Friday, June 22, 2018
It's good to be in Omaha this week if you're a fan of college baseball as Rosenblatt Stadium is playing host to the College World Series. We love playing host to the thousands of fans that travel here from all over the country in support of their favorite team and usually buy up the rest of the tickets to ensure a full stadium for most games, adopting a new favorite team each year.
Last night's game between Virginia and Arkansas was a big fan favorite--Dave Van Horn, coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, used to coach at the University of Nebraska and Brian O'Connor, coach of the Virginia Cavaliers, used to play ball at Creighton University which is located in Omaha. The game was what the series is all about. Arkansas was down to their last out and behind by two runs and it looked like they were headed home. Then they managed to tie up the game with a two-run home run and hold the Cavs to take the game to extra innings--three extra innings to be exact. Twice Virginia had the bases loaded but could not score and in the top of the 12th inning the Razorbacks were able to score the game winning run. You couldn't help but cheer for the Razorbacks even as your heart broke for the Cavaliers. On to the next game--play ball!
The College World Series has since moved to a new stadium, just north of downtown Omaha. Instead of parking in the yards of all of the small homes near Rosenblatt Stadium, there are now parking lots nearby. Otherwise, much of what made the event such a fan favorite has been transplanted to the new digs - food vendors, dozens of baseball clothing vendors, and concerts. They've even kept a few pieces of Rosenblatt Stadium around, including that statue.
That's a different picture than the one I originally posted, which was at the old stadium. It's already hard to remember what it was like to be at the old stadium. The other night when we were at a game, The Big Guy and I both remarked on how much better than new facility is, how much more they are able to set up for fans to do around the stadium, how many more eating and drinking establishments are within walking distance, and how much easier it is to explore Omaha from this location.
There's not really an underdog here this year, no team that I think the locals are really embracing. Except, maybe, for Dave Van Horn's Razorbacks, who are back again this year. They are also known as the Omahogs, so you know we have to love that!
No matter where in Omaha the Series is played, it's still the Greatest Game On Dirt and Omaha still loves playing hosts to the thousands of fans that come to town to watch some great baseball and some of the players we'll be watching in the major leagues in the future.
Thursday, June 21, 2018
Published October 2017 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review
Twelve times a week, twenty-eight-year-old Ella May Wiggins makes the two-mile trek to and from her job on the night shift at American Mill No. 2 in Bessemer City, North Carolina. The insular community considers the mill’s owners—the newly arrived Goldberg brothers—white but not American and expects them to pay Ella May and other workers less because they toil alongside African Americans like Violet, Ella May’s best friend. While the dirty, hazardous job at the mill earns Ella May a paltry nine dollars for seventy-two hours of work each week, it’s the only opportunity she has. Her no-good husband, John, has run off again, and she must keep her four young children alive with whatever work she can find.
When the union leaflets begin circulating, Ella May has a taste of hope, a yearning for the better life the organizers promise. But the mill owners, backed by other nefarious forces, claim the union is nothing but a front for the Bolshevik menace sweeping across Europe. To maintain their control, the owners will use every means in their power, including bloodshed, to prevent workers from banding together. On the night of the county’s biggest rally, Ella May, weighing the costs of her choice, makes up her mind to join the movement—a decision that will have lasting consequences for her children, her friends, her town—indeed all that she loves.
Seventy-five years later, Ella May’s daughter Lilly, now an elderly woman, tells her nephew about his grandmother and the events that transformed their family. Illuminating the most painful corners of their history, she reveals, for the first time, the tragedy that befell Ella May after that fateful union meeting in 1929.
TLC Book Tours: Hey, do you want to read the new Wiley Cash book for a review?
Me: How is that even a question?
Ok, well, that's not exactly how the conversation went but it's pretty close. I've read and loved Cash's first two books (A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road To Mercy). The only question when they asked me to review The Last Ballad was why had I not read it earlier. It's a question I'm still asking myself. Because Cash has done it again and I'm not sure why I haven't heard more about this book in the blogosphere.
Cash is a master at using multiple voices to tell his story. Here it is Ella May's story that is the through line of the book but Cash moves the story forward through the stories of those whose lives will intertwine with hers. There is not a character in this book whose story I was not interested in reading but I was always happy to get back to Ella, a woman who has finally tired of letting life carry her along, who is tired of watching her children go hungry and being used by every man she has met since her father died.
If you know your history, you know that violence was the norm which these strikes. So even if you've never read one of Cash's book (and know that things will get tense and there will be sadness), you'll know almost as soon as you start reading this book that something bad will happen before the book is done. It's the South, Ella's a mill worker, and she lives in a community of blacks. While Cash gives us brief periods of reprieve, there are so many levels of stress here that your apprehension never really lets up.
There's a tendency to think of the mill owners as the bad guys, the union organizers as the good guys, the ones who are coming in to help the workers to have a better life. But Cash wants readers to see how the unions were just as willing to use the workers to get what they wanted. The bad guys here are predominately mill management and law enforcement but there are more nuanced characters on both sides of the fight.
Poignant is a word that is probably used all too often in book reviews. Yet I don't know a better word to describe this book.
The Last Ballad is based on the true story of Ella May Wiggins and Cash shares her story in the Afterword. Do not look Wiggins up or peek at that Afterword. You want to this story to unfold in the way Cash wants to tell it. When you've finished, go read about Wiggins and the mill strikes; but not until you're finished.
Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for making sure I read this one. I've already passed it along to my parents and the day I gave it to them, my dad had already started it because he well remembered A Land More Kind Than Home. For other opinions on this book, check out the full tour.
Wiley Cash is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of A Land More Kind Than Home. A native of North Carolina, he has held residency positions at Yaddo and The MacDowell Colony and teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University. He and his wife live in Wilmington, North Carolina. Find out more about Wiley at his website, and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.
Monday, June 18, 2018
We bought a new car this weekend (actually, an SUV but I'm not ever sure if that rightfully falls in the category of truck or car). The Big Guy did most of the work over the phone and the internet, we ran over lunch on Friday to pick out the exact vehicle we wanted, and still on Saturday it took hours to actually do the paperwork, turn in the old vehicle, and get the new one. Why do they have to make it so painful?!
Last Week I:
Listened To: Special Topics In Calamity Physics - I'm about a third of the way done. But now that I no longer have a CD player in my vehicle, I'm stymied as to how I will finish it. Very bummed that I will not be able to support my local library by buying books on CD from the book sale anymore. Unless I can figure out some way to move them to a digital format.
Watched: I can't actually remember what we watched. A couple of nights we actually did leave the tv off except for the news and we spent hours on the patio a couple of other nights. All good; it means I read more than I have been reading.
Read: The Last Ballad for an TLC Book Tour review this week. Ermagawd, Wiley Cash has done it again, made me love his characters and broken my heart.
Made: Lot of eat-on-the-patio foods plus cheesy hash browns, roasted broccoli tossed with Italian dressing, and homemade ice cream with homemade chocolate syrup for Father's Day.
This Week I’m:
Planning: Just to stay on top of things this week. I've got several things planned during the week so no major projects on the horizon.
Thinking About: Trips to Missouri (I've got a great-nephew due in the next few weeks I'll be wanting to meet!), to Wisconsin (to see my sister), and to Minnesota (to see Mini-me and Ms. S's new place). Now the trick is to find times for all of those trips that work for everyone.
Feeling: Sloggish. Yeah, I know that's not a word but best sums it up. Today's headache has me struggling just to get simply tasks done. At least it's not keeping me from reading!
Looking forward to: Book club tomorrow night, dinner with a friend on Wednesday, and seeing the great progress my dad has made between yesterday and Thursday when I see him again.
Question of the week: I've got some chicken breasts cooking right now but haven't yet decided what we'll use them for. What's your go-to recipe for using chicken breasts?
Read by Norman Dietz
Published June 2012 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Source: my audiobook copy purchased at my library book sale
In 1948, a mysterious and charismatic man arrives in a small Virginia town carrying two suitcases - one contains his worldly possessions, the other is full of money. He soon inserts himself into the town's daily life, taking a job in the local butcher shop and befriending the owner and his wife and their son. But the passion that develops between the man and the wife of the town's wealthiest citizen sets in motion a series of events that not only upset the quiet town but threaten to destroy both him and the woman.
If I had kept track of my favorite reads of the year in 2009, Goolrick's A Reliable Wife (my review) would have been on it. Goolrick had the capability to make the bitter cold of rural Wisconsin cool a torrid Nebraska summer day and convince me to care about some very unlikable characters. When Heading Out To Wonderful was released, I didn't hesitate to pick up a copy. But when I began reading less than glowing reviews, I found Wonderful getting pushed aside again and again in favor of other books. Eventually it was the victim of a book cull.
Still, when I found an audiobook copy for $2 at my library book sale, I decided to give it a try. After all, not all of the reviews had been bad, including this fantastic review from Jill at Rhapsody In Books Weblog. If Jill likes a book, there's a good chance I'm going to like it, too. I'm glad I didn't give up on this one but even happier that I waited to "read" it until I could listen to it. Norman Dietz's reading is marvelous. His mellifluous voice reading me very much of listening to Garrison Keillor telling a story and perfectly suited the setting of the book.
In Heading Out To Wonderful, Goolrick lulls readers with the quiet, peaceful setting of small-town Virginia, the kind of town "where no crime had ever been committed," just after the second World War. The people of Brownsburg "believed in God and The Book." There is a real sense of community in Brownsburg. Still, it's not all as wonderful as it seems on the surface when Charlie Beale arrives in town. Surprisingly, the town quickly grows to love Charlie, a man who is kind and giving to everyone. So when word gets out that Charlie has taken up with the wife of the richest man in town, a man no one likes, they are happy for him. Until the scandal takes a new turn.
I liked the way Goolrick slowly built up the tension (you just know that this is not going to end well), the way that he called out racism and the hypocrisy of organized religions, and the way we got the back story on so many of the important characters. And that ending completely stunned me.
But, like A Reliable Wife, Heading Out To Wonderful, has its flaws.
We never get Charlie's back story. Where did he come from, why is he working so hard to find a permanent home, and where did all of that money come from? And, if the young boy that Charlie becomes so attached to is actually telling the story looking back 60 years, how does he know everything that happened in people's history or the things he was never privy to? As to that later point, it wasn't one that bothered me throughout because I was so into the book as I was listening.
Like Reliable Wife, there are also passages in this book where Goolrick drags things out too long, particularly when he's talking about Charlie's feelings about the woman with whom he's having the affair and their relationship. The beauty of listening to a book, when it comes to places like this in a book, is that I can sort of just tune out until things pick up again.
Would it make a good book club choice? Yes. There is certainly a lot to discuss, including religion, racism, small town ethics, adultery, parenting, the class divisions. It's not a perfect book; but, especially on audio, it's worth reading.
Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Published 2004 by Avery
Source: bought this one through Better World Books
We all know the basics of punctuation. Or do we? A look at most neighborhood signage tells a different story. Through sloppy usage and low standards on the internet, in email, and now text messages, we have made proper punctuation an endangered species. In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Lynne Truss dares to say, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. This is a book for people who love punctuation and get upset when it is mishandled. From the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to George Orwell shunning the semicolon, this lively history makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with.
Huzzah! I finally finished this book after it languished on my nightstand for months and months. And why is that? I have no idea. I mean, I don't know that it's a book you would want to try to push straight through. It is, after all, a book about grammar and punctuation. On the other hand, it certainly deserved to be read faster than a couple of pages every few days and I absolutely would have remembered more of what I learned if I hadn't stretched it out so long.
Here's what I did learn:
- There are more punctuation rules than I was even aware of there being.
- Punctuation has been evolving since people began writing words.
- There is a difference between how Brits punctuate and how Americans punctuate and it's not always the Brits who are the bigger sticklers.
- Authors have very vocal opinions about punctuation in their books. So do editors. These opinions can often lead to conflict.
- Punctuation can be humorous.
As to that last point, this book is filled with humor. Which, I suppose, you might gather from the title and the cover; but which, nevertheless, was a pleasant surprise. Truss gets that she's a stickler when it comes to punctuation, even calling herself and those like her "punctuation vigilantes." In talking about the name of a British pop music group named Hear'Say, Truss says:
"And so it came to pass that Hear'Say's poor, oddly placed little apostrophe was replicated everywhere and no one gave a moment's thought to its sufferings. No one saw the pity of its position, hanging there in eternal meaninglessness, silently signaling to those with eye to see, "I'm a legitimate punctuation mark, get me out of here."
More on apostrophes:
"Now, there are no laws against imprisoning apostrophes and making them look daft. Cruelty to punctuation is quite unlegislated: you can get away with pulling the legs off semicolons; shrivelling question marks on the garden path under a powerful magnifying glass; you name it."
This one's a keeper. It will go on the shelf with my other reference books and may even (gasp!) be highlighted. And when I pull it off the shelf to check on a rule of punctuation, I may even reread passages just for amusement. I'll bet you never thought you'd hear anyone say that!