The Art of Fielding

Schwartz didn’t notice the kid during the game.

De menselijke kant van een sport en van een sporttalent. Voor een boek over een sport waar ik helemaal niks mee heb (baseball), wist het mij toch erg te boeien. Wat zeg ik, het eerste een/derde deel verslond ik als mogelijk favoriet van de maand.

Het basisgeven is als een sportfilmcliché: zielig mannetje heeft een gigantisch sporttalent. Coachfiguur met minder talent bemoedert hem tot het beiden opbreekt. Oh jee. Maar Chad Harbach racet snel voorbij het sentiment en het underdog cliché; dit zijn mensen en zo zullen ze opgeschreven worden. Zo’n talent is geweldig, maar dat betekent niet dat zijn rest van zijn leven een succes is. Dat betekent niet dat heel zijn directe omgeving  ineens door God geraakt is en een fijn leven ontwikkelen.

Daarnaast is het talent Henry niet heel de tijd de hoofdpersoon. Nadat hij uitgebreid is geintroduceerd (en al over zijn talent begint te struikelen), wordt er ruimte gemaakt voor de mensen die hij direct en indirect raakt door zijn spel. Het leven in en om een universiteit en haar sportteam wordt driedimensionaal door de mensen die er onderdeel van zijn.

The Art of Fielding heeft een kleine inzinking na de eerste 33 procent, maar blijft zeker sterk genoeg overeind om voor de niet-baseball liefhebber een aanrader te zijn.

The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach, Little Brown and Co 2011

Dark Dude

Well, even if they say life can be shitty, you really don’t know the half of it until you’ve dug up an outhouse.

Coming of age of a white Latino boy in New York City and Wisconsin. A couple of decades ago, as I discovered after initially being confused about the lack of cell phones and the very cheap comics.

Rico isn’t white enough nor rich enough to sit with the white students, nor black enough to hitch his wagon to the other Latino or black kids. He wants to become famous with the comic books he creates, but the friend that draws the accompanying comics is becoming more interested in drugs and less in drawings. His other friends with the lottery and moves to a less poisonous, no-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel place. After a situation, Rico follows him to Wisconsin.

There he learns about different ways of lives, different motivations, different ways of looking at the same problem. Rico doesn’t just run away from a bleak future, he’s so very hopeful that he can create a better one.

Dark Dude is a bittersweet story about responsibilities, race and family. YA how it should be.

Dark Dude, Oscar Hijuelos, Atheneum Books For Young Readers 2009

Blind Sight

Names are just what we all agree to call things.

Just like  Dark Dude a story about a teenage boy growing up, but in very different surroundings and time period. Luke has been raised by his New Age mother, religious grandmother and feminist, free-thinking sisters. When his – before unknown – father turns out to be a famous actor, inviting him to his life in Los Angeles, he’s introduced into a very different world with a very different state of mind.

His father is a capitalist, he’s not honest to everyone, eats meat and has no time for meditation. Through essays, Luke tries to get used to having a father, learn about how life is with a father in it and how it changes him. Is he a different person at home versus the apartment of his father? And how do you write an essay that will get you into university?

It takes a bit before Meg Howrey seems to have found a balance between telling and showing. Half way into the book it becomes a bitter sweet coming-of-age story with Luke doubting a lot, while at the same time enjoying everything and wondering if that’s allowed in such a strange situation. What threw me off most was the random changing from first to third person.

Even though there’s a lot of ‘Hollywood’ involved, Blind Sight never loses its realistic feeling, making you silently root for this lost kid.

Blind Sight, Meg Howrey, Vintage Books 2012

The Age of Miracles

We didn’t notice right away.

This is a terrifying story. This is humanity against the world and – even though most of us rather not think about it – the world “winning” without an effort.

Main character Julia’s transformation from child to teenager can be evenly lined up with the things Earth is going through. Some things are hard to notice, while others are clear, touch changes. And it can’t be stopped or turned back, no matter how hard you try.

As her world speeds up, the entire world starts slowing down. Days grow longer and longer and it’s adjust or die. Birds fall from the air, cults pop up left and right and trees and plants slowly die. Normal life is clung to until it’s clear that it doesn’t work any more, no matter how hard you try to lie to yourself.

The Age of Miracles is a heavy, depressing story about things lost. It gets underneath your skin and festers there with all to believable doom scenarios about the environment. Yet at the same time it’s a small, bittersweet story about growing up and losing your innocence.

The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker, Simon & Schuster 2012

Dresden Files

Ik lette nooit zo op de fasen van de maan.

Ik heb niets voor niets een hekel aan hard rijden.

In grote porties lijken de Dresden Files wel heel erg op elkaar. Zoals ik al eerder beschreef, de boeken zijn pulp. Dat valt alleen maar meer op wanneer je ze achter elkaar leest. Natuurlijk, er zijn verschillende monsters. Jim Butcher zorgt voor lekkere dialogen en gruwelijke situaties. Maar hoofdrolspeler Harry Dresden heeft net iets te vaak net iets te laat door wat er aan de hand is. Loopt net iets te vaak in de handen van de vijanden, geeft net iets te vaak een dikke knipoog naar de lezer. Dan wordt het duidelijk dat de auteur erg strak volgens een ABC-tje van schrijven werkt en is de pret er een (klein) beetje vanaf. Vermakelijk blijven ze dus, maar niet in ‘marathon’ vorm.

Wolvenjacht, Jim Butcher, De Vliegende Hollander 2009

Doodsnood, Jim Butcher, De Vliegende Hollander 2010

Flip

Alex couldn’t have said what woke him that morning.

How do you get used to living in someone else’s body? Martyn Bedford manages to use a well-trodden trope (body swap) for a bittersweet coming of age story about two very different teenage boys.  And how you only know what you have when it’s gone.

Alex is a teen of the side-lines of his own life. He’s not actively bullied, but he’s not without abuse either. Not many friends, not many excitement. Until he wakes up in a strange bed, in a strange house, thousands of miles away from his own home. He’s not even in his own body any more, having slipped into the life of another teenage boy.

What follows is trying to adjust while trying to understand what happened, seeing what went wrong in his life and realizing that even something that looks better (popularity, money, girlfriends) can be empty or not all that desirable.

The “scientific” experience of everything doesn’t completely fit in with the themes of getting to know yourself and the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but it isn’t stretched in such a way that it becomes obnoxious. Flip is a sweet story that’s smarter than it might look from its summary.

Flip, Martyn Bedford, Walker Books 2011

Little Birds

Manuel and his wife were poor, and when they first looked for an apartment in Paris, they found only two dark rooms below the street level, giving on to a small stifling courtyard.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a Classic. And I don’t expect Anaïs Nin to be on the same high school to-read lists like Jane Austen or Mark Twain, but I’m certain she can be called a Classic (the capital is necessary). So, like with other Classics, I picked the slimmest novel of the author and ended up with Little Birds, a collection of (very) short stories.

Erotic stories. Published after her death, so sadly I’ll never know if she gave a damn about being different like that. Maybe people in the 1940s didn’t give a damn either, the preface of the Penguin Classics version doesn’t touch upon any of it. But besides that, does this author deserve the title of Classic?

That’s not easily said after reading just one piece of work, but Little Birds definitely has a certain appeal. The writing is accessible, there is a certain easy rhythm in the short stories that can almost be put to music. And, very important to erotica, there are barely any (horrible) metaphors for genitals.

And maybe most important: Little Birds made me curious about more Anaïs Nin.

Little Birds, Anaïs Nin, W. H. Allen & Co. 1979