Archive for Readings

Brief Essay of Certain Pleasure: David Lodge on Ring Lardner

Lardner_Ring-ConvertImageWhile certain among us appear to extract quite a bit in the way of pleasure from it, I have personally never been the sort who enjoys merely browsing at a bookshop, the pastime doing little else but to cultivate within me a sort of mental exhaustion and corresponding grudge with the species for having carried on at such terrible length.

One advantage to age — although one hardly substantial enough to compensate for the many terrors it will ultimately exact upon my person — is that it has taught me to develop a strategy for such times as I am compelled (typically by my ever-loving wife) to visit a bookseller.

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Google Has Questions, One of Them Regarding Baseball

It is not the reader’s concern what specific question I was moved to ask Mademoiselle Google — a question regarding perhaps the human condition and or the author’s current straits. What is of interest is that Mademoiselle Google anticipated the query to come. She was incorrect in her anticipations, but they cast light upon what shall henceforth be known as “The Four Hot Mysteries”:

Hot Questions

The call is coming from inside the house? To that I would say, “The Cubs are inside the Internet.”

Also, to answer The Four Hot Mysteries above:

1- In either case, to what end?
2- There is no place that does not see you.
3- Sometimes.
4- Four.

This sort of thing is precisely the reason I typically use HotBot.

On the Unintended Consequences of Hack Wilson’s Gut

This Man Is Drunk

I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Mickey Kefauver’s forthcoming biography of Hack Wilson, The Aching Beauty of an American Sot. Kefauver’s work contains multitudes, and among those multitudes is a walking tour of Wilson’s gut. By “gut” I do not mean any sort of belt-straining protuberance, but rather the life and ultimately self-immolating work of Wilson’s innermost innards.

Let me share a couple of passages. First, this medical revelation upon Wilson’s being hospitalized in 1933, for drunkenness in general and suspected Catholicity in particular:

It turned out that those medical professionals were wrong: the man had “auto-brewery syndrome.” His stomach contained so much yeast that he was making his own in-house brew, literally.

Hack Wilson was a drunk, but he was a drunk not of his own volition, you see. A bounty of yeast had turned his belly parts into a craft brewery, and so the gut-beer flowed without ceasing, like the prayers of the already damned.

Second comes this, when Kefauver, in the service of a more soaring narrative, shifts momentarily to the second person and in doing so snatches the reader up by his tailored lapels:

But he was dying when he called you, from a progressive fibrosis of the lungs brought on not by smoking — he never smoked — but, 
apparently, by years inhaling the alcohol fumes that surged up from his gut.

It was indeed the gut-beer that killed Wilson, but not by daily sieges upon the liver or even the boozy crash of a motor-car. You see, Hack Wilson died because he was overtaken by stomach fumes without ceasing, like the damnations of a prayerful man.

Excerpt from a Real New Novel, Jeeves and Wooten


Jeeves and Wooten, the new short story collection by the reanimated corpse of British humorist P.G. Wodehouse, follows the hilarious antics of newly recalled Milwaukee reliever Rob Wooten and his gentleman’s personal gentleman, Jeeves. Not unlike his original Jeeves stories for all their breezy humor — but also quite different because they largely concern baseball and are also written by a deceased person — Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooten collection is full of that accomplished author’s singular prose style.

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Some Advice on Batting Practice from 1964

For reasons sufficient unto myself, I have been reading a rich tome entitled The Fine Art of Baseball by Lew Watts. It was published in 1964, and I purchased it at a library sale. Library sales, of course, are a sign that the city you live in is going out of business.

In any event, my spirited perusals of Mr. Watts’s book led me to the following championship passage, which is on the subject of batting practice and the systemization thereof:

Asbestos PartyAsbestos Festival

You see, after the balls strike the Heavy Curtain of Asbestos they do indeed “drop harmlessly to the floor.” But what of the carcinogenic flotsam they dislodge and help take to wing? That scarcely merits mentioning.

This is because in 1964 batting practice was, among teams with no access to nets, known colloquially as “cancer practice.”

Counterpoint: Matt Christopher, Misunderstood Genius

the kid

A hundred and fifty years ago, Walt Whitman thrust himself into the literary scene, challenging us to distill the vitality within us, the truly American. Since then, we as a people (and particularly our high school English teachers) have sought the Great American novel. Moby Dick? Too ponderous. Gatsby? Too shiny. Grapes of Wrath? Too many tortoises.

But it turns out that our quest is in vain, simply because it’s already completed. We have the text that encapsulates our youth, our dynamism, our hope. We have Matt Christopher’s The Kid Who Only Hit Homers.

In Sylvester Coddmyer III, the titular hero, we have a mixture of Ragged Dick and Nicholas Nickleby, a boy with humility and heart, who tackles his difficulties with pluck and moxie. Unlike the modern brooding hero, Sylvester is a boy of action rather than words. He’s a self-made kid, one who gets out of bed each morning pulling handfuls of bootstrap. He doesn’t make excuses; he only hits home runs.

But by no means is Sylvester a flat character. He’s an everyman; to describe him too precisely would rob the young reader an opportunity to find common ground with the character, just as every teenage girl in 2009 imagined herself as Bella. No, Sylvester has weaknesses, and ones we can all understand. He likes pie too much, for example. Christopher gives a subtle nod to The Natural by having Christopher overeat pies and miss a game. We’ve all been there!

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Point: Matt Christopher, The Worst

the kid
Recently, I invited some of my favorite baseball writers onto my award-eligible podcast to discuss some of their favorite baseball books. Fellow NotGraphs writer/Internet rabble-rouser Mike Bates chimed in with The Kid Who Could Only Hit Homers by Matt Christopher (note: my memory fails me. Bates chose a different Christopher novel, only mentioning this book in passing). It’s a children’s book — in that it’s written for children, not by them. Patrick Dubuque, another NotGraphs writer/digital sad person offered an idea: perhaps the both of us should read said book and give our take on it on these electronic pages. As I’m always desperate for article ideas, I agreed. My thoughts are below.

The Kid Who Could Only Hit Homers revolves around the titular character Sylvester Coddmyer III, a boy who stinks at baseball. We know he stinks at baseball, because the author spends upwards of two and half whole pages explaining this. He’s all bummed about it, and decides to quit the team. The next day, he’s visited by a creepy old man, George Baruth, some sort of specter of Babe Ruth, who starts training with the kid. The next day — THE NEXT DAY — this kid is belting hits all over the field, and is patrolling the outfield with the grace of Willie Mays. A few warmup games are played, and then it’s time for the season.

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Reading: The Atlantic on the Arizona Fall League

Because I not only attended important Northeastern schools, but also because I want other people to know that I attended important Northeastern schools, a thing I like to do is be seen in public reading The Atlantic in either its print or electronic form.

For readers who possess similarly vain aspirations — and who also give one or more damns about baseball — the magazine’s profile of the Arizona Fall League is worth some attention, in which it (i.e. that League) is referred to by author Chris Arnold as “‘graduate school’ for top prospects.”

To wit:

Here in the Arizona Fall League, far from the flashbulbs of the World Series, the future stars of Major League Baseball are trying to make the final leap to the big show. For 20 years, the AFL has served as an off-season “graduate school” for top prospects. In some ways, it feels like the culmination of an antiquated system: While football and basketball have relatively straightforward paths to the pros—paths that lead through the NCAA—baseball stands apart with its scaffolded leagues of minor-league farm teams. But spend some time with the players and scouts at the AFL, and you start to get a sense for how that grueling, long-odds system is uniquely suited for this grueling, long-odds sport.

The grad-school metaphor is pleasant enough that I feel little compulsion to unpack it. I will say this, however: the AFL participants probably read way less Derrida than actual grad-school students.

Inserting the 2012 Yankees into Synopses of Children’s Literature

In which the members of the AL East Champion New York Yankees are inserted into the blurbs on the backs of chapter books, thus imbuing both man and literature with additional gravitas.

Night of the Living Dummy

When twins Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter find a ventriloquist’s dummy in a dumpster, Derek decides to rescue it, and he names it Slappy.

But Alex is green with envy. It’s not fair. Why does Derek get to have all the fun and all the attention? Alex decides to get a dummy of his own. He’ll show Derek. Then weird things begin to happen. Nasty things. Evil things.

It can’t be the dummy causing all the trouble. Can it?

Nick T. Swisher Is a Beauty Shop Guy

What’s the bestest job ever?

A beauty shop guy, that’s what! And Nick Swisher is going to be one when he grows up. But first he needs a little practice. And a few volunteers. Like his bunny slippers. And his dog. And maybe even… himself? Is Nick on his way to a new career? Or is he about to have the worst hair day ever?

Raul Ibanez Is: Rampant

Raul Ibanez had always scoffed at his eccentric mother’s stories about killer unicorns. But when one of the monsters attacks his friend and teammate, Brett Gardner – thereby ruining any chance of them going to the World Series – Raul finds himself headed to Rome to train as a unicorn hunter in the ancient cloisters the hunters have used for centuries.

Goodnight, Wally Moon

You have refused to eat your mush. You have been told many times to hush. Your eyebrow has broken the brush.

So goodnight, room.

And, at long last, goodnight, Wally Moon.

Goodnight, nobody.