Saturday, October 30, 2010

Playing with Trains

A few weeks ago I accompanied Debra to a conference in Los Angeles. On the last Sunday I found myself at loose ends in the morning. Sitting outside by the pool with a good book and some coffee until the conference ended and we could visit the beach seemed like a good idea. I’d read all my books, and since I’m not yet Kindle-fied I headed across the street to Target – the only option within walking distance – to see what they had book-wise. Being a na├»ve tourist I was surprised that they opened at 8am, but it was convenient. The only paperback they had that looked interesting to me was a thumbed copy of David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed By Flames. I had heard a lot of good things about Mr. Sedaris’ writing, but I had never gotten around to reading any. Now was a good time.

It turned out that it was as good as the hype: hysterically funny, biting, insightful, sympathetic, endlessly fascinating – all true. At several points I had to stifle myself so as not to laugh out loud and make my pool-side neighbours think I was crazy. But, eventually, real life caught up with reading and I only just finished it a week or so ago.

I only mention this because I bought and read Playing with Trains by Sam Posey while still hung-over from Mr. Sedaris’ book. I came across Mr. Posey’s book also quite by accident. Searches in Amazon for hobby how-to books dug it up. I’d never seen a memoir built around a person’s model railroading hobby, so I thought I’d try it.

First, it’s something of a celebrity memoir. Mr. Posey was a racecar driver and ABC sportscaster, so his approach to model railroading definitely reflects this position in society. Throughout the narrative about the construction of his model railroad he frequently hires professionals to help with framing, wiring, model building, and many of the construction tasks associated with model railroad building. But, nevertheless, it’s an interesting story, and very insightful into how some of those massive layouts that are featured in the model railroading press are actually built. It’s also a personal narrative, and I enjoyed reading his thoughts on how model railroading was a theme that ran through his life and reflected on its meaning and impact.

Also, being a celebrity was no doubt helpful in gaining insider access to the luminaries I’ve read about in the model railroading press. Learning about the people and dynamics behind the pages I’ve seen on the newsstand was probably the most interesting aspect of the book for me.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it, but when I got to the end I wondered how Mr. Sedaris might write about an encounter with the world of model railroading.

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