Saturday, October 27, 2012

World Series thoughts, some of which
are about baseball

Max Scherzer, trendsetter
Every time Detroit pitcher Max Scherzer is interviewed on TV, I can practically hear the internet clog up as people rush to their computers to Google what the heck is going on with his eyes. Scherzer has heterochromia iridum—his eyes are different colors. But not just a little different, as is the case with Jane Seymour and Mila Kunis and Christopher Walken, all of whom (yes, I Googled this) have the same condition. Scherzer’s eyes are wildly different colors—one brilliant blue, the other dark brown. They’re mesmerizing and exquisitely beautiful to look at, and they contrast with each other so drastically that the only similar examples on the Wikipedia page are white cats and Malamutes. I predict that, thanks to Scherzer, mismatched eye color will soon be the hot new fashion trend. Contact lens moguls are watching this World Series, rubbing their hands in greedy glee.

The magic necklaces are back
A few years ago, I ridiculed the Texas Rangers for wearing ropey magnetic necklaces during the playoffs. They lost anyway, and I had fun immaturely taunting the TV—“Where are your magic necklaces now?” But the necklaces are back with a vengeance: More than half of the players in this year’s World Series are wearing them—sometimes two or three at a time, as if they had sailboats tethered to them, bobbing around just offscreen. The magnetic necklaces are said to improve circulation and help players recover more quickly from injury, and I know these guys have to do everything they can to stay healthy and make enough money to last them the rest of their lives. But every time I see one of those necklaces, I wonder if, under his socks, the player also has those Kinoki “detoxifying” pads stuck to the bottoms of his feet.

What we look like at 5,000 frames per second
In this year’s postseason, Fox Sports is debuting its new toy: a super-slow-motion camera that takes an astonishing 5,000 frames per second. This is not the first time this year we’ve seen that technology—NBC trotted out a couple of super-slo-mo cameras at the Olympics. But NBC used them for evil, often to show—and make fun of—the contorted faces of gymnasts and divers as they torqued their bodies into unnatural twists. But Fox has managed to make their baseball slo-mo shots beautiful: the rippling muscles of a batter’s arms, the flex and bend of the bat as it contacts the ball, and that fantastic, iconic shot of Giants pitcher Sergio Romo yelling in the rain just after he closed out the final game of the NLCS. Of course they have to occasionally show us grotesque shots of pitchers practically breaking their elbows while throwing fastballs, but that’s nothing new. All I can say is, thank God these cameras weren’t around when Joe Theismann broke his leg.


Go, Sleet!
There are no tigers in Detroit (zoos don’t count), and I’m pretty sure there are no giants in San Francisco. So these team names are wrong and show no civic pride. I think teams should be named for something that’s actually in their city, something the locals know and love, or at least ruefully acknowledge. I’ve never been to Detroit, so I’m not sure what to recommend there—the Sleet? The Chryslers? The Bridge to Canada That I Can Never Remember the Name Of? But San Francisco, which I know well, offers a lot of tantalizing choices. There’s the Homeless, of course (could lead to some sort of reform or awareness, or maybe just a lawsuit). The Hospital Curves. The Dirty 30. The Cranes. But I’m going to go with…the Peets. Because they’re everywhere. (But their apostrophe must go.)

The Panda protects
In closing, here’s one of my favorite clips from this past week: newscaster Paul Robins getting pooped on by a seagull at McCovey Cove. The bird must have pegged Robins for a Tigers fan; notice that Bethany Crouch, in the Panda hat, makes it through unscathed.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

My Year in Books, Part 1

This was the year I started reading again. Why I stopped reading is a long tale; the nutshell version is that a few years ago I came down with a mysterious illness that made me dizzy—constantly, every waking moment. Many things aggravated it: driving, walking, anger, talking to people who made me nervous, stress in general, grocery shopping, and—perhaps most distressing—reading. So for two or three years, books piled up around me but I couldn’t read them. It’s only been in the past year that I’ve been able to read again, but I found I was out of practice; I didn’t have a set reading time and routine like I used to, and I’d become embarrassingly addicted to television. But all those books were calling, so I figured it out—more or less—and am happy to present some book reviews from the past year’s catch.

★ ★ ★ ★   The Mount
Carol Emshwiller (2002)

2012’s not over yet, but I can’t imagine finding another book that will take this one’s place as my favorite book of the year. The premise of this lyrical, wildly entertaining sci-fi tale is an uneasy one: Aliens have invaded Earth and enslaved humanity, but not in the usual TV-movie way, with plucky rebels taking potshots at sleek spaceships. In Emshwiller’s far more frightening world, the toddler–size aliens are so much smarter than humans that they’ve turned us into beasts of burden who work the fields and are ridden and raced by the wealthier aliens for pleasure. By the time the story takes place, this enslavement has gone on for many generations, and the humans are largely resigned to it. And for the protagonist, a young man who’s the favorite mount of an alien aristocrat, it isn’t a bad life: He gets good food, plenty of exercise to keep him in racing shape, and a warm stall to sleep in at night—often curled up next to his alien owner, also a youngster, who is completely devoted to his human pet. How the aliens control the humans—with a sense of entitled stewardship and the sincere belief that the humans would die or descend into barbarism without the aliens’ care—mirrors our own justifications for slavery in the past and, more immediately, our attitudes toward the animals who live alongside us right now. This important, mind-altering book is also a rollicking good read that may change the way you look at the cats, dogs, and horses around you.

★   The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Stieg Larsson (2008)

Sometimes a thick, mass-market blockbuster lives up to its hype—Lonesome Dove or The Firm, for instance. And sometimes it doesn’t, which was the case with this book that probably needs no introduction. I’m going to swim against the tide here and say that though I tore into this first volume of Larsson’s trilogy with relish, I ended up quitting about two-thirds of the way through. It took too long to get going, and the dark parts were so dark that it made me not want to spend my evenings with this book. I gave up crime novels long ago for this very reason—they focus too much on a small, twisted segment of human society that I don’t want my dreams to dwell on. I did love that bleak little Swedish town in winter, though, and I kept feeling like the book was about to knock my socks off—any time now, any day now, maybe right around the corner. Then I just got tired of waiting and decided to read something I enjoyed instead.

★  ★   An Old Junker: A Senior Represents
Howard Junker (2011)

Disclaimer: I know Howard Junker, a little. He published one of my poems a few years ago in his fine journal ZYZZYVA*, and many of us West Coast writers consider him literary royalty. So I was delighted to find that he’d written a book about his experiences as an editor, and as a college student, and…well, as a person. And this book does not disappoint. Basically a collection of blog posts, it runs the gamut from reminiscences about his school days (and an astonishingly large number of soon-to-be-famous schoolmates) to the vagaries and gossip of life in the litmag world and the motley and combative writers who make up the San Francisco “scene.” The book is—like its author—funny, erudite, wide-ranging, and sometimes scathing (don’t get him started on Dave Eggers), and it touches on dozens of authors that I now want to read, particularly Ploughshares founder DeWitt Henry, about whom Junker writes elegantly and affectionately. The only curious speed bump is that An Old Junker is presented (at least on Howard’s website) as a “blognovel of old age,” which calls into question how many of the perfectly plausible stories are actually fiction. Similarly, the subtitle A Senior Represents doesn’t do the book justice; this is a fresh, entertaining journey through an unusual life, told through the very modern device of short, snappy blog posts. So, while I wished that the book would have picked a less ambiguous genre (or spelled out more clearly what makes it a “novel”), I loved An Old Junker and genuinely couldn’t put it down.

But that's not all . . . part 2 is here.

* When I got published in ZYZZYVA, I was invited to read at an issue-release party at the San Francisco main library. As part of the deal—and perhaps even more thrilling—I got to have dinner with Howard, along with a few other starstruck contributors, at a Thai restaurant. There were too many of us to sit at one table, so we had to split up into two groups. Normally well-mannered, I shoved my way through the crowd to grab a spot at Howard’s table. And I swear, it was like having dinner with Gore Vidal—he was gracious, charming, and funny, shifting gears effortlessly between literature and current events, world travel and good restaurants. But he was no snob; I got the impression he could converse just as easily about Netflix vs. Hulu or where to find a good mechanic.