Review: I’m Fascinated by Sacrifice Flies

I’m Fascinated by Sacrifice Flies: Inside the Game We All Love by Tim Kurkjian (2016)

13475097_10155073767467818_1919828450667402095_oTim Kurkjian is my favorite person in baseball. There is nobody else in the wide landscape of sports commentary more knowledgeable, passionate, mystified, articulate, or amused by the game, and he is regularly cited as the person at ESPN most beloved by his colleagues. To hear him speak of the game, in either tree or forest view, is to be reminded of the boyish reverence many of us had as youngsters and to temper our sentimentality with the reality of millionaires playing a game in a park.

It’s far too easy to become cynical about professional sports, and baseball in particular, but Kurkjian refuses to go there, even while confronting the disheartening truths any honest fan faces. What I love most about him is the seriousness with which he talks about the game in its own context, while keeping the game in the larger context of real life. In I’m Fascinated by Sacrifice Flies, he begins with a treatise on why baseball is the best game, then follows it with chapters about how difficult it is, how tough the players are, the poetic and musical sounds of the game at the major league level, and other particular interests he has in the game’s deepest crevices.

Much of the book is delivered in quick hits of curious anecdotes: a quick item about a peculiar game’s finish, followed by something funny Buck Showalter once said, followed by a little-known fact about Fenway Park. Some of those quick hits are great:

The Phillies in the 1960s had shortstop Bobby Wine and second baseman Cookie Rojas, a period known as the Days of Wine and Rojas.

Infielder Craig Counsell played parts of sixteen years in the major leagues despite looking like a librarian.

To not look at the data is foolish, but to look at the data as having all the answers is even more foolish. It is a collision of new-school statistics and statisticians against old-school managers, coaches, and instructors. Neither side is right, neither is wrong; there is so much to be gained from listening to both sides.

However, it pains me to say this because there are few things I enjoy in my media consumption more than listening to Kurkjian talk about baseball, but while each little story is fascinating, as grouped together in this collection, they are not very good reading. They lack the rhythm and flow of good baseball writing, which at its best mimics the rising and receding action of a good baseball game. Sloppy editing exacerbates the problem.

There are exceptions. The chapters on superstition and baseball’s idiotic “unwritten rules” are much better structured, with nice progressions of thought and more reflective commentary. Especially strong is his “Obits” chapter, in which he pays tribute to the late Tony Gwynn, Don Zimmer, Earl Weaver, and Mike Flanagan, and I enjoyed an entire chapter about the inside look at the official scoring of baseball, an aspect of the game seldom covered in baseball books.

Tim Kurkjian is famous for being able to recite such painstakingly specific lists at his top ten shortstops in history, or his ten best Yankees of all time. I can relate to his geekiness, for I’ve spent quite a bit of time composing and revising my own lists. Alas, although this is a decent read with a plus fastball and a crippling curve, it has trouble establishing a rhythm and it gets too distracted by the runner at first. It won’t be cracking my list of top ten baseball books.

Three stars out of five.

By Hook or by Book

Some of the shots that pop up when you do a tag search for #bookstagram. It's bibliophile porn.

Some of the shots that pop up when you do a tag search for #bookstagram. It’s bibliophile porn.

And now, a few comments on something I know almost nothing about.  Reckless speculation alert.

I’m fond of taking photos of the books I’m reading and then sharing them on social media.  This is mostly because

  • I like books, and photos of them make me happy.
  • I like talking about books, and putting my current reading out there invites comment.
  • Social media, more than anything else except possibly engagement (and I mean possibly, because I think I might still participate even without it), is about presence.  The original Twitter prompt was “What are you doing?”  I still hold that as the thing I love most about the platforms.  And since books are such a big part of my life, of course my lifestream is going to have a lot of books in it.
  • I like having a photo of each book I review, so I can include the image with the review.  It helps me cement the titles and reviews in my mind.  And it looks cooler.

I often use hashtags like #bibliophile on my book photos.  This leads total strangers to my photos for likes, and occasional follows (my following them, and their following me).  I will occasionally do a tag search for book-related terms just to see what else is out there.

This has led me to an almost mind-boggling number of accounts who exist for the sole purpose of sharing book porn.  I mean, not pornography porn, but photos of books that make book lovers go “Ooooh.”  It’s definitely a kind of lasciviousness that bibliophiles will relate to.

I followed a few of these book-heavy accounts on IG (who call themselves bookstagrammers), but then I noticed some weird patterns.  First, some books find their way into a lot of photos.  I get that they’re popular titles, but I’m talking about across long periods of time within one bookstagrammer’s feed.  This kind of makes sense, if the titles are favorites, but the bookstagrammers are apparently reading so many books, it seems a little weird that a two-year-old title will keep finding itself in one person’s photos.

Second, a few of the popular bookstagrammers often get books from publishers.  In pretty wrapping.  And in the photo captions, there’s a note like, “Thanks to ______ Books for the loot!”  I also don’t have a problem with this, except the problem of occasional jealousy.  But heck, some of these bookstagrammers get a LOT of books this way, more than it seems they could possibly read.  I guess that’s not really the point anyway.  The books are finding their way into the hands of people who will take lovely photos of them, and then those photos will be seen by thousands (tens of thousands in a few cases) of book lovers.

Third.  Um.  Well.  It seems to me that almost all (like, we’re talking 90% or more) of the bookstagrammers are women, and about half of that 90% are youngish.  The ones who have tens of thousands of followers are youngish and pretty, and feature themselves in many of their book photos.  I actually think the selfie thing with the books is pretty great, and I may adopt the aesthetic in my own book photography.  But there’s so much similarity in these book selfies that I wonder if the really popular bookstagrammers aren’t receiving tips (or instructions) from marketers.

I have this weird feeling that the cute young women are being sought by the publishers, which I am also okay with, except.

I don’t begrudge anyone their audiences or sponsorships or whatever, but it does make me question some of the authenticity of these bookworms.  I guess that’s not fair, but there it is.  I just want to know that the book lovers in my world really, really love books.  I never thought I’d have to wonder this about people.  It makes me kind of sad.

 

Review: Kernel of Truth

Kernel of Truth by Kristi Abott (2015).

kernel of truthAs a teen, Rebecca Anderson was known in her small town of Grand Lake, Ohio as a rebel, never in enough trouble to be put away, but in enough to be suspicious just for hanging around. She’s back now, with a culinary degree and after a failed marriage to a celebrity chef, to run a gourmet popcorn shop in a tourist-friendly part of town, but she finds that earning the respect and trust of those who knew her when—and everyone knew her when—is difficult, if not impossible.

So when her mentor, a popular chocolatier, is found murdered, it’s not long before people are whispering about her possible involvement. The suspicion is preposterous, but Becca’s fierce independent streak and minimal respect for rules keeps putting her in bad places at bad times. The person who killed her dear friend—and it isn’t her—is still out there, and she’s determined to find out who it is, to protect herself and her reputation.

Author Kristi Abbot has all kinds of fun telling us Becca’s first story. Her playful dialogue and narration had me laughing aloud several times, adding an extra layer of enjoyment to an enjoyable genre:

”As for your latest lifesaving activities, I’m pretty sure you’re protected under the Good Samaritan law.” He looked up at me sharply. “Your actions weren’t willful or wanton, were they?”

“I wasn’t aware I could be wanton pulling someone out of a vehicle.” I hadn’t been wanton in a very long time. I wasn’t even sure I remembered what wanton felt like.

“I’ll take that as a no, then.” He marked something down on his legal pad while muttering, “Not wanton.”

The mystery itself is just north of average, but the character is likeable, and she is developed well enough to make her involvement in solving the mystery more believable than most in this genre. The strength of the writing boosts it an extra half star and makes me eager for a follow-up.

4 of 5 stars.

Review: A Corner of White

A Corner of White (The Colors of Madeleine #1) by Jaclyn Moriarty (2012).

a_corner_of_whiteI love dragons, ancient prophecies, and motley crews of talented adventurers, but they promulgate a sense of sameness in a genre whose very title – fantasy – defies sameness. So a novel like Jaclyn Moriarty’s A Corner of White, with its imaginative story and nary a sorcerer, is a nice reminder that speculative fiction can be so much more.
This is not to say that the novel is lacking any tropes familiar to fans of the form. It’s got spells, creatures who don’t exist in real life, and a this-world-that-world construct to place it determinedly in the realm of the fantastic. Still, it’s the author’s remarkably creative story that impresses most, and the way otherworldly elements serve the development of two main characters as they exist in a brilliant, deliberate unfolding of events whose anticipation without drawn-out suspense is as savory as its eventual quasi-resolution.

Madeleine never thought she’d find herself in a small apartment in Cambridge where her mother takes sewing jobs to keep them fed and sheltered, not when they are both used to a jet-set life in the finest hotels in the world’s glamorous cities. She is regularly reminded of how far her life has tumbled, her mother set on being a contestant on a game show as her best prospect for a better life. She has a few friends with whom she is homeschooled, but she has so little in common with them that she keeps them at arm’s length, hoping instead for some kind of return to the privileged life she once knew.

Elliot has returned home to the small village of Bonfire, where he is something of a local hero. His prowess on the fields of play makes him popular with his schoolmates, while his initiative in fixing others’ problems endears him to teachers, law enforcement, and other citizens. Yet even while the villagers admire him, they whisper pityingly behind his back, for he has recently suffered tragedy and loss in seemingly tawdry circumstances he refuses to acknowledge.

Madeleine and Elliot navigate the unfairnesses of teenhood with its attendant, universal joys and sorrows, while dealing with additional sorrows unique to each. Readers might predict some of the plot’s hinted-at certainties, but they will not predict how they arrive at those certainties, and this is where half the novel’s beauty lies.

The other half is in its lovely narrative prose. It is by turns clever:

Where are they now? she thought. Her iPod, her iPhone, her iPad, the I-ness of her life? Her mind stretched around in its memories, searching for her things: She saw her phone on the hotel bedside table in Paris; her iPad in her Louis Vuitton urban satchel; her iPod slipping from her pocket in the restaurant, the night before she ran away.

and lovely:

We sparkled and glittered and flew through the world, but it was only an illusion of flight. We were trapped in the orbit of a man who was no longer truly there.

If the story doesn’t break your heart, the writing will.

I turned the pages slowly, savoring every chapter, and although this is the first book in a trilogy, I’m in no hurry to get to the rest of it. In fact, I’m going to read this again before I move to book two.

4.5 of 5 stars.

Review: Pierced by the Sun

Pierced by the Sun by Laura Esquivel, translated by Jordi Castells (2015)
Originally A Lupita le gustaba planchar (2014)

piercedbythesunAfter four years of undergraduate study (preceded by four years of undergraduate goofing off), I finally graduated with my English degree in 1995. I’d avoided English as a major for a long time, because even though it had always been my best subject, I’d worried that formal study would damage my lifelong love of reading. It didn’t do that, but for those last two years, it definitely turned reading into a life-sucking, non-paying job, so I spent the first couple of post-graduation months happily avoiding books.

When it was finally time to throw myself back into the pages, the first two novels I attacked were Caleb Carr’s The Alienist and Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, both of them worthy of the honor. I enjoyed them both a great deal, but the wistful, sensual magic of the Esquivel novel was like a gentle, warm reminder of why I loved reading and why I’d finally settled on English as my major. It will always have a special place in my heart because of when it came along in my life and how it welcomed me into the resumption of my bookworm ways.

That was twenty-one years ago, and I hadn’t read another Esquivel novel since, until I was presented with the opportunity to read her latest, Pierced by the Sun, a month before its release. I knew it was time to reacquaint myself.

Lupita is a police officer in a city in Mexico. When a local official is murdered while she directs traffic nearby, she becomes wrapped up in the investigation. The turmoil weakens her enough to let in the demons she’s tenuously kept at bay for some time. She has been the victim of abuse, at the hands of more than one man, and she has in turn abused others around her. She relapses into self-destructive behavior while continuing to seek peace in the menial mundanities of her everyday life while piecing together the circumstances surrounding the murder.

[box type=”shadow”]Boy, did she like it! She liked to drink until she was completely lost. What she liked the most about drinking was not being present, that feeling of self-evasion, of disconnection, of liberation, of escape. Alcohol offered her an excellent alternative to being herself without actually dying.[/box]

Titles of chapters all begin with “Lupita Loved,” as in “Lupita Loved to Iron,” “Lupita Loved Booze,” and “Lupita Loved to Dance,” and the titles are quick images of this conflicted woman tortured by her past, wrestling with her present, and still finding love and beauty in bringing life up from the soil, or gazing at the stars as they tell their stories from the heavens. Esquivel has something to say about modern Mexico, and while it’s a bleak picture, it’s made up of millions of beautiful things, some of which point to some kind of hope for something better.

Esquivel’s prose is mostly spare, much as it is in Like Water for Chocolate. Sentences are short and simple, but they find elegance in the details they highlight, and in the way they follow each other, a musical style that’s pleasing and somehow exotic, as when she sees a murder suspect in the dance hall on Friday night:

Lupita had three options: go after the man and arrest him, go back to Captain Martinez and tell him about it so he could handle the arrest, or go find some cocaine and enjoy the rest of the night. She chose the last one.

Pierced by the Sun is a short novel that takes its time, both qualities I appreciate in a good story, but the writer stops one chapter short of a satisfying read. Lupita is given a chance to forgive herself, and the narrative voice expands, rather abruptly, into a larger statement about Mexico, but then it leaves us there when one last image of Lupita, perhaps ironing shirts, or maybe making breakfast for a lover, would have brought the arc back to earth. If the novel is meant only to be a treatise on Mexico’s straying from  its wonderful history, I suppose it’s fine as it is, but then it’s a waste of a good story. If it’s also meant to give us this character and this story in this time and this place, it owes us a better conclusion, and this is the novel’s only real shortcoming.

Three of five stars: I like it.

Slogging!

I’m really, really far behind on work, and must be more productive today than possible just to get up to merely behind, so of course I’m starting my morning jotting down a few thoughts with nothing specific to say.

After a mini torrent of cozy mysteries, I read that Dave Eggers book because a small group of friends agreed to read it for a discussion.  I’m kind of the catalyst that put these friends together (I was a little worried about Reid not having anyone to talk to when I went to Hilo to finish school), and when I moved back, one of the first things we all did together was start a little informal book group, each taking turns picking titles.  We’ve been sporadic these past few years, mostly because I took forever to finish my M.Ed., but every so often someone will propose a title.  We’d last read Fareed Zakaria’s The Future of Freedom six years ago.

So we got together last night at a cafe to talk about it.  The nature of the book (and, I suspect, the reason for Reid’s nominating it) really meant not very much talk about the novel as a novel, and lots of talk about the stuff the novel is about, which is fine.  Works of non-fiction are usually discussed this way, and although when I talk about a novel I want to talk about it as an English major, get why this one wasn’t as conducive to that.  I still managed to get a few teacherly questions in there.

It was a pleasant conversation, only bogging down near the end as a few points were argued (not by me; I’d already kind of checked out) past the what-the-heck-are-we-doing moment.

That time was stolen from time I should have spent working.  Ugh.

There are a few factors contributing to my difficulty being productive:

  • I’m having all kinds of trouble maintaining any kind of sleep pattern.  Over the past several weeks, I’ve put myself to bed at later and later times, which of course means waking up later and later in the day.  Recently I’ve been going to bed at eight in the morning and waking up at three in the afternoon.  Once, I went to bed at eleven in the morning and got up at seven in the evening.
  • My slow productivity means not getting paid as often as I need to be paid, which means I have to be very frugal, which means not working at the cafe where I find it easier to be productive.  So I try to get work done at my desk at home, which can be very slow, which means I’m not as productive as I need to be, which means not getting paid as frequently as I need.  Vicious cycle.
  • Something bit me hard last weekend, and I spent three days pretty much in bed.  Flu symptoms minus the usual cold stuff that often accompanies them.  No energy, aches, and the need to sleep for like sixteen hours a day.  It was kind of depressing, actually.

I’m not quite where I was a few weeks ago, when I couldn’t pay bills necessary for the completion of work (you know, phone and internet), but I’m entering the red zone and need to put some work together today.  And thanks to my slothful pace, I think it’s going to take two or three days of just focusing on productivity, with breaks for sleep and nightly walks.  It reminds me of those late nights finishing my Masters thesis.  I can do it.

I’m at the cafe now (I’ve got enough on my card for this visit and one more), about to bang through some work.  I can do this.  I’m not even going to let the fact that the bathroom is closed deter me from at least putting in ten decent hours here, interrupted by a snack break.

Here we go.

Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

The Circle by Dave Eggers (2013)

the_circleI have a feeling I picked the wrong novel for my introduction to Dave Eggers.

The Circle is five hundred fairly quick pages of good pacing and good (not great) narrative about Mae Holland, a woman just out of college who accepts a job at the Circle, a Google-like tech firm. The Circle began as either a search engine or a social media platform, but has since grown to include all manner of services enabled by its accumulation of information about its users. Geolocation, messaging, commerce, archiving, life streaming, entertainment, and quantified living services (among countless others) combine to attract users to its functionality while driving the company’s mission of knowing everything that can be known.

Mae cannot believe how fortunate she is to work at such a bleeding-edge company, on a campus providing everything she could possibly need, personally or professionally. She has onsite healthcare, free samples of consumer products not yet available to the public, nightly entertainment, free meals, and even on-campus housing for nights when it’s just more convenient to stay at work than to drive home. Her college roomie is among the firm’s elite, affording Mae a status the other newbies can’t claim, and although the adjustment to this new work environment is tougher than she predicted, she is determined to do what she’s asked in order to move up from her customer experience position. Throw in a couple of potential love interests and an increasingly visible online presence, and her increased alienation from her family seems a small sacrifice.

The Circle is Brave New World and Animal Farm for the 21st Century, with a dash of Candide thrown in, as Mae plays the wide-eyed apprentice learning to embrace the Circle’s “Secrets are Lies” doctrine. While Eggers spins his cautionary tale, he seems to be worried that the stuff of a good novel might distract from his almost allegorical message. His main character is well conceived but poorly developed, so that she comes across as admirable, pitiful, and insufferable according to the needs of the plot, rather than as the driving force behind the plot. Because the power of the Circle is greater than the personality of the character, we care about Mae but find her difficult to like, and while that may be intentional, it makes for an unsatisfying read.

Mae’s shortcomings as a main character might still have worked with a more intricate or suspenseful plot, but Eggers plays it right down the line as might any writer of minimal skill and a casual familiarity with current technology news. The result is overly simplified, with only a nod in the direction of some of the issues’ nuances. Yes, the era of Big Data has some conflicts between utility and privacy, and yes, younger generations seem eager to give their privacy up, but it’s just not as easy as that. Today’s young adults don’t devalue privacy; they merely have a different concept of it, but nowhere does Eggers attempt to see privacy through the eyes of Mae’s generation. Instead, Mae gives up her privacy as this concept is understood by the generation before her, and while that works for the novelist’s intended message for his intended audience, it does little to help us understand either the issue’s many colors or Mae’s real motivations.

Two of five stars, or in the Circle’s parlance, “Meh.”

Review: To Helvetica and Back

To Helvetica and Back
by Paige Shelton (2016)

to helveticaThere are twenty-six chapters in Paige Shelton’s To Helvetica and Back. The first twenty-four are pretty darn good; the final two are a crime against the reader and a crime against the genre.

Those first twenty-four have all the makings. Clare is a smart, independent twenty-something woman who runs her grandfather’s shop. She repairs typewriters, restores old books, operates a Gutenberg-style printing press built by her grandfather, and prints custom stationery. She is a protector and restorer of the printed word, the kind of protagonist bibliophiles can’t help liking. Add a teenaged niece who helps in the shop, a snooty cat named Baskerville, a best friend and ex-fiancé who are both cops, and a handsome geologist who makes the best lasagna, and you can cancel your plans for the weekend, because you’ve got some comfy pages to get lost in.

A guy shows up, demands that Clare sell him another customer’s typewriter (an Underwood No. 5, of course), gets angry when she refuses, and sets off a nice string of events including danger to her family, a possibly thwarted new romance, a murder right outside her door, tension with her best friend, and the literal unearthing of long-held secrets. It’s all quite competently put together until the author breaks one of the unforgivable rules of the genre. So egregious is the writer’s transgression that it makes most of the good stuff irrelevant, and erases much of the enjoyment I got from most of the book. Shelton commits a lesser offense in the story’s climax, but I almost didn’t even notice it because her first breaking of the rules is so blatant.

I’ll allow the good stuff in this novel to serve as the background for the next in the series, but it does not make up for a horrible decision in this story.

1 star of 5.  I disliked its ending.

Review: Books Can Be Deceiving

Books Can Be Deceiving
by Jenn McKinlay (2011)

books_can_beA cozy mystery series starring a librarian? Yes please.

Lindsey is the new director of the Briar Creek (Connecticut) Public Library, and although there have been a few bumps (a grouchy employee nicknamed The Lemon, and healing from a broken engagement among them), the transition has mostly been great. She’s begun a Crafternoon knitting/book-discussion group, the children’s librarian is her best friend Beth from library school, the board of directors has been completely supportive of her changes, and there’s this handsome boat captain who makes incredible hot cocoa.

When one of the coastal town’s residents is murdered, Beth is the prime suspect. The chief of police is so sure Beth is the culprit that he doesn’t explore other possibilities, so it’s on Lindsey, who knows her friend is innocent, to find the murderer. Her search takes her to wind-swept islands, a retirement home, and an art school, and as she gathers information about the victim, she puts herself and her best friend in danger. Grave danger? Is there any other kind?

The editing is sometimes sloppy (a trend I’m noticing in this genre, particularly in titles from this publisher) and the dialog is often less than gracefully expository. There is only one restaurant in town, for example, and Lindsey hasn’t been there in at least a month, despite the proprietor being a friend (and a member of the Crafternoon group). When she and Beth sit down to dine there, Lindsey tells Beth she’s ordering the lobster roll and then describes it for her, even though Beth has been a resident for much longer. If there’s only one restaurant in town, if the food is so good, and if both characters are friends of the owner, why would Lindsey have to describe anything on the menu for Beth? It’s a silly incongruence, and it’s not the only one.

The story, while well told, is something of a disappointment. It’s a nicely imagined story, but it suffers from bad decisions about the victim and culprit.

It’s not until more than halfway through that the novel really gets moving, beginning with a charming, funny, and endearing encounter at the retirement home. Lindsey’s interactions with a resident, the contrast between her thoughts and conversation, and an intriguing revelation combine to have an at-last-here-we-go effect. It’s a nice, pleasant narrative up to this chapter, and then a headlong rush to the finish line. Pretty fun reading. I really hope Lindsey is sincere in wishing to visit the home again.

It’s worth a read for its second half, and for likable characters and a really good setting. Although Jenn McKinlay’s prose could use some streamlining, she comes up with some pretty nice, lyrical stuff, sentences worth lingering on and reading aloud. Strengths outweigh flaws, so I’m recommending this for fans of (and newcomers to) the genre.

Three of five stars (I like it!).

Review: The Grind

The Grind: Inside Baseball's Endless SeasonThe Grind: Inside Baseball’s Endless Season by Barry Svrluga
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the Washington Nationals arrive at their hotel in St. Louis for a weekend series against the Cardinals, their luggage is waiting for them in their rooms. In a few hours, they’ll step back onto the chartered buses and into the visitors’ clubhouse at the stadium, where their personal equipment and freshly laundered uniforms will be waiting for them, each player’s belongings in his assigned locker. In order to allow the players to focus on their jobs as baseball players, the team ensures that they don’t have to worry about the logistics of luggage, transportation, dining, or entertainment, and it is Rob MacDonald’s job to make it happen. MacDonald is the Nationals’ Vice President of Clubhouse Operations and Team Travel, and he is one of 1,100 employees, not counting the players themselves, who endure The Grind of the 162-game baseball season.

The 2014 Washington Nationals finished the season with the National League’s best record, but lost their first playoff series to the San Francisco Giants. It had been a long season, but even the most avid fan had only the faintest idea of how truly long it was. In The Grind, Washington Post reporter Barry Svrluga chronicles the season, beginning with spring training in February, and passing through Opening Day in March, the dog days of late summer, the playoffs in October, and the winter off-season, concluding with the the first moments of the next cycle, the team’s preparations for spring training in 2015.

Svrluga devotes a chapter each to nine different perspectives of the season: Ryan Zimmerman, beginning his tenth season in the Majors, is featured in a chapter called “The Veteran.” Tyler Moore, a promising but no-longer-young power hitter is the focus of “The Twenty-Sixth Man” (baseball rosters are limited to twenty-five players). Chelsey Desmond, wife of shortstop Ian Desmond, is profiled with her young children in “The Wife.” And Rob MacDonald’s chapter is called “The Glue.” A chapter each on a starting pitcher, a reliever, a scout, the general manager, and the off-season, when players go home but the team’s management is working as hard as ever, bring the total of fascinating stories to nine, because of course. Because nine is baseball’s perfect number, the number of completion.

“If the major league life brings a grinding rhythm that wears on the hearts and minds and bodies of even star players,” writes Svrluga, “at least it comes with charter flights and checks with all those zeroes. In the minors, the everydayness is the same. The payoff is not.” Fans are accustomed to one very specific view of what goes on during the baseball season, but here are nine, each with a different approach to its rhythms and flows, each compelling, sympathetic, glorious, and heartbreaking. They are all terrific, but especially memorable are the chapters on Moore and MacDonald, two behind-the-scenes glimpses not well-known by the baseball fan.

No sport lends itself to great storytelling quite the way baseball does, and Svrluga nails the story of the season from beginning to end, giving us nine stories that contribute to the saga. I’ve read more baseball books than most people, and this was immediately a favorite before I got through the first chapter. It is an excellent and worthy addition to the top shelf of any fan’s library.

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