Saturday, May 6, 2017

What I'm Reading: Roundup

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Cincinnati Reds Over spring break we went on vacation to Cincinnati. Hey, don't laugh, we had a great time! One of the things we did was take in a Reds game (lost to the Brewers 5-1), and I picked this book up in the great Reds Museum attached to the ballpark. This book was exactly what I was looking for, more or less a primer on the history of Reds baseball, written in a fun, accessible style.

The Reds were the first professional baseball team ever, dating from 1869. Those first couple "seasons" they traveled around the country playing local clubs, factory teams, and so forth, and going more than 80 games without defeat until they lost to the New York Atlantics in June 1870. While they haven't always been the winningest club since then, they've been to the World Series nine times and won five of those visits, most recently in 1990.

I was pretty familiar with the glory days of the Big Red Machine in the 1970s, but other aspects of team history were a surprise. I think I liked best learning about Ted Kluszewski, the Reds mountainous first baseman in the 1950s. Kluszewski was widely considered the strongest man in baseball, but was a gentle giant with a humble disposition. There are numerous stories of his feats, both tape-measure home runs and more irregular occurrences. For instance, a game with St. Louis nearly broke out in a brawl. When St. Louis shortstop Solly Hemus ran out of the dugout to join the developing fight, Kluszewski lifted him off the ground entirely and asked where he was going. "Nowhere, Ted, nowhere," was the answer, cutting the brawl short before it could spread.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone We listened to this in the car on the way to and back from Cincy. I had always had the impression that Harry Potter was little more than a mish-mash of well-worn fantasy tropes with the cliche-ridden writing typical of the genre and was not looking forward to hearing this. After actually listening to it, I'll admit I've upgraded my opinion a couple notches, although I still don't think it's nearly as great as its reputation.

As far as writing-style, it does use that high fantasy style, but adds a winking irony and subtle humor. Holy cow, J. K. Rowling is in on the joke! Parts of this book are pretty funny, and on a line-by-line and page-by-page level, the writing has a great deal of charm and is quite listenable/readable. The world-building, too, is remarkable. I think the main thing readers like in this book must be all the various details we see as we accompany Harry on his first visit to Hogwarts, the magical classes and teachers and stores and even candies. Plus, the great sequences with Quidditch, that comically complicated, high-speed broomstick-riding sport Harry excels at.

Once we actually settled into the plot of the book I was somewhat less thrilled, however. As we move on from Harry's initial encounters with a world whose existence he had never suspected, we enter a fairly by-the-numbers adventure in the second half of the book. Oh, trolls, dragons, and a magic mirror. Yawn. Plus, while I won't give away the ending (as if there's anyone besides me who hasn't read this yet), it was very much a deus ex machina-type resolution to the conflict.

Whether I recommend this book is beside the point--every kid who likes reading has already picked it up, I'm sure. It's definitely a fun read, but I don't think Hogwarts is going to join Middle Earth or Narnia as a place that kids will still be visiting in their imaginations decades from now.

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