Opinionated, rambling, occasionally arbitrary, and always biased by its author’s roots—in other words, everything a baseball...

THE HEAD GAME

BASEBALL SEEN FROM THE PITCHER’S MOUND

A hot-stove league ramble, well lubricated with fine wines, on the subject of pitching, by a baseball writer who has seen it all.

Kahn’s 1972 masterpiece The Boys of Summer is the finest baseball book ever written. This one falls considerably short, but it’s as warm and comforting as a twilight doubleheader crackling out of the car radio on a long summer road trip. Kahn (A Flame of Pure Fire, 1999, etc.) drifts through the history of pitching, from the 19th-century star “Ol’ Hoss” Radbourn to today’s Atlanta Braves—but unlike most baseball schmoozers, he has actually known most of the players of whom he speaks, and he seems to have gone for drinks with more than a few of them. The subject being baseball, much of the fun is in noting the inclusions and exclusions. One quickly realizes that the sketched biographies that structure the book are mostly of National Leaguers: Radbourn, Christy Mathewson, Warren Spahn, Johnny Sain, Don Drysdale, Bruce Sutter, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and Leo Mazzone get reverential treatment, while Cy Young, Walter Johnson, and the great Yankee, Indian, and Oriole staffs of the past 60 years get little more than a tip of the hat. Woven in with the mini-portraits is a pitch-by-pitch account of the trade, and the stories of the curve, the slider, the spitter, the brush-back, and the splitter drop into the narrative as gracefully as a big Dwight Gooden bender. The book only occasionally transcends its genre, though, and when it does it’s in familiar territory: there’s unquestionably an extra bit of hop to Kahn’s fastball when he goes back to the Dodgers and Giants of the 1950s and ’60s, and when the topic turns to Sal Maglie or Jackie Robinson or Sandy Koufax his prose gleams like the grass at Ebbets Field in October.

Opinionated, rambling, occasionally arbitrary, and always biased by its author’s roots—in other words, everything a baseball book should be.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-15-100441-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2000

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more