Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fast Pitch: Top of the Heap

Perhaps more has been written about the New York Yankees than about any other sports team. And the magic that has played out on the field over the years has been rivaled only by baseball scribes' prowess on the page.

Excellence breeds excellence, and for 100 years some of the best writers in America have chronicled the New York Yankees, taking a single swing or game and somehow making it singular.

This anthology from the series editor of The Best American Sports Writing and author of Yankees Century collects the best writing about the Yankees over the course of their long history. Published to coincide with the team's centenary celebration, this is a must-have volume for fans the world over who claim the New York Yankees as their own.

A Yankees Collection
by Glenn Stout
Mariner Books, 2003

Monday, March 25, 2013

Death by Melons

Speaking of unusual papal successions...

Massimo Montanari recounts the peculiar demise of Pope Paul II who died of a sudden apoplectic attack on a summer night in 1471.

"His doctors attributed this to a melon binge the evening before. After having spent the day in consistory, the pontiff dined late (around ten) on 'three melons, not too large' and other things 'of meager substance, as had become his habit over the past few months.' The account of this event, written in these words by Nicodemo di Pontremoli in a letter to the Duke of Milan, reveals and attitude of great suspicion toward this fruit, capable of causing not only indigestion but even death."

Medieval physicians disapproved of cold and juicy fruit, believing it could undermine the body's natural heat and upset its equilibrium. They commonly advised people to eat very little melon and, if possible, avoid them entirely.

"Melons in particular were held to be the most toxic of all fruits."

And Other Stories About Food and Culture
by Massimo Montanari
Columbia University Press, 2012
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Artwork: Ripe Melons by John F. Francis

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"An Insect View of Its Plain"

"Thoreau, Dickinson and Muir had mutual interests in the relationships between science, culture, and nature, relationships that they were partly able to explore and express through the observed habits and experiences of insects. Sharing the belief that nature was a reflection of God's intention... they recognized that insects, like every other particle of nature, were lovingly created by God to serve a unique purpose."
Insects, Nature and God in Thoreau, Dickinson and Muir
by Rosemary Scanlon McTier 
McFarland, 2013
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The Nature Pages
Nature Writing and Natural Histories

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Reading the History: Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

This book is a history of the bourbon industry, beginning with its foundations in the small pot stills of American farmers in the late 1790s. It follows the growth of large distillers and rectifiers and the booms and busts of the beverage's market through wars and Prohibition, concluding with the emergence of craft distillers returning to small stills of the whiskey's origins.

"What made bourbon famous was the aging process employed by its distillers, one that took place in charred oak barrels," historian Michael R. Veach explains.

"It was known at least as early as the Roman Empire that water and wine stored in oak barrels charred on the inside stayed fresher longer. By the fifteenth century the process had been appropriated by the French to flavor and color brandy and cognac. And at some point in the early nineteen century it was adopted by Kentucky distillers and allowed them to produce a whiskey with a sweet caramel/vanilla flavor and a red color."

An American Heritage
by Michael R. Veach
The University Press of Kentucky, 2013

Continued in ... The Book Stall

Good Spirits and Fine Liqueurs
Out of the Past
History and American West Titles
Outrider Reading Group

Friday, March 15, 2013

Now Exploring "An Insect View of Its Plain"

During the nineteenth century, insects became a very fashionable subject of study, and the writing of the day reflected this popularity. However, despite an increased contemporary interest in ecocriticism and cultural entomology, scholars have largely ignored the presence of insects in nineteenth-century literature.

This volume addresses that critical gap by exploring the cultural and literary position of insects in the work of Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, and John Muir.

An Insect View of Its Plain
Insects, Nature and God in Thoreau, Dickinson and Muir
by Rosemary Scanlon McTier
McFarland, 2013

Nature Writing and Natural Histories
The Nature Pages
Outrider Books

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Divine Appointment of Animals

In 1542, the great German monk and Protestant reformer Martin Luther lived in a household that included horses, pigs, cows, calves, chicken, pigeons, geese and a dog Tölpel "whom Luther expected to meet in heaven."

Luther believed that animals were witnesses and messengers of God's glory -- an intended worldly presence -- and not simply created for the convenience and sustenance of man, according to Laurie Shannon's analysis in "The Accommodated Animal."

"Fruits were created chiefly as food for people and for beasts; the latter were created to the end we should laud and praise God."

In his Lectures on Genesis 1-5, Luther writes that "the mouse, too, is a divine creature... It has a very beautiful form - such pretty feet and such delicate hair that it is clear that it was created by the word of God with a definite plan in view. Therefore here, too, we admire God's creation and workmanship. The same thing may be said about flies."

Shannon's analysis of Luther's comments concludes that "the here-and-now facticity of observed animals grounds their privilege and divine appointment, and their presence as such warrants a spiritual attention."

Cosmopolity in Shakespearean Locales
by Laurie Shannon
University Of Chicago Press, 2012

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Accommodated Animal

"Likewise to every beast of the earth and to every foule of the heaven, and to every thing that moveth upon the earth, which hath life in it selfe, every greene herbe shall be for meate."
Genesis 1:30

While the early Bible attentively noted the presence of other creatures in our world, they are never referred to by the English word "animal" in the Great Bible of 1539, the Geneva Bible of 1560 or the King James Version of 1611.

The widely used noun is likewise missing from almost all of Shakespeare's oeuvre, save eight instances, while the words "beast" and "creature" appear more than a hundred times and references to specific species are everywhere:

"Exit, pursued by a bear."

The distinction is significant, according to professor Laurie Shannon, reflecting an important change in our relationship with the natural world and its non-human creatures, denying "animals" a place in the world that our thinking previously accommodated.

Cosmopolity in Shakespearean Locales
by Laurie Shannon
University Of Chicago Press, 2012