What We're Reading, April 26 - May 2
The biography of a cigar worker turned respected baseball executive, a petite book of poetry perfect for the season, a huge chronicle of a cook and his vegetable patch, and a mother's day gift book that celebrates moms as fashion plates.
How One Negro-League Owner Changed the Face of Baseball
by Adrian Burgos, Jr.
Historian Adrian Burgos, Jr. tracks the fascinating life of Alejandro Pompez from young cigar worker in Key West to Harlem numbers runner to respected baseball executive. Pompez owned a Negro League franchise, the New York Cubans, which was largely staffed by players he recruited from throughout Latin American. It was Pompez who recruited the first Dominican, the first Puerto Rican and the first Panamanian players into the Negro Leagues. All the while his illegal betting business helped finance his baseball operation. That is, until New York prosecutor Thomas Dewey (he of "Dewey Defeats Truman" fame) forced Pompez to squeal on his former boss, the infamous gangster "Dutch" Schultz. Following the integration of baseball, Pompez worked as a Latin America scout for the New York and San Francisco Giants where he signed a string of future stars including Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda and Felipe Alou.
Burgos draws a wonderfully detailed portrait of Alejandro Pompez. It must have been exhausting for Pompez to juggle the competing identities of being an Afro-Cuban-American who ran an illegal gambling operation alongside a legitimate baseball club. As I read the book, I kept thinking of Gustavo Perez-Firmat's poem, "The Bilingual Blues" and the line "soy un ajiaco de contradicciones" ("I am a gumbo of contradictions"). The research is impeccable. The context provided is nuanced and rich. But, the writing is uneven and the author, at times, veers awfully close to advocacy. (Burgos sat on the committee that elected Pompez into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.) Still, this book is indispensable for anyone who wants to understand the Latinization of Major League Baseball. - Luis Clemens, Senior Editor
Hardcover, 320 pages; Hill and Wang; list price, $28; publication date, April 26
Birds, Beasts, And Seas
Nature Poems From New Directions
Edited by Jeffrey Yang
National Poetry Month may be drawing to a close, but just in time comes this delightful little book of nature poetry. Birds, Beasts, and Seasshowcases work from over 140 poets published by New Directions, one of the premier independent presses for poetry in the country. This slim volume contains work from the likes of John Donne, Pablo Neruda, Tennessee Williams, Ezra Pound, Anne Carson, Lawrence Ferlenghetti and Octavio Paz — but some of the book's most striking moments come from lesser known poets. Take these lines from "Our Garden," originally written in Indonesian by Chairil Anwar: "Our garden/doesn't spread out very far, it's a little affair/in which we won't lose each other."
This is the kind of slender little book that you want to keep in your bag and pick up throughout the day, or read a few passages from before bed; in every way, it channels serenity. Poetry bred out of nature — lines that attempt to describe the natural world of plants and animals — tends to be incredibly reflective and sensual, stuffed with meaty adjectives and painted landscapes. This collection takes those qualities and picks the very best examples; it is expertly curated, and each poem feels just right in place. In a world where it is so hard to stop and be contemplative, Birds, Beasts, and Seas demands it, if only for a fleeting moment.- Rachel Syme, Books Editor
Paperback, 208 pages; New Directions; list price, $14.95; publication date, April 29
A Cook And His Vegetable Patch
By Nigel Slater
Tenderis the acclaimed British food writer Nigel Slater's latest magnum opus, a doorstopping 600-page tour through his London vegetable garden, with accompanying recipes, anecdotes, and planting tips. As a child, Slater's experience of vegetables extended to nothing more than peas and cubed carrots, with the occasional dish of instant mashed potatoes, and this book celebrates all the green and leafy delights he discovered as an adult. It's also a hymn to the beauty and effort of gardening through the changing seasons. If you've ever wanted to get to know your dish of sauteed spinach or gratin potatoes from seed to plate, this is the book for you.
I've loved Slater's writing ever since his memoir, Toast, came out a few years ago. B the time you've finished one of his books, you feel as if he's the flamboyant best friend you didn't realize you had. And since I have a distinctly adversarial relationship with vegetables (get thee behind me, kale!), I thought Tender would be a good challenge. It didn't disappoint; Slater knows the best way to draw in vegephobes like me, with lashings of butter, cream, cheese and bacon in most dishes. Delicious! Though maybe a bit impractical if you're trying to be healthy. Still, I aim to try his recipe for salmon, steamed spinach, and lemon salad as soon as I can get to the market.- Petra Mayer, Associate Producer
Hardcover, 624 pages; Ten Speed; list price, $40; publication date, April 26
My Mom, Style Icon
By Piper Weiss
When women's magazine writer/blogger Piper Weiss began the blog , it was as a fun project — she asked her girlfriends to send in photos of their mothers when they were at the height of their fashion prowess. Soon, the blog grew into a phenomenon, and now, a book. My Mom, Style Iconis a collection of photographs and stories, told by daughters and sons, about their very stylish mothers in the blush of youth. The book is organized around themes — weddings, rebellion, traveling pantsuits — and is peppered with sweet vintage style tips along with the individual style stories.
You know May 8 is Mother's Day, right? I had almost forgotten, when I came across this book in an effort to find something fun and quirky to send my mom on the big day. Instead, I fell right into it, didn't come out for an hour or so, and decided to keep it for myself. There is something addictive about this book, even though it is really little more than the personal photo albums of strangers who submitted pictures of their mothers as secretaries with bouffants or child brides wearing a white floral dress and a hemp choker. The mothers in these pictures look so happy and fresh, and the children telling the stories beam with pride at how gorgeous and trendsetting the women that birthed them once were. Perhaps there is something a bit sad about the premise of the book — being a style icon thenmeans that you may not be one now --but there is something very touching about it too; the acknowledgment that moms were all young once, living life to the fullest in some crazy platform heels. — Rachel Syme, Books Editor
Hardcover, 156 pages; Chronicle; list price, $18.95; publication date, April 6
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