What I’ve Been Reading (Non-Football)
What a quarter, and the less said the better. I read some about football. I read more about other things, including particularly this past quarter, when I didn’t finish a single book about football (unless I spent the rest of tonight trying to finish my current read, which I won’t). Now I will tell you about the more interesting of the non-football books I read, but not the uninteresting ones or the ones I otherwise don’t feel like mentioning.
I actually finished Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder last quarter, but decided not to talk about it until this one. The thing about “science in the age of Romanticism” is just what the heck is Romanticism anyway? Reading Holmes inspired me to finally bother to acquire Tim Blanning’s The Romantic Revolution, which confirmed that (a) “what Romanticism is” is about as vague and ill-defined as I thought it was, and (b) #TeamEnlightenment. Both the Holmes and the Blanning are quite good. N.B. the Blanning work is a slim volume; it was exactly what I was looking for, but know what you’re getting. It’s from the same Modern Library Chronicles series as Gordon Wood’s The American Revolution, which I believe I’ve recommended on here before and is the best “short” book I’ve ever read.
I stuck with the nineteenth century for Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map, an older but deservedly well-known book about tracing a cholera outbreak to a single London well in the 1850’s, as well as Rosalind Williams’ The Triumph of Human Empire, mini-biographies of Jules Verne, William Morris, and Robert Louis Stevenson, none of which I found interesting or insightful when it comes to attitudes toward progress and technology in the 1800’s, more or less the nominal topic Williams was addressing.
I also read Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys. Lewis is still a tremendously skilled crafter of narrative non-fiction, though (a) the Malcolm Gladwell blurb on the back got me thinking of a Lewis-Gladwell meeting as the narrativitypocalypse with all the nuance as the 2013 Oakland Raiders run game, a cataclysm that may actually have occurred at whatever event the two attended that was broadcast on BookTV on Sunday and (b) Lewis wrote an entire book about high frequency trading where he somehow managed not to come into contact with a single one of those villainous high frequency traders, an act so prodigious it reminds me (for some reason) of the story I heard in law school about how a case of whiskey was involved in the drafting of the Securities Act of 1933.
I also read a passel of fiction, little of it noteworthy. Roger Zelazny’s The Great Book of Amber may be best experienced on acid, an experience I’ve intentionally denied myself. I can’t see how Natchez Burning is the first volume in a trilogy, unless Greg Iles is taking the 24 route when it comes to setting up villains (and it’s about the worst “first book in a series” I’ve ever read when it comes to finishing the first book with a satisfying conclusion while whetting the reader’s appetite for future book(s)).
I was of two minds of Eric Cline’s 1177 B.C. On the one hand, it was a nicely done history of a time period that we don’t know that much about, where Cline didn’t overload on pretending like 1177 was The Year That Mattered. On the other hand, this Amazon review that notes Cline’s book feels like a compromise between separate and to an extent incompatible masters that ends up unfulfilling has a point. Some books are probably best read by those not too familiar with the subject matter, and this may be one of them. Recommended for what it is, perhaps?
My favorite book I read this past quarter was Ken Dryden’s The Game, a superb and insightful memoir by the former Montreal Canadiens goalie. Published only after he was playing but based on notes he took during what he knew would be his final season, Dryden was able to speak honestly and frankly. It’s not a tell-all like a Ball Four, which is good because we know a lot more about the sometimes dissolute habits of athletes than we did when it was first published 30 years ago. It is honest and forthright, told by somebody smart and perceptive about what he recognized was a special and privileged existence. A goalie, a position apart from the rest of the time but one with a unique influence on the course of a game. A law school graduate, an attorney in training, not normal for a professional sport. A player for the Montreal Canadiens, in a city divided by language at a time (the late 1970’s) when that division could be particularly intense. A Canadiens team that was in the last years of perhaps the greatest dynasty in American professional sports. I don’t often use my highlighter a lot on ebooks, but there were a couple passages I made sure to mark here, including the best discussion of fighting in hockey I’ve ever read. Not just a hockey book, but probably the best athlete book I’ve read (I’d need to re-read Instant Replay to do a fair comparison) and one of the best sports books I’ve read period. The only bad part of it is I planned to finally get through Roy Blount’s About Three Bricks Shy, and Dryden’s book was so good it made that sort of similar book (athletes, 1970’s) a harder slog than it should be.
Beyond About Three Bricks Shy, which I should finish in the next couple days, I’ve finally started War and Peace. I’m sure I’ll also be reading other football titles the next couple months, since I do every year at this time. If my ambition holds, I want to finally get to Wilson’s Thirty Years War after War and Peace, but we’ll see about that.
As always, de gustibus non est disputandum.