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1. Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s, by Dan Epstein. Baseball: the all-American sport that’s fun to play (catcher, shortstop), write about, read about (The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon), make movies about (Field of Dreams, The Natural), and defend against enthusiastic supporters of cricket and (God forbid!) soccer, but when it comes to actually attending a game, watching one on TV, or listening to one on the radio, always inspires a mild indifference in your humble correspondent. Of course, many readers will object to my characterization of baseball as a tired white man’s game on whose glory days the sun set long before the dawn of the Vietnam Era, after which the so-called national pastime was o’ershadowed by those corporate giants, the NFL and the NBA. But these spoiled readers are probably the same types that objected to night baseball when lights were first introduced, and to Astroturf when that was introduced, and to wind farms that block their precious views of Long Island Sound.
2. Collected Fictions, by Gordon Lish. I thought this was a collection of short stories by Watergate provocateur G. Gordon Liddy, but it turns out to be a collection of short stories by a similarly named dude who used to edit fiction at Esquire, a magazine formerly cherished by young teenage boys for its occasional willingness to publish photographs of nude or seminude models in the early-to-mid 1990s (Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, etc.). Not sure who I’d go with if I had to choose a desert island companion and the only two choices were Cindy Crawford and G. Gordon Liddy. Cindy Crawford is pretty hot and, since she was married to Richard Gere, is probably a Buddhist, but G. Gordon has a mustache and an awesome sense of humor.
3. After Hiroshima: The United States, Race, and Nuclear Weapons in Asia, 1945-1965, by Matthew Jones. Once, in August of 2001, I visited Hiroshima. I was traveling alone and the mood at the atomic bomb memorial in that once-annihilated town was somber. The day was as humid as any late-summer day in Washington; mosquitoes grazed the back of my neck as I looked at a model of Hiroshima circa 1945 in which the fateful atomic explosion was represented by a basketball-sized glowing orb. After I visited the memorial, I went to a spa. The hot tubs at the spa had themes. Theme No. 1: Mint. Theme No. 2: Lavender. Theme No. 3: Electric. Not believing that a hot tub was actually electric, I stuck my hand in the water. For a second, my body jerked uncontrollably. This water was, indeed, purposefully electrified. I elected to soak in the less physicially and metaphorically shocking mint-themed tub. Later that night, I got a room in a hostel and watched Rocky II.
4. Adapted for the Screen: The Cultural Politics of Chinese Fiction and Film, by Hsiu-chuang Deppman. Have you seen that Chinese movie Red Sorghum? I don’t remember what it was about, but there’s a scene where a guy gets tied to a tree and skinned alive. (I don’t remember the crime for which this was the awful punishment, if there was one.) I saw Red Sorghum alone on a Tuesday night at college. It was playing in the campus film series, before the Internet. I was the only one in the theater. It was a confusing time.
5. Violent Acts and Urban Space in Contemporary Tel Aviv: Revisioning Moments, by Tali Hatuka, foreword by Diane E. Davis. It’s always a real hoot when architects reduce the most intense historical events (in this case, Israel’s continuing struggle to assert its right to exist) to a conversation about “space.” Books like this make me feel like one of those Star Trek characters that’s been absorbed by the Borg. Now, everyone’s very scared of being absorbed by the Borg. But, once you’re absorbed, you don’t really care anymore, and you’re actually pretty psyched to be part of something big for once, right? So, architectural Borgs…bring it on. I’m ready for absorbed.