Running down some of the best writing of the day. Enjoy. And always wear a cup.
From "The Great Baseball Card Bubble," Dave Jamieson, Slate:
Precious few collectors seemed to ponder the possibility that baseball cards could depreciate. As the number of card shops in the United States ballooned to 10,000, dealers filled their storage rooms with unopened cases of 1988 Donruss as if they were Treasury bills or bearer bonds. Shops were regularly burglarized, their stocks of cards taken as loot. In early 1990, a card dealer was found bludgeoned to death behind the display case in his shop in San Luis Obispo, Calif., with $10,000 worth of cards missing. A few weeks later, Bob Engel, a respected National League umpire, was arrested for allegedly stealing more than 4,180 Score baseball cards, worth $143.98, from a Target store in Bakersfield, Calif., and attempting to steal another 50 packs from a Costco.
From "How a $500 Craiglist Car beat $400K Rally Racers," Sam Smith, Jalopnik:
Just rocked the first stage of the day. Thirty kilometers of craziness. I came through this 70-80 mph section with thousands of people lining the roads. We come around a corner and there's a bridge that somehow got missed in the notes. But it's a flat piece of concrete like 15 feet wide and our trajectory is right off the side. Slocum says into the mic, "We're done," stops reading notes, and braces for impact. The river below has boulders the size of Volkswagens. Sand and gravel in corner, almost as if spectators filled it. Can't get to apex, four feet off, sliding way wide, exit of corner is entrance to bridge. I pitch the car and floor it. 35-45 mph. Half the car falls off the bridge. We are looking at daylight and I am full throttle hoping the left tire and diff can put the power down. We fell so far over the bridge it collapsed the inner leg of the trailing arm by an inch or two. Almost the entire right side of the car hanging in the air. Now in the queue for Stage Two, six more to go.
(Hat tip: Adam Jacobi)
From "Russia's amazing drugs and hookers scandal," Michael Idov, The Daily Beast:
“Let me get this straight,” wrote Ilya Krasilschik, the editor of Afisha magazine, commenting on a Facebook status update after the scandal broke and summing up much of the popular sentiment. “You fight the regime, and in exchange the regime brings you free chicks and blow? Duly noted.”
Hey, if you've seen something particularly good (or particularly bad), drop me a line at email@example.com, won't you?
Running down some of the best writing of the day. Enjoy. Oh, and the cat? I have no idea.
From "The Amateur: Six Laps at Talladega Kicks Off Mustache Weekend," Spencer Hall, SB Nation:
"Sound is obliterated by your surroundings, sight is limited to a tiny window in front of you, and all focus is directed to staying on track and following the line in front of you. A good comparison would be scuba diving at depth going 170 miles per hour. A better one would be going scuba diving at 170 miles per hour in a car full of roaring bees. How drivers do anything but avoid other drivers is beyond understanding, since at even higher speeds with more on the line they are prisoners of mechanical circumstance, half-blind conductors of forty bullet trains all running on the same track. I will never wonder why drivers wreck in NASCAR ever again. Instead, I will wonder why they don't wreck on the first lap at speed every race."
From "The Stakes at the Masters," Will Leitch, New York:
"But Tiger will turn 35 this December: He's running out of time. Nicklaus, perhaps the best late-in-life golfer of all time, won only six of his eighteen after his 34th birthday and never faced anything close to what Tiger is going through. His off-fairway life has already slowed down the way he plays golf, the activity he was put on this Earth to do. If Woods shocks everyone at Augusta, he'll be well on his way to beating Nicklaus and proving himself the greatest golfer ever. But you can't help but wonder if Nicklaus, who has always revered his record, secretly wonders if he might have dodged a bullet.
From "In which we learn that all Dominican baseball players are gay," Drew Magary, Deadspin:
"Any time I'm driving behind an empty car carrier, I have the manic urge to see if I can drive ONTO the truck itself. The ramp is so tantalizingly close to the ground. I always see myself having to speed up to get onto the ramp, then immediately having to brake to keep from driving 80 while on the truck itself. Then I get out of the car, climb to the top level of the carrier, take out a guitar, and fucking blast the solo from "November Rain." And I don't even LIKE that song."
Hey, if you've seen something particularly good (or particularly bad), drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, won't you?
Just finished The DaVinci Code today, mainly to see what all the fuss was about--and boy, can I see it. It's undeniably entrancing, sure, but it's so damn obvious in doing so. If this book was a movie, it'd be one of those old outer-space flicks where you can see the wires holding up the spaceship as it flies in front of a spraypainted bedsheet. (Yes, I know it's going to be a big-budget Ron Howard movie; I'm talking more in metaphoric than cinematic terms here.) But there are lessons to be learned here, friends.
First off, the plot, if you're not already aware. We've got The Church, here represented sort of as the Legion of Doom in purty robes. (They've even got their own Solomon Grundy-like lunatic albino.) And we've got the Priory of Sion, this super-secret society that's tasked with protecting The Greatest Secret In All Human History. When Solomon Grundy knocks off a Louvre curator with connections to the Priory of Sion (I'll preserve suspense for the three of you who haven't yet read it), all hell breaks loose, and a resourceful (of course), ruggedly handsome (of course) Harvard symbologist (wha...?) and an attractive (of course) French codebreaker chick (ooookay) find themselves in pursuit of the Holy Grail itself, while themselves being pursued by the French police and The Church, who are both in this book a lot more resourceful than you'd think. The symbologist and the French hottie are forced to jump through all kinds of logical hoops and riddles left by the dead curator, most of which are either 1. completely obvious or 2. of the CSI variety, where they just happen to stumble onto exactly the right answer.
Anyway, I'm going on way too long here, but here's the upshot. Dan Brown can write him a cliffhanger. I HAD to keep reading this book to figure out what was going on. The cliffhangers in this book are like pizza or sex; even though they're weak and obvious, they're still pretty good. (Also like bad sex, I felt a little used and dirty after reading this--like I could've spent the five or six hours in MUCH better ways.)
So--do I recommend it? Aw, sure; you know already if you'll like this. I'm a conspiracy--well, not "obsessive," not "nut" or "freak"--let's say "conspiracy enthusiast," and this feeds into the suspicion that a lot of folks have that there's Somebody Out There Pulling All The Strings. And although the theology and academic rigor is grade-school level, I do like the idea espoused here that true faith understands that the stories of the Bible are metaphoric. That's another journal for another day, but the literature professor in me has always been at war with the faithful side; knowing how texts are created through history tends to make me look a bit askance at certain stories that I was told to, literally, take as gospel.
The Da Vinci Code ain't gospel, not by a long shot, but if I can pull off the kind of page-turning tome that Brown has here, I'll be mucho pleased with myself.
Read a couple decent nonfiction books over the holidays, but both suffered from the same problem in the end--insufficient vision to take their stories from the merely fascinating into the realm of the epic. First up--Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King's "Faithful," a tale of the Boston Red Sox' memorable 2004 world championship season. Since it was published about a month after the Red Sox recorded the final out in the 2004 Series, it necessarily suffers a bit from rushed production, but it's still a damn good recap of the marathon that is the baseball season. Don't know how much post-Series editing the guys did on their work, but the prescient touches, like wondering how badly pitcher Derek Lowe will screw up (he didn't, ending up winning all three playoff-clinching games) are interesting minor ironies. This is mostly a book for hardcore Sox fans, and I'll admit to skimming through some of the dog days of August in here--everybody knows how the season's gonna end anyway, so why not jump to the good stuff? Of the two writers, I preferred King's analysis, which was generally more big-picture than O'Nan's, which tended to focus on minutiae like Nomar's ability to go to his right or Kevin Millar's tendencies at the plate. Interesting for Sox fans, but for the rest of us--not so much. Still, I do want to read more from O'Nan. Really, the only place where the quality of the writing suffers is after the big wins over the uberchoking Yankees and the Cards--it's as if both writers just didn't try hard enough to capture the astonishing feel of these epic moments and just punted. Still, a good read--the literary equivalent of a ballgame on in the background on a summer evening.
Ben Mezrich's Bringing Down the House is the absolute embodiment of the airplane book--an interesting story delivered in rapid-fire, surface-level prose. Here's the story--a bunch of MIT kids (the cover says six, but I counted about twelve at various points) use a variant of the traditional card-counting system to win at blackjack and reap millions from casinos. It's an interesting exercise in could-I-do-that?, but the problem is that there's nothing really at stake here. Worst case scenario--you get caught with your system and you're asked to leave the casino. That's it--no "Casino"-style vises to the skull or desert burials, not even a selling-grandma's-wedding-ring-and-turning-tricks-for-dockworkers-to-pay-off-gambling-debts scene. The characters have an amazing run, get found out, get bounced from casinos, and turn around and invest their winnings in more reputable enterprises. The author also has an annoyingly unnecessary habit of injecting himself into the story, interviewing associates and members of the gambling team to unrealized purposes. The moments when the players are sitting at tables and catch sight of pit bosses headed their way are suspenseful, but when it ends up that the bosses are only coming to ask them to take their action elsewhere--where's the payoff? It's an interesting plane read, but one that'll probably be mostly forgotten after you stow your tray tables and return to the upright and locked position.
When I told folks I was reading a book called Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, most raised an eyebrow and slowly backed away, figuring it was the kind of thing that could get everybody within a mile fined by the FCC. It's actually a hellaciously good book by Warren St. John about the nomadic lives of RV owners who follow the University of Alabama football team across the Southeast. (The title refers to a 'Bama cheer.) St. John's a writer for the New York Times, but he ain't one of them East Coast liberal elite types. Born and bred in Alabama, he's not clouded by the kind of condescension that turns feature stories about Southerners into anthropological studies. St. John dives deep into the nature of fandom here, citing history (tailgating dates back to ancient Greece) and psychology to arrive at a comprehensive--and yet compassionate--portrait of the modern sports fan. He also fills the book with dead-on Southernisms--for instance, there's the guy who's promised his boss tickets to the Auburn-Alabama game without actually having the tickets; a scalper laughs that "this is a case of someone's alligator mouth overloading his hummingbird a-hole." And I plan to whip up a jar full of Bama Bombs--cherries soaked in grain alcohol for an entire offseason--for next year's Steeplechase.
In an age where postmodern, ironic detachment is the hallmark of the hip aesthetic, it's damn refreshing to see somebody proudly write what amounts to a soul-baring love letter to a football team. For any sports fan who's ever exulted beyond reason when their team wins, or had their heart (and almost, in my case, a hand) broken when their boys lose, Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer is essential reading.