Tag Archives: reading

Reading in 2016

Last December during a conversation with my sister Rebecca, she mentioned being intentional about reading in a busy season of life. The thought stuck with me as 2016 began; I decided to target reading a book per month in 2016.

I’ve always loved to read. Book sales and book stores fill me with happiness and sadness. Happiness that so much information, opportunity, and entertainment lie before me. Sadness because I can’t read them all. At one point in my life the idea of reading one book per month would have been appalling. How can one book last an entire month? Right now that’s about all I can handle.

A recent study (media summary  link or actual study link) conducted by researchers at Yale showed a correlation between book reading and survival. While cognitive engagement may promote life, I suspect there are other variables at play as well. Regardless, I fully believe a life with books is fuller and richer.

I’m planning to post short reviews or thoughts on the books I’m reading this year. Just in case that never happens, I thought I’d start with my list so far. It’s not an elitist list, just books that I’ve wanted to read or have been recommended. As mid-August approaches I have fallen a little behind, I’m just finishing my July book:

January: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (Malcolm Gladwell)

February: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (Daniel James Brown)

March: The Martian (Andy Weir)

April: Seeds of Change: Six Plants That Transformed Mankind (Henry Hobhouse)

May: Silent Spring (Rachel Carson)

June: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (Michael Lewis)

July: The Black Tulip (Alexandre Dumas)

Here’s to savoring words and turning pages. . .

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Summer Reading: Hemingway

When I was in high school I read many of Ernest Hemingway’s novels and short stories. I enjoyed the terse nature of his writing. I liked the realism. I noticed that I found Hemingway’s writing slightly depressing and inspiring at the same time.

lookoutridge1

pismobeach101This summer I decided to read some Hemingway novels I read years ago. I read The Old Man and Sea while sitting on Pismo Beach. It was a lovely setting, and the background noise of crashing waves added to the atmosphere. I read To Have and Have Not on top of Lookout Ridge and in my living room. During my time on Lookout Ridge helicopters were buzzing around like bumblebees. The electric company was working on power lines. As an aside, commuting to and from work on a tether underneath a helicopter looks pretty amazing. I read The Sun Also Rises at Pismo Beach and at home. Somehow I managed to forget to put sunblock on my feet and ended up with an impressive sunburn. The last time my feet were so thoroughly sunburned was in Florida in 1995 during Spring Training (I was also reading on the beach, but I forget what book . . . ).

I still enjoy reading Hemingway, but his use of ethnic slurs is troublesome. I had forgotten about that aspect of his writing. To Have and Have Not took me by surprise.

A story may have different functions. It may entertain. It may challenge. It may encourage. It may warn. These three Hemingway novels provided all of that and more.

One last note. I like when an author writes something that resonates with life experience. Early in The Sun Also Rises the narrator (Jake)  has a difficult meeting and goodbye while remaining rather stoic. Later that night after getting into bed his mind returns to that scene and torments him. His conclusion: “It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing.”

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A Glimpse of Baseballtown: Reading, PA

It is interesting how a place and an experience can become so treasured. Visiting Reading, PA to watch baseball is high on my list of favorite things to do. The combination of nostalgia and entertainment is wonderful. Last night I visited Reading to watch Game 2 of the Eastern League Division Series. I went early, like I usually do. Here are some pictures of the sights around and in the ballpark, to give you a glimpse of why I love this place.

First Energy Stadium is one of the rare ballparks I have visited that has free parking. The only parking that has a cost is the small reserved parking right by the stadium. The majority of cars park in lots behind the ballpark or in commercial factory lots along North Front Street. I always turn onto Bern Street off of Centre Avenue, then turn onto Pear Street. Pear Street has no official outlet, but it connects to a commercial parking lot that is close to the stadium. The true value of this location, however, is upon exiting. You can avoid the traffic right at the ballpark, and there is a traffic light at Bern Street and Centre Avenue to make the left turn manageable.

No outlet, but good parking for baseball.

I parked shortly after 5pm yesterday, so factory workers headed home for the day were leaving the commercial lot as I was arriving. Beside the lot that I usually park in there is a curious structure that has fascinated me for years. It looks like a single row of horse stalls, but it houses cars. I enjoy making up stories to explain its presence.

The curious covered parking.

Another curious building beside the lot houses the Steeler Fellowship Club. It is a squat, brick building. Who are they? What do they do? And isn’t that a cool window on the side of the building?

The Steeler Fellowship Club in Reading, PA.

Walking to the ballpark involves crossing the railroad tracks. This is one of my favorite stretches of sidewalk on earth. You can hear the stadium public address system in the distance, brief glimpses of the park appear through the trees, and fans and ballpark employees mill around.

The walk to the ballpark.

And then suddenly the ballpark sits in front of you, a happy sight.

First Energy Stadium in Reading, PA.

A large dog tag sits in front of the stadium.

The big dog tag in front of the stadium.

First Energy Stadium used to be Reading Memorial Municipal Stadium when I first started going to games. Plaques on the left side of the front of the stadium honor some of the persons instrumental in building and maintaining the park.

Plaques on the front wall of the stadium.

The brick courtyard in front of the stadium has special bricks commemorating the honorary annual King or Queen of Baseballtown. These are individuals who have played a large role in baseball in Reading.

I don’t think the nickname Cooter is as popular as it used to be.

Additional bricks in the courtyard honor players inducted into the Reading Phillies Hall of Fame. On the right side of the courtyard is the main gate that goes into the stadium. In the picture below, the ticket-taker in light blue to the right of the guy in the red 24 shirt is Neale Bechtel. He has worked at the stadium since 1967! He is very friendly and a delight to talk to.

The main gate into the ballpark.

Upon entering the park you find yourself in the VIST Financial Plaza. Food and merchandise are available for purchase. As game time grows close this area will be full of fans.

The VIST Financial Plaza.

A stage sits in the center of the plaza. It frequently hosts pregame happy hour concerts. At some point during the game there are sometimes kids activities held at the stage. Concerts, including the mascot band, often take place postgame.

The Weston Center Winning Smiles Stage in the plaza, with a pregame concert in full swing.

The plaza hosts a kids zone with a miniature golfing course and various other games. On the far end of the plaza is the entrance to the Reading Eagle Pool Pavillion. Some great wall art lines the back of the right field bleachers on the side of the plaza. It contains large pictures of former players, newspaper articles, and programs form the past (the section dedicated to Mike Schmidt is excellent).

In the stadium concourse there are team photos on the wall.

Team photos from the past on the concourse.

The Reading baseball tradition is celebrated, dating back to the beginning as a Cleveland Indians affiliate in the 1950s.

Notes about the Reading baseball tradition.

I really like the old signs, bunting, and banners that decorate the concourse. Even the restroom signs are cool.

The signs on the concourse are throwbacks.

The concourse at First Energy Stadium.

Along the left field wall of the stadium there is a tribute to players from the 2008 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies team that played substantial time in Reading as they were developing. I saw all of them play here: Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, Pat Burrell, Brett Myers, Chris Coste, and Ryan Madsen.

A tribute to members of the 2008 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies that played in Reading.

Along the left field side of the stadium there is the Fairground Square Mall Picnic Area and several food stands. Dingers Bar is located beyond the outfield wall, with the Coors Light Deck and boardwalk next door.

A view from Dingers Bar in left field.

There are many other features of the park I did not photograph. The pool pavilion in right field, the main scoreboard in left center field, the press box, a close up of the grandstand, the charming advertisements around on the outfield wall, and so much more. Just in case I did not make myself clear–I think this park is wonderful.

A few final photos before I close:

Last week I noticed that the ostrich the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor rides looked depressed. I decided to see how it looked last night.

How does the bird look?

A weary bird?

My photos were inconclusive, but I think the bird is ready for the off season. If the eyes are the window into the soul, than this bird needs a vacation and a few words of affirmation.

The candy villain is a regular at the ballpark. He wanders through the crowd the inning before the mascot vegetable race, yelling things like: “Eat more candy!” and “Candy is good!” and “Down with vegetables!” During the vegetable race Candy will tackle a vegetable and do his best to cause mayhem. It is entertaining. Behold Candy:

Candy revels in the jeers of the crowd.

Candy watches the vegetables race down the outfield line, preparing to tackle the leader, on this night it was Carrot.

After the race a closing line is delivered over the PA system: “Remember kids, vegetables are good! Candy is bad! Eat more vegetables!” You don’t see many vegetable vendors in the park. Candy might have lost this race, but he won the war.

The R-Phils lost a close game to Trenton last night. The winning run was scored with two outs in the 9th inning. All of the rest of the series will be played in Trenton (Trenton won earlier tonight, placing the R-Phils on the brink of elimination).

I love baseball.

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Hoping to Witness Records in Reading

Three days ago Darin Ruf tied Ryan Howard’s Reading Phillies single season home run record at 37. Justin Friend, the R-Phil closer, also had 23 saves–one shy of the single season franchise record shared by Wayne Gomes and Toby Borland. Thus, the past two evenings I have been in First Energy Stadium in Reading, PA to watch the final two home games of the regular season.

On Wednesday night the Reading team awards ceremony was held before the game. Both Ruf and Friend took home hardware, with Ruf being named team MVP. In the game Ruf went 2 for 2 with a double, a single, and two walks. There was a lot of suspense and drama throughout the night. The R-Phils lost, eliminating any chance for Friend to pick up a save.

On Thursday night Ruf was presented with the Eastern League MVP award before the game, as well as the Rookie of the Year award. He gave a nice speech thanking his family, friends, teammates, coaches, and the fans.

Ruf with the Eastern League MVP and Rookie of the Year awards.

Binghamton had a hard throwing left handed starter, which made me feel optimistic about Ruf’s chances. In his first at bat he didn’t get anything good to hit. I began to fear he would be pitched around. Then in his second at bat two runners were on with two outs. Ruf got ahead in the count. And then he launched a ball far into the dark night.

The follow through as the ball soars into the night.

It took less than a second for me to realize he had just hit number 38. It was a question of whether or not it would clear the outfield bleachers, not if it would clear the fence. It landed in the very back of the left field bleachers. The crowd was louder than I have ever heard it in Reading. Standing ovation. Joy.

Little doubt–that ball is destined for the seats.

That joy translated to the field. The players seemed thrilled for Ruf.  They were all smiling and celebrating.

Lots of joy.

All the players came out onto the field. The game was briefly paused to award Ruf a bat that had been spray painted silver to mark the occasion. He’ll be getting a silver or pewter one after the season ends–the spray painted bat is just a body double.

The silver stand-in bat.

In his next at bat Ruf hit a ball to the wall that was caught. He got another standing ovation.

Reading had a 7-2 lead going into the 9th inning. Things got interesting when the Mets loaded the bases with one out. With the tying run on the on deck circle it became a save situation, and Justin Friend came into the game. He warmed up, then promptly induced a double play ground ball. Game over. Save record tied.

Justin Friend prepares to deliver the final pitch of the game.

I really enjoyed spending the last two nights at the ballpark. To make things even better, I sat next to old baseball fans both nights. I got to hear stories about Greg Luzinski, Mike Schmidt, and other players from the past.

Reading is always entertaining, and the staples were there. The Crazy Hot Dog Vendor.

The Crazy Hot Dog Vendor and his depressed ostrich (seriously, look into that bird’s eyes–life is not good).

The racing vegetables. I think the vegetable races at Reading are the most competitive novelty races I have seen at a ballpark. The interns are serious about winning.

Fast vegetables.

And of course, Neal the Singing Usher belting out Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the 7th inning stretch. He has been working at the ballpark since 1967!

Neal Bechtel, the famous Singing Usher at Reading.

Good times.

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In Defense of Food: Michael Pollan

I like to eat. Thankfully I’ve been blessed with a metabolism that is a rock star. The only special diets I have ever attempted were to gain weight, though my metabolism foiled those plans. My premise is that eating should be enjoyable. Thus I am a proponent of savoring food and not getting paranoid about nutrition.

A few weeks ago I read Michael Pollan’s wonderful argument for this in In Defense of Food. His main thesis is “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Good advice.

I appreciate Pollan’s through research and ability to take scientific material and present it in a manner that is easy to read. I also enjoy the way he presents an argument, not claiming to be impartial or an absolute authority, but rather an interpretor of facts and clues and information. His conclusions aren’t a collection of rules, as witnessed by the thesis statement I wrote above.

On page 157 Pollan managed to use the phrase “. . . silence of the yams . . .” which further solidifies him as my hero.

In the book Pollan examines the current obsession with analyzing nutrient intake, as well as providing a few thoughts on healthy eating. I found the background on nutritional studies fascinating. The advice on healthy eating did not radically change me, but it did make me think about unit bias and quantity versus quality. I am guilty of eating whatever is in front of me (I tend to cook for a family of three and then eat it all). As a practical step in responding to this I’ve been changing some of my portioning in cooking; I still have not overcome my aversion to most leftovers (which fuels my motivation to eat everything I cook at once).

In closing, here is an amazing coincidence I must tell you about. I read frequently. I have no idea how many books I have read, but it’s a long list. Prior to reading In Defense of Food  I read George Eliot’s Middlemarch (I finished the book on March 14, which I am certain you will agree is quite close to the middle of March, and once I realized my timing it gave me great pleasure. But this is not the coincidence that I referenced earlier, it is far more dramatic than that.) I heard of Middlemarch for the first time this past fall, when it was recommended to me three times. So I read it. I enjoyed it. The characters are very rich and real (my favorite being the noble, bug-collecting, gambling, clergyman Camden Farebrother). One of the characters in the book is Dr Casaubon. It is Dr Casaubon that is the coincidence, for he is referenced explicitly by Pollan in In Defense of Food. This is not a passing mention, Pollan compares the work of researchers on omega-3 fats with the research of Dr Casaubon (which is most unflattering for the omega-3 researchers). That is amazing to me. I have gone through my life unaware of Middlemarch, then I finally read it and the very next book I read (which is a non-ficiton book about food) has a direct reference to it*. Crazy.

If you had given me the opportunity to wager on a direct reference to Middlemarch appearing in In Defense of Food before I began reading the book I would now be penniless, for I would have bet everything I own against it**.

*You might be thinking, you only noticed the reference because you just read the book. You may have encountered other references in the past that you missed. To this I would say, that is unlikely sir or madam, highly unlikely. I am the sort of reader that feels compelled to investigate references and passing mentions. Had I encountered Middlemarch before I would have remembered it.

**If I were a betting man.

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