystical voice Ray builds a left field out in part of his cornfield. But, the voice doesn’t stop there. Soon it has Ray driving to Vermont to kidnap J.D. Salinger and from there the adventure really begins. Battling debt, childhood devils, and indecision Ray leans on his ever-understanding wife (and later, Salinger) to build a cornfield stadium that only a few can understand. It’s a magical story, perfect for Christmastime when the season is all about dreams and believing in the impossible.

Favorite lines: “Mark’s party is bulging with tweed and intellect” (p 47), and ” This is a carnival. People pay to be disappointed” (p 175).

BookLust Twist: In Book Lust and More Book Lust. From Book Lust in the chapter, “Growing Writers” (p 107), and from More Book Lust in the chapter, “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest (Iowa)” (p 26).

Beyond Belief

Hamilton, Josh. Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back. New York: Faith Words, 2008.

Do not expect Beyond Belief  to be eloquent or a great literary masterpiece. It is what it is – a straightforward, simple, eyt heartfelt account of one athlete’s fall from grace and subsequent redemption through religion. Drafted right out of high school and given a salary of 3.96 million, one can hardly anticipate fancy prose from Josh Hamilton. Instead, what lies in the 257 pages (with help from ESPN senior writer Tim Keown) is a humble account of his life as an athlete, drug addict, and finally, a man of faith.

Here are the lines I hope they keep, “in the vicious cycle of drug use, crack is the endgame. It eats you up from the inside out” (p 149), and “I understand that, and I expect that. My past invites that” (p225).