The litter in littérateur. Ricky Opaterny on Books, Music, Art, and Sports


My favorite things of 2010

Filed under: Baseball,Books,General,Music,Photography,Technology — Ricky @ 12:47 am

At the end of 2009 I put together a quick list of things I liked from the year. Earlier in December some friends asked if I would be making a similar list this year. And indeed, I have made one, and it is more ambitious than last year’s in its scope, volume, and design. Check it out here.

Inevitably, there are some things that I would like to mention that I liked during the year but, for one reason or another, didn’t quite make the list. Here are the honorable mentions:

Henri Cartier-Bresson at the MoMA — I’ve only gotten a quick preview of this show, but it’s very promising, and I can’t wait to take the time to really take it in. Without Bresson, the sort of photography I practice wouldn’t even be possible, so I’m looking forward to the chance to see so many of his prints in person.

Audrey Tautou — I love her acting, her films, her style, and the fact that she uses a Leica to photograph people she meets.

Difficulty — This one really should have been on the list, but I chose to write it into a couple other entries. I feel like we’ve become less and less patient when it comes to difficult things—people, art, technology, and work. But one of the things I learned in my life as a reader is that difficulty often conceals great value. And that’s something I remembered in 2010. Difficulty is something to engage with, not run away from, because the rewards for doing so can be so great. It’s closely related to insistent compassion and creating possibilities, which both made the list. You can find someone difficult to know and just throw your hands up and walk away or you can insistently try to know them because, perhaps, their worth will justify their difficulty. You can leave Gaddis and Proust and Foster Wallace and Pynchon on the shelf because their books are too long and confusing or you can take the time to read them and, perhaps, find yourself changed. And, ah ha, wouldn’t that be worth any level of difficulty?

Yanidel — The street photographer Yanick Delafoge calls himself Yanidel, and his post-processing techniques produce a look that it utterly unique and European and brilliant. I especially enjoy his photographs from Paris.

Cosi on rue de Seine in Paris — In April I returned here for the first time in nearly nine years. It still serves the best sandwiches in the world.

Ken Griffey, Jr. — He was the hottest minor league prospect in baseball at the time when I really became fanatical about the sport, and I followed his entire career until it ended this summer. His swing was beautiful, and he should go down as the greatest player of his generation. I got to see him play in the 2007 All-Star game when he started in the same outfield as Barry Bonds in San Francisco, something I’ll never forget.

Subjective Time — This is the simple but not often cited concept of how we experience time subjectively in relation to our age. It’s no secret that time seems to pass faster as we get older, but it’s not commonly known that this concept has been scientifically studied and verified. In fact, there’s even an equation that describes one’s perception of time based on her age. Given current average life expectancies in the Unites States, we feel like we’ve lived half of our lives before the age of 20. Twenty is the subjective halfway point of our lives. It’s no wonder that it seems like such a formative age!

Concord, Massachusetts — Walden Pond, Mount Misery, Sleepy Hollow, and ridiculously large servings of ice cream—and only a 30-minute drive from Cambridge!

Love and Its Opposite by Tracey Thorn — That no one else writes songs about the disappointments of middle age makes this a unique album. That Tracey Thorn does so with brilliance and nuance makes it spectacular.

Printing Photos — So much better than storing them in the “cloud.”

Generation Why? by Zadie Smith — This is one of the better things that has been written about online culture, i.e. what the Internet has done to our culture.

J.D. Salinger — Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

Don’t forget to read the final list. Click on the images to reveal the descriptions. And click on the Away arrow to open the page for a random favorite.


NLCS Notes: Why did Jimmy Rollins not steal second last night?

Filed under: Baseball,General — Ricky @ 11:47 am

When Brian Wilson struck out Ryan Howard to end the sixth and final game of the NLCS last night, I immediately thought of Carlos Beltran’s looking K against the Cardinals to end Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS and the question that Phillies fans will be asking all offseason, “Why didn’t he swing?” Others have made the same remark in the press.

However, just as puzzling to be was the Phillies failure to give Jimmy Rollins the chance to steal second base in the ninth last night. When Kevin Millar of the Red Sox walked in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the ALCS with his team facing elimination against the Yankees, the Sox put Dave Roberts into the game as a pinch runner. As reiterated in Ken Burns’ recent Tenth Inning, everyone at Fenway knew that Roberts was going to steal second. And after three pickoff attempts by Mariano Rivera, he did. The rest, of course, is history. Rollins reached base in a nearly identical situation last night, and I was certain that he would attempt to steal second. And yet he didn’t. Granted, the Phillies did eventually get a runner to second base in the inning, but that didn’t happen until there were two outs when Howard walked to the plate and back to the dugout after having watched strike three graze the outside corner.

Some other, brief notes from last night’s game:

  • Opposing second baseman have had a very tough time in the field against the Giants this postseason. Will Ian Kinsler fare any better?
  • The benches cleared last night because Jonathan Sanchez and Chase Utley have a history. Joe Buck didn’t not mention that until much later in the game after his producer alerted him.
  • Tim Lincecum’s appearance had me worried not so much for the Giants, but for his arm and the future of his career. Fortunately, he didn’t last long. We’ll see how he fares on Wednesday’s Game 1 against Texas after five days of rest, excepting yesterday’s appearance.
  • Roy Oswalt threw back-to-back pitches at 67 mph and 94 mph—that’s an incredible 27 mph speed differential, and he was frequently in the 20-24 mph differential range.
  • Keep in mind that Sanchez was removed from the game after the fight in the third inning. He was not ejected or injured. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pitcher knocked out of the game in the second of a game that ended with his team winning 3-2. For all the troubles the Giants’ bullpen has had this postseason, they really came through yesterday. Granted, it was one of their starters, Madison Bumgarner, pitching on short rest, who got them through some critical innings in the middle of the game.
  • This is an interview with Giants’ closer Brian Wilson, and this is Rangers’ pitcher C.J. Wilson’s Twitter feed.
  • Do players bring their own ski goggles for post-game celebrations? Or does the team purchase a huge lot of them that are just sitting on a table when they enter the locker room?


President Obama on baseball

Filed under: Baseball,General — Ricky @ 12:43 am

Why this video doesn’t have more views, I have no idea. How fun it is to hear President Obama talk about the sport.


Why should underdogs take big risks?

Filed under: Baseball,General — Ricky @ 2:24 pm

For the answer, see Jack Hirshleifer’s article, “The Paradox of Power.”


Reactions to the iPad

Filed under: Baseball,Books,General,Music,Technology — Ricky @ 9:20 pm

Adam Gopnik and other New Yorker staffers responded to Apple’s iPad announcement.


My favorite things of 2009

Here’s a list of things from 2009 that I particularly liked. The list has no order to it. And so:

Leica M9 — A full-frame camera that not only is not an intimidating SLR but also comes from the greatest line of cameras—the Leica M series—but is also a gorgeous rangefinder, but also gives you access to the best glass in the world. In short, it’s my dream camera—the one that leaves me short of breath and utterly destroys my syntax when I attempt to write about it.

New York Yankees — There’s something about this team that I really liked more than any Yankee team since the 2001 group that lost the World Series to the Diamondbacks. Teixera, Sabathia, Damon, Matsui, Melky, Burnett, a beautiful new stadium, and the Core Four! What fun they made October and November.

Albert Stash — A laptop bag with a handle that you can actually use to carry it for long periods of time—score!

A Gate at the Stairs — Lorrie Moore’s first novel in I don’t know how long is ambitious and acutely observed and flawed and wonderful. It made me relive, for the first time in years, one of the most intensely felt periods of my life. It reminded me what it felt like then. Can I ask any more of a novel, of a work of art?

Changing My Mind — Many of the essays in this collection by Zadie Smith have appeared in the New York Review, the Guardian, and the New Yorker, but reading them in sequence gives you a greater appreciation for the intellect and wit behind them. Smith’s new essay on David Foster Wallace alone is worth the price of admission.

Too Big to Fail — Andrew Ross Sorkin set out to write a book structured like the film Crash and as thrilling as the business classic Barbarians at the Gate. I haven’t seen Crash, but his book is every bit as thrilling as Barbarians and full of choice quotes and anecdotes from the people at the top of the financial world.

Hiroshi Sugimoto at Gagosian Gallery — I walked across town in nine inches of snow to see this show. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Sag Harbor — Colson Whitehead’s latest novel should be read on summer evenings on Long Island. Funny and nostalgic with language that is full of vitality and of the 1980s, its effect on me was similar to that of Lorrie Moore’s book, but the world it gave me access to was entirely imaginary—Whitehead’s not mine—and altogether enjoyable. Dag!

Lamy Noto — Okay, so this pen really came out in 2008, but I didn’t see it anywhere in the U.S. until the summer of 2009. A well-designed Lamy for $10? Yes, please.

Dehumanized — Mark Slouka’s essay in the September issue of Harper’s was, perhaps, the most refreshing thing I read all year—someone standing up, for all the right reasons, to the wrongheaded bias toward math and science (and away from the humanities) that has come to pervade everyplace from the university to the corporation to the op-ed page of the New York Times.

Ellipse — Imogen Heap’s first album in four years is awesome and her live show is even more awesome. The leadoff track on Ellipse, “First Train Home,” was my favorite song of the year, and I challenge you to not like it.

iPhone 3GS — I’m still using the original 2g version of the iPhone, but this year’s update brings more storage, video capability, and faster speeds. It’s great to have a product that delivers both Apple’s design sense and a large library of applications. (The Macs I’ve used for the past 15 years have always delivered the former but never the latter.) Listening to baseball games wherever I am? Check. NPR shows on demand? Check. The New York Times in a format that’s easier to browse than Double check. Now, if only it was available on a network other than AT&T.

Panasonic GF-1 — It’s no M9, but it’s sort of a poor man’s, i.e. my, rangefinder. When paired with Panasonic’s 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens, it’s the closest thing to a great compact camera that I’ve ever used. See sample photos from others here.

Unibody MacBook Pros — These things look solid!

Range — Was this San Francisco restaurant new in 2009? I don’t know, but it’s good.

The President — Our country got a new one in January, and it was a glorious moment. The man can play basketball and speak and write in complete sentences, and he seems to have a genuine intellect and conscience and sense of ambivalence.

San Francisco Panorama — A very well-done one-time newspaper for a city that has no good regular publication.

Economic Recovery — The Dow and I are both lower than we once were, but we’re certainly better off than we were a year ago.

Cape Cod — I had never been before this year and now I hope that there won’t be a year when I don’t go there.

Empire State of Mind — Maybe this isn’t a new anthem for New York but Jay-Z’s new single is certainly fun. Sinatra needs a break now and then, anyway.

Some things that I haven’t yet gotten around to that came out this year but that I think I might like when I do: The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, Wild Things by Dave Eggers and Where the Wild Things Are by Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze, and Wes Anderson’s film adaptation of the Fantastic Mr. Fox.

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Run This Town (New York Yankees Version)

Filed under: Baseball,General,Music — Tags: , , , , — Ricky @ 6:03 pm

Before the Yankees game on Friday night, the stadium’s PA played a special Yankees version of the Jay-Z song “Run This Town.” Is it just bad or is it so bad it’s good?


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My favorite iPhone and iPod Touch apps

Filed under: Baseball,Books,General,Music,Technology — Ricky @ 7:48 pm

I’ve been playing around with these devices for most of the year and have come to some conclusions about my favorite applications. Because Apple’s App Store is a bit of a mess, I’ve picked up most of my recommendations from other blogs and forums. So, here’s the list of apps that I wish I hadn’t had to spend time discovering because my iPod is better with them than without them, in no particular order:

  • The New York Times – I previously posted about this application and how I would be willing to pay a fair amount for it. The only things I can fault this application for are that it’s not always clear when it’s finished downloading the day’s paper and it runs sluggishly on the iPhone 2g. Otherwise, the ability to save and email articles is great, and the interface makes browsing the paper easy. This is probably my favorite app, in part because it downloads the paper for offline reading and because I love the New York Times.
  • MLB At Bat 2009 – This app costs $9.99, but it’s awesome. You can watch two live games a day and listen to any broadcast of any game live. I remember when I was a kid, I could barely get reception on the AM radio at night to listen to Vin Scully call the LA Dodgers games. Now I can listen to the Dodgers and the Yankees and the Red Sox and the Giants whenever I want. This app also features in-game video highlights from almost all games, which are nice, but the key feature is being able to listen to live broadcasts. (more…)


Analyzing baseball statistics

Filed under: Baseball,General,Technology — Ricky @ 9:38 am

I recently started using the free statistics software package, R, and stumbled upon an excellent primer for using it to analyze baseball stats. So, if you’re looking to calculate win-shares or anything else, head over to O’Reilly and check out their introduction to the software.


Moneyball comes to the NBA

Filed under: Baseball,Books,General — Ricky @ 9:18 pm

I feel like every time Michael Lewis talks about Moneyball, someone asks him if Billy Beane’s approach to fielding a team based on statistical analysis has taken hold in other sports. Although people have calculated win shares in basketball based on other statistics, i.e. through regressions, no one has really told a Moneyball-like story of the sport. That is, until today when Lewis himself published an article about Shane Battier and the Houston Rockets in the New York Times Magazine. It’s highly recommended to anyone who enjoyed Moneyball.


Briefly, Roger Angell on voting

Filed under: Baseball,General — Ricky @ 4:41 pm

Perhaps, lost among all the post-election analysis is Roger Angell’s beautiful post, Rite, over at about his experience at the ballot box, which concludes:

A cloud of smugness enfolds me as I hit the street, exactly the kind of feeling that’s pretty well kept me out of churches. But why resist? I believe in this. It’s been said but I’ll say it: for a nanosecond I am important; infinitesimally I have done good. Feels great.


Hemingway’s baseball field

Filed under: Baseball,General — Ricky @ 6:45 am

The Times has a story about Ernest Hemingway’s baseball field in Cuba, which I somehow didn’t even know about before. 

Hemingway rounded up a dozen boys from the barrio to play baseball with them. And just inside the black and white gates of the farm, Hemingway set up an odd little ball field where he would pitch for both teams as they whiled away the hot afternoons.


The New Yorker digital edition is already a disappointment

Filed under: Baseball,Books,General,Music,Technology — Ricky @ 2:25 pm

I spent two hours yesterday waiting in line, unsuccessfully, for tickets to the New Yorker Festival event with Haruki Murakami. The tickets sold out, though they lasted longer than I had anticipated. A walking tour with Calvin Trillin and an event with Stephen Colbert were the first to sell out. You can even see me standing in line on the New Yorker’s current homepage above.

Today I stood in the line in the same place for about 50 minutes to get books signed by Murakami, whose wife stamped them after he signed them. Of interest was a kiosk set up to preview the New Yorker’s digital edition, which the magazine expects to launch in one month. They’re currently offering four free issues and a free digital subscription for print subscribers through the end of their current subscription term. It sounded like they still haven’t settled on a pricing model for the digital edition. Or, if they have, the reps at the Festival headquarters weren’t aware of it. The magazine plans to make each week’s issue available digitally at 12:01 am on Monday morning and to provide digital access to their archive.

Digital issues don’t appear to be downloadable, though the New Yorker rep said that users would be able to print from the magazine using the digital edition. The magazine is forcing users to use an online, web-based viewer from Realview Technologies. Unfortunately, that means no PDFs and no offline access. Moreover, the printing functionality seems to be severely limited and only lets users print one page at a time. It would be nice if I could just print the entire magazine on Monday morning, but it would seem essential that users would be able to at least print out an article or two for later reading.

One of the great advantages of the magazine is that it’s portable. Once I get my copy of the New Yorker in the mail, I can read it in class, I can read it in bed, I can read it in a cab or on a plane. I can even read it in the subway when I have no reception on my BlackBerry. I don’t even need my computer or an Internet connection to read it. Yes, I also happen to hate reading on computer screens and even print out op-ed articles from the Times out of my preference for paper over pixels. By restricting both printing and offline access, the digital edition becomes far less useful than the print magazine or its website. Given a chance to expand its reader base and further engage existing readers of the New Yorker, it appears the magazine has failed with its digital edition to do any more than create a niche product with infinitesimal appeal. I really wanted to like the digital edition, but I don’t see how it, in any way, improves on the magazine.

I suppose that’s no surprise, though, given the New Yorker’s previous experience with digital content. Its website was absolutely anemic for years and years, and it prevented all but the savviest users from copying the New Yorker Archive DVDs to their hard drives, which created a slow product. Because the New Yorker has such great content, such a great product, I feel it has a responsibility to put user experience above its fears of digitization. Its digital edition offers another chance to get that right. Let’s hope it does so before next month’s launch.

On another New Yorker note, their Festival blog is excellent.

Update: I’ve now had a chance to try the launched digital edition. 


Sox win!

Filed under: Baseball,General — Ricky @ 9:15 pm

Just before midnight on the East Coast, the Red Sox secured their 11th ever World Series victory with a convincing victory over the Cleveland Indians. Didn’t David Ortiz look cute with his goggles on, ready to celebrate?

With the Yankees sadly eliminated early this year, I’ve felt free to root for the Red Sox throughout the Cleveland series. There’s nothing like October baseball in the Northeast.

Weekend notes

Filed under: Baseball,Books,General — Ricky @ 8:35 pm
  • Conversational reading has a fairly sharp piece about one of my favorite literary critics, James Wood.

I don’t think Wood believes there is much value in metaphors like Flaubert’s because as a reader he doesn’t appreciate what use they have in a novel. Wood is comfortable dissecting how an author attaches character traits to realistic people, but when an author tosses in an enigmatic metaphor, Wood finds it too fuzzy, and therefore meaningless. I think, perhaps, if he were better at imagining his way into the psychology of a work, he might better understand the value of metaphors like Flaubert’s.

Esposito seems to go a little over the top to make his point, for, after all, enigmatic metaphor and social commentary doesn’t really matter much without the existing creation in the novel of one real human being.

  • Prompted in part by this New York Times article, I’ve been reading up on recent cancer research. Most articles I’ve read, are, unfortunately, unlinkable (like this one), having come from ridiculously expensive medical journals. One of the recommendations I encountered in the Times is essentially to spend more resources on soi-disant “blue sky” research. One of the places that I became aware of at the beginning of this decade that actually works on this sort of stuff is the Webb-Waring Institute, which operates free of commercial interests.
  • An era ended in New York last week with Joe Torre’s departure from the New York Yankees. The teams from 1996 through 2001 played an essential part in my sense of who I am as an individual—Mo; Jeter; Posada; waking up at obscene hours in France to listen to the 2000 Subway Series; the 2001 playoff games that started on one day and finished the next, ending in October—and I’m rather sad about the end of things for Torre. These letters to the Times sports section express that sadness better than I can right now.

J.D. Drew and the curse of potential

Filed under: Baseball,General — Ricky @ 8:07 pm

J.D. Drew may be the toast of the town in New England after his grand slam yesterday against the Indians, but New York Times and Deadspin blogger Will Leitch writes about how Drew is one of the most disliked players he has ever watched. Leitch notes that “the real reason Drew rankles us so much is that he doesn’t seem to be having much fun. He’s not loafing, exactly, but he roams the diamond with the countenance of a man finishing out the end of a prison term. For all his obvious skills, he is thought to have no passion for the game.”

Drew’s case here seems to raise two questions: one about wasted potential and another about making one’s life’s work something for which one has no passion. But does Drew really have no passion or does he just appear that way? And is that such a bad thing? And what really is the difference? Is Drew simply not a hard worker? I think the sentiment about Drew results from a combination of his not having lived up to his projected potential from the time he was drafted and his apparently blasé demeanor on the field. If the guy had driven in 100 runs this year, would the fans really be all over him? I doubt it, but then again, when you play in front of thousands and thousands of people, performance matters in both senses of the word.


Blacks in baseball and authors on video

Filed under: Baseball,Books,General — Ricky @ 9:42 pm

Harvey Araton, in response to a question posted by CC Sabathia, meditates on the decline of black players in Major League Baseball over the past couple decades. He writes:

The most recent tabulation, done by Richard Lapchick in 2005 for the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, put Major League Baseball’s black population at 8.5 percent, the lowest in 26 years and about half of what it was a decade earlier.

. . . .
How did this happen? Did baseball unwittingly wake up to a significant cultural shift (in particular to a burgeoning Latino market) or did it abandon the African-American community and its vital contributions to the history of the game?

Elsewhere in the Times today, Julie Bosman has an article about authors who are distributing videos to be shown at bookstores instead of going on tour. Powell’s is producing the videos and other bookstores will be showing them. The first video in the series, featuring Ian McEwan, will debut at BEA this summer.

For Mr. McEwan, the film will virtually replace his standard book tour, since he has declined to do traditional bookstore appearances to promote his new novel in the United States. The book, On Chesil Beach, will be published on June 5 by the Nan A. Talese imprint of Random House’s Doubleday division.

For years publishers and bookstores have tried to lure book buyers by featuring authors in blogs, podcasts and question-and-answer forums with readers. Mr. Weich said Powell’s did not expect to profit from the first film but hoped to attract more visitors to its Web site,, by posting the videos there.

I saw McEwan read at Printer’s Inc. in Palo Alto back in 1998 and would love to see him again. Although I attend and host a fair number of author events, I’ve always understood that it’s totally unreasonable to expect anything more than a book from an author. As William Gaddis wrote, “What is there left when he’s done with his work, what’s any artist but the dregs of his work, the human shambles that follows it around?”


Baseball under the umbrella

Filed under: Baseball,General — Ricky @ 7:56 pm


Before going up to San Francisco today, I watched three innings of the Stanford vs. Fresno state game in the rain. I’ve only missed three Stanford home openers in this decade, and I wasn’t about to miss this one after having stayed home on Friday night when the game was rained out.


Barry Zito to the Giants

Filed under: Baseball,General — Ricky @ 4:01 pm


According to Sports Illustrated, the Giants have signed free-agent pitcher Bary Zito to a seven-year deal worth $126 million. From the Times:

In pursuing Zito, the Giants took the same route as the Chicago Cubs did with signing Alfonso Soriano to a $136 million deal. They offered a contract worth so much more money than what other teams had offered that Zito could not resist snapping it up. Pitchers do not usually receive as handsome a contract as do position players, because the stress pitching places on their bodies makes them more susceptible to injury. But the Giants, eager to find a new face of the franchise after leaves, felt compelled to offer Zito the most lucrative deal for a pitcher in baseball history. The previous largest was Mike Hampton’s eight-year, $121 million deal with Colorado before the 2001 season.

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