Season Ticket: A Baseball Companion – Roger Angell
Perhaps the greatest ever writer on matters related to baseball in the decade I grew up with the sport? Damn right I’m reading this!
It only seems like Angell has been writing about baseball forever1. A significant chunk of his writings have come for The New Yorker, where he’s been an editor nearly forever as well. The collections of his New Yorker writings, organized by decade, are some of the finest baseball books around.
In his 1980s edition, he has the standard spring training explorations, where he picks a subject that interests him – how do second basemen field their positions, how do catchers hone their skill, what are the secrets of hitting – and hops around Florida and Arizona asking players and managers for their insights. There are the year-end summaries, which touch on the highlights of the entire season and then go in-depth on the post-season. Finally, there are his lengthy mid-season pieces, often focused on a single team or player. In 1982, he took a deep look at the Oakland A’s to learn how that organization’s new ownership group was thinking outside the box to compete. A subject another fine writer attacked with another Oakland ownership group 20 years later. And his 1985 feature on Royals closer Dan Quisenberry is just a fantastic piece of writing, forget about the baseball angle.
I ripped through this in my standard 7-10 days. But Angell’s books can just as easily be set on the table next to your remote and worked through slowly during the commercial breaks and rain delays of the long baseball season. In fact, I bet Angell would prefer his books be digested in exactly that manner.
The Master Of Disguise – Antonio J. Mendez
Here we have another book that has been on my reading list for ages. So long that I could not recall why I put it on there. But I finally tackled it and, roughly halfway through, remembered why.
This is the brief, fast-paced memoir of Mendez, who spent a career working for the CIA in all the hottest spots of the world. Shortly after joining the service, he spent time in Southeast Asia during the tail-end of the Vietnam war. In the midst of the 1970s, he went to the heart of the Cold War during several trips to Moscow. And then the mission that has made him famous (well after the fact) was his effort to get some of the American hostages out of Iran in 1979. That mission was the basis for the movie Argo, with Ben Affleck playing the part of Mendez.2
So that’s why it was on my list!
Anyway, this is a fun little book. Mendez zips through his improbable career. He began as a graphic artist and eventually became the head of the CIA’s disguise efforts. He set up the most successful US espionage effort in the Soviet Union. And he helped six Americans escape Iran during the hostage crisis. He makes it all seem like just another desk job, just with occasional encounters with enemy agents.
A Simple Plan – Scott Smith
Several years back I read Smith’s The Ruins and kind of loved it. It was the kind of spooky horror novel that I can get into. I never saw the movie based on this, his first novel, but still wanted to get back and read it.
As the title suggests, the book revolves around a simple plan. In this case, three men discover a crashed plane on New Year’s Eve in northern Ohio. Next to the dead pilot is a bag containing over $4 million. They whip up a simple plan to ride out the winter, after which they can divide up the money, travel their separate ways, and no one will ever know.
Ahhh, but it’s not so simple, it turns out. One thing after another goes wrong. Each new challenge requires a new plan, which in isolation seems completely logical, and yes simple. The participants, though, can never look at the bigger picture and see how deep a hole they’ve dug for themselves.
Shit gets pretty damn deep. Lots and lots of blood is spilt. The ending isn’t terribly satisfying in that part of the original plan works out. Despite the heavy weight over those who are left at the end, it still feels like they get off easy after the wave of destruction they unleashed.
The whole book became a little much about two-thirds of the way through. That final third had a lot of “Oh come on!” moments, at least for me. One in particular near the end had me contemplating skipping the final 30 pages or so.
But I finished. And I much preferred The Ruins to it.
The Confessor – Daniel Silva
Actually a July book, but since I finished it over the Fourth of July holiday, I’ll throw it in here, too. This is the third entry in the Gabriel Allon series. This time the Israeli super spy / art restorer is asked to investigate the murder of a former colleague who was working as a professor in Munich. The trail soon leads to Venice and Rome and an effort by the new Pope to reveal the Catholic Church’s true role during the Holocaust. But, not so fast, there are dark forces within the Vatican that do not want the past to be revisited! The Pope and Allon both become targets. And everything gets worked out.
All the standard stuff. Still good enough to keep me interested and to add the next book in the series to the reading queue.