This week I’ve been finishing up a couple of audiobooks. The first is How to Grow Old, a short one by Cicero written during the early part of his retirement from Rome, before the odious Mark Anthony sent men to murder him. Cicero’s letter is not written directly from him, but in the person of Scipio Africanus, the Roman worthy who triumphed over Carthage in Rome’s republican past. Via Scipio, Cicero defends old age — often regarded as a time of declining health and vanished pleasures — and argues its virtues. If youth is used well, Cicero argues, old age can be the best time of life: at the same time that infernal itches for pleasure, particularly the sexual drive, are diminishing, an aging man can enjoy the fruits of his early labor — the blessings of family ideally, but especially political respect and honor. Youth may have their energy, Cicero writes, but they are hobbled by inexperience, and often redouble this by not paying heed to the lessons of their elders. The aged have survived trial after trial of life and can face whatever new ones age brings with relative aplomb, having grown in virtue through past adversity. He recommends several activities that seniors should devote themselves to, especially farming, study, and conversation. The audiobook is read by Roger Clark, but in a first (for me) he doesn’t use his gruff American cowboy accent, but instead uses his Australian voice — or a variant of it. I’ve listened to Clark in many interviews and such on youtube, and the delivery here is more aristocratic, as if Roger was trying to perform the part of a Roman patrician. It’s a fairly short audiobook, between 4 and 5 hours.
Next up, I finished How Baseball Happened, a revisionist history of early baseball that attacks some of the Official Stories put out by the professional leagues– like that baseball’s official rules were created by the Civil War general Doubleday; that the Cinncinati Red Stockings were the first professional team, and that Jackie Robinson was the first black man to play pro ball. The Doubleday story is low-hanging fruit at this point, as there’s nothing to substantiate it at all, but Gilbert also tags out other ideas about baseball’s early history, arguing against it being evolved from rounders. The book is strongest at its beginning, because once it passes the midpoint Gilbert tends to wander off course, passing not only the foul line but exiting the stadium completely — as he did when he got into the extensive genealogy of someone tangentially connected to JFK, or to the business enterprises of players, and made me despair that I was not reading the physical book and couldn’t just skip ahead to something with a baseball connection. Race is a frequent theme in the book, as things were less organized and more fluid in the days of amateur ball, and the color line of the professional organizations hadn’t been adopted yet, let alone been broken by Jackie Robinson. Gilbert argues that baseball more or less organically, with the rules-as-we-know them developing in New York and then steadily growing in popularity. Its history was tied to the history of the United States throughout the 20th century, the Civil War exposing soldiers from across the country to the sport (including down South, where prisoners of war sometimes played it to pass time. Urbanization and the trends that followed — cheap newspapers, for instance — also played their part. Key to the professionalization of baseball was that people kept showing up uninvited to watch it: ball clubs were strictly self-organized things, often growing out of other organizations (like a musicians’ group!) who wanted to have a good time playing ball against other organizations, and the men playing always had day jobs: there were rules, in fact, against paying players and making the sport a mercenary advertised. The ball club was a club, not a business enterprise, but as crowds willing to pay to watch the games continued to arrive, eventually the innocence of youth was destroyed and now we have the MLB, whose teams frequently have no real connection or loyalty to the cities that host them. This title was frequently interesting, especially in the beginning but got off-topic much too often for me. This one is close to eleven hours long and has a good narrator, George Newbern.
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