Good grief, I’ve gotten bad about these again. Didn’t I say I was going to start posting after I finished each book to keep from getting so far behind? Or did I just think it? Regardless, I clearly failed to follow up. I guess that will be my goal for the summer, when I expect my reading pace to quicken. Some blurbs on my most recent crop of books.
The Nineties – Chuck Klosterman
I really liked this, which surprised me a bit. I’ve been hot and cold on Klosterman for years, but here he was locked into his style that I enjoy the most.
Obviously the book is about the 1990s. And while Klosterman is most famous for tackling pop culture, he takes a much wider view of that decade here. In fact the best chapters are the ones about politics. I watched the 1992 presidential campaign as close as any of my life, but he highlighted all kinds of aspects of that race I had totally forgotten about. For example, I forgot that Ross Perot was forcibly against the war to liberate Kuwait, called out the US military often, and was demonstrably in favor of equal rights for gay people. A Texas billionaire in 1992 might have been the most progressive person in the race on those issues!
Another of my favorite of Klosterman’s points was how our generation, which came of age during the 90s, has a unique perspective on society’s relationship with the phone. We remember what it was like to have to sit at home and wait on a call to come through on a landline. If we were expecting a really important call, we had to hope someone else in the house wasn’t tying up the line. And we were not able to screen calls, but instead had to answer any call that came into our home, braving telemarketers and batty old aunts in hopes someone we really wanted to speak with was on the line. Kids today have no idea what that was like with their caller ID and texting and direct messaging!
Devil House – John Darnielle
Darnielle is the lead singer of the Mountain Goats, but has been writing for years. I’ve heard his work is good but this is the first time I’ve read any of it.
He takes an interesting angle here: a successful true crime writer moves into a home that was the site of a bizarre and unsolved murder in the 1980s. As the author reconstructs the crime, he is confronted by the mother of a murder victim he wrote about in an earlier book. The encounter forces him to reevaluate his process and the work that he cranks out.
There were some very strange parts to the book, including a long section that took place sometime in old England – talking castles and shit – and printed in a nearly unreadable old English font. I’m not a big true crime reader, but this did make me wonder about the decisions authors in that genre make and how they affect the people they write about.
The New Rules of War – Sean McFate
I heard McFate on a podcast talking about the Russian war against Ukraine and enjoyed his perspective. So I checked out his most recent book. In it he argues that basically everything the US does in terms of preparing for war is wrong. We spend too much money on the wrong things, rely too much on our technological advantages, train and deploy our troops for the wrong kind of battles, don’t understand how the concept of war has changed, and, in sum, have set ourselves up for a military disaster in the near future.
His arguments are provocative. While I agree with many of them – do we really need to spend more on defense than all our biggest potential adversaries combined? – I think some others are a little nutty. And I can’t see any political will to make the changes he suggests, since those would drastically reduce the amount of spending we commit to major weapons systems. Something we, as a nation, are genetically predisposed to do.
It is also interesting that the Marines are attempting to do some of what McFate suggests, and have been getting major pushback from a lot of people for it. Who ever thought the Marines would be the most forward-thinking branch of our military?
Rethinking Fandom – Craig Calcaterra
I’ve been reading Calcaterra’s baseball writing for years. Even though I’ve barely watched any baseball this year, I still subscribe to his Cup of Coffee newsletter, which is essential morning reading. It helps that his politics are similar to mine and once he gets through the daily summaries of games, he often dives into things going on in the world that have nothing to do with baseball.
In this book he looks at all the ways modern sports screw the fan. Between exorbitant ticket/parking/concessions prices, massive public funding efforts to build stadiums and arenas, dishonesty from ownership in labor battles, tanking teams, restrictive television rules, franchises controlled by conglomerates that have wider business interests, how college sports are exploitative of athletes, and so on, sports have turned into an affair where winning and giving the fans an entertaining product is not always at the top of the organization’s goals.
He offers some strategies for surviving all this, most of which can be summed up as taking a step back from sports. You can still watch but you don’t have to spend 24/7 absorbing information about your favorite teams/sports. You can even be a fair-weather fan and only follow teams that are winning and entertaining to watch, since sports are supposed to be a fun diversion from the drudgery of real life.
I found that I’ve already implemented many of his suggestions. Well, KU basketball excepted. I still know what’s going on in most sports, check ESPN.com a few times a day, and have plenty of sports news included in my Twitter feed. But I watch a lot fewer games than I used to, rarely watch any pregame or summary shows, and have zero time for sports radio or the talking head shows on TV. I watch most sports pretty casually, finding a storyline I like in a given game and letting it carry me through the next couple hours before moving on. I track closely enough to be able to slide into conversations about what’s going on in the NBA playoffs or who the Colts should chase at quarterback, but I’m not as weighed down by sports information as I once was.
Calcaterra is an Ohio State alum and was once a massive Buckeyes football fan, his falls revolving around watching and reading about OSU football. But now rarely watches them and knows next-to-nothing about that is going on with the team. Despite the changes I’ve made in how I watch sports, I’m not quite ready to go all-in and get lukewarm about the Jayhawks. Let’s not get crazy.