"The Chemistry of Tears," by Peter Carey, and "Over-Time: My Life as a Sportswriter," by Frank Deford.
This book threw me for a loop; everything else faded into a blur while I read, and I had to surface to return to life here. It's the story of two people, a century and a half apart, in the grip of consuming grief, one for a lover, one for a sick child. One is a horologist repairing a fantastical automaton; the other is the father who had it fashioned by a genius (or lunatic) craftsman to save his son. The story swings between the life of Catherine Gehrig, a conservator at Swinburne Museum in London whose colleague and secret lover has died, and the notebooks of Englishman Henry Brandling, stranded in Germany as his "Vaucanson's duck" is created. As Catherine descends into grief and jags of drinking, the notebooks pull her into another world, where Henry is held hostage to the secretive labors of Herr Sumper, mechanical wizard and serial liar (or so Henry assumes). Catherine's assistant, a beautiful and gifted young woman, exerts her own strange force over the restoration, drawing it toward the realm of the mystical. I was often unsure in which realm the thread of the story resided, making for sometimes unsettling, but deeply compelling, reading.
Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams could do more than just turn on a fast ball; he could also turn a phrase. "Knights of the Keyboard" was his contemptuous term for the horde of hacks who followed his every move.
Occasionally mingling with the horde, but well above the herd, was Frank Deford. Deford had at least one unfair advantage over his fellow knights: He could write. Still can.
At age 9, he says in "Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter," he "discovered that I had some facility for writing." He rode that facility to a lovely sportswriting career, starting with Sports Illustrated and going on to books, other publications, regular appearances on National Public Radio and even, recently, "The Colbert Report." (Stephen didn't seem all that impressed.)
Working for SI, along with the likes of Dan Jenkins in the golden age of that magazine, Deford had the luxury of picking the glam story of the week or the season. He spent hours -- days, even -- on interviews, not just the scant minutes that the newspaper beat guys had in the clubhouse before scurrying back to their typewriters to meet deadline. (Yes, beat guys resented that privilege, and still do.)
"Over Time" is a cool ride through Deford's career, which he keeps in perspective by quoting another Knight -- Robert Montgomery -- who likes to say, "The best time in a sportswriter's life were the three years he spent in the second grade."