Last week during the Major League All-Star break I offered up a list of baseball books and naturally I discovered a glaring omission— namely,Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball by NY Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey and Wayne Coffey(Blue Rider Press). Dickey is currently 13-2 with a 2.97 earned run average and 139 strikeouts which leads the National League(and but forTony Larusso would had started the All Star joust. Dickey was once a No. 1 draft choice of the Texas Rangers when it was discovered he did not have an ulna collateral ligament in his right elbow.Whatever that has to do with pitching mechanics, it posed a huge problem for Dickey, who took it upon himself to learn the mysterious art of the knuckleball— making him one of the best pitchers in the National League. Articulate and charming, Dickey joins up with New York Daily News sports writer Coffey (The Boys of Winter) to tell a traditional American feel-good story of overcoming adversity. It’s not an original narrative but it is well told. Baseball has been good to Dickey.
Having developed scholastic ambitions as an undergraduate, I launched myself, head and heart into studying philosophy, very much based on the allure of the greatly complex persona and musings of Ludwig Wittgenstein. It only took a few years for me to recover from this malady (in large part because I was in no position to lead an impecunious life as a philosophy teacher searching for a secure sinecure in the academic zoo. I did learn a thing or two—enough to view America The Philosophical by Carlin Romano(Alfred A. Knopf) as a silly hodgepodge of arguments ,intended to say something important about the United States. An all the more surprising feat considering that my past reading of Romano had led me to conclude he was a thoughtful and assiduous commentator. William Giraldi who read Romano’s tome in its entirety (so you wouldn’t have to) rigorously vivisects America The Philosophical in the LA Review of Books Worth reading even if you don’t care about Romano’s thesis or American “philosophy, here’s Giraldi’s (for me) money graf:
We Americans are eager for any orgy of idiocy that promises diversion or amusement, and yet we are a nation with influence and might enough to shame Caesar. How does a nation of unread dopes dominate the world or elect as president a black intellectual? And what of Pound’s prophesy in ABC of Reading that “a people that grows accustomed to sloppy writing” — and by extension sloppy thinking — “is a people in process of losing grip on its empire and on itself”? Glance at the annals of the bestseller list and you’ll see that we long ago passed from a mere approval of sloppy writing to a torrid support of gorilla-like writing gestures. Mencken thought Americans not only uneducated but uneducable; the United States, he said, is an “Eden of clowns,” and yet he never had the heart to leave because, unlike Henry James, he saw much to love here. If Romano had seen fit to nix a dingbat like Ayn Rand and instead examined Lionel Trilling, one of the most crucial thinkers of the twentieth century, he might have proposed that we learn to be comfortable with a Trillingesque acceptance of paradox, dichotomy, antinomy: that we are both brilliant and brain-dead, leaders often in last place, and that Keats’s “negative capability” is the only real capability at our disposal. In The American Scene (1907) Henry James pointed out that the United States will stand for almost anything you want it to, but it might stand on shaky legs if, in your enviable ardor, you make it hold too many accolades.
At the same time I was under the sway of the enigmatic Viennese genius and a gaggle of erudite Oxford dons, Eric Hofer a San Francisco long shore man was the media”go-to-working class intellectual having been dubbed the “longshoreman philosopher” He wrote 10 books in his lifetime, The True Believer, perhaps, being his best known.Not much has been published on Hoffer, 2 previous biographies being out of print. So Thomas Bethell’s Eric Hoffer: The Longshoreman Philosopher (Hoover Institution Press Publication) is useful addition to the American cultural history bibliography. Hoffer, of course, is a philosopher in the muddled way that Carlin Romano looks at the discipline. Which doesn’t make him a bad guy, just not a philosopher.
As long as I am thinking of my new literary best friend Billy Giraldi, he and novelist /editor Christopher Beha engage in delightfully smart dialogue, in part due to the publication of Beha’s What Happened to Sophie Wilder? (Tin House). It’s in parts, charming and illuminating exhibiting 2 nimble minds at work (or play) I should add I on the basis of the Giraldi/Beha chat I went on to read Beha’s new opus. Which, despite a number of reservations I had about Sophie, was well crafted and compelled me to read to the end.
Late 20th century American Art especially in Manhattan, where the most important walls (for art) are located, Andy Warhol and the Interview milieu reigned— in addition to Warhol I am thinking of Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe Jean Basquiet and Julian Schnabel. Additionally, the AIDs epidemic which ravaged so much of the creative community served as a rallying point producing formidable voices and artist of which David Wojnarowicz must be acknowledged. Cynthia Carr (long time Manhattan journalist and observer) does such in spades with her rigorous account of Wojnarowicz’s life in Fire in the Belly The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz (Bloomsbury) Wojnarowicz died of AIDS in 1992 at the age of thirty-seven.
He was a pioneering and controversial figure at a time when the quest for discovering the next big thing was a heavy contact sport and his work in a variety of media still provokes debate and worse in US culture conflicts.
If you belong to the growing number of readers ( Matt Taibbi is in this camp) who wonder why Thomas 3 time Pulitzer winner Thomas Friedman is paid attention, Belen Fernandez, whose Imperial Messenger (Verso)ably deflated the dirigible that is the NY Times columnist and best selling author, continues to monitor Friedman’s pronouncements In response to his recent column on Syria (already pronounced by Taibbi as Friedman’s most incoherent ever),Fernandez observes:
As for Iraq’s simultaneous existence as fetus and U.S. babysitting charge, the use of infantilizing terminology vis-à-vis Arabs and Muslims is a mainstay of Friedman’s Orientalist repertoire (“I feel like we’re like an unemployed couple who just went out and decided to adopt a special needs baby”—Friedman on Afghanistan, 2009). It could potentially be argued that his qualifications to dictate the birthing process in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere stem from his own reproductive experience—recounted in Longitudes and Attitudes—on September 11, 2001, at the beachfront Tel Aviv Hilton:
It was there, massaged by the Mediterranean breeze, that my head started to clear and I finally gave birth to the thought that had been bothering me most: ‘What kind of world are my two girls going to grow up in?’’
Currently reading How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charlie Yu (Pantheon)