Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Reading Now

Comments on books lately finished.

Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything by Charles P. Pierce
I am not a sports fan. Watching team sports bores me. This is certainly due to a simple lack of appreciation of the finer points of the game, whether football, basketball, baseball or hockey. My grasp of the game is of a gross and general nature, with little comprehension of the strategy and tactical skill exhibited by the players and teams on the field. On the other hand, I love watching karate tournaments, mixed martial arts, some boxing, triathlons and adventure racing. I have participated in similar events, and have a more firsthand grasp of what it take to succeed, so they mean more to me.
So why would I read a book about a football QB? Simply because Tom Brady is one of the best ever. I figure that maybe I can learn a little about excellence from reading this book. Was I right? Somewhat. The writing is blovious, often hyper-extending the turn of phrase beyond its natural range of motion. It is heavy on play by play recountings of various games. It tends toward hagiography. Nevertheless, some key points of TB's character stand out.
He is a leader who makes others want to follow him by winning their trust on and off the field. He takes his lumps, both those dished out by the defensive line, and those he give himself for not performing at his expectations. He studies and trains for excellence with true diligence. He has mastered the art of reading the defense such that he feels it more than thinks about it. He knows his poop. Good reminders all.
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
This is simply one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. The prose is so spare, so open, it is very much like the west Texas and Mexico landscape it portrays. It is evocative is a way that made me almost breathless at times in wonder at the beauty and power of language skillfully rendered. The dialogue in particular is sharpened to a point, and even while dealing with serious matters manages to make on chuckle. These boys are cowboy poets.
I won’t recount the plot here beyond saying that it is the story John Grady Cole, a 16 year old Texan who leaves home on horseback to journey across the border into Mexico sometime immediately after WWII. He finds danger, love, beauty, and death and makes it back again.
This is the first of three books, called the Border Trilogy. I first ran across them in an abridged recording read by Brad Pitt and I was completely entranced. I finally read the full text and fell under the spell all over again. Although I must say, that I occasionally stopped to read sections aloud, just because they sound so good when read aloud.
It almost makes me wish I was from Texas…but not quite.

The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson
Bryson must have spent years researching this book. It is a survey of not only the history, but the current state and future trajectory of the English language. Bryson praises the language but also is quite upfront about it’s shortcomings, much in the same way that one can praise a amazingly engineered safari vehicle, while admitting that one might not want to drive it to the Academy Awards. Occassionally he does go on just a little to much about specific examples to illustrate a particular linguistic foible, but all in all it is spot on.
Two chapters particularly stand out. First, on grammar. He makes the fascinating point that much of what passes of English grammar is actually based on Latin grammar. The problem is that English is not Latin. For instance, in Latin, it is not even possible to split an infinitive. And so, the early scholars decided that in English, the infinitive must never be split. But, Bryson asks, why ever not? A point worth pondering, but which I will likely withhold from my 9 year old daughter for now.
My second favorite chapter was the one on swearing. I didn’t learn any new words, much to my disappointment, but I now can swear with much firmer historical grasp of my chosen oaths. If one must curse, I have always felt that one should do so with a literary touch.

Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen
This book consists of short inspirational stories gathered for that exact purpose: to uplift and inspire. I mostly read it to start the day, or end the day, although I did not limit it to that. Some were a bit sentimental, but many are simply powerful reminders of what people can accomplish with enough love, faith, persistence, courage, or

Books I am currently working on working on:

Histories by Herodotus
Still going. Taking it in small bits. It’s fascinating, but not something I really care to take in huge chunks.

Success Principles by Jack Canfield
This is perhaps the best overall compendium of success principles available between two covers. It is written in clear prose that manages to avoid some of the clunkiness of some of the stories in the Chicken Soup series. The short chapters are excellent reminders of the kind of habits that enable people to craft a good life.

Botany of Desire: A Plant's Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan
Just started this one. Examines that complex relationship between humans and certain plants from an evolutionary viewpoint. Did bees evolve to take advantage of flowers, or did plants develop flowers to make use of the bee? The same question can be asked of humans and many “domesticated” plants. It is interesting how easy it its for the author to drift into using language that attributes intelligence and intention to a supposedly blind chance driven process.

The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy
Sequel to All the Pretty Horses.

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