1927 was some kind of year

  • One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson (Doubleday, 2013; Random House Audio narrated by the author)
  • In 40 words or less: 1927 was chock-a-block full of events that changed history. From May to September, Bryson weaves together economic, political and cultural upheavals that shaped the world as we know it. It can be comforting when contemporary events leave us shaken.
  • Genre: History
  • Locale: Primarily U.S.
  • Time: May to September 1927
  • This book has something for everyone. There’s sports, aviation, politics, industrialization and, yes, more politics. When one questions whether so much had ever changed so quickly, a well-written panoramic view of the times is very helpful.

I’d been meaning to read Bill Bryson’s book on the summer of 1927 for a while. The timing seemed ideal, this being the 90th anniversary of the events of that summer. On a personal note, my father was just days old when the book opens. What better way to get a sense of the America into which he was born. And for those of us trying desperately to temper today’s cataract of news with other information, listening to Bryson’s calm voice laying out the history was a fine choice.

Calvin Coolidge was president. The economy was strong, and industry was growing. Taking advantage of the good times, he chose to spend three months on an extended trip to South Dakota, channeling his inner cowboy.  At the same time, Herbert Hoover was dealing, on his behalf, with the results of catastrophic Mississippi River flooding that displaced thousands and disrupted river commerce. Hoover proved himself equal parts skilled manager and self-promoter in directing the relief efforts.

For many, 1927 is of note for Charles Lindbergh’s historic nonstop flight from New York to Paris.  Lindbergh was focused on the technology and the task at hand. Temperamentally a loner, he was ill-suited for the fame and interest his achievement brought. Bryson’s careful research synthesizes the information about the man, his single-minded attention to the flight, and the forces that shaped his later life and brief entry into politics.

This was summer that brought Al Jolson to the screen in the first broadly released talking picture. It transformed the entertainment business and made and broke many stars, and studio owners in the transition.
The newsreels of the day featured the New York Yankees, the dominating force in baseball.  This was the year that Babe Ruth set the mark for home runs with 60. While his feats on the field were famous, his off-field activities were also unmatched.

Based on these events alone, the book would be worthwhile. This was the summer that the Model A was introduced by Henry Ford, changing the automobile industry in America. Sacco and Vanzetti were put to death after a trial focused as much on their anarchist politics and immigrant origins as it was on the murder. And a titillating true crime story of adultery and murder was also in the headlines. The Dempsey-Tunney fight captured America well beyond the boxing world.

Finally, in a measure of hubris, the central banks of the US and its major allies put into place monetary policies that paved the way for the stock market crash that heralded the Great Depression.  It was a very busy summer.

Whether your preferred method of reading is paper, e-book or audiobook, Bill Bryson’s ability to interconnect all these events will carry through. Having an escort through all these aspects of history is rare indeed.  It is the kind of education most can only appreciate long after leaving the classroom.

 

Rain Delay Book Club

IMG_2968It is now 11 days of rain and counting. I love baseball and I’m no fair weather fan. I also take public transit to the park and read en route. In the ten plus years I’ve been a frequent attendee at Washington Nationals games, there have been many rain delays. After all, this IS Washington. Fortunately, the team is on the road so this week’s ceaseless slosh hasn’t affected my viewing. But I do like to have a Plan B.

So what’s a book-loving baseball fan to do? Find other readers who are waiting for the game to resume! It’s a much better option than trying to get a signal so you can peer at weather radar for an hour.

Are you in? Doesn’t require much. Post on Facebook or Twitter or even Instagram. Tag it #RainDelayBookClub and include the title of your book. Share your location if you wish, after all, you are already squashed up close and personal with 20,000 or more strangers. Here’s a chance to meet some kindred spirits. And you can join in whether you are at the park or not, or even at Wrigley or Fenway or Pac Bell.

For my part, I’ll pick a title or two each month of the season (hopefully, through October) and share it here and on Facebook. If you have suggestions, bring ’em on. And I’ll be happy to meet up with you at Nats Park and ask you, “So what are you reading?”

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May titles:  Fiction – Circling the Sun by Paula McLain; Nonfiction – Pumpkinflowers by Matti Friedman

A Fond Farewell to the Space Coast

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This was our seventh and final visit to Nationals Spring Training in Viera, Florida.  While we hope to continue the Spring Training tradition for many years to come, the Washington Nationals will be moving next year to a new home in West Palm Beach.

Space Coast Stadium has been a wonderful place to get ready for baseball and allow my toes to breathe after a cold and snowy winter.  Everyone at the park is friendly and we greet some of the staff and fellow fans as old friends, expecting to always find each other in the same place when we return. And there were the local restaurants and their owners we visited each year. The departure will be an economic hit on the area and will make for a much quieter season. While the new ballpark complex will be fabulous with all the latest amenities and quick access to many more teams, I will miss the relaxed pace and smaller town feel of the old park.

There is a great sense of pride to the Space Coast. This is the stretch of Florida where NASA has had its greatest achievements and failures. The stadium has at each foul pole huge pillars memorializing the Challenger and Columbia shuttles, tragedies that will forever mark the region and nation. And a trip to Cape Canaveral, just an hour away, is a visit through space history super-sized, as is everything associated with the space program.IMG_0132 IMG_0008

 

 

 

And then there’s the baseball. In the spring it really isn’t about the score. How is the team looking?  Who are those new faces? Will some of my old favorites finally be pushed out by some young player, fighting for his place in the big leagues? Spring is a time for wild aspirations and the recognition that for some the best days have passed.

Who have I watched in particular? Well, Ryan Zimmerman IMG_2245(Spring, 2010) and Ian Desmond were stalwarts.  While I knew Ian was gone, it was strange not to see him on the field. Stephen Strasburg’s very first pitching appearance as a National. And we had tickets – our first day ever at Spring Training! But a dumb cluck luggage cart driver at DCA disabled our plane and we were 5 hours and 5 innings late. And just missed his first trip to the mound.

 

We saw Pudge Rodriguez IMG_3577(Spring, 2011) teaching the young players from the top step of the dugout as his career on the field was coming to an end.

 

 

And we’ve watched Bryce Harper mature in every way possible. (Spring, 2011-13)IMG_3593

 

 

 

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(Below Spring, 2014-16)

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And I’ve taken it in up close and personal, right behind the netting each and every year.

Going forward, I think the sounds and feel of Viera will still remain a part of my Spring Training, regardless of the Nationals’ home. It’s like your first elementary school classroom – it’s the place where the magic began.