Boston By Foot Tour of the Month – Preserving Boston’s History

Today I took Boston By Foot’s August Tour of the Month focusing on the Historic Preservation movement entitled Preserving Boston’s History.  The tour featured many familiar Boston landmarks and the guide informed us how historic preservationists saved many of them from the dustheap.

I’ve put a gallery of photos from the tour on my website.

Adaptive reuse kept Old City Hall alive after the municipal offices moved to Government Center.
Adaptive reuse kept Old City Hall alive after the municipal offices moved to Government Center.

Highlights include:

  • the site of John Hancock’s house on Beacon Hill, lost in 1863 and ever since has been the rallying cry for what can be lost with historic preservation.
  • the Charles Bulfinch portion of the Massachusetts State House which was almost demolished and replaced with a larger version of itself during an expansion
  • Old City Hall, an early example of adaptive reuse as the government building was converted for commercial office space and restaurants.
  • Old South Meeting House, one of the first buildings preserved due to historic events that happened there rather than being associated with one famous person.
  • City Hall Plaza, once a vibrant commercial district which was cleared for urban renewal and replaced with a sea of bricks.  At least the Sears Crescent survived.
  • The Filene’s department store building, currently gutted and vacant, holds the future of historic preservation in Boston.
Will Daniel Burnhams beautiful Filenes store building survive?
Will Daniel Burnham's beautiful Filene's store building survive?

If you missed the tour today, fret not as Boston By Foot will offer it again as part of its Tours of the Month in the 2010 season.


Photopost: Drumlin Farm

When I was a kid I liked to visit farm museums where I could see all sorts of farm animals and a different way of life from my suburban upbringing.  I’ve written about a couple of these magical places before – The Stamford Museum and Nature Center and Old MacDonald’s Farm.  As an adult I’ve found it difficult to recapture the magic when visiting farm attractions as they’re either dismally small and depressing or so over-commercialized and packed with stuff that really have nothing to do with a farm.

The tractor pulls the hayride in front of the big red barn.
The tractor pulls the hayride in front of the big red barn.

So it was with great delight that I visited the MassAudobon’s Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln, MA. It helps that I went accompanied by a toddler so everything was doubly fun.  It’s a place where one can commune with sheep, pigs, goats, cows, deer, owls, and chickens.  The tractor is vintage and it pulls a no-frills hayride around the farm.  Not only that, but better than any of the places I visited as a child this is a functioning farm, growing produce for sale and divvied up among CSA shares.  Drumlin Farm is a beautiful, educational, and magical place.

More photos below.

This classy tractor pulls the hayride wagon.
This classy tractor pulls the hayride wagon.
Caught this rooster in mid-crow.
Caught this rooster in mid-crow.
Onions are spread out on the table in the greenhouse.
Onions are spread out on the table in the greenhouse.
Beautiful golden flowers grow in the garden.
Beautiful golden flowers grow in the garden.
Boyce Field, part of the working farm.
Boyce Field, part of the working farm.

Beer Review: Staropramen Lager

Beer: Staropramen Lager
Brewer: Pivovar Staropramen Pražské Pivovary
Source: Draft
** (6.5 of 10)

Comments: I’m going to say something about this beer that sounds like an insult but it’s not:  it’s like water.  Travel writer Rick Steves says that when you visit Prague the waiter will put a beer on your table upon seating just as you’d get a glass of water in the United States.  And I can imagine that this is the beer that waiter would serve.  It’s like water in all the positive aspects of water:  cool, refreshing, crisp and mild.  I expect it would be a good beer to drink at lunch when you have to go back to work in the afternoon.  Mind you, it’s still beer.  The glass I had featured a thick head that left behind beautiful lacing.  The light aroma was grassy and floral.  The flavor is grainy with a bit of sweetness and a touch of hops.  All in all just good plain drinking beer.

Beer Review: Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA

Beer: Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
Brewer: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Source: Draft
Rating: ** (6.6 of 10)

Comments: I’m not an IPA fan because this style of beer is typically very hoppy and thus very bitter.  60 Minute IPA is no exception to the rule but it is better than most IPA’s due to its complex flavor that is not overwhelmed my the initial wallop of hops.  It’s a hazy copper colored beer with a hint of caramel in its aroma.  That taste is hoppy but also contains a tangy citrus flavor and a pleasant aftertaste that may be the best thing about this beer.  The head of the beer is thick and long lasting leaving some very nice lacing right down to the bottom of the glass.

Beer Review: Buzzards Bay Black Lager

Beer: Buzzards Bay Black Lager
Brewer: Buzzards Bay Brewing
Source: 12 oz Bottle
Rating: *** (7.1 of 10)

Comments: This dark beer looks like a stout but as the name should imply it doesn’t taste like one.  The aroma and flavor is malty and smoky with some hints of chocolate.  There’s also a nice tingle of carbonation on the tongue.  This is a good beer in a unique style and I’d like to try it again on tap.

100 Favorite Albums of All-Time (30-21)


30. Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg & Wilco (1998)

An English singer/songwriter/radical and a rock/alt-country band from Chicago join to record tunes for the lost songs of Woody Guthrie and produce a masterpiece.  Once again it proves the timelessness of great music.  Favorites include “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key,” “Walt Whitman’s Niece,” and “I Guess I Planted.”

29. This Are Two Tone (1983)

I was about a decade late discovering the UK’s Two Tone ska revival, but as soon as I heard The Specials “Ghost Town” on my radio I wanted to hear more.  I went to my local record store who of course did not have anything by The Specials, but I decided to check the compilations’ area where I found this gem and my life was changed.  Other highlights include “Gangsters” and “Rudi, A Message To You” by The Specials and “Rankin’ Full Stop” by The Beat.

28. Nothing’s Shocking by Jane’s Addiction (1988)

Nirvana gets the credit for bringing so-called alternative music to the masses but Jane’s Addiction lead the way with this terrific album of funky hard rock.  Favorites include: “Jane Says,” “Ocean Size,” and “Mountain Song.”

27. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy (1988)

Hip hop at its best with a strong rhymes containing a serious social and political message over some densely-layered and funky samples.  Tracks that are still strong and relevant twenty years later include “Bring The Noise,” “Don’t Believe the Hype,” and “Rebel Without a Pause.”

26. Lifes Rich Pageant by R.E.M. (1986)

Another torch bearer carrying the underground music of the 1980’s to the mainstream of the 1990’s was R.E.M. who started out with very esoteric, experimental recordings early on and gradually became more radio friendly.  This album captures them striking a balance between the two extremes and includes some of the band’s best song such as “Fall On Me,” “The Flowers of Guatemala,” and “Swan Swan H.”

25. Shamrock Shake by Echolalia (1997)

This obscure album was recorded by a Williamsburg, VA -area Celtic folk/rock band who then vanished into the ether.  They are a band who follows the Celtic punk zeitgeist of the Pogues including a cover of “Boys from the County Hell,” but also their own material such as the topical “Serbian’s Wake,” but were best in their interpretations of timeless standards such as “The Ballad of St. Anne’s Reel.”

24. Reconstruction Site by The Weakerthans (2003)

This album was a gift from my brother-in-law that introduced me to a great Canadian rock band performing intelligent and chipper rock songs about death, depression and hating Winnipeg.  Highlights include the title track, “Plea From A Cat Named Virtute,” “Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961)” and “The Reasons.”

23. OK Computer by Radiohead (1997)

I think enough ink has been spilled explaining the greatness of OK Computer that I need not add to it, but here are my favorite songs from the album: “No Surprises,” “Karma Police,” “Airbag,” “Lucky,” and “Paranoid Android.”  What are yours?

22. Distillation by Erin McKeown (2000)

I attended the new artists showcase at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in 2000 and after a series of waifs singing about their sad lonely lives, Erin McKeown took the stage and had people singing, dancing and cheering for her two songs.  Later this album was played between sets of some other bands on the main stage and people were singing along to that!  Find out why by listening to catchy and clever tracks like “Queen of Quiet,” “Blackbirds,” and “Fast As I Can.”

21. The Stone Roses by The Stone Roses (1989)

This album was another discovery in a library back when I was in high school.  I listened to it for years and loved it before realizing that other people liked it too.  In fact New Musical Express named it the best British album of all-time in 2000. Not too shabby.  Highlights include: “Shoot You Down,” “I Am the Ressurrection,” “She Bangs the Drums,” and “I Wanna Be Adored.”

Book Review: Free Lunch by David Cay Johnston

Author: David Cay Johnston
Title: Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (And Stick You with the Bill)
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2007), Edition: Abridged, Audio CD
ISBN:  0143142968


I listened to this audiobook that details the cushy relationship between corporations and politicians that has allowed the rich to become exorbitantly rich at the taxpayer’s expense.  The book is mostly anectdotes of corporate socialism in action:

  • A railroad crash that kills passengers is due to negligence of the company that owns the tracks, CSX, yet the corporation has been able to get legal protection from the government if the train damaged belongs to Amtrak and thus the government pays the legal fees.
  • The geniuses at Enron convince the governments of several states to lift regulations and allow the free market to bring about more energy at lower prices.  Yet neither happens as prices rise and rolling blackouts darken California.  Even after the accounting scandals bring Enron execs to court they never pay back the money stolen from the public purse and official documents are struck from the public record.
  • Cabela’s sporting goods store wrangles money from local governments to build superstores with “museums” and ask to pay no taxes and in return put local stores out of business and destroy the local tax base.
  • Sports’ franchises – with antitrust exemptions that prevent them from needing to compete in the free market – hold cities for ransom and pay for construction of stadiums with public money.  Most interesting is the story of the owner of the Texas Rangers who acquired the team, had a new stadium built on a tax increase, and sold the team for a tidy profit without ever investing a cent of his own money. That owner was the man who supported nothing but tax cuts and free markets as president, George W. Bush.

This quote from Kel Munger of the Sacramento News & Review sums it up best:

If taxpayers were only taxed for public services, we’d all be a lot better off. Instead, we’re taxed to support business propositions that could never make it in a truly free market economy. The people sucking wage-earners dry are not welfare mothers, illegal immigrants, the disabled, elderly, sick or needy. That giant sucking sound that comes from wage-earners’ wallets is made by rich folks with pumps at the end of their straws.

It’s a frustrating book, all the more so since in a sense it doesn’t reveal any big secrets.  Government handouts and legislation in favor of corporations at the expense of the citizens is a well-known fact of modern America that people either feel hopeless at changing or chose to be willfully ignorant (kind of like a Stockholm Syndrome to our corporate captors).  I’m not sure if Johnston’s chapter on solutions is much help.  Among other things he proposed the taxpayer fully subsidizing Congressional representatives to keep them from accepting money from corporate lobbyists. Still, knowledge is power.

Recommended books: Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights by Thom Hartmann, The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century by Paul R. Krugman and What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank
Rating: ***

Book Review: Central Park in the Dark by Marie Winn

Author: Marie Winn
Title: Central Park in the Dark
Publication Info: New York : Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2008.
ISBN: 9780374120115 


This series of essays follows Winn and her cohorts over a decade spent observing the wildlife of an urban place, New York City’s Central Park.  Winn tells of encounters with red-tailed hawks, grackles, moths, slugs, robins, and owls and brings to life the excitement of waiting patiently to be there for the fly out of your favorite bird.  The title comes from the need to be in the park before dawn or after sunset to observe the natural goings-on, something that is perceived as a dangerous thing to do.  There are a lot of elements to this book that make is natural for me to like – New York, Central Park, quirky people with unusual hobbies, discovering the unexpected in a very accessible place – and yet I didn’t like the book as much as I want to.  Perhaps its the heavy detail offered by one who’s into intensive scrutiny whereas I just want a general overview or perhaps its the bad jokes that get less funny with repetition.  One things for sure, this book is best read like birding – slowly and with great patience over many days, not rushed through.

Recommended books: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, Outside Lies Magic by John Stilgoe, and Pigeons by Andrew Blechman
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: A People’s History of American Empire by Howard Zinn

Author: Howard Zinn, Paul Buhle, & Mike Konopacki
Title: A People’s History of American Empire
Publication Info:
ISBN: 0805077790


When I was a kid I inherited my uncle’s Mad magazine collection which had some comic books mixed in including a three-part series about the Civil War.  This was a hagiographic history where all the soldiers called one another “Billy Yank” and “Johnny Reb” done in the style of Classics Illustrated. 

A People’s History of American Empire is a very different comic book history.  Based on Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as well as Zinn’s own life this is a graphic depiction of the times in American history where the nation failed to live up to the standards of liberty and equality for all.  Mainly this involves the repression of people within the United States (Indians, blacks, immigrants, and labor), wars in foreign lands (Phillipines, Vietnam, and Iraq) and intervention into the  autonomy of other nations (Iran, El Salvador, and many more) for the benefit of powerful and wealth American elite. A comic version of Zinn narrates the book frequently turning over the story to characters contemporary to the events described. Interspersed in this narrative are stories of the social movements in America such as Civil Rights, labor, and anti-war.

I particular found it interesting in the parts that covered events I’d only heard of or knew nothing about, such as:

  • The Black 25th Infantry who fought valiantly at San Juan Hill but were denied credit.
  • The Jitterbug Riot
  • The counter-cultural protests of R&B fandom in the 1950’s.
  • The Diem Regime and South Vietnam “essentially a creation of the United States.”
  • The Second Battle of Wounded Knee
  • Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

This is a good introduction to the other side of American history in a brief and well-illustrated manner.

Recommended books: Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen
Rating: ****

100 Favorite Albums of All-Time (40-31)


40. Rubber Soul by The Beatles (1966)

Picking Beatles’ albums for this list is challenging.  How do I leave any out?  Rubber Soul is among the Beatles’ most innovative and sophisticated works with a number of great songs, so I can’t leave it off the list. Favorite tracks include: “Norwegian Wood,” “The Word,” and “I’m Looking Through You.”

39. Escondida by  Jolie Holland (2004)

Got this CD as a gift (thanks Camille) and was bowled over by Holland’s timeless voice and the crazy percussion on “Mad Tom of Bedlam.”  Wow! Other highlights include “Sascha,” “Amen,” and “Damn Shame.”

38.  Live Noise by Moxy Fruvous (1998)

Moxy Früvous was  one of those bands were never quite the same on studio albums as they were in concert.  This live collection captures the band’s on-stage banter and improvised songs as well as their greatest hits. “The Drinking Song,” “Michigan Militia,” and “Johnny Saucep’n” are among the musical highlights.

37.  The Roches by The Roches (1979)

Another public library discovery, the debut album of the Roche sisters captures their beautiful harmonies and witty & insightful lyrics.  I never liked any of their later work, but it’s easy to love an album that begins with the autobiographical theme song “We.” Other standouts are “Hammond Song,” “Mr. Sellack,” and “The Troubles.”

36.  When I Go by  Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer (1998)

The first of three masterful albums for this folk duo.  Carter’s dream-inspired lyrics and Grammer’s haunting fiddle made for music both fresh and old-fashioned at the same time as in the title track. Some other memorable tunes include “The River, Where She Sleeps,” “Lancelot,” and “Kate and the Ghost of Lost Love.”

35.  3 Feet High and Rising by De La Soul (1989)

I’d probably listen to more rap music if De La Soul’s mix of clever wordplay, eclectic sampling, and inspired mixing were the standard. Hip tracks include “Say No Go,” “Plug Tunin’,” and “Jenifa Taught Me.”

34. Theorems and Compositions of the Last Action Rocker by Hum Machine (2003)

This Wisconsin rock band falls in the category of “bands with a guy I sort of know who seem to have vanished from the internet” (see Johnny Most).  Good thing I still have this rocking album. Favorites include “Twisted Niche,” “Bring it on Pepeon,” and “Mechanical Devices.”

33. Viva by The Velveteens (1998)

Speaking of obscure bands, The Velveteens are a ska punk band from the College of William & Mary that I saw play once at Homecoming and liked enough to pick up their album before they vanished from the face of the earth.  Memorable pieces include “Wasted With the Cooper,” “Port Authority,” and “Yak Farm.”

32. Live at Tir na nÓg by  Vinal Avenue String Band (1999)

This folk/bluegrass/old time band featured Kris Delmhorst, Sean Staples (later of The Resphonics and The Benders), and Ry Cavanaugh and played a weekly gig at the tiny Tir na nÓg pub in Somerville.  I was a regular patron on those nights and while the band and the pub are no more, this recording survives. The Gillian Welch cover “Tear My Stillhouse Down,” “Tir na nÓg,” and “Front Porch Song” lead off the highlights of this album.

31. Channel 1 – A Compilation Of Output Recordings (2000)

Twisted Village is a record store in Harvard Square that specializes in all manner of music with no commercial potential.  Not having much knowledge of what to pick up there I decided I couldn’t go wrong with a compilation and scored this beauty.  The album contains some great electronic music – some tracks are for dancing, some are for meditating.  “Calamine” by Four Tet, “High-On Tech” by Sonovac, and a cover of James Brown’s “Superbad” by LB are among the many strong tracks.

Book Review: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Author: Rohinton Mistry
Title: A Fine Balance
Publication Info: Books on Tape, Inc. (2001)
ISBN: 0736684425


This novel – epic in length – tells the story of four people in Mumbai, India who come together during The Emergency of the mid-1970’s.  They are:

  • Dina Dalal – a young widow who takes up clothing manufacture to maintain her independence from her controlling brother.
  • Ishvar Darji – a kindly tailor from a low caste background who comes to Mumbai to work for Dina.
  • Omprakash – Ishvar’s more unruly nephew who works with him as a tailor.
  • Maneck – a young man from a mountain village studying at the university and staying with Dina as a paying guest.

In the first part of A Fine Balance, Mistry tells the life stories of each of these characters which actually could be four gripping novellas in their own right.  Then the story is told of how they all come together under one roof and after a rocky start forming a friendship.

This novel is marked by stark descriptions of poverty and injustice in India which Mistry none-too-subtly lays at feet of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s corrupt regime.  This novel does not have a happy ending, but there is joy and love in the brief time of friendship of the principal characters that shows that their is some hope in the most dire of circumstances.

Favorite Passages:

She envisioned two leaky faucets: one said Money, the other, Sanity. And both were dripping away simultaneously.

Recommended books: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini and Salt and Saffron by Kamila Shamsie.
Rating: ****

Book Review: Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie

Around The World For a Good Book selection for: Côte d’Ivoire

Author: Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie
Title: Aya
Publication Info: Drawn and Quarterly (2007)
ISBN: 1894937902


This beautifully illustrated graphic novel is set in Yop City, a working class neighborhood in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire in the 1970’s when the nation was prosperous and chic.  Abouet deliberately sets out to tell a story about Africa that is not about poverty and warfare.  The story is centered around the daily lives and flirtations of three young women.  <SPOILER> Of course there is some heavy stuff here when one of the young women becomes pregnant and is forced into marriage with the son of a wealthy Boss, but Abouet plays if off for comedy with the grown-ups as comic caricatures. </SPOILER>.  Oubrerie vibrantly illustrates this book bringing out the beautiful colors of the clothing and the city as well as the humanity of the characters.  I learned about this book via The Hieroglyphic Streets, where you can find more reviews, and apparently there are sequels that are worth checking out too.

Recommended Books: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Faith and Fear in Flushing by Greg Prince

Author: Greg Prince
Title: Faith and Fear in Flushing
Publication Info: Skyhorse Publishing (2009)
ISBN: 1602396817


Greg Prince, one of the co-authors of the Mets blog Faith and Fear in Flushing – the most intelligent and literate Mets blog there is – writes about his 40 years as the guy everyone knows as the big Mets fan.  Part memoir, part baseball history this book explores the ups & downs of fandom in parallel with the events of his life.  If this sounds familiar it’s because it is very similar in concept and execution to Fever Pitch.  That is Fever Pitch the autobiographical book by Nick Hornby about his love for the Arsenal Football club, not the wholly fictional romantic comedy film about the Red Sox.

Prince’s ruminations on the Mets are a pleasure to read for the most part although he does have a tendency for repetition especially in the more navel-gazing portions of the book.  As a fellow Mets fan, I enjoyed reliving the Mets good years and many fallow years from the perspective of another fan.  I think this book could be enjoyable as well to someone unfamiliar with the Mets or with baseball, especially since it gives a literary perspective on the game that breaks from the mold of Yankees/Red Sox/Dodgers.

If there’s one thing I quibble with in this book is Prince’s characterization of Mets fans loving the Mets but hating the players.  While I think that negative attitude has become prominent in the past five years or so, historically that “win or your a bum” kind of thinking has been more of a Yankee fan ideology.  Mets fans used to be opposite, the cult of the underdog, a humanistic approach to accepting the players despite their flaws and celebrating their accomplishments and commiserating with their failures.  The Mets were a team the ordinary guy could identify with and thus players like Marv Throneberry, Lee Mazzili, Mookie Wilson, Butch Huskey, and Tsuyoshi Shinjo became local heroes despite never leading the league in anything.

At any rate, I find it harder to be a Mets fan these days not because of the Mets but because of the hostile and vulgar attitude of my fellow “fans.”  This book gives me hope because it shows that there are still thoughtful and literate fans among our numbers.

Favorite Passages:

Blogging revealed itself to me as Banner Day’s logical and technological successor.  Mets fans are always dying to tell you about being Mets fans.  We each fancy ourselves Mr. Met, except Mr. Met is mute and never stops smiling, whereas we never shut up and expend loads of bandwidth contemplating, complaining, and, only on infrequent occasion, complimenting.  -p. 255

I don’t love the Mets because it gives me license to behave as a “crazy fan.”  I don’t know whether it’s crazy to give one’s mental well-being over to the fickle physical fortunes of a batch of youthful millionaires.  I don’t know whether it’s crazy to risk vast quantities of disappointment in the longshot search for a modicum of solace.  I don’t know whether it’s crazy to think the angst I incur as a preoccupational hazard is, in fact, maybe its own reward.  But I’m a big fan.  I’m not a crazy fan. – p. 270.

Recommended books: Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby, Mets by the Numbers: A Complete Team History of the Amazin’ Mets by Uniform Number by Jon Springer, and Playing Hard Ball: A Kent Crickter’s Journey into Big League Baseball by Ed Smith.

Book Review: 722 Miles by Clifton Hood

Author: Clifton Hood
Title: 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster (1993)
ISBN: 067167756X


772 Miles is a thorough overview of New York City’s subway system from the opening of the Interborough Rapid Transit system in 1904, the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation in 1923, the city-operated Independent Subway System in 1932.  According to Hood there was only a decade or so of financial success for the privately owned subway companies, largely built on real estate speculation in areas of the city opened up by the subway lines.  Then began a long decline in which corporate fiscal interests tangled with public interests and the subway began to lose out to the automobile in expanding the city. Hood likes to point out that in art representing the subway in the 30’s and 40’s that people are often sleeping.  Fear of crime was not a concern in this age when subway safety was concerned more with the trains themselves going off the rails. Even the consolidation of the subways under municipal control in 1940 was a failure in Hood’s view.  This book was published in 1993 before the subways were revitalized and repopularized, so it makes me wonder that if there’s ever been a Golden Age for the New York City subway that we’re living in it right now.

This book is a bit dry and kind of business-focused as opposed to the social and cultural history of the subway, but it’s not bad for a short history.

Recommended books: Subway Style by The New York Transit Museum, Transit Maps of the World by Mark Ovenden, and Change at Park Street Under; the story of Boston’s subways by Brian J. Cudahy.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Early Bird by Rodney Rothman

Author: Rodney Rothman
Title: Early Bird
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster (2005)
ISBN: 0743242173


This book starts off with a 28 year old Rothman losing his job as a television comedy writer and deciding to “retire early” to a senior community in Florida.  The premise reads like the plot of a dumb sitcom and the cornball style of writing in the early going of this book almost made me put it down.  Somewhere along the way the book changes its tone.  First, Rothman finds himself unable to leave after the joke has played out and second he begins to see the humanity of the elderly people living in retirement in South Florida and even makes some friends.  He also makes some wry observations of the cliques and petty gossip in the community that should disabuse anyone of escaping these things with the wisdom of old age.  Overall, its enjoyable book with some funny bits and some insightful bits that makes it just good enough to barely overcomes its weak start.

Recommended books: Dishwasher by Pete Jordan,
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: American Nerd by Benjamin Nugent

Author: Benjamin Nugent
Title: American Nerd: The Story of My People
Publication Info: Scribner (2008)
ISBN:  0743288017


The author sets out to write about the history, sociology, anthropology and psychology of the nerd confessing that he is taking “a serious approach to a subject usually treated lightly, which is a nerdy thing to do,” (p. 11).  Early on Nugent defines the nerd:

I believe there are two main categories of nerds: one type, disproportionately male, is intellectual in ways that strike people as machinelike, and socially awkward in ways that strike people as machinelike… p. 8

The second type of nerd probably consists equally of males and females.  This is a nerd who is a nerd by sheer force of social exclusion. p. 9

I would argue with his definition of the first category and the evidence he presents in the book even runs counter to the definition at time.  The second category is such a broad catchall as not really have much meaning.  Nevertheless, Nugent usually sticks to his thesis pretty well and the results are fascinating and informative.

Nugent looks to the history of nerds, finding examples in literature (such as the bookish Mary Bennett of Pride & Prejudice) to show that the type has existed for some time.  He also derives the history of the term nerd from college humor publications to Saturday Night Live.  The history of nerds is one of standing outside of the expected norm.  In late 19th/early 20th Anglo-American history, the expectation was “muscular Christianity” with an emphasis on the man of action over the man of books.  Over time, the qualities associated with nerds have often been the same that have come up in stereotypes of Jewish and Asian immigrants that ran contrary to the white muscular Christianity.

Various chapters focus in on aspects of the nerd subculture including Debate Club, the Society for Creative Anachronism, and nerd chic which Nugent argues isn’t nerdy at all.  Nugent also touches on the parallels between nerds and people with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.

The best parts of this book are autobiographical.  Nugent confesses that he was a nerd until a dramatic makeover halfway through his teens which resulted in abandoning many of his nerdy friends.  For the book, Nugent revisits many of these friends as adults and discusses them as case studies who are both inspiring and heartbreaking.  Nugent uncovers a lot of self-loathing in these parts of the book and at times I found myself agreeing with  him. One of the more interesting observations to come out these discussions is the idea that – unlike in Revenge of the Nerds where we see a cheerful, helpful nerd parent – many real life nerds come unstable family situations.  The nerd child found escape in fantasy and the structure it provided. “It was no coincidence, I think, that we generally came to D&D from home lives that tended toward the unpredictable and confounding.  We wanted a place where you knew where you stood, where everything was laid out so you could see it,” (p. 176).

I found this book interesting because its a topic I’ve never seen written about before and I enjoyed the multi-disciplinary approach but Nugent’s writing style leaves a lot to be desired.

Rating: ***

Futures at Fenway

Today I attended the Futures at Fenway baseball double header featuring two minor league games in a major league ballpark.  This is an annual event begun in 2006 which allows minor league players a taste of playing in historic Fenway as well as allowing ordinary fans – especially those with children – to see a couple of games at Fenway Park and steeply reduced prices.  I attended the first event in 2006 and my wife & son were able to go last year.  This year Susan & Peter weren’t able to attend as planned but with the extra ticket I was reunited with an former co-worker I’d not seen in six years!

We had six people in our group total, most of us meeting up for a beer in lieu of the first game between the Portland Seadogs and Bowie Baysox (won by Portland 3-2).  When I lived in Virginia in the 1990’s I was a frequent visitor to Harbor Park home of the Norfolk Tides, so I was pleased that the second game was a Triple A matchup of the Tides and Pawtucket Red Sox.  I dug out my old Tides cap and remembered the old chant

“We don’t drink,

we don’t smoke,

Norfolk! Norfolk! Norfolk!”

No one gave me a hard time for rooting for the enemy.  We did have a hard time finding our seats in row 16 of Sec. 32, because at first it seemed that there was no row 16.  But we did have nice seats in the back row in the shade with a great view of the Green Monster.  It was a lazy afternoon of cool breezes, frequent strolls and pleasant conversation.  The game was pretty good too, won by Norfolk which according to Wikipedia makes it the first time the Red Sox affiliate lost a Futures at Fenway game.  Next year, the whole family will go to the games.  You should too.

Beer Review: Drifter Pale Ale

Beer: Drifter Pale Ale
Brewer: Widmer Brothers Brewing Company
Source:  Draft
Rating: * (5.3 of 10)
Comments: This a cloudy amber beer with a whiff of hops and citrus.  The flavor is bitter – a bit more bitter than I like – and that kind of overwhelms everything else.  It’s a decent beer I suppose, but I wasn’t too crazy about it.