erik lundegaard

Books posts

Tuesday December 24, 2013

It's Not Too Late to Give the Gift of Bryson

The other night at dinner with friends I mentioned that I don't get many personal emails anymore and they took it to mean I was pretending to be younger than my 50 years, someone who communicated in hipper ways, but I was actually lamenting the emails I got: amazon and Barnes & Noble, Rotten Tomatoes and SIFF. Plus stuff in Vietnamese. Lately, most of these were offering LAST MINUTE GIFT IDEAS and telling me IT'S NOT TOO LATE TO GIVE THE GIFT OF ...

My shopping is done so I don't need any of these ideas. You probably don't need, either. But here's one, nonetheless:

“One Summer: America, 1927” by Bill Bryson.

I bought a Kindle a couple of months ago and for a trip to Minneapolis I decided to finally use it. Why not? Bring one slim device rather than several thick and heavy ones. But what to put on it? I had like 15 minutes to decide. So I threw on there Kostya Kennedy's book on Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak, which I was already halfway through in hardback form, Eric Schlosser's book “Command and Control,” on the many ways we nearly blew ourselves up during the Cold War, and a stab in the dark, Donald T. Chrichlow's “When Hollywood Was Right: How Movie Stars, Studio Moguls and Big Business Remade American Politics.”

I finished the DiMaggio book on the planeride over. Schlosser's book was interesting but dense. The Crichlow? Awful. I could barely read it. So I quickly needed something else.

I forget when I remembered the Bryson book, but I quickly downloaded it and even more quickly got into it. It's how history should be written: quirky and fun. It's straightforward and full of digressions: I need to tell you about X but first you need to know about Y and Z. The first section is on Charles Lindbergh, for example, but you also need to know about all of the other aviators at the time, and how two guys actually crossed the Atlantic by airplane way back in 1919—Newfoundland to Ireland—to little acclaim, and how the whole New York to Paris thing was the result of a $25,000 prize offered. How difficult was it fly then? This difficult. How little-known was Lindbergh a month before his flight? Completely unknown. How little had Lindbergh done before this moment? Very little. He'd dropped out of college but he took to flight. The section on Lindbergh is called “The Kid” but it could be called “The Natural” because that's what Lindbergh was when it came to flying. Lucky, too. How well-known did Lindbergh become afterwards? So well-known, so suddenly, we can't fathom it today. And what does all of this have to do with Randy Newman's song, “Louisiana, 1927”? Get the book and start reading.

Anyway, that's my suggestion for a last-minute Christmas gift: “One Summer: America, 1927,” by Bill Bryson

This is how good the section on Lindbergh is. The second section is on Babe Ruth and baseball and I'm kinda bummed. I know. Me.

Posted at 08:46 AM on Dec 24, 2013 in category Books
Tags: , , , , ,
2 Comments   |   Permalink  
Monday December 02, 2013

Be Like Obama: Give Books for Christmas

Pres. Obama, with daughter, at bookstore in D.C.

Laurie Hertzel at the Star-Tribune has a piece on the book-buying binge Pres. Obama went on over the weekend at Politics & Prose, an independent bookstore in Washington, D.C.

Two of the 21 books he purchased are all-time favorites of mine: “Ragtime” by E.L. Doctorow and “My Antonia” by Willa Cather. The rest of his list looks interesting, too.

My reading this year has mostly been non-fiction, but all of the books below (with links to posts about them) are recommended as gift possibilities:

You? Recommendations?

Posted at 09:49 AM on Dec 02, 2013 in category Books
Tags: , ,
No Comments yet   |   Permalink  
Saturday November 23, 2013

Is This Plagiarism? REVEALED

Last week I asked readers to weigh in on a matter of plagiarism.

This was the original sentence, written by Michael Lewis for his book, “Moneyball.” During the 2001-02 off-season, the New York Yankees, the Goliath of Major League Baseball, had signed Jason Giambi, the All-Star first baseman with Oakland A’s, the David of Major League Baseball. Lewis writes:

Goliath, dissatisfied with his size advantage, has bought David’s sling.

And here is the passage of concern by another writer. In his book, Lewis revealed the small-market “moneyball” strategies of A’s GM Billy Beane that had allowed him to compete with big-market teams like the Yankees. When the book was released, the Yankees began using those strategies:

[Lewis’] best-seller stabilized the market inefficiencies Billy Beane had been exploiting. It was as if Lewis had shown David's playbook to Goliath. When the two returned to the field, Goliath had a slingshot of his own.

I said I came across this passage recently in a 10th-anniversary review of the book. That was a lie. I wrote it myself in Sept. 2011 for a post entitled “Moneyball Revisited.”

Back then, a friend had quoted my passage and added in the comments field, “Damn fine sportswriting there.” Earlier this month, someone named Jason agreed. “Damn fine, indeed,” he wrote, then added the Lewis quote above, with page number.

After a beat, I thought: Is he accusing me of plagiarism?

After another beat: Is it plagiarism?

Some part of me didn’t think so. The David-and-Goliath metaphor is the most obvious metaphor when talking money matters in MLB. And if Goliath takes something of David’s? A strategy, for example? A way of waging war? How else do you extend the metaphor?

On the other hand, I had read the book, twice, and while I didn’t remember Lewis’ line above it could have lodged in my unconscious and come out when I was writing about it later.

So I went back to check my copy of the book. I’m an underliner of books. I read with pencil in hand. And in Lewis’ “Moneyball,” yes, I’d underlined a line on pg. 143, but not that one. I'd liked this one: “There was something indecent about hurling abuse at Oakland A’s fielders.” I’d also underlined sentences on pages 142 and 147, but the above line hadn’t impressed me enough to underline it.

But that was me. I knew me. How might others feel? Particularly others who didn’t know me?

That’s why I wrote the post, “Is This Plagiarism?,” without indicating it was my words that might be plagiaristic. I was curious what others thought. Was this plagiarism?

A friend on Facebook: “No. Biblical references, like Shakespeare, are fair game and cannot be ‘exclusive’ to anyone's writing.”

A longtime reader: “I am someone who takes plagiarism seriously and who has sent his share of students to the Dean because of it, but this isn't plagiarism.”

As I suspected.

Then he added, “It’s just lazy and bad writing.”

Win some, lose some.

Brad Pitt in Moneyball

“It's a metaphor.”
“I know it's a metaphor.”

Posted at 08:20 AM on Nov 23, 2013 in category Books
Tags: , , ,
3 Comments   |   Permalink  
Saturday November 16, 2013

Is This Plagiarism?

I know. Thanks to Rand Paul, plagiarism is the talk of the town these days.

But I came across a recent book review of Michael Lewis' “Moneyball” on the 10th anniversary of its publication, in which the reviewer wrote the following about the effect “Moneyball” had on the money aspect of Major League Baseball:

[Lewis’] best-seller stabilized the market inefficiencies Billy Beane had been exploiting. It was as if Lewis had shown David's playbook to Goliath. When the two returned to the field, Goliath had a slingshot of his own.

Compare with pg. 143 of Lewis' own book, in which he's talking about A's first baseman Jason Giambi signing with the Yankees:

Goliath, dissatisfied with his size advantage, has bought David's sling.

Would you consider this plagiarism?

Posted at 08:33 AM on Nov 16, 2013 in category Books
Tags: ,
2 Comments   |   Permalink  
Tuesday October 22, 2013

First Sentence: 'Joseph Anton'

As Bonasera in “The Godfather” believed in America, I believe in first sentences. At bookstores I still pick up books that might interest and buy them based on their first sentence. I did that recently with “Joseph Anton,” Salman Rushdie's memoir of his post-fatwa existence. Here's how it begins:

Afterwards, when the world was exploding around him and the lethal blackbirds were massing on the climbing frame in the school playground, he felt annoyed with himself for forgetting the name of the BBC reporter, a woman, who had told him that his old life was over and a new, darker existence was about to begin.

I liked the rhythm of it, and the roundabout way of beginnning at the major moment, but through memory and annoyance rather than momentousness. On first reading I didn't even pick up on the Hitchcock reference, but two pages later, Rushdie names and expands upon the metaphor. He writes about the scene outside the schoolhouse in “The Birds”: the children chanting, Tippi Hedren smoking, and the single black bird alighting on the jungle gym. He writes about how that first bird is singular, individual. No theory is needed to explain it. The theories are necessary only when the mass of birds gather and attack.

He equates his experience with radical Islam with that first black bird alighting on the jungle gym.

Tippi Hedren in "The Birds"

Before the fatwa.

Posted at 05:53 AM on Oct 22, 2013 in category Books
Tags: , , , ,
No Comments yet   |   Permalink  
All previous entries
 RSS    Facebook

Twitter: @ErikLundegaard

ARCHIVES

All previous entries

LINKS
dative-querulous