Reading List, August 2017: My Last (And Next) Five Books

Don’t mind telling you, I’m pretty happy about how my reading year has gone so far. I’ve finished 14 books, well on my way to reaching my goal of 25 books and 100 short stories by the end of the year. AND, since every book I’ve read so far was written by a female author, I’m also on target for my stretch goal, which was to read 25 books BY WOMEN this year.

Here are the latest five I’ve read, in reverse order: most recent to oldest:

Wonderful_TonightWonderful Tonight by Pattie Boyd. The author was a young model in the 1960s in England when she got a job appearing in the Beatles movie “A Hard Day’s Night.” She met George Harrison, they fell in love and got married. He wrote the song “Something” about her.

They ran in the same circles with a lot of other British musicians, of course, and at some point, she met Eric Clapton, who promptly fell in love with Boyd, his friend’s wife. Clapton wrote the classic unrequited-love song “Layla” about her. Eventually, he lured her away from Harrison, and Boyd and Clapton got married; among other songs Clapton wrote about her was “Wonderful tonight,” which became the title of her memoir.

I love all those 60s English rockers, so I really enjoyed the book. It was very much her side of the story; I actually have both Clapton’s and Harrison’s autobiographies, and I’m looking forward to reading them even more now.

Stillhouse_LakeStillhouse Lake, by Rachel Caine. This was a “Kindle First” book for the month of June. If you’re in Amazon Prime and you use the Kindle app, every month you get to pick a book from a list of six pre-release books. Usually it’s nothing I’ve heard of and by authors I don’t know, and to be honest, I’ve been just letting the books pile up in my Kindle library. Something about this one, though intrigued me, and I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did.

I think I tend to be overly judgmental about mysteries and thrillers. I’m constantly on the lookout for plot holes and inconsistencies, and if I come upon they can ruin the book for me. This book, though, contained none, and even though the subject matter wasn’t really my typical fodder—a woman’s husband is found to be a serial killer, and she lives her life on the run from those who want to punish her for his deeds—I found the book gripping and well done. There was one flaw, which I would call more of a marketing error than a plotting error, but it’s something of a spoiler. I won’t discuss it here. If you read it, though, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

WaitTilNextYearWait Till Next Year, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This was the first book I’ve ready by DKG. A Pulitzer Prize winner, she’s most known for her presidential biographies, but this book was a memoir of her youth growing up as a Brooklyn Dodgers fan—the endless yearning and the inevitable disappointments. During her childhood, the Dodgers were one of the best teams in the National League, but when they would make the World Series, they would fall to the rival Yankees. And then, finally, the Dodgers won the World Series in 1955 … but then almost immediately moved to Los Angeles.

As a St. Louisan, I can relate to the civic pride that is attached to a long-time successful sports franchise—and also the sense of civic betrayal when a city’s team packs up and moves elsewhere.

I try to read at least one baseball book each summer, and this will be the one for 2017. As mentioned here, I definitely want to read more books by DJG. However, since my “to read” shelf is pretty full, they’ll probably have to (ahem) wait till next year.

The_WidowThe Widow, by Fiona Barton. This one was OK. Amazon has it in the “Thrillers and Suspense” category, but I certainly wouldn’t call it a thriller, and the suspense was, well, minimal. It’s the story of a woman whose husband died in an accident after being accused of the abduction of a child, and the police detective and a tabloid reporter trying to get her story. As I mentioned above, I’m kind of picky about fiction, and I feel like one of the rules is that you limit the point of view to critical characters only. Another is that if a first-person character has knowledge of something, it’s not fair for that character to act like he/she doesn’t have that knowledge in the first 2/3 of the book, and then suddenly, when it’s convenient for the storyteller, reveal the information. I felt like both those rules were violated in this book. I probably won’t be reading her new book, which is coming out this summer.

AllIDidWasAskAll I Did Was Ask: Conversations With Writers, Actors, Musicians and Artists, by Terry Gross. Terry Gross is the exceptional host of the NPR program Fresh Air, and, as the title indicates, this book contains excerpts of transcripts from dozens of interviews with people from the various entertainment fields. She is a brilliant interviewer, one of the best in the business, and she brings out the humanity in her guests. Or in some cases—I’m lookin’ at you, Gene Simmons—the inhumanity.

The only drawback of this book is that it was published 13 years ago. I think it’s about time for a follow-up.

*****

And here comes the part where I’ll try to predict the next five books I’ll read. I never get this right, but I keep doing it.

Brother Of The More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido. (This one I know for sure—because I’m already halfway through it.)

Giant Of The Senate by Al Franken. Pretty sure on this one as well. It’ll break my string of books by women, but I just got it and I really want to read it.

La Rose by Louise Erdrich.

You Can’t Catch Me by Joyce Carol Oates.

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation Of An American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt.

Keeping Score

I recently read Wait ‘Til Next Year, a memoir by Doris Kearns Goodwin about her life growing up as a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. An interesting part of her childhood was that her father taught her how to keep score during baseball games, so that she could listen to the day games, keep score, and then relate to him in great detail how the game went when he got home from work in the evening. The act of reducing a game to marks on a score sheet, and then elaborating from those marks the details and stories of the game helped her develop the ability to create a narrative.

This was the first book of hers that I’ve read, and let me tell you, she can create a narrative. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.

Anyway, as an inveterate score-keeper myself, I enjoyed her account. When I go to a game, I almost always keep score. It keeps me in the game—despite all of the loud, between-inning distractions that are part of attending a professional baseball game these days—and helps me remember what’s gone on earlier with each particular batter.

Like Doris Kearns Goodwin, I learned from my father how to keep score. Unlike her, though, I don’t hang onto my scorecards after the game. She has notebooks full of old games that she kept track of. Me, I generally toss my scorecard in the first trash can I see once the game’s over. It’s great during the game, but I don’t have much use for it after that.

Another reason I don’t keep my scorecards is that I’ve always been somewhat deficient in the penmanship department, and my scorecards end up looking pretty sloppy:

Scorecard.jpg

I can tell what happened, but perhaps nobody else can. This was from a game in May against the Cubs. It was a rare Cardinals game for me this year, because, as you can see, the Cardinals actually scored some runs—five of them, as you can see (if you can decipher my scorekeeping … and they shoulda had more in the 8th). In most of the games I’ve been to this year, the offense has been pretty sparse.

‘The Cardinal Way’

Which brings us to “the Cardinal Way.” If you buy a scorecard at Busch Stadium these days, a whole page of the double-fold scorecard is devoted to instructing us how to keep score, supposedly the way the Cardinals do it.

CardinalsWay.jpg

In short, it’s radically different from the way I keep score, and from the way everybody I know keeps score. In the Cardinal Way, hits are signified by those little cross-like things—a single has one crosshatches, a double has two, etc. In the ‘standard’ way, you write 1B, 2B, etc., in the middle of the box, and then you can see how far the runner advanced in the inning by how much of the diamond is there; if he makes it around to score, there’s a full diamond inside the square for that at-bat. I think it’s a lot easier to see, at a glance, what’s happening using my way rather than the ‘Cardinal way.’

OK, so with my way, you can’t tell what direction the hit went to; in the Cardinal Way, that is signified by which way the top of the little cross points. You can also tell that Brock stole a base while Musial was batting, whereas with my method, you can’t tell when a stolen base occurred. Honestly, though, that’s information I can live without.

Neither method, though, helps in a busy game when there are lots of substitutions. In those games, the left side of the scorecard, where all the names are, gets completely jumbled, and it’s almost impossible to follow how the game went. The solution would be to have a scorecard that’s twice the size, so there’s room to note all of the changes and when they occurred, but I guess that’s just not practical.

Bottom line, it seems to me the Cardinal Way is a new trick this old dog isn’t going to learn.

U2 In Jersey

Our trip to New Jersey was bracketed by two epic musical events: the Hoover Hootenanny our first night, and a U2 concert at MetLife Stadium our final night.

I’d never seen U2 before, but always wanted to. This year, in particular, was special, because the band is touring to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their Joshua Tree album—in my opinion their best album and one of the top three albums ever recorded by any group. The record sounds just as good today as it did in 1987, and oh boy, have I been listening to it a lot the last few weeks.

And the concert didn’t disappoint. I know they’re in the middle of the tour, so I’ll try to avoid spoilers here, although fans will certainly know what to expect. (And if you WANT spoilers, a setlist from the show we saw and much more can be found at this link on U2’s website.)

After an excellent opening set by The Lumineers, U2 opened with a handful of older, pre-Joshua Tree, songs, performed on the small remote stage 50 yards or so in front of the main stage. And then, as the buildup to Where The Streets Have No Name began, they made their way back to the main stage, and proceeded to play The Joshua Tree in its entirety, in order.

Highlights? Just about every damn song was a highlight. Personally, my favorite song on the album is One Tree Hill, but they were all great on stage.

Then, after a short break, the band came out and played a few more songs, mostly rockers, and even one new, unreleased song.

One aspect of the show that was particularly interesting to me was their use of the giant screen behind the main stage. Whereas most acts performing in stadium shows will use a screen like that to show closeups of the band performing for the benefit of those sitting in the faraway seats, this concert instead mostly featured panoramic videos of Americana to accent the songs—much of it, beautiful imagery of the American Southwest. When the band members were shown on the screen, it was often in extreme close-up, usually in black and white. The screen was also used to help get certain messages across: see this link, also from U2’s website (and also a bit of a spoiler). U2 have always been known for making their concerts into multimedia experiences; I thought their use of the big screen really added to the show.

So yes, it was a fantastic concert, one more reason I’m glad we decided to finally make that trip to New Jersey. And now, while you look at some of my iPhone pictures from the nosebleed seats of the concert, I’ll go listen to The Joshua Tree again.

The Hoot

Hoot_2One week ago tonight, I was privileged to attend The Hoover Hootenanny in Asbury Park, N.J.. This was the sixth go-round for the Hootenanny, but, for one reason or another—mostly because they’re in Asbury Park and I live a thousand miles away in St. Louis—I was never able to attend before. But this year, with a favorable work schedule, a newly retired wife and the realization that, hey, I’m not gettin’ any younger, I decided to make the trip. It didn’t take too much work to convince Jean to come along with me.

Put on by my college friend and the Best Man at our wedding, Geoff, along with his wife, Tatiana, the Hoover Hootenanny is a gathering of their enormous circle of friends, most of whom play music in one form or another. So “the Hoot” is music, from start to finish.

We flew from St. Louis Saturday morning, and arrived in Asbury Park early in the afternoon, with enough time to recharge a little before heading over to Geoff’s house. They actually have a barn in their back yard—Tatiana said when they were house-hunting and she saw the barn, she decided immediately that the house was for them—which makes a perfect backdrop for a small wooden stage. One of their sons had created a banner with caricatures of many past Hootenanny performers to hang behind the stage.

For a bunch of mostly amateur musicians, the quality of the music was surprisingly good. There was a wide range of styles, from punk to metal to country to folk. In the reverse of a typical lineup, Geoff scheduled the louder acts toward the beginning, with the country and folk performers near the end, in part to try to keep the neighbors happy.

Geoff asked me and a few other friends to sing backup on a couple of songs he performed with his old band The Noise. We did David Bowie’s Rebel Rebel, followed by Prince’s Purple Rain; both iconic songs by artists who had died since the last Hoot. Maybe our versions weren’t the most melodic renditions of those songs ever, but those of us on the stage and I think everybody in the crowd had a great time. The purple confetti during the second song added a nice touch.

Speaking of the crowd, the Hoover back yard could not have held many more people. Everyone said it was the most-attended Hoot yet. Me, I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Here are a few pictures from the Hoot, that will perhaps show the variety of stage acts that night.

A Fantasy Virgin

In this, my 58th year on the planet, I’m doing something for the very first time. Yesterday I drafted a team for a fantasy baseball league.

Yes, I’ve managed to avoid taking part in fantasy leagues until now, even though a lot of friends and family members participate. I figured I never had time for it, or I don’t follow sports that intricately to be able to do well. Actually, I love sports, but what I love is the drama of the games, and following the rises and falls of a given team’s chances throughout the season; individual players’ stats don’t really excite me that much.

But the last two years, my friend Kurt has asked me to help out at his fantasy league’s draft. This league is less hands-on than a lot of fantasy leagues. You draft a team at the beginning of the year, and then your players’ cumulative stats for the year are calculated for the league’s standings; you don’t have to decide before each game who’s in your lineup or whatever. Once your team is drafted, the only work you have to do is preparing for monthly free-agent nights in which you can drop players who are hurt or underperforming, and add players who aren’t already on someone else’s team.

Helping Kurt on his draft day was fun, and this year, when a slot opened up, I jumped at the chance to have a team of my own.

The league has 12 teams; I drew draft position No. 11, which is fine, because the draft “snakes”; in the even-numbered rounds, the teams draft in reverse order, so I had positions 11 and 14, then 35 and 38, etc. The draft consisted of 21 rounds, so there would be 252 players drafted. This fantasy league uses only players on National League, which of course makes researching players a lot easier. Also, though, it means the last few rounds of the draft feature a lot of players most people don’t know anything about.

That would present an opportunity to do a lot of research, to get to know the universe of National League players and try to figure out who the best 252 are, and in what order they should be placed. Me, I’m a newbie at this, and I chose to rely on the “experts” at CBSSports.com, where there is all kinds of research on players, with stats and rankings by position. I made a list of what I consider the top 75 players in the league—that would get me through the first six rounds—and printed ranking lists, by position, of all of the rest of the players.

My rankings were based on three-year stats, rather than last year’s, which, in retrospect, may have skewed my team a little bit. I wound up with a lot of vets on my team, and few youngsters. There could be guys there who are twilighting their careers and I just don’t know it yet. I guess I’ll find out over the next couple of months. I did land some very good starting pitchers, so I hope to do well in the ERA and strikeout categories, if nothing else.

But hey, it’s my rookie year. I’m only here to gain experience. As the season unfolds, I’ll understand a lot more about what it takes to do well in this league, and on next year’s draft day, I’ll be better prepared.

The way the league works, your team has 21 players (eight pitchers, five outfielders, two catchers, one each at the other four infield positions, plus one “corner infielder,” who can be a first or third baseman, and one “middle infielder,” who can be either a second baseman or shortstop.) Those players are ranked according to their cumulative stats for the season in eight categories: batting average, home runs, RBIs and stolen bases for batters, and ERA, wins, saves and strikeouts for pitchers.

Not that you care, but these are the players I ended up with:

Pitcher: Max Scherzer, Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, Joaquin Benoit, Shawn Kelley, Fernando Rodney, Carter Capps and Hector Rondon.

Outfield: Kyle Schwarber, Jayson Werth, Jay Bruce, Andre Ethier and Franklin Gutierrez

First Base: Brandon Belt

Second Base: Neil Walker

Shortstop: Corey Seager

Third Base: Jose Reyes

Corner Infielder: Martin Prado

Middle Infielder: Howie Kendrick.

Play Ball!

 

Reading List: My Last (And Next) Five Books, March 2017

The election of our first woman president was a momentous occasion, and I decided to commemorate the milestone by reading a lot of books by female authors this year.

Oh, wait…

Turns out, we didn’t elect a woman president. (Well, WE did, but the Electoral College chose someone else, but that’s another story…) I’m not going to let that deter me, though; I’m still going to read a lot of books by women this year, including my first five, listed below.

My standard goal is to read 25 books in a year. I haven’t reached that goal lately, but I think I’m going to stretch it this year, and try to read 25 books BY WOMEN. In addition to a few by men. So I’m really challenging myself, but I’ve discovered that I can get through thrillers and mysteries pretty quickly, and there’s certainly no shortage of books in that genre by women I’d like to read, so I think it’s doable. And even if I don’t make it, I don’t think I’ll die trying.

Another thing about my reading lately: I normally try to alternate my books, one novel followed by one nonfiction. Lately, though, I’m finding the real world’s nonfiction—or maybe I should put that in quotes, like “nonfiction”—is a little too much to take, so I’ve been taking refuge in fiction. It’s been all novels so far this year, and that will probably continue for at least the next couple of books. I did get a couple of enticing (and male-written) nonfiction books for Christmas, though, so both of these trends will be broken at some point, probably later this spring.

In any case, here are my first five books of 2017:

The AwakeningThe Awakening, by Kate Chopin. This is actually a novella, I guess (but when you’re stretching your goals, novellas can count as books).

I chose to start off my feminist-reading year with this 100-year-old book by an author from St. Louis. I enjoyed it for the most part, but it did feel, well, a little dated.

Rubyfruit JungleRubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. In addition to books written by women, another reading theme of mine, lately, is gay/lesbian books. As a straight guy, it’s an area I haven’t explored much in my reading, but I’ve been working on remedying that over the last six months or so. As is true of all of us, I have a lot of friends who are gay, almost certainly more than I realize. A couple of them have mentioned this book as a classic of lesbianism, so I hunted for it and found it through the library.

I enjoyed the book. It’s basically a coming-of-age story, starring a full-of-life protagonist who knows what she wants and generally ends up getting it.

SalvageTheBonesSalvage The Bones by Jessmyn Ward. This one had been on my “want to read” list for a long time, mainly because it was a National Book Award winner about Hurricane Katrina, an event I remember vividly although I didn’t experience it personally. The book is about a poor family living in coastal Mississippi in the days leading up to and including the hurricane, a time during which the protagonist, a 14-year-old girl, learns she’s pregnant. The family tries to prepare for the coming storm, while she tries to keep her secret. The drama builds and by the time I was halfway through the book, I didn’t want to put it down. Fair warning: there is a fairly intense scene of dogfighting in the book which will certainly bother some readers.

TheRiverAtNightThe River At Night by Erica Ferencik. I’m not generally a reader of thrillers, but I was in the mood for a quick, intense read. So, while at the library dropping off Salvage The Bones, I took a look through the New Releases rack and found this one. I’m kind of a sucker for books (or movies or music) with bodies of water in the title, so it didn’t take long for me to decide it would be my next read. It was a good choice.

Four friends, all women, head to Maine for a whitewater adventure on an uncharted river. They have a guide who has run the river a few times before, but some of the women have doubts about him. Safe to say, their inexperience catches up with them, and they have to deal with a lot of unexpected hazards along the way. I found it very well-plotted and well-written, and I read it in about five days, which is extremely rare for me. I’ll be reading more in this genre this year.

TheBeanTreesThe Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. This is this third book by Barbara Kingsolver that I’ve read. (Flight Behavior and The Poisonwood Bible were the first two.) I’m always impressed by her descriptions of nature; “place” is always a key element in her books, although maybe a little less so in this one than the other two. And I also love her ability to create unique, memorable characters. This was her first novel, but her voice was already well developed. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of her work.

*****

An interesting (for me, anyway) note: four of these five books came from the library. I’ve been a booster and a trustee of our local library for years, but, oddly, more often than not I end up buying books for my Kindle rather than checking them out of the library. Well, I’m making a conscious effort to use the library more, and saving some money in the process!

*****

Usually, at this point, I list five more books, my best guess at the next five I’ll be reading. Rather than go out on that particular limb, though (I don’t think I’ve ever gotten it right; inevitably, some other book strikes my fancy or suddenly becomes available or something), here are some books that I have my eyes on to read in the coming months. My next reads will certainly include some of these, probably not all:

The Woman In Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware.

In The Woods, by Tana French

Consenting Adult, by Laura Hobson

The Roundhouse, by Louise Erdrich

Stone Butch Blues, by Leslie Feinberg

Illumination Night, by Alice Hoffman

Land of Enchantment, by Leigh Stein

*****

As always, if you’re interested in keeping up with what I read in real time—rather than waiting for me to write about it here in Shoulblog—you can friend me up on Goodreads. I’m always interested in recommendations for books to read.

Old Trees, New Trees

IMG_4154

IMG_8876These pictures were taken from the same spot on the Gateway Arch grounds, looking north toward the Arch. The top photo was taken in October 2014, just before workers started removing all of the rosehill ash trees that lined the walkways. The ash trees were threatened by the emerald ash borer, and for that and other reasons, CityArchRiver, the group that is spearheading the renovation of the grounds, decided to remove them all at once.

They are being replaced by London plane trees, which are said to be much heartier and more disease resistant. The bottom photo was taken last week; the walkways and new paths around the Arch have been reopening in increments, and this area just became available a couple of weeks ago.

It will be a while, though, before the new trees will provide much shade.

(You can read more about the trees here, and about the overall CityArchRiver project here.)