Recent Books Summer 2020

Posted on 07/25/2020 in misc

Living through a pandemic has definitely been good for finding time to read.

K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches by Tyler Kepner

I greatly enjoyed this book. 10 chapter, each one dedicated to one pitch, in which the author reviews the history of the pitch, who invented it (if we know), how and why it has fallen in and out of favor over the years, and loads of first hand experience from the pitchers that threw the pitch. I learned a ton about the craft of pitching, which I think will bring a new level of insight to watching baseball games when MLB eventually returns.

Taking Risks: A Jewish Youth in the Soviet Partisans and His Unlikely Life in California by Joseph Pell

Joseph Pell was 18 when the Nazis showed up at his house in Poland. He happened to be outside at that moment and he hid in the hay loft of the barn. After his family was taken away to be murdered he crawled (literally) through the fields for a few miles to the relative safety of the forest. In the forest he met up with the Polish Resistance and he spent the rest of the war hampering the Nazi war effort however he could, mostly by blowing up trains. After the war he made his way to the US and became one of the most successful real estate developers in San Francisco. His son writes a popular email newsletter that I read every day, which is how I discovered this book. It's a fascinating story and the inside view of how the Polish Resistance operated was an aspect of WWII history that I had not encountered previously.

Dead Trees Give No Shelter by Wil Wheaton

I've had Wil's short story (it's about a 30 minute read) on my Kindle forever, and 2 AM one night when I couldn't sleep seemed like the right time to finally read Wil's creepy monster story.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Tor Books released book 5 in the Murderbot series last month and the celebrate, they gave away the first four in the series. I downloaded them all. Murderbot is a security android that is some sort of mix of organic and inorganic parts. He hates his job, hates humans in general, and really doesn't want to be working for them. He'd much rather watch the countless hours of bad entertainment that he has downloaded to keep him busy when he isn't actively protecting his clients. He has a bit of a Marvin the Paranoid Android vibe to him, but more sarcastic and snarky and less pathetic. It's a nice, quick read, which is exactly what I needed after a couple of end of the world dystopian novels that I read back to back.

Notes From An Apocalypse by Mark O'Connell (audiobook)

Writer Mark O'Connell is obsessing over a coming apocalypse. So he spends a year exploring various outposts of the apocalypse on earth, and turns it into a dark and funny book that is both hopeful and depressing at the same time. The time he spends with preppers in South Dakota in a prepper community built from decommissioned ammo bunkers is downright funny. His insight that the preppers are not prepping for a disaster but a utopia is enlightening. These guys can't function in modern society, they dream of a world where the ability to field dress a deer or build a toilet of out junkyard parts makes them the top dog they believe they are.

His time in NZ trying to figure out why billionaires are buying up land there to ride out the fall of civilization becomes an essay using libertarian tech billionaires as stand ins for everything that is wrong with entitled white culture. He also goes camping in the remote Scottish Highlands with a non-profit, where he spends 24 hours in a 30 X 30 square patch of land to reconsider his relationship to physical space and the earth. I found that part of the book as tedious as he probably did spending 24 hours basically sitting in one spot in the Scottish Highlands. He takes a dark and hilarious tour of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone via a Ukrainian tour group. He never actually tells the reader what happened there, because it doesn't matter. Chernobyl is just a stand in for earth of the future. It doesn't really matter how it got that way to the people living there now.

The book ends on an up note though. Mark notes that throughout history the people that survive disasters are the ones that band together and work with their neighbors to get everybody though the crisis. They don’t hide in underground bunkers in South Dakota. He also realizes that instead of worrying about whether or not bringing two kids in to this world was irresponsible we are all better off reveling in the joy of our children. In the long run, we are all dead one way or another.

The Inside Game: Bad Calls, Strange Moves, and What Baseball Behavior Teaches Us about Ourselves by Keith Law

This is a behavioral economics book disguised as a baseball book. Or maybe it's the other way around. Baseball writer Keith Law takes the reader a through lessons on various logical fallacies such as the sunk cost fallacy to demonstrate how even the best and the brightest running baseball teams fall prey to them.

Examples include outcome bias, when a positive result overshadows the bad decision that got you there, or a bad result negates the series of good decisions that were made that resulted in a bad outcome. Sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes you don’t. You have to look past the result sometimes to the process that got you there. As an examples he uses the 2001 World Series, which was badly managed by the Diamondbacks Manager Bob Brenly, but he won so nobody cared at the time.

When talking about the sunk cost fallacy, he looks at the Angels continuing to play Albert Pujols, even though he was putting up replacement player numbers for much of his time with them. That also leads to a discussion of how non-economic factors play into these decisions.

It’s a fun an entertaining way to sneak some important economics factors that we should all consider in our decision making into a baseball book.

The Resisters by Gish Jen

A novel about a near-future dystopia brought on by AI, income equality, and climate change in which baseball is a metaphor for the resistance is about as perfect an "ideal" book for me that you will get. I wanted to love this book, but in the end we'll have to settle for just being friends. In the not so distant future imagined by the author, AI and automation have rendered much of society as surplus. That's not a metaphor, they are literally not needed except as consumers for the massive over production brought on by AI. So they live in swamps and floating cities that have resulted from climate change, subsisting on a govt. provided income and free food that is spiked to keep them uninterested in procreating. Their "job" is to consume, so growing their own food, knitting sweaters, etc. are acts of resistance. Baseball comes into play as our protagonist is a teenage girl with a golden arm, the State (AutoAmerica) wants her for the newly reinstated Olympics against Chin-Russia.

"Chin-Russia" and "Auto-America" are examples of a problem in the book. The author renamed a bunch of stuff that didn't need to be renamed. We are not that far into the future in this book. Language wouldn't change that much. It wasn't clear, or maybe I missed why the underground baseball league was such an issue for the government. I think distracting the Surplus with baseball so they stay busy and don't revolt is a more likely thing to happen in this world. All the minorities and people worshiping the wrong gods are also Surplus (funny how that works), and the book calls white people "angel-faired," and the folks worshiping the wrong god are "odd-godded."

The language thing really hampered by enjoyment of the book. One thing I think the author did really well though is demonstrate how society would end up like this. It wasn't one big traumatic event that changed everything. Freedom was killed by 1000 paper cuts. That's a message that seems super relevant today.

So good story, I don't regret having read it, but it didn't quite live up to my expectations.

Above the Ether by Eric Barnes

A near future climate change apocalypse is the driving factor in this novel. It follows 5 or 6 different characters as they deal with changes wrought by climate change and all end up in the same place. I read it about a month ago and I'm having a hard time remembering any details, which probably tells you something. I finished it, and I certainly didn't hate it, but it clearly didn't make much of an impact on me either.

Yogi: A Life Behind the Mask by Jon Pessah

A very enjoyable biography of Yogi. As a baseball fan I'm obviously familiar with Yogi, but I wasn't aware of just how dominating a player he was in his prime. Prior to reading this book I wouldn't have put him in my top 5 all-time catchers list, and he clearly should be in that list. And remember, Yogi didn't say most of the things that he said. Also, Yogi was one of the first people to engage the enemy on D-Day. He was a bad ass before he was a famous baseball player.

The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux

I only made it about 25% though the book, bailing before they even made it to Honduras. The father is just too much of an asshole for me. I was rooting for him to meet a painful demise by page 20, and that is no way to enjoy a book.

Jimmy Buffett: A Good Life All the Way by Ryan White (audiobook)

I did this as an audio book and enjoyed it. I've read Jimmy's "A Pirate Looks at 50" which is an autobiography. The biography delves more into how a barroom balladeer that couldn't get a sniff in Nashville became worth $600 million. If you think about it, Buffett has 20+ albums and maybe 2 or 3 hit songs. He did it with touring, connecting with his fans, and being smart enough to see the potential in himself as a brand.

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

It's non-fiction, but reads like a fabulous novel. This is probably the best one book to read if you want to gain an understanding of "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland. The book kind of revolves around the disappearance of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10 who may or may not have been an informer for the British. (Personally I'm leaning against it.) But it goes way beyond her murder to dig in to the "why" of what was happening with The Troubles.

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis

A classic Lewis book in which he takes the very complicated subject of how wall street trading firms can take advantage of the millisecond difference in transaction times between different exchanges to cheat investors out of billions annually, fractions of a penny at a time, and makes it understandable. It's basically the plot from Office Space, executed on a global scale. It should probably make me angry, but I'm just tired of being angry all the time.

The Riven Wyrde Saga (Omnibus edition): The Complete Epic Fantasy Trilogy by Graham Austin-King

The trilogy was a 99 cent download for the Kindle and I can't remember the last time I read a new fantasy series, so why not? I honestly figured I'd read the first book and never go back but instead I read all three in about 2 weeks. The story revolves around three cultures, standard medieval Europe, Vikings, and fairies. Earth is the Fairy promised land, but magic has kept them out off the planet for centuries. The magic has faded, they are back, and they are pissed. Meanwhile the Vikings are invading the medieval culture. It's a fast paced story that jumps between the three cultures without getting confusing, and really never gets boring. I would have been happy if I had paid full paperback price for these three books.

Every Tool's a Hammer: Life Is What You Make It by Adam Savage (audiobook)

It's part auto-biography, part treatise on the joys of making, and part "how-to" be a maker. I listened as a walked over a couple of weeks. It's entertaining and a bit inspirational as he really hammer home the point that failure is the standard mode of making. You'll fail way more than you succeed, and it doesn't matter what you making.

Image by Amplonius Gymnasium from Pixabay