Tuesday, we got hammered with one of those biblical snowstorms that was so awesome I saw the spirit of Bullet Bob Hayes running around with his hands in his pockets. And the snowstorm got me thinking about getting a few new books. I used to rummage around bookstores several times a week, and must admit that with the Kindle App on my iPad I don’t do that nearly as often anymore. Instead, I go to my iPad, find books, and click on the “Buy with one click” button. It’s not quite as satisfying, but it’s much less time consuming giving me more time to, you know, write blog posts about infomercials and putting statistics.
In any case, there was no thought of going to a bookstore in the blizzard, so I did something I don’t often do: I sent out a recommendation call. I sent out a Tweet to the people who follow me asking for a single book recommendation … and I said I would buy the five books that struck me. This led to an avalanche of responses that I have still not made it all the way through. But I bought five books. They are as follows:
1. The End of Baseball, by Peter Schilling Jr
2. In the Land of Invented Languages, by Arika Okrent
3. Doubt: A History, by Jennifer Hecht
4. The Greatest Show On Earth, by Richard Dawkins (which actually led me to buy a sixth book, Summer for the Gods, by Edward J. Larson, about the Scopes Trial).
5. Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann
I will have to let you know how these are … but what struck me was how many people wanted to recommend good books. And, I have to admit, another thing that struck me was how many of these good books I had already read. I am a heavy reader — not just in weight* but in number of books — but it seems that there is a community of us who are reading and loving many of the same books. And so, I made Twitter a promise that I would mention a few of the recommended books that I have read and loved here on the blog.
*I am on a diet again. My weight has bounced up and down the last few years but, as they say, it has trended up. The problem I have is I think the problem a lot of people have … I have a hard time fitting healthy eating into my goofy schedule. If I’m at home, like I have been for a couple of weeks, I can eat well. It’s a controlled environment. But on the road, I simply fall down. I eat at terrible times, I eat instantly gratifying food, I love my french fries and pizzas and pastas. You would think I would learn from the weight-losing master, my brother, but basically he eats a lot of cauliflower (which I cannot abide) and has a lot more willpower than I do. In any case, I’m trying to keep a notebook on “MyNetDiary” and going with some kind of calorie counting thing and I’m hitting the road today so we’ll see if this sticks any better than the others.
I have long thought it might be good to do a book club type of thing on here, and maybe we still could. For now, though, here are a few of the great book nominations, and a thought or two about them:
@Fielding99 The Pitch That Killed, by Mike Sowell. Best sports book ever written.
— Never like to say any one book is the best anything … but I loved this book about the Carl Mays pitch that killed Cleveland’s beloved Ray Chapman.
@geogavino The Catcher Was a Spy by Nicholas Dawidoff. Story of journeyman catcher and OSS agent Moe Berg.
— And this one about Mo Berg. Loved this so much that one year for the Kansas City Star baseball section I wrote a story about Berg that was spread out over the whole section, one sentence per page.
@keithlaw Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
— Keith was one of several to recommend this book, which I read and loved though it is not really in my genre wheelhouse. It’s a novel about two very different magicians and there’s some occult in there and some great footnotes and, well, it’s just a wonderful reading experience.
@J_Townsend3 How about (John) McPhee’s Levels of the Game?
— There are so many different kinds of writing that I like. But if I could write like anyone, I think that I would like to write like John McPhee (which is kind of funny since I suspect I’m on the other side of the writing spectrum). His work is so spare. So precise. Levels of the Game is about a single tennis match between Clark Graebner and Arthur Ashe, and it’s tempting to say it’s about something more. And, of course, it IS about something more. But, at heart, it really is about a single tennis match. McPhee is an artist who doesn’t write like an artist, if that makes any sense.
@Ajtrader1 Reading Bill Bryson’s “At Home”. It’s fascinating and he’s an incredible writer.
— I have read everything Bryson has written because I love his work so much. I liked At Home, though I thought it dragged a bit at times. My favorite is one I picked up at Heathrow Airport on my first trip to London called “Made In America.” It is about the English language in America but it really is about American history and it’s very funny and charming. I also loved his “The Lost Continent,” where he travels around America in car, a very funny and scathing book, that I think (though I’ve never asked) inspired the equally wonderful “Road Swing” by Steve Rushin.
@MonicaDien Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall – From America’s Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness
— I love chess books. I think this comes from my father — chess books were basically the only books he would read when I was growing up. Of course, he read books like “100 Classic Openings” and “The Endgame of the Grandmasters.” I prefer books with a touch more plot. I really liked Endgame, but have to say my favorite chess book was Mortal Games, by Fred Waitzkin (who wrote Searching for Bobby Fischer) about his relationship with Gary Kasparov. I’m realizing, of course, that I’m speaking to a pretty small subgroup or readers here.
@frampton54 Haven’t seen “The Brothers K” by David James Duncan on your list of recommendations
— I’d say this is probably the book that has been most recommended to me through the years, and it makes me feel unworthy because I didn’t love it. I read it years ago, when it first came out, and didn’t love it. Then so many people recommended it that I picked it up again a few years ago and started to read it and didn’t love it. Now, the recommendations keep coming in and I think I should try again — so many people cannot possibly be wrong. I isn’t that I disliked it, but it just didn’t blow me away like it has for so many. I just downloaded it to my Kindle. I’ll give it another run.
@tjd2001 James Ellroy’s American Tabloid – if you like it, it’s the first part of a trilogy, so lots more to enjoy.
— Ellroy used to live in Kansas City. Every now and again, I’m in the mood for something that tears away everything and is just page after page of pure and joyful cynicism. Sometimes, this will lead me to reading Deadspin or Matt Taibbi or P.J. O’Rourke or Christopher Buckley or Joe Queenan, but they’re purportedly writing about things that are actually happening. Sometimes I just want Ellroy’s alternate universe.
@stephapstein devil in the white city by erik larsen. reads like fiction, but it’s just incredibly well-researched.
— Great book. And it reminds me once again, if you haven’t yet ordered Bill James book Popular Crime, you will want that the day it comes out. It looks like it too will be available on the Kindle.
@matthewmu “The Things They Carried” Tim O’Brien
— Last year, on a story, I worked with a photographer who had gone to Vietnam with Tim O’Brien. He said there was a moment when they were by the water when O’Brien suddenly had a flashback to some tiny detail about how bullets hit water and the bubbles they form. We are so lucky, as human beings, to have people who think the way Tim O’Brien think and can share their angles with us. “In the Lake of the Woods,” is another masterpiece in my mind.
@mvtpr Have you read david sedaris? me talk pretty one day had me laughing out loud all the time…
— He’s hilarious, I probably laughed out loud (not fake LOL but real laughing out loud) fifty times during Me Talk Pretty. It’s so hard to be funny in print, I think. I tend to prove this daily.
@David Zeller A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
— Life altering.
@mlw26 An oldie but a goodie, The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. Really anything by Tom Wolfe. He has way with word.
— So glad someone recommended this. It’s one of the five best books I’ve ever read. Above I said that I would love to write like McPhee. And it’s true. But if I could ever write a non-fiction book 1/10th as good as “The Right Stuff,” I would likely collapse from overachievement.
@jon_s_garelick What It Takes by Richard Ben Cramer. The most enlightening book on American politics I’ve ever read.
— Me too. Breathtakingly good. To see someone write something that difficult, that well, it’s staggering … like watching an 800-page tightrope walk over America.
@royalsauthority Count me among those who have read The Power Broker. Outstanding book.
— I had tweeted that I was sure that Mike Vaccaro, Michael Schur and I were the only three people on earth to read every single page of The Power Broker, by Robert A. Caro. It is about how Robert Moses basically built New York. Of course, I was joking — the joke is that the book is about five million pages long. But I would say this: I would definitely be friends with anyone who read every page. Because it’s pure genius. And it’s a commitment.*
*Someone, I can’t remember who, was telling me that they tried to make it into a movie. That would be some achievement. The movie could be as great as The Godfather. Or it could be an unmitigated disaster. I guess it won’t happen.
@midwestspitfire Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold. A new classic.
— Again, SO GLAD someone recommended this. I read it the same time I read Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.” I liked Kavalier, which of course got enormous press and eventually won the Pulitzer for Fiction. Buit I loved Carter Beats the Devil. Just loved it.
Somewhat unrelated: Ann Patchett’s “The Magician’s Assistant” is breathtakingly good.
@mkud44 forgot last night, but if you loved The Shadow of the Wind, definitely check out The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox.
— I’m never going to get through all these books, so I’ll end with this one. I cannot find the original nomination for The Shadow of the Wind, but I responded that not only have I read it but I got to talk at some length about it with Carlos Ruis Zafon, the author.
It was kind of a fluke — my favorite bookstore “Rainy Day Books” offers me recommendations quite often and they recommended “The Shadow of the Wind.” Said the author would be coming to town. So I read it, and loved it about as much as any book I can remember reading. It’s about books and mystery and forgotten pasts, you know, all the good stuff. Then Zafon came to town so I went to see him. About 12 people showed up. So I got to spend an hour talking with him after the event, he was incredibly nice and thoughtful. I wrote a column about the book. And, not long after that, the book became a sensation in America. I’d like to take credit for this. I cannot recommend The Shadow of the Wind more highly — if I could I’d buy it for each and every one of you.