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Baseball's Odd Couple

Driving Mr. YogiFor Yogi Berra and Ron Guidry spring training is a renewal of their friendship. Every spring former Yankees’ pitching superstar Guidry drives to the Tampa airport and picks up former Yankees’ catcher and Hall of Famer Berra. The two go the ballpark, watch games, eat dinner together, and trade stories.  Every day for the next month follows the same pattern. Driving Mr. Yogi is the story of the bond between two men who on the surface appear to share only baseball in common.   The catcher from a poor Italian neighborhood in St. Louis and the pitcher from Cajun swamp country were born a quarter of a century apart, and yet today Guidry calls Berra his best friend.  New York Times reporter Harvey Araton first shared this story last year in an article in the paper and expands on it in this humorous and thoughtful narrative. 

 

It all began in 1999, when Berra was reunited with the Yankees following a 14 year self-exile that began when he was fired by George Steinbrenner.  The rift between the two men led Berra to cut all ties with the Bronx Bombers. The Boss finally offered an apology and Berra went back to spring training where Guidry befriended him. Berra had been a clubhouse mentor during Guidry’s playing days and Ron knew the young players would benefit from Berra’s impressive knowledge of the game and its history. Sure enough, Berra’s casual batting tip changed Nick Swisher's season, and the new ballplayers savored the anecdotes about famous old-timers such as Ted Williams and Don Larsen.    

This is a story of baseball and the rituals of spring training, but it is also a funny and affectionate story of friendship that transcends generations. And yes, it is the Yankees, but even the most ardent Orioles fan will appreciate this engaging story of two likeable sportsmen!

Maureen

 
 

Spiritual, But Not Religious

Christianity After ReligionBaltimore-born Diana Butler Bass has written extensively about the state of matters of faith in America over the past thirty years. Now, in Christianity after Religion: the End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, she argues that we are once again in a spiritual upheaval in the United States. This, she posits, is yet another in the line of spiritual “awakenings” that has gripped people of faith during times of change, such as today - the early 21st century.

 

Bass discusses some of the religious changes that have taken hold in the United States: the falling away of many from the faiths of their parents and ancestors; the loss of membership among large Christian denominations, such as Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant groups; and the current rise in self-made spirituality. A surprising piece of information is how megachurches, which grew out of the most recent spiritual awakening of the 1970s, have largely plateaued in popularity over the past decade. Testimonies, analyzed polls, and quotes from religious scholars and leaders comparing the beliefs of Americans over the decades are interspersed throughout, lending considerable validity to her arguments.

 

The current awakening the author describes is the way in which Christianity is evolving beyond traditional religious structures. Our global connectedness and increased access to communication has allowed individuals to choose spiritual elements from many religious backgrounds, such as prayer, yoga, meditation, and joyful traditions to create their own connection with a higher power. These faiths are also instilled with valuable information coming from the secular world, such as environmental and social considerations. This is a provocative and eye-opening work from one of today’s top religion writers.

Todd

 
 

Downton Abbey Addicts Anonymous

To Marry an English LordThw World of Downton AbbeyViewers have flocked to the smash hit BBC television series Downton Abbey  for the past two years, but the wait between seasons is agonizingly long for devoted fans.  The show’s popularity has created a publishing craze to produce more and more titles to help tide Downton Abbey fans over until new episodes arrive.

 

After the New York Times published a list of books for Downton Abbey fans they received a letter from Julian Fellowes, the series creator who is also known for writing the Oscar Award-winning screenplay for Gosford Park.  Fellowes wrote to highlight a title that the New York Times had missed—To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace.  This book follows the lives of several American heiresses who went to England in the late 19th century in hopes of marrying into the aristocracy.  Fellowes says that these stories really made him curious about the women’s lives after their marriages, and that idea inspired him to create the character of Lady Cora Grantham.  The gossip in To Marry an English Lord may be over a century old, but it remains riveting.  Readers will love the illustrations, sidebars, quotes, and photographs that make it an engrossing guide to the time period. 

 

Still looking for more Downton Abbey?  Try The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes, who is the niece of Julian Fellowes.  This official companion offers a behind-the-scenes look at Emmy Award-winning the show, the characters, the cast and crew, and Highclere Castle, which is the location for the show.  This pictorial guide is truly a must-read for Downton Abbey fans.

 

Look for the third season of Downton Abbey to air in the US in January 2013.  The Dowager Countess, played by Maggie Smith, will have some real competition when Shirley MacLaine joins the cast as Lady Cora’s American mother, Martha Levinson.

Beth

 
 

A Year in the City of Lights

Paris in LoveEloisa James is the pen name for Fordham literature professor Mary Bly. The daughter of the award-winning poet Robert Bly and short story author Carol Bly, James began writing romances because her husband (an Italian knight!) wanted to wait until they were more financially secure to have a second child. Today, she has approximately 3.5 million books in print in 13 different languages and is a frequent inhabitant of the New York Times bestseller list. 

 

James decided to move her family to Paris in 2009, following her mother’s death and her own struggle with breast cancer.  James chronicles this exhilarating year abroad in Paris in Love: A Memoir.The cast includes the aforementioned husband, Alessandro, also a professor and the only one who could speak French. Her children, Anna, 11 and Luca, 15, round out this appealing family. Both were initially less than impressed with French schools and society. For more on this delightful family, take a look at the book's own website.

 

James’ regular enthusiasts will savor this funny slice of life, and new readers will quickly be drawn in to this excellent memoir which is also a look at marriage and family and even includes recipes! Eat, Pray, Love’s Elizabeth Gilbert noted that, “Reading this memoir was like wandering through a Parisian patisserie in a dream. I absolutely loved it.”

 

Readers who appreciate the humorous tone to James’ writing, should definitely try some of her novels which are infused with wit and modern sensibilities. Start with her Happily Ever After series (A Kiss at Midnight, When Beauty Tamed the Beast, and The Duke is Mine), which are retellings of famous fairy tales and can be read in any order. After all, who doesn’t like to read a "Once upon a time" story every now and then? 

Maureen

 
 

A Radical Life

Panther BabyThe new memoir Panther Baby: A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention recounts Jamal (Eddie) Joseph’s journey from straight-A student to member of the revolutionary, criminal underground, and finally from convict to the chair of Columbia University's School of the Arts film division.

 

Eddie Joseph was orphaned at a very early age. He was raised in the black ghetto in the Bronx in the 1960s by an elderly black working-class couple, Noonie and Pa Baltimore. Coming of age in a highly charged era, Joseph quickly becomes enamored with the image of the Black Panthers. On seeing Black Panthers for the first time on television he says: “Look at those dudes, I thought. They’re crazy. They got black leather coats and berets, carrying guns, scaring white people, reading communist books. They’re crazy. I immediately wanted to join.”

Upon finally finding the Panthers, he realizes they are different than he had first imagined. They arm him with books, not guns. Very early on, Eddie is rechristened as Unbuntu Usa Jamal, or “he who comes together in the spirit of blackness.” He later learns the meaning is entirely fabricated but decides to keep the name, anyway. Jamal Joseph soon finds his place in the party. The Black Panthers help him figure out his place in the world and give meaning to his life. A gifted public speaker, he quickly becomes one of the youngest spokespeople for the party. He works closely with Afeni Shakur (late rapper Tupac Shakur’s mother) and finds himself giving speeches at college campuses, community centers and cocktail-party fundraisers, rubbing elbows with the likes of Leonard Bernstein and Tom Wolfe.

 

The 1960s become more radical and Joseph becomes more involved in the underground (sometimes criminal) activities of the party. He spends two major stints in jail, once for conspiracy charges and later for attempting to aid underground fugitives, he is sent to Leavenworth Prison for twelve years. It is in the infamous Leavenworth Prison that he rediscovers his love for theater. He eventually earns three degrees while in prison and is now the chair of Columbia University’s School of the Arts film division.

Panther Baby works on multiple levels. It’s a fascinating memoir and coming of age story. Jamal Joseph reflects on his experience as an orphan and as a young black man growing up in the Bronx, trying to figure out who he is and how he fits in to the world around him. The book also succeeds on a broader level. Through Joseph’s individual story, we’re given a deeper understanding of this history of the Black Panthers and an overall picture of what revolutionary politics looked and felt like in the 1960s. Panther Baby is a clear-eyed inspirational story that will appeal to both teen and adult readers.
 

 

Zeke

 
 

Dig, Till, Sow

Dig, Till, Sow

posted by:
May 6, 2012 - 7:01am

Grow, Cook, EatSmall-Space Container GardensBuilding Projects for Backyard Farmers and Home Gardeners

Hope springs eternal this planting season, when a trio of new gardening books suggests that horticultural success is within a trowel's reach for even the palest of green thumbs.  Practical advice, along with enticing photography, perusable tables of content and the indispensable indices (for those in a hurry) hint of an enjoyable journey from inspiration to harvest.  

 

 Tending the garden has never been more fun or delicious in Willi Galloway's book, Grow, Cook, Eat: a Food Lover's Guide to Vegetable Gardening Including 50 Recipes, Plus Harvesting and Storage Tips. As the lengthy title suggests the blogger and former editor at Organic Gardening magazine takes the food lover full circle from seed to table. Waste not is the goal here, and each chapter nicely lays out how to obtain the most from the vegetable's edible parts.   

 

If size matters award winning blogger Fern Richardson guides the space-starved gardener through a potpourri of creative options in Small-Space Container Gardens: Transform Your Balcony, Porch, or Patio with Fruits, Flowers, Foliage & Herbs. From repurposing household items for plant duty to creating a "potager with a twist," Richardson organizes her nine chapters and subheadings according to garden practicalities that all gardeners can appreciate. Budget conserving tips, lovely illustrations and clear directions lead the way.

 

Once the garden is sprouting it's time for garden projects. Veteran DIY author Chris Gleason describes with photographs and detailed directions fun and practical structures to improve your harvest in his latest book Building Projects for Backyard Farmers and Home Gardeners: a Guide to 21 Handmade Structures for Homegrown Harvests.  Gleason readily shares his opinion on what works and how to make the process easier. At 160 pages, this slender book has something for everyone, whether it's a squash ramp, a vermiculture bin, or historical look at backyard farming. 

Cynthia

 
 

Oh What a Tangled Web

Truth and ConsequencesThe Wizard of LiesHe really did deceive the entire world.  In a moment’s time, thousands of organizations and individuals worldwide lost their financial savings when Bernie Madoff’s massive investment fraud was uncovered.  The widespread public outrage was directed not only at him but also his family.  Surely those closest to him knew everything and were reaping all the benefits, right?  Two recent books tell otherwise. 

 

The first, Truth and Consequences: Life Inside the Madoff Family, by Laurie Sandell, chronicles the lives of his wife Ruth and sons Mark and Andrew both before and after the 2008 revelation that brought the financial empire crashing down.  Ruth, who was married to Madoff from the age of 18, had all property seized.  Mark committed suicide two years to the day of his father’s arrest.  Andrew struggled to rebuild his own reputation in the business community.  The writing at times entertains frivolous details and inconsequential family spats but provides an honest look into a tightly controlled family whose trusted patriarch was their ultimate undoing. 

 

While Truth and Consequences focuses more on family dynamics and less on the actual logistics of Madoff’s crime, The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust by Diana B. Henriques gives a detailed recounting of the Ponzi  scheme itself.  Henriques, a financial writer for the New York Times and one of the few to interview Madoff in prison, follows a substantial “cast of characters” including family members, accountants, federal  investigators and lawyers to examine how a respected businessman could carry out deception on such a grand scale.  If her earlier narrative seems dry and overwhelming in places, the latter half of the book provides plenty of courtroom drama and emotional testimony to keep readers engaged.  As both authors note, family members and outsiders alike had their lives upended by the “Wizard of Lies”, and the rebuilding for many has just begun. 

Melanie

 
 

The Mark Cuban of China

Brave DragonsFormer New York Times Beijing bureau chief and Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Yardley uses basketball as a vehicle to illuminate the global story of the Americanization of China.  In Brave Dragons: A Chinese Basketball Team, an American Coach, and Two Cultures Clashing, Yardley follows the Shanxi Brave Dragons for the 2008 season.  He is initially drawn to the team because of the fish-out-of-water hiring of Bob Weiss, a former NBA coach and player.  But the players, officials, and owner also draw him in and all have strong roles in this excellent narrative. 

 

The Shanxi Brave Dragons were and remain one of China’s worst professional teams and owner Wang Xingjiang (“Boss Wang”), a peasant turned steel tycoon, was desperate for improvement.  He promised Weiss autonomy with the players to infuse the NBA way into this team.  Once Weiss landed in China, Wang went back on that promise and refused the players any freedom or individual expression, necessary to truly change their games.  Wang, referred to as the Mark Cuban of China, interfered in nearly every aspect of the game, including sitting on the team bench with his mistress, criticizing performances, and in one case physically assaulting one of his players.

 

This is a fascinating history of basketball in China told with humor and a strong sense of the culture clash between these two countries and people.  Readers meet the players, some from around the world, but most from China. These athletes were recruited in elementary school because x-rays of their skeletal structure led to projections of tallness.   Training and practice took place in a depressing warehouse in Taiyuan, once ranked as the most polluted city in the world.  Coach Weiss had to use an interpreter to communicate with the players and with his assistant Chinese coach, Liu Tie, with whom he faced a constant power struggle.  In addition, there was rampant corruption among game officials and a multitude of cultural obstacles.  All of these elements combined with excellent research and a clear writing style add up to an engaging narrative that will appeal to sports fans and readers who enjoy well-written contemporary nonfiction. 

Maureen

 
 

Kitchen Focus

Kitchen Focus

posted by:
May 3, 2012 - 1:11am

My Family TableIn My Family Table, A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking, famed New Orleans chef and restaurateur John Besh shares his philosophy for putting together simple, delicious meals on a regular basis at home. Besh emphasizes the importance of what he calls Kitchen Focus: creating simple, refined dishes using just a handful of the best quality ingredients.  He recommends stocking your pantry in a strategic way in order to be able to bring meals together without a need for last-minute runs to the grocery store. Many of Besh’s suggested pantry items reflect the multicultural way modern cooks approach the kitchen, listing ingredients such as rice noodles, risotto rice, Israeli couscous, stone-ground grits and sambal chili paste. Fresh produce and meats complete the flavorful recipes.

 

Casual home cooks will appreciate Besh’s clear explanations and easy to follow directions for what he terms “master recipes,” easily customizable recipes for things like risottos, frittatas, and fruit crumbles. Narrative passages instruct on practical topics such as one-pot meals, braising meats, cooking fish, and planning ahead in order to pull together quick weekday meals for families. True to his promise, recipes throughout this approachable cookbook are uncomplicated yet interesting and delicious.

 

Designed in an oversized format, My Family Table is rife with inviting photos of ingredients, finished dishes, and Besh and his family, clearly enjoying these home-cooked recipes in their daily lives. This volume has all of the hallmarks of a cookbook you will return to again and again. My Family Table has been nominated for a 2012 James Beard Foundation cookbook award in the general cooking category.

Paula G.

 
 

A 5-foot-tall Metal Chicken Named Beyoncé and Other Adventures

Let's Pretend This Never HappenedPopular blogger Jenny Lawson has written a new memoir that will appeal to fans of David Sedaris, Laurie Notaro, and Chelsea Handler.  In Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir), Lawson’s writing is hilarious, honest, and often profane. 

 

Lawson begins by taking readers through her delightfully weird childhood and upbringing in rural Texas.  Like many people, Lawson says her life and family are crazy, but she is certain that her family is crazier than yours!  Her father is a taxidermist, a profession which brought about some bizarre situations in Lawson’s life like the night he created a dead-squirrel hand puppet named Stanley to show his young daughters. 

 

She goes on to tell readers about her life now with her long-suffering husband Victor and their daughter.  Readers will laugh out loud while reading Lawson’s stories about a scorpion infestation in her house, her time working in human resources, and her misadventures with a 5-foot-tall metal chicken named Beyonce. 

 

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened also has some brutally honest moments.  Lawson opens up about her heartbreaking miscarriages, and her ongoing struggle with anxiety disorder.  In the end, she faces serious challenges along with the absurdities in life and manages to comes out laughing.

 

Lawson’s award-winning blog, thebloggess.com, also reflects warped sense of humor and ongoing love of strange taxidermy.  Lawson’s irreverent writing style is not for the easily offended, but her skewed sense of humor and sardonic wit will bring readers back for more.

Beth