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Books Acquired Recently: Holiday Edition

I received a number of books as gifts for the holidays, and also did a little bit of book shopping myself with some holiday cash.

Algarín, Miguel. Love is Hard Work: Memorias de Loisaida. New York: Scribner Poetry, 1997.

As I mention below discussing Márquez’s book, I am trying to broaden my knowledge of Puerto Rican literature. Algarín has played a major role making it visible in the U.S.

Falley, Megan. After the Witch Hunt. Long Beach, CA: Write Bloody Publishing, 2012.

—. Redhead and the Slaughter King. Austin, TX: Write Bloody Publishing, 2014.

I had never encountered Falley’s poetry before, but enjoyed reading After the Witch Hunt, her first collection, and I am now partway through Redhead and the Slaughter King.

Lopez, Donald S., Jr., ed. Buddhist Scriptures. London: Penguin Books, 2004.

I found this Penguin Classics anthology while browsing at Aaron’s Books and decided to buy it because I am interested in learning more about the Buddhist approach to life.

Machado, Carmen Maria. Her Body and Other Parties: Stories. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2017.

I have not heard of Machado before, but her biographical statement on the back cover notes that she lives “with her wife,” so I am very excited for the chance to encounter another queer Latinx writer.

Márquez, Roberto, ed. Puerto Rican Poetry: An Anthology from Aboriginal to Contemporary Times.  Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007.

I still feel like I know hardly anything about Puerto Rican literature, and am therefore happy to have received this volume, which will help to remedy my lack of knowledge.

Rosenman, Mark, and Howie Karpin. Down on the Korner: Ralph Kiner and Kiner’s Korner. New York: Carrel Books, 2016.

I grew up watching Kiner’s Korner after Mets games on WWOR Channel 9 in the 1980s. My family did not have cable, so it was essential for a sports fanatic like myself to watch any sports-related content I could find. I am excited to read this book and relive some of those memories.

Rutherfurd, Edward. Sarum: The Novel of England. 1987. New York: Ballantine Books, 2005.

This novel covers English history from prehistoric times through the twentieth century, focusing on the area around Salisbury. I am about a quarter of the way through it and am enjoying it thus far.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Cat’s Cradle. 1963. New York: Dell, 1970.

Cat’s Cradle is one of my favorite Vonnegut novels. When I found a copy from the old Dell series of his books (a series that I have a number of) in good shape for only $5.00 at Aaron’s Books I snatched it up immediately.

Including these books, I acquired 160 books in 2017, and am ending the year with only 16 on my to-read shelf, so it has been a year full of reading!


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Books Acquired Recently

Barker, Elizabeth Jackson. Poems in Passage. Utica: North Country, 1988.

There was a stack of new copies of this book on the free table at school earlier this week. Apparently someone had them stashed in their office and was doing some cleaning. I’m always excited to encounter new poets, so I look forward to checking Barker’s work out.

Hogan, Kristen. The Feminist Bookstore Movement: Lesbian Antiracism and Feminist Accountability. Durham: Duke UP, 2016.

I got an exam copy of this book from the publisher. It looks quite fascinating, as I love bookstores and enjoyed my visit to the one feminist bookstore I’ve been to, Bluestockings in Manhattan. Of course when most people  think of feminist bookstores now they think of the Women and Women First Bookstore from Portlandia, but they have had real social significance, and I am eager to learn more about their history.

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Thoughts on the Beginning of the Women’s World Cup

With the first set of group stage matches at the 2015 Women’s World Cup completed, here are some random thoughts on the tournament thus far.

The stadia are not ideal, which means the atmosphere of many of the matches has been lacking. Many of the stadiums being used (e.g., Edmonton, Winnipeg, Vancouver) are Canadian Football League stadiums, which means that there is plenty of room for a proper soccer pitch in them (unlike in some NFL stadiums) because the CFL uses a 110-yard gridiron that is also wider than an American football field. However, this extra room means that there is a lot of space between the pitch and the stands, so the crowd noise just dissipates. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that some of these stadiums are open-ended rather than being bowls. It is even worse in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, where the stands are shaped to accommodate a baseball diamond and the first row in some instances is about twenty yards from the pitch. The atmosphere caused by an excited crowd is one of the best things about a World Cup, and it is sad that this element has generally been lacking. The atmosphere during the U.S.-Australia match in Winnipeg was quite good because it was basically a home game for the Americans, and at times it was good during the opening match between the hosts and China in Edmonton, but it has otherwise been subpar.

On a related issue, whose bright idea was it to host matches in Moncton, New Brunswick? The stadium is the tiniest in the tournament, and even so today’s France-England match, on paper one of the marquee matchups of this first week, was not a sellout. I still do not understand why Moncton is one of the host cities and Toronto, which has an excellent soccer-specific stadium, is not.

Fox’s match announcers are not nearly as good as ESPN’s were last year during the men’s World Cup. I have been enjoying Fox’s pregame/halftime/postgame shows, but the less said about their play-by-play announcers, the better (Justin Kutcher has been especially bad). It is clear that Fox is invested in having American announcers for an American broadcast, and it is true that American soccer announcing will not improve in the long run unless American announcers get the opportunity to call major events, but ESPN’s strategy of employing seasoned British commentators makes for a better viewing experience, and ultimately a better bottom line for the network, which is what Fox should be interested in.

None of the pre-tournament favorites have been impressive yet. It is true that Germany beat Ivory Coast 10-0, but that scoreline says much more about how the Ivoirians played than it does about the Germans. The other contenders all got the job done, winning their matches, but the tournament looks wide open.

Some of the newcomers have been very impressive. Nigeria look like an extremely dangerous side because of their speed. Holland also look like they will be a tough out, and Switzerland should have gotten a draw against Japan.

The fight for the four third-place qualification spots is already shaping up to be a fierce one. It is quite possible that a weaker third-place team from a weaker group (e.g., Cameroon) might win one of the spots instead one of the stronger teams (e.g., Australia) due to goal difference. This added element in the new 24-team format will bring some excellent excitement to the tournament that will at the very least cancel out the lack of excitement caused by some of the mismatches that result from the expanded field (a team scoring ten goals in a match might sound exciting, but it really is not).

Overall, I am enjoying the tournament thus far, and I think it will continue to get even better as it progresses.

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Books Acquired Recently: Sports History Edition

Katz, Jeff. Split Season: 1981: Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike That Saved Baseball. New York: Dunne, 2015.

1981 was one of the weirdest seasons in Major League history because it was bisected by a players’ strike. Apparently no one has ever written a book on it, though, and I was too young to remember it, so when I heard about Katz’s book I was immediately intrigued.

Michaels, Al, with L. Jon Wertheim. You Can’t Make This Up: Miracles, Memories, and the Perfect Marriage of Sports and Television. New York: Morrow, 2014.

Al Michaels has been one of my favorite sportscasters since I was old enough to be able to tell different announcers apart. I especially remember him announcing the excruciating 1988 NLCS, and also Monday Night Football, but have enjoyed his work on a number of sports throughout the years. He has announced some of the most important sports moments over the last forty years–way more than any other announcer–thus I am excited to read this memoir.

I missed one of the most famous of these moments, the earthquake during the 1989 World Series (you can watch a clip of Michaels’ call of the earthquake here; the earthquake happens at about 4:38 of the clip), and I am still kicking myself for it. I was nine at the time, and my bedtime was a half an hour after the games would begin (I believe they started at 8:00 and I had to go to bed at 8:30), which was incredibly frustrating. Usually I would watch that first half hour, but I would only get to see the entire first inning if I was lucky, and so I remember that night deciding to watch a sitcom during that time instead. This choice caused me to miss history. I remember flipping to ABC to check on the game during a commercial break and having the screen just be black (I was watching on a small black-and-white television in my parents’ room; I think they were entertaining company, which is why I wasn’t watching the color television in the living room), and thinking “that’s weird, they’re having technical difficulties. I guess I made the right choice.” But when I heard the next day (remember those days before the internet when you had to wait until the next morning to get the news from the paper?) what had happened I realized that I was wrong.

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Books Acquired Recently: City Lights/Birthday Edition

Yesterday I had a ten hour layover in San Francisco on my way back from a conference (I must say that I was quite impressed with the San Francisco airport), so I decided to make a pilgrimage to the famous City Lights Bookstore. I’m glad I went because so much germinal literary history has happened at the store, and overall I was impressed with their selection of books (I was tempted to buy way more than I did; the fact that I had to carry whatever I bought in my backpack during the rest of my trip severely limited my shopping), but I must say that the visit was not the profound experience I was expecting it to be. This is in part because it is virtually impossible for mythologized spaces such as City Lights to actually live up to their idealized versions, but also in part because I realized that I find bookstores that only sell new books like City Lights does to be much less interesting than used bookstores or bookstores that sell both new and used books like the Strand. I don’t mean to be critical of City Lights, because it is an excellent, high quality independent bookstore, but my experience there felt sterile and cold in comparison to the experiences I have had at good used bookstores.

Delany, Samuel R. Phallos: Enhanced and Revised Edition. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 2013.

Delany is one of my favorite writers and I wrote some about his 2004 novella Phallos in my dissertation. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he has published a revised, longer edition of the novel, as he has with a number of his most important texts (including The Motion of Light in Water and The Mad Man). City Lights has the largest selection of Delany texts I’ve ever encountered in a bookstore. I was also happy that one of the texts I bought at City Lights was by a queer author considering the important role San Francisco has played in the life of America’s LGBT community.

Komunyakaa, Yusef. Dien Cai Dau. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 1988.

I have been meaning to acquire this collection of Komunyakaa’s poetry about his experiences during the Vietnam War for quite a while, and decided to finally pounce when I saw it on the shelf. The poetry room was by far my favorite space in City Lights.

My birthday was also this past weekend (I used some birthday money to fund my shopping at City Lights), and I received the following book as a gift:

Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America: Written, Compiled, Researched, Typed, Collated, Proofread, and Run Through Spell Check by Leslie Knope, Deputy Director, Department of Parks and Recreation. New York: Hachette, 2014.

I and the person who gave me this book share a love for Parks and Recreation, thus I was quite pleased to receive it as a gift.

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The All-Star Game and Baseball Fandom

The All-Star Game is tomorrow in Minnesota. I have loved this game since I became a baseball fan, and still try to watch it every year. Honestly, I make more of an effort to watch it than to watch the World Series some years, depending on who is playing. I love the pageantry of the All-Star Game, how each player wears his own uniform (it is a travesty that this year they will wear league caps instead of their own caps), how the players get introduced individually along the baselines before the game, how the ballpark is festooned with red, white, and blue bunting. I love how, even though it is an exhibition game, the players clearly take pride in playing in it and trying to win it.

In thinking about how I grew to love the All-Star Game as a boy, I realize that part of my fanaticism for it resulted from the rarity of, not just that game itself, but televised baseball in general when I was growing up in the 1980s. My family did not have cable, so there would usually only be two or three games on per week that I was interested in watching: NBC’s Game of the Week on Saturday (I would watch no matter who was playing; I remember being crushed one April Saturday in 1988 or 1989 when there wasn’t a game because both games that NBC was going to show were cancelled due to weather. One was in Chicago, with the Cubs getting snowed out, and the other game was rained out. I still remember Marv Albert in the studio saying “No game today” like a death-knell.) and the Mets on WWOR channel 9 on Sunday. Sometimes the Mets would also be on Friday night (though I couldn’t watch the entire game because I had an early bedtime), and if I got desperate the Yankees would usually have one or two games a week on WPIX channel 11 (it is still incredibly weird to me that WPIX now televises the Mets). During the postseason it did not get much better because, even though all of the games were on network television, I was usually only able to watch the first half hour or so before bed.

As result of this limited television exposure, my baseball fandom took a much different form than it does now. I learned much more about the game from print media—especially from the newspaper and statistics on the backs of baseball cards—than from television, whereas now the ratio is switched. These days I almost never watch baseball aside from the Mets during the regular season because I am now fortunate enough to have cable and they are on SNY nearly every night (and my cable package even shows the games when they are on WPIX). Every once in a while I might watch a bit of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball to close out the weekend, but, unless the Mets are playing, I no longer watch Fox’s nationally-televised game on Saturdays. (A necessary aside: one reason I do not watch regular season baseball on Fox is that Joe Buck is their play-by-play announcer, and he is pedestrian at best. In hindsight, I realize that I was lucky to grow up in an era when Vin Scully was the national play-by-play man for NBC and Al Michaels was the primary play-by-play man for ABC’s postseason telecasts. It kills me that an entire generation of fans has grown up with Joe Buck as the voice of baseball. No wonder young people are not drawn to the game!) These viewing habits mean that I follow the Mets closely, but the rest of MLB much less so until the pennant races heat up in September. As a kid, aside from my favorite Mets I was also a fan of other good players such as Ozzie Smith or Tony Gwynn (R.I.P.), but now, although I appreciate the feats of players such as Miguel Cabrera in a general way, I do not feel any connection to them, and whereas I liked and respected Mike Schmidt growing up because I viewed him as a baseball player rather than as a divisional rival, that viewpoint has flipped and I have nothing but hatred for present-day Phillies like Chase Utley and Cole Hamels.

Thus the All-Star Game is the one time during the summer when my baseball gaze widens to observe the game in all its glory. I root for the National League, I hope the Mets’ representative (Daniel Murphy this year) gets a hit, and I remember why I fell in love with the sport in the first place: it is fun to watch, and it is a national language that, at its best, brings us all together.

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It’s World Cup Time!

I am incredibly excited for the men’s World Cup that begins today. It is my favorite sporting event because it is long enough that one can get completely ensconced in it and because of its global aspect: I love knowing that I am sharing the experience with hundreds of millions of people around the world. This happens to a certain extent each summer, as there is the men’s World Cup-women’s World Cup-men’s European Championships-Confederations Cup (along with men’s World Cup qualifiers) tournament cycle, but the men’s World Cup is the most satisfying because it is the longest and because it gets the most people talking. I also have a nostalgic attachment to the men’s World Cup because the first soccer match I ever watched on television was the semifinal between West Germany and England (Alas, Paul Gascoigne! Alas, West Germany’s classic green change shirts! Alas, England’s newly begun tradition of losing on penalties!) at Italia ‘90. This is when I found out that the next World Cup would be in the United States, and I became a soccer fan following the buildup to the tournament both on television (mostly via matches on Univision and Telemundo, though sometimes ABC would show a U.S. match) and in print via a subscription to the now-defunct Soccer Digest.

Although the marquee matchups usually come in the knockout stages, the group stage is my favorite because of its unpredictability and inclusiveness. There is something exciting about watching a team like Honduras or Greece play because it is their one chance on the big stage that is missing when you are watching a perennial powerhouse like Germany or Brazil who are all but guaranteed to move on in the tournament. Games from previous group stages are some of my most vivid World Cup watching memories. The U.S. versus Switzerland in 1994 when Eric Wynalda scored an excellent goal off of a free kick just before halftime, Belgium against Holland in 1998 when Patrick Kluivert was red carded, the U.S.’s stunning upset of Portugal in 2002 when the Yanks went up 3-0 before halftime, the U.S.’s bizarre draw against Italy in 2006 in which three players were sent off, and, of course, the U.S.’s thrilling last-minute victory in 2010 against Algeria.

I love the drama of the matches themselves, but my favorite thing about watching the group games is the pageantry: the fans dressed in their jerseys, scarves, and crazy hats, the teams parading out onto the pitch, the national anthems. International soccer tournaments are always a reminder that the U.S. has one of the worst national anthems. It sounds so ugly and uninspiring compared to the others. Generally, it seems like the less amount of geopolitical clout a country has, the better their anthem sounds. It is always interesting to see which players sing their anthem, and which are so ensconced in mentally preparing themselves for the match that they stay silent. One of the reasons that I love watching the anthems (which is also true about the matches in general) is that there is a single television feed that is broadcasted everywhere around the world. Each country simply has its own announcers (and sometimes its own graphics) for the pictures. The knowledge that I am seeing the same exact video as someone in Europe or Africa makes me feel connected to the rest of humanity in a way that I do not normally experience.

Along with being excited about the tournament itself, I also feel good about the U.S.’s chances. I expect them to get out of their group even though it is the “group of death,” and if they do so their potential opponents from Group H (Algeria, Belgium, Russia, and South Korea) in the second round are all beatable, thus it is conceivable that the U.S. could match their best-ever modern World Cup showing from 2002 (they reached the semifinals in 1930, technically finishing joint third-fourth [the third place playoff was not instituted until 1934], but at the time the semifinals were the first knockout stage, so one could argue that the fact that the U.S. won a knockout round game in 2002 makes it their best showing ever).

The answer to one major question will go a long way toward determining the U.S.’s fate: just how group-of-deathy will the group of death be? The most group-of-deathy group of death ever was 1994’s Group E, in which all four teams, Mexico, Ireland, Italy, and Norway, finished with a win, a draw, and a loss, and a goal difference of zero. In 2014’s Group G, will there be lots of draws, or will there be lots of decisive results? The former will benefit the U.S., and the latter will not unless it is them getting the wins. One middle of the road scenario that would be favorable to the U.S. is if Germany wins its first two matches and the other three teams spend time drawing each other. The Germans would have little to play for in their final match against the U.S., which might make it easier to get a result. It is really up to the U.S. and Ghana to make the group a true group of death. If they can get some results, the group will be very interesting. Germany and Portugal will probably be content to draw one another in their first match, thinking they can get the necessary points in their final two matches, but this could be a risky strategy. If Germany and Portugal draw and the U.S. beat Ghana, then Portugal will feel some pressure for a result against the U.S. in the second game. Of course the key for the U.S. is to get a win against Ghana. If the U.S. does this then they only need a result against either Portugal or Germany, but if they lose to Ghana, getting results against both Portugal and Germany is a tough ask. Because it is the group of death, it is quite plausible that a win and a draw will be enough to advance to the second round.

I will not predict a champion yet (I think Germany, Argentina, and Spain are top contenders), but I will predict a loser: Brazil will not win the World Cup. I do not think they have enough talent in their squad from top to bottom to do it, and the pressure from their home fans will be a negative influence on them. But for me the best thing about the World Cup is the experience of going through it during one glorious month rather than the end result of who becomes champion (unless the U.S. makes a miracle run to win it!).

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