A good, if at times windy, story. Even if his proposal got smothered by the small-city political weight, he got the voice of...

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FOUL BALL

MY LIFE AND HARD TIMES TRYING TO SAVE AN OLD BALLPARK

Populist maverick, pariah of professional baseball bigwigs, Bouton (Strike Zone, 1994, etc.) tells of his efforts to preserve—and a coven of movers-and-shakers and good-old-boys to abandon—a historic baseball park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

When it comes to baseball parks, writes Bouton, “ ‘If we build it, they will come’ has evolved into ‘If we don't build it, they will go,’ ” referring to the rash of new, economically dubious stadiums. Pittsfield's Wahconah Park, built in 1892, one of the oldest in the US, was about to become another of these statistics, until Bouton and his comrade-in-arms Chip Elitzer decided to offer an alternative to the $18.5-million, pork-barrel proposal for a new stadium: “We'll spend private dollars to renovate an existing ballpark for a locally owned team.” Bouton—as zealous to entertain his readers with tangy one-liners as he is in uncovering the myriad corruption, deals, and fixes that attended the drive for a new stadium—adroitly manages a number of stories at once. There’s the backroom power-brokering, ego-strutting, and just plain greed of making taxpayers foot the bill for a stadium they have time-and-again voted down in referendums; the historic importance of old ballparks, with their quirks and intimacy and evocation of the game's past; and an environmental subplot: the land being touted for the new stadium may be a toxic dump. Capping it with a ballpark would put paid to the millions of dollars it would cost to clean it up. (Bouton points fingers, too, at other infamous polluters—General Electric, for instance. After a GE lawyer was set to invest in PublicAffairs, Bouton's intended and enthusiastic publisher, PublicAffairs suddenly requested that the GE material be excised. Bouton smelled a rat—et voilà: a self-published work.)

A good, if at times windy, story. Even if his proposal got smothered by the small-city political weight, he got the voice of Pittsfield's regular folk heard and the ballpark saved, for now.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-9709117-1-8

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Bulldog

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2003

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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

WHY WE SWIM

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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In these insightfully droll essays, Gierach shows us how fishing offers plenty of time to think things over.

DUMB LUCK AND THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

The latest collection of interrelated essays by the veteran fishing writer.

As in his previous books—from The View From Rat Lake through All Fishermen Are Liars—Gierach hones in on the ups and downs of fishing, and those looking for how-to tips will find plenty here on rods, flies, guides, streams, and pretty much everything else that informs the fishing life. It is the everything else that has earned Gierach the following of fellow writers and legions of readers who may not even fish but are drawn to his musings on community, culture, the natural world, and the seasons of life. In one representatively poetic passage, he writes, “it was a chilly fall afternoon with the leaves changing, the current whispering, and a pale moon in a daytime sky. The river seemed inscrutable, but alive with possibility.” Gierach writes about both patience and process, and he describes the long spells between catches as the fisherman’s equivalent of writer’s block. Even when catching fish is the point, it almost seems beside the point (anglers will understand that sentiment): At the end of one essay, he writes, “I was cold, bored, hungry, and fishless, but there was still nowhere else I’d have rather been—something anyone who fishes will understand.” Most readers will be profoundly moved by the meditation on mortality within the blandly titled “Up in Michigan,” a character study of a man dying of cancer. Though the author had known and been fishing with him for three decades, his reticence kept anyone from knowing him too well. Still, writes Gierach, “I came to think of [his] glancing pronouncements as Michigan haiku: brief, no more than obliquely revealing, and oddly beautiful.” Ultimately, the man was focused on settling accounts, getting in one last fishing trip, and then planning to “sit in the sun and think things over until it’s time for hospice.”

In these insightfully droll essays, Gierach shows us how fishing offers plenty of time to think things over.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6858-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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