books


12
Jan 21

The sun, in all its muted glory

The photosphere is about 10,000 degrees, Fahrenheit, but it’s cooling at that level. In the chromosphere, scientists figure, it is about 7,800 degrees. The light and heat has to travel the 93 million miles here. It takes a little more than eight minutes. And, sure, we’re pointed the wrong direction, but we’re turning back the right way. But, still, despite all of that, the nuclear fusion can’t burn away the clouds for days, days, on end.

Finally, today, as promised, the sun:

Saw that for a few minutes. It was chilly, but bright. If you can only one weather condition in January, you take sunny, because it’s always going to be cold.

There was a meeting! And it was filled with things both new and old! Decisive and not! And nothing will be reframed in such a way that requires any of the substantive articles of the meeting to change! I took notes and everything! A few of them will make sense to me in a month or so.

So … like every 90-minute meeting you’ve ever enjoyed. And then also a lot of email, and some demo reels to review, and a few other light chores to address. So a normal day. Except the sun was out, and so everything was great.

Tomorrow morning starts with another meeting, so we’re back in the swing of things, is what I’m saying.

In the spring of 2019 Wright Thompson came to campus and, at the end of his visit, he talked about his collection of sports stories, The Cost of These Dreams, which had just been released the week before. Someone gave me a copy of his book and I finally got around to pulling it from the To Read bookcase. Yes, I have an entire bookcase of books waiting to be read. Doesn’t everyone?

I keep those books well away from the Have Read bookcases. We can’t have intermingling of texts. It would get too confusing. Why, just this weekend I had to go through all of the books to see if I already had a book I was considering online. (I did.) It was in the To Read bookcase, so I picked that one out for my next read, along with a few others. They’re now sitting on my nightstand, part of a multi-stage on deck system to ease the complaints of the To Read bookcase which is groaning under the weight of paper. It’s a beautiful sound.

I digress. It’s a shame I waited all this while to get to Thompson’s book. He is easily one of the best contemporary sports writers. Take, for example, this little tidbit in a longform story about the New Orleans Saints, which is really about Katrina, which is really about New Orleans, which is really about inequity.

This is part of an 11-graph sidebar arc you could use in a master class. I read it over and over the other night, just to dissect it, to imagine, as you often do, how the story part of it came to be. It would be inappropriate to share the whole sidebar, but here’s the return, where Thompson is describing Charity Hospital. It was a teaching hospital and was, you might recall, utterly neglected after Katrina.

He gets all the details, like any great feature writer. He gets the best quotes and writes about all of the moments in a contemporaneous way, so it’s difficult to determine if he was in the room, or heard about it later through the course of his reporting — which is terrific. The next time I see him I’m going to ask him this: You get people to tell you things, for publication, that you say they have never told to anyone. How?

Sometimes it’s simply because you ask. A lot of it is about the relationship, which is about time. How much time do you have to spend with someone to get them to talk to you like their oldest friend? How long until it no longer seems strange to them that you’ve asked? How much listening does it take to become a professional confidant? This is a particular kind of reporting. Thompson is great at it.

If you like stories and people and storytelling and A-plus writing, buy this book. It’s incredible at every turn. (Except the Urban Meyer story. Some characters are just beyond the redemption of soulful prose.)

Just don’t read it all at once. Read a story, put the book down and come back several weeks later. This isn’t a criticism. Indeed, the writing is easy and the subject matter draws you in. You want to keep reading. Problem is, Thompson, like all great writers, has recurring themes. Being a great writer, they are some of the big ones. So space it out. Think of it as a textual indulgence.


7
Jan 21

Sing and sing and sing and sing

I finished reading Jon Meacham’s Songs of America. Yes, Tim McGraw is listed as a co-author. He did contribute some sidebars. They were included in the book. For the most part it wasn’t clear why. Meacham doesn’t need the help with history, and maybe twice McGraw contributed something to our understanding of the music. (And he’s certainly capable of doing that, but it didn’t really pay off here.

It was a lot more like the guy at the next table over just offering his opinion on a song you just played him. Maybe he knows it well. Maybe it sparks a memory from long ago. Maybe he’s hearing it for the first time. And he figures, well, since you’re talking about it and played it for him, he should probably offer a paragraph or two of thoughts on the matter.

And that’s what Tim McGraw did. I wondered how this arrangement came to be. It’s Jon Meacham. Which kinda diminishes McGraw, who has three Grammy wins and 17 other nominations among his other honors. He knows music, this is not a matter of dispute. He’s apparently written five other books, and one of those was a bestseller. But here, why was he here if a few sidebars was all he was going to contribute.

And then, at the end, they mention it. They are neighbors.

Anyway, it was an interesting book. You’re going to learn about songs you know. You’re going to discover important songs you haven’t even heard of before. Here are two little excerpts, from Meacham.

Susan B. Anthony had gone down to vote in the 1872 Grant-Greeley election. She was arrested and taken before a federal judge. The judge asked her if she had anything to say after her conviction for … voting.

Ward Hunt was on the U.S. Supreme Court. History doesn’t remember him especially well. He didn’t let her testify, read aloud his pre-written opinion, told the jury how to vote and immediately overturned motions for appeals. Anthony was charged with a fine. She told the judge she would never pay. She never did. Probably you’ve never heard of Judge. Hunt. Everyone learns about Susan B. Anthony, even if only a bit, in grade school.

Just go ahead and play this video while you read the text in next image.

In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused Marian Anderson’s participation in a concert at Constitution Hall under a “white performers-only” policy. Ultimately, a lot of DAR members left the organization, including Eleanor Roosevelt who would get the ball rolling for this Easter concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The contralto was in full force, a global star. No one knows how many thousands or millions listened on the radio, but one of the estimated 75,000 there in person was said to be 10-year-old Martin Luther King. (I’ve seen one reference on this, but I am struggling to find more.) He’d speak in front of Lincoln 24 years later, of course. She sang from the same spot that day, too.

Senator Mike Braun is from Indiana, and I have a question for him and the others who found themselves in this rickety position this week regarding the cynical political pandering of which he was a part. This was his message last week, and for quite some time:

And then yesterday happened — prior to which he was face-to-face with people in a way that rarely happens and he formalized his Arizona objection — but after the deadly assault, he wrote this:

So, senator, do us all a favor and explain this. You were certain, prior to the seditious raid on the U.S. Capitol, that this objection was something that needed to be done. Now, not at all. You withdrew your objection to the formal vote certification. So which is it, senator? Did you feel the wind change? Or are you that easily persuadable?

And which, in your estimation, is a better attribute for a United States senator?


23
Dec 20

Lightly browned, but only just barely

I’m going to try something different. Sitting still isn’t getting it done. Maybe moving around will mean something.

So I rode my bicycle through London.

On Zwift, of course. No one is traveling to London right now. People are still trying to get out of there, last I checked. New York is clamping down on visiting Brits, and we’re not allowed anywhere right now either.

But an hour in The Big Smoke gets the heart rate up and loosens all the muscles. It’s a good thing.

I had three little sprints, as you can see in the spikes of the graphic details the watts. Maybe, for a half a second, I could have turned on part of a toaster.

I’m not a big watts guy, because I don’t produce a lot of watts, but maybe I could learn.

Anyway, felt better after an hour on the bike. I’ll have to try that again tomorrow.

Elsewhere, not a lot going on. I am working on a image for Christmas, and I’m looking forward to wrapping up a book this evening. I’ve almost taken a mid-day nap two days in a row. So, that’s the pace of things, which is a lovely, lovely pace of things.

So … look forward to a brief book mention tomorrow. Which reminds me I forget to mention one two back. On Sunday night I finished McCullough’s book on the Wright Brothers, and mentioned it here on Monday. But, before that, at some point last week, I finally finished Richard Hughes’ Reviving The Ancient Faith.

I say finally because I started reading this, according to the traditional receipt bookmark, in 2006. I put it down about a third of the way through. And I never give up on books. It’s also as thorough as can be — and Hughes discusses, effectively and believably, why it isn’t more thorough. It’s an issue of source material, and even still, he churns out a cool 385 pages. The style was the problem. It’s almost a monograph, and it makes for dense reading, but its a serious treatment of serious people and their most serious subject matter.

I wrote a little about one person on Twitter last week.

It’s a good book about the Church of Christ, and it traces its way through the last few hundred years of people trying to figure out the belief system. I got this book wanting to learn about people to compliment what I’ve always learned about the Bible. This book does that, at the broadest level. The top review on Amazon says all the necessary things:

After forty plus years attending the Church of Christ, I am just now hearing the names of Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone. This is a very hard book to read for those of us who were raised Church of Christ and were never told of our origins or early leaders. Your belief that you are a member of the Church founded in 33 AD will be shattered. Here the curtain is pulled back and the leaders, editors, college administrators, who have formed Church of Christ doctrine over the years are exposed. The amount of debate, fighting, and bickering among the leaders through our short history is very disturbing. If you are happy in the Church of Christ and are looking for material to strengthen your faith, this book is not you. If you want to see how the Churches of Christ have developed by reading history that has been hidden away, this book may change you life.

In that light, I suspect it would be a disconcerting read for some. But history isn’t always easily palatable, which is one of the things that can sometimes make it fun.

The human parts are what really make it work. I learned that when I finally got a history teacher in school who made it about those people and emotions, and not just names and dates. And, so, here, one of the most interesting things I read in this book wasn’t even in this book. That Philip Mulkey, Sr. character, the 18th century preacher excommunicated for adultery, perfidy and falsehood, wasn’t in the book. That one description of Nancy Mulkey, near the end of the book, where it finally had the opportunity to talk about women in the church, had the one brief passage, which, in turn, led me to a late-night search which intrigued me. A long family line of preachers. And then Philip Mulkey, Sr. had his difficulties, whatever they really were. A person’s weaknesses and bad choices aren’t automatically amusing, but there’s a personal story there. It’d be worth learning more about, I’d bet.

But Mulkey isn’t in the book I’m wrapping up tonight, which I’ll briefly mention here soon. And he likely won’t be in the one after that, either. I may never know more about him than what a few genealogy websites can tell me.

Makes you think, and wonder, and worry, doesn’t it?


21
Dec 20

Look! Up in the air!

I got setup on Zwift and a new indoor trainer this weekend, a gift from my lovely bride. Let’s see how bad this can hurt me.

Quite a bit, it turns out. That was a Saturday afternoon introduction ride, and for the next several rides, I’m sure, I’ll try to formulate the way that this style of riding is similar, and completely different, to being on the road. And I can’t wait to try to get better next week!

We had a nice walk on Sunday. The park nearest us was closed for surfacing repairs, said the sign. But the swings were open. And she is excellent at flying through the air.

She got that high because I helped push a little. We agreed that the days of high-altitude ejections was behind us. Knees and age and all that. But you’re always a kid again on a proper swing set.

Speaking of flying through the air, I finished up the David McCullough book, The Wright Brothers, last night. This was certainly one way to end a chapter on a down note.

I enjoy McCullough’s work, and have read about half of his immensely well-regarded catalog. This book seemed a bit rushed in the back-half, however. Having worked through the significant achievement of flight, the book glosses over training of Walter Brookins in Montgomery, Alabama and others elsewhere, the barnstorming and so on. It’s not the authoritative text, and is hardly extant, but it’s a good opening read on the Wright family.

Speaking of up in the sky, saw this cloud on this evening’s walk. I guess I was thinking about antique flight because, in the few moments before I could to a clear view of it, the shape reminded me of a dirigible.

Clouds being some of the most ephemeral and over-observed items available to us, it probably looked like a dozen things to a dozen different sets of eyes while it was lazing about today’s calm sky. What was your bunny was someone else’s turtle and my steampunk airship.

Planetary movement being predictable in ways that clouds are not, we all knew to go outside and look this evening. And, here, we had a good glimpse of the mislabeled Christmas Star.

I was sure, when I first read of the Great Conjuction a month or so ago, that we wouldn’t be able to see it because of the season’s regular dose of cloud cover — almost as predictable as the planets! — but we had a brilliantly clear and cool night.

And if you, like me, wondered if this or a similar planetary conjunction might have been central to the Christmas story, some astronomers who know how to calculate those things did the math and said, maybe, possibly, but also perhaps not.


15
Jul 20

‘And the chain tension in harmony with the correct gear’

Today, on the bicycle, I had an interesting ride. It was one of those days where I really understood gearing, anticipating shifts in all of the right places. It wasn’t la volupté, the voluptuousness, by any means. I seldom get that spare moment Jean Bobet described:

Its magic lies in its unexpectedness, its value in its rarity … It is more than a sensation because one’s emotions are involved as well as one’s actions.

The voluptuous pleasure that cycling can give you is delicate, intimate and ephemeral. It arrives, it takes hold of you, sweeps you up and then leaves you again. It is for you alone. It is a combination of speed and ease, force and grace. It is pure happiness.

I didn’t have that, but I was really in tune, understanding, anticipating, the shifting today. I really had it down in a fine and intimate way. One click here, push over the roller and two pops there. It was one of those days where I really understood it, until I completely and immediately forgot it all. One of those days.

(I really need a haircut.)

Probably it means I have been riding those particular roads too much recently. Indeed, as we see by today’s installment of the irregular feature of Barns by Bike:

As I am sure I’ve written here before, this road was also on the first bike route we rode here. We see it a lot. Do you ever wonder what’s inside people’s barns? You have time on a bike to think about such things.

Anyway, some roads are like that. Everyone has their regular routines. You have to work to escape them sometimes. You see la volupté a lot less frequently. Far too little, in fact. But it’s one of the reasons you keep going out there. Just one of them.