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Book Talk: Favorites from the past, part II

It may be hard to understand how something that I read many decades ago can have left a lasting impression on me, but I think that great books do that. That’s why they are “great.” Great people can have the same effect. I remember reading a newspaper article in which Joe DiMaggio, NY Yankee outfielder, explained why he never seemed to make “spectacular” catches. He said that he listened for the sound that the ball made when it came off the bat. I practiced that, and I seldom missed a ball that was hit to centerfield. I also read that Ted Williams (last player to bat .400 for a season) said to “swing up” and “swing hard, just in case you hit the ball.” My Little League lifetime batting average probably never made triple digits.

'The Caine Mutiny'

When I was 17, I read Herman Wouk’s "The Caine Mutiny." I only put the book down when I was in attendance at Cubberley High School in Palo Alto or working at night at Lucky Store on Alma Street. The story, told from the POV of Ensign Willie Keith, is a World War II drama set aboard the U.S.S. Caine, a minesweeper. The ship is commanded by Captain Queeg, who gradually loses the respect of the wardroom officers because of a series of increasingly unusual incidents, probably the most notable of which was his obsession over some missing strawberries.

At one point, Queeg’s decision leads to the crew giving him the sobriquet, “Old Yellowstain.” That image may be responsible for later dramatic actions by his officers. Truly, a great novel.


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