Tag Archives: Chad Harbach

“I Don’t Deserve This Award – But Then I Have Arthritis And I Don’t Deserve That Either!”………..My Book Of The Year Awards!……….

……….Jack Benny I hope you noticed the nice mix in the titles for this post – the classic false modesty from the comedian Jack Benny followed by my own unlimited arrogance and vanity in announcing “my book of the year awards!!!!”

In a way though starting this post with Jack Benny is rather appropriate – his first words on Ed Sullivan’s radio show in the US in the early thirties was supposed to have been “This is Jack Benny talking. There will now be a short pause while you sit at home thinking –  ‘who cares?!”.

It just fits perfectly for:-

“This is my Book Of The Year Awards” post and there will now be a gap of at least two lines…

……….while you have a chance to think  – who the hell cares!!!!!

But if you reached this line you must be intrigued, so stick with it till the end  – you won’t be disappointed!

Well…..actually….. you might be disappointed at the end, but I’ll leave a couple more empty lines so I can think “So you’re disappointed! What the hell do I care?!”

And so my awards! I’ve read a lot of good books this year, heard some great music, seen some great gigs – and eaten some lovely pies! So here are my awards for 2012!

1. TV Programme Location of the Year

Waterloo Road
Memories – like the Corridors of My Mind!

The award goes to BBC’s “Waterloo Road” which is now filmed at “Greenock Academy”, my old school in Scotland. It allows me to indulge in spotting familiar walls, corridors and pupil toilets – which instead of impressing my daughter actually bores her rigid!

If you can get over the fact that they moved the school from England to Scotland and took all the kids with them into a sort of cult-cum-boarding unit, then the best of all is that while the BBC have tarted the building up for the fictional school, the quality of the teaching in the fictional school looks just as shite as I remember it being in the real school!!!

2. Book Week Of The Year

Much as I enjoyed the Muriel Spark Reading Week, the award for me goes to the Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week, which Annabel’s House of Books hosted back in June of this year. I’d not read any of Beryl Bainbridge’s stuff before-hand – I loved it – quirky and sharp and just wonderful. It turned me from a Beryl-virgin to a Beryl-lover almost overnight!

3. The ‘Well Bugger Me I Didn’t Know That!’ Award for 2012

Birdie BowersThanks to book blogs I read quite a bit about the centenary of Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1912. And through that I discovered that Birdie Bowers, who accompanied Captain Scott and was one of those who died alongside him at the end, originally came from my home town of Greenock in Scotland. We seem to make little of the connection which is odd to say the least as Greenock isn’t exactly bustling with well known explorers, actors, sportsmen, politicians or well known anythings! Anyway it led me to read a bit about his life – truly amazing man!

4. Best Bit Of Poetry Learned Off By Heart This Year Award

I’ve loved several new collections this year but my favourite was Seamus Heaney’s “Human Chain!”. And from the poem ‘Route 101’ I loved learning the following lines (and love boring people to death reciting them!)

“In a stained front-buttoned shopcoat / Sere brown piped with crimson / Out of the Classics bay into an aisle /  Smelling of dry rot and disinfectant / She emerges, absorbed in her coin count / Eyes front, right hand at work / In the slack marsupial vent / Of her change – pocket, thinking what to charge / For a used copy of Aeneid VI. / Dustbreath bestirred in the cubicle mouth / I inhaled as she slid my purchase / Into a deckle edged brown paper bag”

5. The “Terrific” Award (for books that aren’t my book of the year but came bloody close and so deserve again the accolade of my favourite word!)

Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller and The Museum Of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk were both

Terrific 1

A Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry were both

Terrific 2

Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro and 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (Books One, Two and Three) were all

Terrific 3

HHhH by Laurent Binet and If This Is A Man by Primo Levi were both

Terrific 4

Heartburn by Norah Ephron and The Art Of Fielding by Chad Harbach were both

Terrific 5

6. The “I’m Really Sorry But I Thought This Was Bloody Awful” Book Of The Year Award

Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit From The Goon Squad”. I just didn’t get it! I guess I’m not clever enough. Sorry Jen!

7. The ‘I Love Guy Garvey Of Elbow More Than Anyone Else Does’ Award

Guy GarveyWith apologies to my mate Steve Smith in Thailand, who fancies himself as a big Elbow fan but can’t be taken seriously as he chose to desert Guy and go live the life of Riley on the beaches of Thailand teaching people to dive (get a proper job you old fart!) and with my apologies to Guy Garvey’s girlfriend, the writer Emma Unsworth,  the award for the person who loves Guy Garvey more than anyone else does, goes to – ME!

8. The Album Of The Year

Dead easy – the beautiful, wonderful, gorgeous “Mid Air” by Paul Buchanan – have a quick listen!

9. Gig Of The Year

This is harder – I’ve seen Elbow a couple of times this year but I have to say we were absolutely awe-struck by the magnificent Bruce Springsteen at the Isle of Wight festival – we watched it knee deep in mud and didn’t give a shit! Truly wonderful!


10. Dive Of The Year

Suarez1This is a special category for my partner, my daughter and her family who are all Liverpool fans. The award goes to the Suarez2Olympic medal-winning last gasp effort from Tom Daley!

But for the runner-up you can choose any of half a dozen or more spectacular dives from that muppet Luiz Suarez!

11. Pie Of The Year

MandS pieThere’s nothing to beat Marks and Spencers! They have the gorgeous Twiggy in their ads, the fabulous sound of Dervla Kirwen doing the voiceover for the food commercials and their pies are great. This year my favourite was the individual Steak and Cornish IPA Ale pies – so fantastic if you gave me a choice between Twiggy, Dervla or the pie, it would be the pie every time!!!!!!!!!!!!!

12. Shite Gig But Chilli Con Carne Of The Year Award

We were unfortunate enough to see Coldplay at the Emirates earlier in the year – bloody awful! I should have known. I saw Coldplay when they were starting out, just after the Yellow album was released – they were at a lovely intimate venue at Brixton Academy – and yet they were bloody awful then as well! However we left the gig early and discovered the Chilli of The Year, washed down with Guinness, at a lovely little pub in Finsbury Park!

13. Comeback Of The Year

Roy 1This is a close run thing between two of my favourite men of books – the mercurial genius that is Roy Race, scourge of every team on the planet in his role as Roy Of The Rovers – and the mercurial genius that is Detective Inspector John Rebus, scourge of every criminal and low-life in Edinburgh and it’s environs in Iain Rankin’s novels- and as a Glaswegian it’s my job to say disparaging things about the good folk of Edinburgh! But since I thought Iain Rankin’s ‘Standing In Another Man’s Grave’ was brilliant, the winner for me is John Rebus! Plus as he has won it allows me to have a couple of pints and a couple of whiskies to honour his achievement! If Roy Of The Rovers had won I’d have been forced to go down the park, beat all the kids at “3 and you’re in!” and then do at least 100 on keepie-uppie – and I’m much more of a five beers than a five-a-side man these days!

14. And finally, my Book Of The Year

I’ve read so many that have been terrific but one just noses ahead – not by much, but by enough to be the read of the year for me – the beautiful story of Jack and Mabel in The Snow Girl by Eowyn Ivey.

The Snow Child

Now I’d said earlier in the year that I would choose a book of the year – and in my own version of the Costa Prize, that I’d buy the winning author a coffee. And I’d like to be true to my word – so if Eowyn Ivey ever reads this and fancies collecting this illustrious prize, I’ll meet her any week day by the Cafe Nero coffee stall in Victoria Station – I’m in the queue most mornings around half past seven – the lattes are on me Eowyn!

And having started with the acerbic wit of Jack Benny on awards, I’d like to end with the acerbic wit of my partner. On the day that the New Year Honours were announced she initially amazed me by saying she’d love to be nominated for an award – and when I expressed astonishment as this didn’t fit with her strong principles and said “Really???????????????????” she replied – “Yeah! So I could then tell them to stick their award up their arse!!!!!!” – That’s my girl!

So if Eowyn Ivey tells me where to put my offer of a free latte as my Book Of The Year, I’ll understand completely!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Catcher In The Awry………..What I Thought Of “The Art Of Fielding” by Chad Harbach

………I first heard of Chad Harbach’s book when he was interviewed on Simon Mayo on Radio 5 (though I can’t recall if I heard it or my partner heard it and told me!). Either way I remembered two things – they raved about it and kept saying ‘don’t be put off by the baseball bit!’ But I was! And I’m a Brit who went to see baseball while visiting Boston, loved it, adopted the Red Sox as my team and to this day I can recall so vividly that unique sound of Nomar Garciaparra hitting a home run. But even I was put off – I think I expected some kind of technical exposition to rival the descriptions I hear from cricket pundits about spin bowling! – fine to listen to while watching a test match – but read that in a book – no thanks!

However having packed to move house, I left the Art Of Fielding out among a few books which I reckoned would last me over the hiatus between packing up in one house and unpacking in another. It was a bit of a false ploy as I didn’t expect to have to read it before unpacking! It salved my conscience a bit. But then I went through the other books quicker than I thought and so was ‘forced’ into the company of Chad Harbach on my journeys to and from work. And the book made those journeys a joy! I loved this book. Loved it, loved it, loved it, loved it, loved it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The story follows the journey of Henry Skrimshander, a baseball short-stop fielding bona-fide genius who is on a run of perfect fields. When he is on the verge of breaking the record for consecutive ‘perfect’ games, his first mid-timed throw starts a chain of events with serious consequences for Henry and his future prospects for making it as a major league baseball player. As things go awry for Henry they also start to unravel for those around him and connected to him. Mike Schwartz is Henry’s mentor, guide and team-mate in the Westish College side. But that’s only a small part of his role in Henry’s life – while Henry provides the talent, poise, and instinct that make him the supremely gifted athlete, Scheartz is the driving force behind him -he’s Henry’s heartbeat – but as events unravel Schwartz is forced to consider whether in becoming Henry’s heartbeat he’s forgotten to be his own heartbeat as well. Alongside Schwartz and Henry, are Henry’s college roommate Owen, whose combination of handsome good looks, intelligence and slightly detached personality make him a little like that old Churchillian comment about Russia ‘a riddle, shrouded in mystery, wrapped in an enigma’. The Head of the College, President Affenlight, is falling dangerously but precipitously in love just as his errant daughter Pella arrives at Westish, retreating from a disastrous relationship and looking for the small town college security that she’d previously sought to escape. As Henry’s life and career start to go awry in the wake of that one erroneous throw, there’s a domino like effect for the novels other main characters, forcing all of them to confront and then try and resolve their own lives all seemingly in danger of going awry at the same time.

The combination of their individual stories and the connections between them make this an engrossing, virtually unputdownable novel from pretty much the first page. The characters are brilliantly sketched and developed, they feel natural, and I found myself connecting with every single one of them. And perversely, though I’d echo those sentiments of Simon Mayo and others that this IS NOT a book about baseball, it was perhaps Chad Hardbach’s writing about baseball that I enjoyed most of all. For me, that came from the sheer unexpectedness of how subtly it meshes into the story and the way his descriptions of baseball techniques and tactics are sometimes a metaphor, and sometimes a commentary, on what’s happening to the characters in the novel specifically and to the everyday lives of Americans in general.

After I first heard of this book, I read it described somewhere as an example of ‘the great American novel’. I’m never sure what that actually means but I assume it’s a novel which is epic in scale and ambition and which captures the essence of America at the time it’s written. So, is ‘The Art Of Fielding’ an example of the great American novel?

Well, it’s certainly epic in ambition, and its themes of modifying ambition to reality, coming to terms with change, dealing with insecurity and retaining confidence in the face of setbacks seem spot on to me at a time of recession, economic uncertainty and the somewhat faltering first term for Obama. But I’m a Glaswegian lover of America from a distance, so it would be for others cleverer and better placed than I if this is ‘a great American novel!’ But I know a fantastic book when I read one! So for me this is, without a shadow of doubt, ‘a great American novel!!!’

Books……….A Bit Like The Old Raincoat That Won’t Ever Let You Down!……….

……….It’s been some time since my last blog post – just writing that first sentence makes me feel guilty and I sound like I’m about to seek forgiveness and do penance! I should probably have started “Forgive Me Father, It’s Been Three Weeks Since My Last Blog Post!”

I guess I kind of got out of the habit of blogging – and it’s all the fault of the wonderful and magnificent London Olympics. I pretty much stopped reading as I got immersed in the Olympics night and day – with no books being read I resorted to blogging about the Games but even that became a no-no – it was so good I didn’t want to miss any of it – whether something new or a repeat it just seemed almost a betrayal to concentrate on anything except watching the Games.

It was only when it finished that I realised that I’d read nothing for almost three weeks – and I’d not read because I didn’t want to really. However on realising that, I was a bit worried that I might have lost my reading bug for good. In the week after the Olympics finished I still couldn’t settle to read anything and I began to think I might have lost the habit altogether. But then I started back working and I needed something to do to help pass the time on my fairly lengthy commute into South London every day – and so I took a book. Within the first five minutes I was immersed in the pages of Waiting For Sunrise by William Boyd – so much so that when my train pulled into Tottenham Hale station to change onto the Tube twenty minutes later, I almost missed my stop! From there it’s been “normal service has resumed!” – I finished Waiting For Sunrise, followed it up with Norah Ephron’s Heartburn, for a Book Club I hope to go to tomorrow, and then Chad Harbach’s The Art Of Fielding, which I finished today. Three books in a week and it felt really good – I loved every one of them!

I’ve also got back into combining listening to music on my iPod as I read, and while reading Heartburn mid-week, I was listening to Rod Stewart’s An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down, an album I’ve loved for about 40 years! And it struck me it was a perfect description of the reading habit and what it does for me:-

And did you ride a lift on a steam train
Now listen 
Had the misfortune not to pay your fare
Thrown off the next stop 
Thrown in the doorway of a shop
With that coat to keep you from the wind 
Oh that old school coat to keep you from the wind
And that ain’t all

Have you had some good friends on the road with ya 
Who’d stand by you through thick and thin
Here’s to Kevin and Ben, Susie and Len
And that coat which never lets you down
It never, never, never lets you down
It never, never, never lets you down
That old coat which never lets you down
That old coat which never lets you down 
Kept me from the drizzlin’ rain
And oh, kept me from the drizzlin’ rain

In the case of reading you could substitute “Here’s to Boyd and McEwan, Rushdie and Rankin” or a million different author combinations for me, but the pages between the covers of a book will always be “that old coat which never lets me down!”

Goodbye John Humphries, James Naughtie, Sarah Montague et al…..Hello Madeleine Miller And All Who Will Follow Her!……….

……….I’ve spent the early part of the week commuting into the city – not the norm for me – and as a result I’ll be starting a new job at the end of next month. While going in and out on the train and the Tube this week, I’ve been reading ‘The Song Of Achilles’ by Madeleine Miller (it’s brilliant by the way!).

Normally I go to work by car and so my early mornings are spent with the Today Programme on Radio 4 – and have been for about 10 years! But from August I’m going to be swopping the car for the commute into London to work – and among the things I’m most looking forward to are reading every day on the way in and the way back, making homeward bound detours to Waterstones in Oxford Street or to Foyles at Charing Cross or to the many independent bookshops all over the city, and I’m looking forward to having the chance to go to author talks in the early evenings in venues across the city.

Reading On London Underground

For the last few days I’ve been struck by just how many people read while commuting – the trains and tubes are full of people with their nose in a book or a Kindle! Among the books I saw were Chad Harbach’s “The Art Of Fielding” (in my TBR pile), Ian McEwan’s “Saturday” (liked it but not the best of his stuff!), William Boyd’s “Restless” (another in my TBR pile), Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” (not my thing really!) and Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit From The Goon Squad” (I didn’t like this at all though I know others who loved it). Obviously I’ve no idea what those who had Kindle’s were reading – although I have to admit that each time I saw someone with a Kindle my brain pondered “Do they look like they are reading Fifty Shades????????!’. Bizarre I know – even more bizarre was I thought some of them were – prejudice in overdrive I fear!!!!

My favourite though was the woman I saw at Liverpool Street still reading, book in front of her face, weaving from the train platform, across the station concourse and down onto the Central Line – she put her book down only to swipe her Oyster card – apart from that she was on a kind of automatic pilot and it was up to everyone else at rush hour to swerve and weave out of her way! I had to admire her sense of direction, her disregard for the rest of the commuting world and above all her obvious passion and enjoyment of her book! (Couldn’t see what it was – might she have been a Fifty Shades reader?!?!?!)

I’m looking forward to the commute by train and tube – although I’ll have hassles like everyone else, it’ll allow me to use the journey time to indulge in something I love – reading more and more books! At the moment, the car journeys are ok when you’re moving – but let’s be honest around the M25 and London ‘traffic’ and ‘moving’ are almost contradictory terms!!! Once I’m stationary, it always seems like such an awful waste of precious time!

However, while I won’t miss the traffic jams, I’ll miss the Today programme on Radio 4 – or at least large parts of it (I’ll still listen in over hurried breakfast and getting dressed if I can!). It’s one of the things that I think define me as “getting older” – my family prefer Christian O’Connell on Absolute Radio  in the mornings – and I admit any time I listen in I think he’s hilarious. Twenty years ago he’d have been my morning radio choice without a doubt – but now I’m fifty and I’ve got grey hair and my knees creak, I feel at home with Radio 4! (Sorry to any fellow R4 listeners who are offended by the implication that we’re mostly getting on in years!).

Radio 4 Today Programme Presenters
John Humphries – The Best Voice On Radio Sarah Montague – and my favourite Scotsman, James Naughtie

But nothing beats listening to the Today programme to start the day – I look forward to John Humphries baiting and devouring politicians and their egos for his breakfast, I could listen to Sarah Montague’s fabulous voice reading the telephone directory aloud, I love the spark and energy of Evan Davies, the measured deep tones of Justin Webb, and above all I think James Naughtie is wonderful – whether it’s politics or the arts or just the weather, he’s bright, intelligent, engaging and always sounds like he’s enjoying whatever he’s doing! If he and Alex Salmond were put in charge of the Scotland football team, we might win the World Cup!

Though I’ll miss them, I now have more time than ever to spend reading. Which is just as well, as my To Be Read shelf has never been longer (in fact it’s no longer a shelf – it’s now more like two and a half shelves!) and my What Next list would use up every penny I earn if I was to buy everything on it! As my start date is still about a month away I don’t know what will be my first book to mark my new commute – if anyone has a suggestion for something apt or just plain fantastic, let me know!

While I can predict I’ll read more than ever, I’m certain that for as long as my commuting goes on, I don’t think you’ll ever see me doing this!

Reading Fifty Shades of Grey

‘Buying Books Would Be A Good Thing If One Could Also Buy The Time To Read Them In!’………

………..These words of Alfred Schopenhauer certainly rang true for me over the weekend as I unpacked several packages of books which were delivered or collected at the end of last week! I had that gloriously familiar yet scary feeling of excitement at the thought of reading to come, mixed in with getting my fix from the smell, and shape and feel of books to which I think I’m addicted, and topped off with a slight panic at the thought of “when the hell will I find the time to read all these!?”

The first bundle of joy brought the books I need for The Readers Summer Book Club. I had three of the eight titles already but now I have them all, I’m really looking forward to both reading each of them and to reading what other people think of each of them. By definition reading is a pretty solitary past time and so something like the Summer Book Club gives me the sense of being connected through the book I read to others, doing the same solitary thing, at broadly the same time, and for exactly the same purpose, that I am. It all kicks off with Glen Duncan’s ‘The Last Werewolf’ on May 28th.

The second delivery was a few books that I’d got on the basis of recommendations from elsewhere. Dodie Smith’s ‘I Capture The Castle’ had been reviewed so positively on several of the blogs I read, that I almost felt I’d be missing out if I didn’t read it! Similarly I’ve read positive reviews on other blogs of Jeffrey Eugenides ‘The Marriage Plot’, and Anne Enwright’s ‘The Forgotten Waltz’ which was also shortlisted for the Orange Prize. One night driving home I flicked through radio stations and found Simon Mayo on Radio 2 waxing lyrical about Chad Harbach’s ‘The Art Of Fielding’. At that point it was the first time I’d heard of it, but of course since then I couldn’t fail to spot that it’s everywhere. I think it was advertised in virtually every tube station I was in over the weekend! The package was a bit of a mix for it also included John Lawton’s ‘A Lily Of The Field’. He’s new to me as a writer but it was recommended by a friend who’s read all of the Inspector Troy series (I think the one I’ve just collected is about the seventh or eighth!) so I’m both looking forward to it and also hoping I’ll have found a new detective so that I can then go back and read through all the other Troy books!

On Friday I picked up my copy of HhhH by Laurent Binet, which I’d first heard of being recommended on CathyReadsBooks (though I can’t remember if it was in her actual blog or through her Twitter feed). It tells the story of the mission to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich in Czechoslovakia in 1942. Since that initial but overwhelmingly positive recommendation, I’ve read of several others who essentially all said, in metaphorical twenty-foot high capital letters BUY IT AND READ IT! I generally love fiction set around WW2 and that along with the many enthusiastic reviews was more than enough to convince me so I did buy it and I’m about to start it later today!

Lastly I picked up the last of a set of books about or by my national poet, the genius that was Robert Burns. My parents had kindly given me money to buy whatever books about him I could find for my 50th birthday and having spent some time looking I finally ordered them recently, some new to me and others replacing second-hand dog-eared copies of books I’ve had for donkeys years!. So, probably over the summer itself, I’m looking forward to spending time with Robert, his Merry Muses of Caledonia and his Poems Chiefly In The Scottish Dialect, with side orders of biographies and studies of the Scottish Bard by Robert Crawford, Donald Smith and Patrick Scott Hogg!

And as I read all things Robert, I’ll be listening to Eddie Reader sing the “Songs of Robert Burns Live” in the background! And when it gets to the song ‘Willie Stewart’ I’ll stop reading and sing along at the top of my voice!!! (partly because it’s a wonderful bawdy celebration of male friendship and partly because Willie Stewart is my Dad’s name!)

And I might wash down all that patriotism with another wallow in watching ‘Braveheart’! (though at this point my family may well leave me for this is where common sense departs and rabid Scottish mutterings about the “Daughters of Longshanks” begin!)