book review: up up and away

I grew up a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays. I was the perfect age to see them win back-to-back World Series in 92 and 93 and though I had my bleh years when I paid them less attention, I’ve been back in my childhood fandom for at least a decade. Since getting more into baseball I added the San Francisco Giants as my west coast team since it’s good to have a team to root for that’s in the same timezone as you. I chose the Giants because of Tim Lincecum and the Barry Zito fiasco and having missed all the Barry Bonds amazingness of the early 2000s (I did briefly flirt with Dodgers fandom, but I figured it made more sense to support a team because of onfield actions and players rather than primarily for their amazing play-by-play guy; I could still appreciate Vin Scully calling a game even if I wasn’t rooting for the Dodgers). More importantly, I needed a National League team to follow, and there wasn’t another that was an immediate obvious choice.

All of that is to say I regret not having paid more attention to the Montréal Expos when they existed. Jonah Keri did pay attention and wrote a book called Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montréal Expos. It’s a good summary of some of the team’s history and the stories around the teams that were good and the ownership troubles and the Big Owe and all of that. I quite enjoyed it.

I didn’t realize that the Blue Jays and their assertion of all of southern Ontario as their TV market was so detrimental to the Expos’ finances. Growing up I assumed there was a Québec law that said Expos games had to be in French and that was why we so rarely saw them play on TV. I remember the strike season and how even without watching the games we knew they were great and that it was a crime to not have a World Series. But I didn’t know the background fire-sale that decimated the team for the next season. And I totally didn’t know about the late ’70s early ’80s coke-fuelled party teams.

It’s a good book, written journalistically, with maybe a few too many personal stories of Keri’s games he was a spectator at, but whatevs. I have a better idea of the history of the Canadian MLB team I never knew I’d enjoy rooting for.

book review: absolutely on music

I’m a Haruki Murakami fan. Absolutely on Music is a book of conversations he had with the famous conductor Seiji Ozawa. It’s fine.

I found some parts interesting, but this one would really benefit from listening to the music along with the book. I just don’t have the in-depth knowledge to compare what they were saying with my experience of music. Now I want to listen to multiple performances of Brahms to try and make the sorts of comparisons these two were doing, but I doubt I’ll get there.

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book review: the right to be cold

I get to do some collection development in my new job and my main area I’m dealing with is Adult NonFiction ebooks. It’s kind of fun to do that slightly more traditional library role (most collection development at my old library was outsourced to the company LibraryBound, who decided what users like ours wanted and then sold the materials to us). Now I get to actually scour lists and say “this would be something good for our community!” And then because of that I’m caring a bit more about things like awards and buzz and Canada Reads. This year I’m planning to read most of the Canada Reads shortlist and started with Sheila Watt-Cloutier’s The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet (which our library already owned in ebook format so I didn’t get to heroically buy it for our users).

Sadly, I didn’t really like this book. It has interesting content, and talks about how southerners tend to care more about the animals that live in northern Canada than the people. Watt-Cloutier’s stories of growing up Inuk were great. Her discussion of how climate change makes this region unpredictable, which has deadly results was great and changes the way I’m thinking about icepack.

The problem was that much of the latter part of the book was written like a retirement speech. “I tried to do this. There was this obstacle. This person helped and said this nice thing about me.” I feel bad complaining about the aesthetics of a book that had important content, but it made it a chore, like reading a very boring corporate report.

So I don’t know if I would recommend the book, simply because reading it felt so much like an “eat your vegetables” kind of task.

book review: hitler – ascent 1889 – 1939

I’ve mentioned before that I’m trying to read more nonfiction in 2017. Part of that is to avoid the constant churn of shit that is the news cycle of doom, but without going full-on escapist all the time. It’s a shitty testament to my ability to objectify other times and their inhabitants that reading a book about the rise of Hitler feels less depressing than opening my Twitter app, but here we are.

There were a number of pieces of the rise of Hitler that I knew of, like the Beer Hall Putsch and The Night of the Long Knives, but I didn’t have a clear idea of what actually happened in those events. Volker Ullrich’s Hitler: Ascent 1889 – 1939 was good at filling in the gaps in my knowledge.

I came to this book through Michiko Kakutani’s excellent (pre-2016 US election) review of it. That definitely influenced my reading, and made me draw more parallels to the US today than I might have otherwise. I think that this book made it pretty clear that Hitler and Trump are different, but the interesting thing is how the public and politicians that facilitated Hitler’s ascent are so similar to the US of the mid 2010s.

Anyway. It was a good book, but I was glad to be done with that curious moustache peering out at me from my ereader every day.

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book review: the triumph of human empire

I’m reading more nonfiction this year and stuff like The Triumph of Human Empire by Rosalind Williams is why. I mean, this is a good justification for the trend unlike the dopey baseball book I also just read (but that gave me the difference between a 2-seam and a cut fastball in a way that feels like it’ll stick, so maybe I’m too harsh).

Williams compares the writing and other work by Jules Verne, William Morris and Robert Louis Stevenson with the frame of how the three felt about and responded to the massive shift in how the world worked at the end of the 19th century when Earth’s maps were getting filled in and human empire was everywhere. Williams argues that these writers were sensitive to the idea that the imperial west and its technology was now on its way to pushing up against each other more and more and relying on interconnections and brutality in dealing with those connections. Density was going to build and things were going to get much more complicated and these three wanted to resist the way things were going. Williams doesn’t make them unvarnished heroes or anything; they were still privileged white dudes and were racist and sexist and otherwise problematic in their own ways, especially in regards to colonialism.

The idea that we’re now in a similar kind of era, when we’re anxious about the end of the world through climate change and that it’s something we caused because we couldn’t stop digging coal out of the ground so we could cross huge distances easily, made the whole thing hang together really well. It’s clearly written and doesn’t plod. It’s also nice to have words for some of what I love about Verne and science fiction in general (the distancing mechanisms for the heroes in his geographic romances). I didn’t know as much about Morris or Stevenson, but I was glad to learn.

I had to get this as an interlibrary loan, because our public library doesn’t seem to grab random University of Chicago Press books, but hooray for the interconnected apocalypse we live in where it was possible to snag.

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book review: just ride

I mentioned Rivendell Bikes a couple of reviews ago, and Just Ride is a book by the founder of the company, Grant Petersen. It’s a collection of strategies and velosophies (his coinage) for riding bicycles – “a radically practical guide.” The big idea behind the book is that bicycle racing has fucked up the way people purchase and ride bicycles. Most people are built differently than pro cyclists and ride their bikes differently but bike manufacturers try to sell things meant for racing racing racing!

Petersen talks about how you don’t need so many gears on your bike, or fancy cycling-specific clothes and how the weight of steel frames makes for a more pleasant and durable machine. Now, of course his philosophy does mean that the kinds of bikes you’d want to buy if you bought into everything he says here might end up being Rivendell bikes.

But even though we’re all enmeshed in fucking capitalism, I think the ideas in Just Ride are more in line with the kind of riding I prefer. I just want to ride my bike places, not be a King of the Mountain on Strava. So far the most direct change I’ve made to my bike-thinking as a result of this book was change my year’s cycling goals to being time focused rather than distance.

I do really like my road bike’s clipless pedals and my cycling shoes that go with them, so I’m not throwing them away. But winter-biking like I’ve been trying to do has made me happy I can ride my mountain bike with my regular sheepskin lined wintry boots. I didn’t agree with everything in the book, and there’s a part of me that is interested in bike racing as a sport, but I’d totes recommend bike-interested people to Just Ride.

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book review: ultralight bike touring and bikepacking

My girlfriend and I are thinking about bike-touring more. Since we’re librarians that tends to mean research. One of the books that has thus found its way to our coffee table is Justin Lichter and Justin Kline’s guidebook Ultralight Bike Touring and Bikepacking.

The idea of going on a bike trip with pretty minimal stuff is very very appealing to me. I don’t like schlepping non-book stuff around and I like going places. So I’ve been reading a lot of blogposts about this kind of stuff, and not a lot was completely new. The bike models they talked about and the wheel-sizes and the companies making the bike equipment were all things I was familiar with. One of the people from Rivendell bikes was in here, which I appreciated since they make machines I dearly covet (my present to myself when I hit 40 will probably be a ridiculously pretty bike like a Hunqapillar).

One thing that made this book better than the blogposts was that it felt a little less manipulated for ad-dollar page-views. I mean, the writers talked about specific products probably about the same amount that a bike-blogger does but it feels different in pages somehow. And the fact that they have contributors talking about foraging for food on the side of your trail and taking less stuff makes me get my hackles up a bit less when they’re praising certain ultralight tarps (’cause tents are heavy luxuries).

There’s a lot in this book that could be ridiculous to follow along with too closely. It’d be easy to work too hard at being some sort of perfect ultralight gram-counter, and yeah it’s promoting a certain kind of consumerism that’s trying to be something more than it is. But in general, I liked this book, especially in the practical aspects of what to pack in your frame bag and what to sling behind your seat. And they say Tajikistan would be a good place to ride it.