Archive for June 6th, 2008


We’re all Geeks Now

June 6, 2008

I’m not sure when it happened but comic books are all the rage. Or, as a friend pointed out to me yesterday, not comic books per se, but comic book-related items. Art Spiegelman won the Pulitzer for his graphic novel Maus in 1992 which could be perceived as the beginning of this trend, but I don’t think so. Personally I think it was Michael Chabon winning the Pulitzer in 2001 for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. While the early 90s had the Batman movies starring Michael Keaton, since 2000 we’ve had a new re-imagining of Batman, we’ve had Superman, The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, and the Spider-Man movies. And we’ve had, Sin City, Daredevil, Elektra, and of course most recently Iron Man. I’m almost certainly forgetting some.

Umberto Eco’s 2005 The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana heavily features four-color newsprints (real for fake I’m not sure, since I haven’t read it) as integral memories of the protagonist. And, of course, Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won this year’s Pulitzer (see recommended reading link in sidebar).

I had the immense pleasure of getting to hear Michael Chabon speak at Purdue University a few months ago. Chabon’s piece was themed around the nature of the adult world and the power it has to confine or expand the realm of a child’s imagination.

While he spoke largely of his own memories as a child, his intent was clearly to use those memories to inform the practice of raising his children. The coda to the piece was a bit on the Clock of the Long Now and how a child’s imagination can be hindered by our pessimistic view of the future–a fate he feels he escaped by living in a more optimistic age but that his children are struggling with right now.

Chabon, for those unfamiliar with his work is a long-time fan and defender of “genre fiction:” detective stories, science fiction, fantasy and the like. More than that, many of his own novels are examples of those styles. Even the book hardest to peg to a specific genre, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, is still a paean to the power of superhero comic books–possibly the most genre-y of genres.

Chabon’s most recent book Maps and Legends, from whence much of his lecture was pulled, is reviewed, along with David Hajdu’s Ten-Cent Plague in the latest Times Literary Supplement. Maps and Legends, a collection of non-fiction essays by Chabon is primarily concerned with the constant tug of war between high and low brow art forms (which seems fitting given Chabon’s own bounding between “literature” and “genre” pieces, although he would deny that there’s a separation between the two). Hajdu’s book documents the dramatic lashing out against comic books that took place in the 1950s. The review author, Michael Saler, uses the common thread between the two books to expound on the nature of the culture wars in general and comes to the conclusion that we are in the midsts of some sort of truce between the two opposing sides.


Friday: Blincoln Blogs

June 6, 2008

As the Democratic primary race folded and the contest for November began to shape up with advocates on both sides abler to size up the competition, The New York Times Book Review asked several writers what books they might recommend for the future president.

I am not alone in my recommendation: Team of Rivals. To be honest, I didn’t initially think of ToR would but after Professor Drezner mentioned it, I had to immediately conclude he was right.

Goodwin’s book, as it’s title suggests, is not about Abraham Lincoln alone, but rather it covers a specific element of Lincoln and his leadership style. The new Republican Party of the mid-19th Century was looking for a candidate for president and they had their eyes on several people. Goodwin focuses on five: Abraham Lincoln, who would eventually win the nomination and then the presidency; Edward Bates who would serve as Lincoln’s attorney general; William Seward Sr., who would serve as Lincoln’s secretary of state; Edwin Stanton who would serve as Secretary of War; and Salmon Chase, who would serve as Lincoln’s secretary of the treasury.

The three men who were not Lincoln hated or at least did not respect the man who was. Goodwin follows all four men and analyzes how it was that Lincoln decided to fill his cabinet with his previous rivals–who were not just political rivals but were outspoken, highly-regarded, ideological rivals. Such dynamics would almost certainly have destroyed the presidency of a lesser man than was our 16th president.

I would also recommend the Complete Calvin and Hobbes–snowman sculpture has a way of taking the mind off the serious issues of the day.


Baseball and the Perfect Moment

June 6, 2008

[Nancy actually posted this in the comments section to the post “Is Baseball Relevant” but the commentary was too good to not be read by those receiving Hoosierati via RSS feed, so I elevated it to post status–Jim]

This is a thoughtful post and covers multiple aspects of the current and past state of baseball. Personally, though, I don’t look at it that way. There is baseball as a sport, as a business, as a reflection of American trends, as an entertainment. Then there is baseball as a Platonic idea. To get to that point, however, you really have to turn to minor league baseball.

No one wrote about this brand of baseball better than Roger Kahn in Good Enough to Dream. Kahn owned the Class A Utica Blue Sox for one season, and his book is about the struggle that he, and his players, went through purely out of a passion for the game contrary to all reason.

Or consider the greatest baseball movie ever made–Bull Durham. It is also the only sports movie in which the ending is not about the team winning or losing the Big Game. That’s because there is no way to win. Summers always end. Players always come to a point when they have to retire. Even though baseball is also the sport that has no clock, thus coming the closest to suspending time, it is still not possible for an inning to go on forever.

But you live in the perfect moment, and you go to the ballpark because there is always the possibility of seeing something truly extraordinary. Even when my team is losing, when my team is terrible, when steroids wouldn’t help anyway, I still might see something I’ve never seen before. A freak triple play. An arcane rule invoked. I once saw Kevin Gross throw a NO-HITTER in Dodger Stadium. I noticed he had a no-hitter going into the 7th inning, but I didn’t tell anyone. I just held my breath and waited until the announcer finally realized what was happening sometime in the 8th. I don’t know whether the Dodgers had a winning season or not that year, and I don’t care. It was still wonderful.

So there is no doubt in my mind that baseball is also a religious experience, an archetypal ritual. The real competition is against mortality, the levelest of playing fields. A lot of writers have pointed out this dimension of baseball, but there’s a good way to learn it for yourself. That, of course, is by rooting for the Chicago Cubs. Will they get into the World Series in my lifetime? Suffice it to say that they haven’t done it yet.