Readin’ the ‘Rona

Well, I’m not exactly burning up the roads of America this year. Other than watching Washington Nationals baseball games, I am spending a lot of time reading. I read National Geographic and Adventure Cycling magazines. Otherwise I’ve been working my way through a pile of books.

  • This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay – the diary of a doctor in the National Health Service in the UK. This is very funny, and sometimes tragic.
  • Labyrinth of Ice by Buddy Levy – the incredible tale of a multi-year arctic rescue mission in the days before modern communications. If you liked books about The Endurance expedition to Antarctica, this one’s for you.
  • The Body, A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson – This book lacks Bryson’s usual wit (his A Walk in the Woods is the funniest book I’ve ever read), but it will tell you a million bizarre factoids about your bag of bones.
  • Lie to Me by J. T Ellison – an entertaining novel in the style of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.
  • Sharp Objects by Flynn – ditto.
  • Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson – a Bryson travelogue showing off his wit as a fish out of water in Great Britain. As you’re about to discover I tend to work my way through books by author
  • Dark Places by Flynn – Another dark Gone Girl-ish novel
  • And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks. The author is the wife of a former co-worker. Well written off-beat short stories that was not well read (as Nick Hornby likes to say).
  • The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson. Another witty travelogue.
  • Made in America by Bryson. A book about the history of the English language. I had high expectations for this one but it wasn’t my cup of joe.
  • Giving Good Weight, La Place de la Concorde Suisse, Irons in the Firel Looking for a Ship, The Ransom of Russian Art, The Control of Nature all by John McPhee. I loved these on first read many years ago but reading them in sequence got a bit tedious. Still he’s a skilled researcher and writer and they hold up well to the passage of time.
  • Buzz Saw by Jesse Dougherty. The tale of the improbable march to a World Series title by the 2019 Washington Nationals. I always regard the long baseball season as like an epic novel. This one proves my point.
  • Table of Contents by McPhee. By this point I was pretty burnt out on McPhee. (I have only Coming into the Country left to read in my McPhee collection.
  • One Day: The Extraordinary Story of One Day in America by Gene Weingarten. Dang is this book a revelation. Using a day chosen entirely at random, Weingarten reports on events that happend on that date in the recent years. I like Weingarten’s weekly humor column in the Washington Post but he’s cheating us by not writing more books like this.
  • The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. A young adult novel in the style of Twilight. Weird times five.
  • Circe by Madeline Miller. She’s a nymph, she’s a which, she’s a badass. I didn’t think I like this but it’s pretty great. The writing style is unusual but it works.
  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. How about a Russian novel in the style of Graham Greene. Not that I know anything about Greene’s writing.
  • The Hours by Michael Cunningham. Unless you’re a big fan of Virginia Wolff and Mrs. Dalloway, don’t bother. By page three I was sick of metaphors and atmospherics.
  • Normal People by Sally Rooney. A rich nerd has an affair with a smart jock in high school in Sligo, Ireland. The story follows them through college in Dublin. Rooney is amazing at describing the nuances of relationships.

Still to come: this eclectic pile. Note that my wife and daughter picked up on my tastes. I read Ron Chernow’s biography of Ulysses S. Grant last year and was amazed. And since I saw Hamilton on stage last year it was a no-brainer to gift me the book where it happened. I loved Matt Damon in the movie about a botany nerd stranded on Mars. The Outsiders is a classic that I’ve never read. And two books by authors I first read earlier this year.

I am saving Hamilton for after the baseball season. I’m not throwin’ away my shot.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read so many books that float my boat.

Two Seasons

I am a baseball fan. Before the start of the season, I thought the Washington Nationals had a great chance to win it all. Then the games started. Players became injured. I went to game after game and watched them lose over and over. My bike tour took me away from the wreckage.

But as Joe Garagiola said, baseball is a funny game. The season unfolded like all baseball seasons. Ebbs and flows, just like a long bike tour. Pre-season hopes gave way to harsh realities. A series of injuries gutted the lineup for a month. A relief pitcher coming off surgery on his throwing arm threw 100-mile-per-hour pitches everywhere but over the plate. Other relievers did little better. The injured players returned. Gerardo Parra was acquired and taught the team to just have fun. The team started to win. Max became utterly unhittable. Baby shark boomed from the speakers at the ball park. Strasburg and Rendon quietly, steadily evolved into elite players. Howie Kendrick, a part time player who had spent nearly a year off the diamond with an injury, hit like a monster. Eaton wore out pitchers and played with his hair on fire. Robles vacummed the outfield. Soto played like a veteran, even becoming a decent outfielder himself. The catchers, acquired over the winter to replace the disappointing backstops of 2018, became anchors. Max got hurt. The team kept winning. Astrubal Cabrera returned and hit like a beast.  The team kept winning. Aaron Barrett returned from a hideous arm injury to pitch again and inspire. Zimmerman came back from a long struggle with foot problems. And he hit. More winning.

By the time they squeaked into the playoffs they had become the elite team I had hoped for in March. Then, impossibly, they won five elimination games, the last being Game 7 of the World Series.

Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting, drink and indoor
Red wine. Black sweats. Can’t lose

In a way, winning the World Series doesn’t matter. The long arc of the season matters. Watching games on warm summer nights, sharing a beer or three with my daughter matters. Doing Baby Shark matters. Seeing friends at the game matters. Riding home from the ball park in the dark after a mid-summer night game matters.

Yes, we will celebrate for a few days. There will be a parade.  Enjoy it. Already temperatures have dropped. Winds have begun to howl. Big Nellie soon will take her place in the basement where I’ll spin and read all those books I’ve neglected for the last six months. It will be reading season once more.

Meanwhile, a new team will take shape. Hopefully, my body will follow suit. Then sometime next spring, a flag will be raised and a new baseball season will begin. Maybe I’ll ride somewhere far, hopefully on two healthy legs this time. As Nationals manager Dave Martinez mother told him when he was growing up, “Often bumpy roads lead to beautiful places.”


Reading Season: Books and Blogs

Winter is a time for rest. I learned this as a distance runner in New England many years ago. Over time your body will thank you for not going out on a 20 degree day and trying to grind junk miles through gusting winds.

And baseball season is 85 days away.

So I read.

Mrs. Rootchopper gave me two books for Christmas: Michael Lewis’s The Undoing Project and Jeff Passan’s The Arm. I’ve read all but one of Lewis’s books. (Lewis is one of my go-to authors. Others are Nick Hornby, David McCullough, David Lodge, Tracy Kidder, John McPhee, Tom Wolfe, and Jon Krakauer.) This one is about the bromance between two academic psychologists who flipped economics on its ear by noticing that people do not behave rationally, and they are irrational in predictable ways. I finished this book on Friday while riding Big Nellie in the basement. (I read faster when my legs are moving. I swear.)

Passan’s book is an investigation into the epidemic of torn ulnar collateral ligaments among baseball pitchers. These pitcher have what is known as Tommy John surgery. Long- time baseball fans will remember that the orthopedic kiss of death for pitchers used to be a torn rotator cuff in the shoulder. Not anymore. So Passan’s book looks at the inane history of baseball and sports medicine. (For a while, it was thought that sore arms were caused by infections from the mouth. So injured pitchers had some teeth pulled. I am not making this up.)

I am also reading blogs. I have a long list on the right that is in no particular order. My favorite blogs these days include:

BlissfulBritt: I have become addicted to this one about a twenty something perpetual college student and erstwhile barista in Seattle. Britt’s bliss is often illusive but the quality of her writing and photography is ever present. And I’d kill to go on a hike with her.

My Year with Kerouac: Michelle is another twenty something blogger who coordinates events for our local bike advocacy organization. She loves the beats and tats and cats. And writes wonderfully. Somewhat like Britt, she’s in search of something more profound in her life than the daily grind. (Ooh, a pun.) She’s a banquet.

Wakeupshakeup: Katie is between successes as they say. She quit her job after feeling worn down and disrespected. What next? For now it’s odd jobs and writing gigs and interviewing “responsible adults” for insights into how to get on board the train to happy success or successful happiness.

Revrunner: I have no idea who this blogger is but (I think it’s a woman) she takes great photos mostly of the DC area (the DMV) and occasionally other places. She has a great eye for making the mundane look intriguing.

Smilecalm: Whenever I feel the need to get my woo woo on, I read Smilecalm. Half the time I don’t have a clue what it’s about. Other times it strikes a chord in me. The photos are wonderful.

And since I live in DC and ride a bike, there are three go-to bloggers I read regularly.

Chasing Mailboxes: Mary’s writing and photography captures her inner being, the one every distance runner and cyclists has a running mental conversation with. Her inner child often makes an appearance between the lines or in a picture (especially when she jumps for joy). She sometimes writes about long distance running and it evokes strong memories in me of my running days some 30 years and one knee pop ago. Mary, as the superhero Coffeeneur, runs two annual friendly competitions: the Coffeeneuring Challenge and the Errandonnee. Originally intended as a DC thing, they quickly went global. Try them. But you must follow the rules!

Tales from the Sharrows: Brian is a notorious rule-phobe who started this blog as a blow-by-blow account of his bike commutes across DC. How he remembered the details of his rides is beyond me. In recent years, he’s written more broadly but always with quirky wit. He also writes a bicycle advice column for the local free weekly newspaper. It’s called Gear Prudence. Feel free to submit a question.

The Washcycle: From time-to-time this blog has gone dormant, but it has started kicking its heels up again. Washcycle posts are in depth reports of interest to the DC cycling advocacy community. Lord, that sounds dull. It’s not. I don’t know where he gets his material from but there are maps and annotated photos and links galore to help you get your inner bike advocacy wonk on.

Finally, I read  Adventure Cyclist and National Geographic from cover to cover. I highly recommend National Geographic’s latest issue on Gender. It’s especially interesting if you are or have been or plan to be a parent.

Okay, time for me to head into the basement for some active reading on Big Nellie.

Feel free to recommend blogs or books to me in the comments section. I am always looking for new ground for my eyes to cover.