Monthly Archives: August 2013

Beginning a Journal

I hate the genre of apologetic blog posts, but alas, one of my own is necessary, so…

As is evident from my list of recent posts, I have not been blogging much lately. It’s been a spotty summer of writing because of my preparation for, move to, and now performing of my new job at Utica College. My time at Utica has been quite enjoyable thus far, and I hope that as I continue to settle into the new semester I will feel a bit less exhausted and have more energy for writing.

There is also another potential impetus for my blogging. For the first time, I am having my writing students keep a journal. I’ve asked them to handwrite it rather than blogging or typing on a tablet because I think that it is much easier to simply jot notes informally when handwriting, whereas typing inevitably reminds one of typing a formal assignment. I have committed myself to keeping a journal along with my students, and am optimistic that some of what I write there will end up here in one form or another. I’ve attempted to keep paper journals a number of times before (the last was during my first year of graduate school) and failed rather quickly each time. This time I will be forced to keep it up for at least a semester, and maybe the habit will stick.

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Pro Wrestling as Narrative

There’s an excellent interview with WWE executive Triple H on grantland.com that explains how WWE storylines get generated, and how they play out during live events. I loved to watch wrestling as a kid, and while I no longer watch it, I still enjoy reading about it. This may sound odd, but reading about it gives me the same kind of light pleasure one would get from reading a cheap bit of genre fiction. Triple H says that “everything we do is storytelling,” and as someone who is vitally concerned with how narrative works, of course I respond to this element. I have a friend who still watches wrestling, and when people find out and say to him “Why do you watch wrestling? It’s fake” (which is inaccurate: it’s staged, not fake. There are often real injuries.), he says “Yeah, but so is Shakespeare.” It’s a snarky-yet-profound statement.

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Mike Piazza’s Long Shot

Mike Piazza’s autobiography Long Shot is a fascinating, candid, at times disturbing book. It is a true autobiography, covering his entire life up through the publication of the book in detail. Here are a few thoughts on what stood out to me.

I found the first part of the book boring because I was reading it for the details about Piazza’s baseball career, not his childhood, but I was intrigued to find that as a result of his upbringing Piazza is a staunch Catholic, which helps to explain his conservative political views.

The center of the book about Piazza’s time as a major leaguer is its strength. He writes knowledgeably about the game and gives the inside story of such famous events as his beaning by Roger Clemens and his feud with Guillermo Mota. He admits that he should have charged Clemens when Clemens threw a bat fragment at him in game 2 of the 2000 World Series, but he was worried about getting suspended (238).

Piazza also discusses the steroids issue, remaining adamant that he never took them and offering a number of reasons aside from PEDs that there was a home run boom in the 1990s. I view Piazza as a sort of canary down the mineshaft in terms of how Hall of Fame voters will treat power hitters from the steroid era. He is suspect because everyone from that era is suspect, but if he gets elected it will show that voters are willing to consider each player on an individual basis rather than painting the entire era with a wide brush.

Piazza reiterates his desire to wear a Mets cap on his Hall of Fame plaque should he be elected, saying that he would rather wear no logo than the Dodgers logo because of the acrimonious ending to his time with the team (344). One could make a case for either team, but the combination of the facts that he played more games for the Mets than Dodgers, went to his only World Series as a Met, had more home runs and RBI as a Met, and prefers to be enshrined as a Met is a compelling argument that he should go in with an NY on his cap. I was surprised at how genuinely reflective Piazza is about his place in baseball history. He makes a compelling case for himself as the best offensive catcher in history and as an underrated defender. He is at his best when talking about baseball.

But there are two places in the book where Piazza’s conservative views cause him to come off as an idiot. The first is in his treatment of questions that were raised about his sexual orientation. While he never actually says that this kerfuffle bothered him because he viewed being gay as an insult, it is clear in the way he spends so much time protesting about it that this is how he feels. He says that he was bothered by the idea that people viewed him as dishonest because he claims he would never hide a part of himself (which, judging from the honest tone throughout the book, is fair), but doesn’t ever make the necessary statement that it is okay for people to be gay, or that he wouldn’t mind having a gay teammate (262). Also, when he mentions Belle and Sebastian’s song “Piazza, New York Catcher,” which asks at one point “Piazza, New York catcher, are you straight or are you gay?,” he does not seem to realize that the song is actually a paean to him (263). For instance, the line “the catcher bats .318 and catches every day,” an incredible statistic, and one that is made even more incredible by the fact that Piazza hit higher than .318 in seven different seasons (he hit .318 in his first full season when he won the Rookie of the Year), shows that the song is interested in examining all of Piazza, not just the controversies that surrounded him.

Piazza’s second objectionable stance is his dislike of Latino players. Aside from the culturally insensitive argument that Spanish-speaking players should all learn English (which he argues Asian players are exempt from, and in this inconsistency shows his specific bias toward Latinos), he goes so far as to claim that Latino players actively conspired against him throughout his career (307-8)! This is racist paranoia, plain and simple. Piazza makes the mistake of projecting his dislike of a few individual Latino players (e.g., Mota) onto the entire group as a whole. He complains about negative Italian stereotypes earlier in the book (94), but doesn’t see that he is guilty of perpetuating the same offense toward Latinos.

Overall, the book is worth reading for all serious baseball fans because it attempts to be thoughtful about a number of important baseball-related issues and, aside from the two major, major failures at this which I have just mentioned, generally succeeds. There is a generous section of photos in the middle of the book, and also a thorough index, which is rare for sports autobiographies. As a Mets fan, I have always been a Piazza fan. Reading this book made me even more convinced of his greatness as a player, while at the same time making me like him a lot less as a person. Before I thought that I would definitely attend his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but now I am not so sure.

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Books Acquired Recently: Strand Edition

I spent a few days this week in New York City, which of course involved my usual trip to the Strand. I have been shopping at the Strand since 2002, and it always brings me joy even though their renovations over the past decade have taken away some of the store’s character. But I was able to recognize a few of the workers who have been there since I first began going, and I love that feeling of continuity.

There are only a few weeks left before the beginning of the new semester, so I probably won’t read many of these books for a while (I hope some of them aren’t still sitting on my to-read shelf when next summer rolls around!), but they were all irresistible.

Acker, Kathy. Blood and Guts in High School. New York: Grove, 1978.

—. In Memoriam to Identity. New York: Grove, 1990.

—. Literal Madness: Three Novels: Kathy Goes to Haiti, My Death My Life by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Florida. New York: Grove, 1987.

I love Acker’s work, and her books are hard to find in stores so it was a no-brainer to buy these three, which were all in almost perfect condition.

Ballard, J.G. The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard. 1978. New York: Picador, 1995.

Ballard is a writer who, like Acker, always makes me see so-called taboo subjects in a new light. I’ve been wanting to read more of his work for a while.

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. 2006. Boston: Mariner, 2007.

I really enjoy Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip, and have read excellent reviews of Fun Home.

Houellebecq, Michel. The Map and the Territory. Trans. Gavin Bowd. 2011. New York: Vintage, 2012.

I first bought one of Houellebecq’s books the last time I was at the Strand and really enjoyed it. I almost bought The Map and the Territory when it first came out in hardcover, and found the paperback for a good price.

Munro, Alice. Dear Life. 2012. New York: Vintage, 2013.

This is another recent book that I nearly bought in hardcover when it first was released. I’ve read several of its stories in the New Yorker and really enjoyed them.

Piazza, Mike, with Lonnie Wheeler. Long Shot. New York: Simon, 2013.

As a serious Met fan it was only a matter of time before I bought this book. I got a used copy in excellent condition for half the cover price.

Wallace, David Foster. Both Flesh and Not: Essays. New York: Little, 2012.

—. Consider the Lobster and Other Essays. 2005. New York: Back Bay, 2007.

—. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments. 1997. New York: Back Bay, 1998.

I adore Wallace’s fiction and have been wanting to read more of his nonfiction. I’ve read a lot about Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Both Flesh and Not is a recent collection of Wallace’s nonfiction that did not make it into either of his collections while he was still alive.

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In Defense of Tiger Woods

Yesterday, Tiger Woods shot a 61 to give him a seven-stroke lead in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He will now almost certainly win the tournament, which would give him four PGA Tour victories this year ahead of next week’s PGA Championship. Even though it isn’t finished, Tiger’s year is already one worthy of yet another Player of the Year award.

But despite his high level of play this year, most of the discourse surrounding him has focused on his failure to win a major tournament since 2008. Some columnists (e.g., Rick Reilly earlier this summer on ESPN.com) wonder what Tiger’s legacy will be if he never wins another major and thus fails to break Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major victories.

While I understand that this is a compelling storyline, it is also a ridiculous one. Whether Woods wins another major or not (and I think he will, and if he does win another major and gets that load off of his back, he will definitely break Nicklaus’s record), the way he has been playing this year makes it clear that he still has a number of prime years left and will obliterate the all-time record for PGA Tour wins, and maybe even become the first player to reach 100 wins. He is the greatest golfer of all time, and it is time the media started treating him as such the way they crowned Michael Jordan the best basketball player ever while he was still playing.

But, of course, there are extenuating circumstances. Aside from Woods’s highly-publicized womanizing and subsequent messy divorce, he is, apparently (just like Jordan!), not the most pleasant guy to be around. So of course many in the media focus on his failures instead of his continuing success. I think especially here of Curtis Strange’s commentary on Woods during the final round of this year’s British Open, which made me want to turn off the television. Strange acted like no one before Woods had ever had a bad final round to fall out of contention at a major at the same time Lee Westwood was doing the exact same thing! (The narrative there was simply “Poor Lee Westwood, will he ever win a major?”)

While I do not condone Woods’s personal behavior during his marriage (I have no problem with him sleeping with multiple women [let’s be honest, ninety percent of heterosexual American men would have done the same thing if they were in his position], but he should have been honest and asked for a divorce before doing so instead of trying to hide it from his wife), I do think it is unfair that the media keeps harping on it. Just compare the way the media treats Woods to how they treat Michael Vick’s story, which is presented as a narrative of redemption. Woods made mistakes, he paid for them both financially and in terms of trying to “get better” by going to rehab, and it is time to move on, which many in the media refuse to do.

It is thus difficult not to read a racist element in the media’s treatment of Woods. He is a black man succeeding in a white sport, and not only did he cheat on his wife, but he was guilty of that most punishable of sins throughout American history, having sex with a white woman. I suppose that, this being America, I shouldn’t be surprised about how Woods gets treated, that he gets judged for things other than his performance on the golf course, but it angers me nonetheless. This is why I continue to root for Woods. He is the one more sinned against than sinning.

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