Thursday, May 29, 2014

When is the Media Going to Admit that They’re the Only Ones with a Problem with Manny?

Remember that game? The one when Manny was on the bench on trade deadline day? There were rumors that he was being offered around to other teams. Nobody was sure if that meant he was gone, or not. But, he wasn’t in the line-up. Then, the deadline passed. Still nobody, especially those fans in Fenway, knew if he had been traded. Then, he popped out of the dugout to pinch hit. The park absolutely erupted. The standing ovation was one of the biggest I’ve ever heard, and I was just watching on TV. Of course, Manny responded by singling up the middle to drive in what would be the game winning run.

Remember what they said the next day? The EEIdiots said the fans weren’t cheering Manny. They were cheering the situation. If Adam Dunn, or anyone else popped out of the dugout in that situation, he would have gotten the same ovation. Sure. I’ve been in Fenway any number of times when a pinch hitter was announced. I don’t recall many standing ovations while he’s in the on-deck circle.

Would you believe they said the same thing today? Literally, the exact same thing.

As part of the wonderful ceremony celebrating the 2004 World Champions, Manny was introduced to a thunderous ovation. Again, the EEIdiots said it wasn’t for him. They were cheering everyone who was introduced. The fact that his was so loud wasn’t because it was him. It was because he was last.

Sure it was.

Why can’t they just admit it?

People like Manny, because as much as they tried, they couldn’t make us hate him. They tried to convince us he was quitting on the team. After all, that last year, in 100 games he quit to the tune of a .299/20/68 line. Along with a .926 OPS. I wish every player would quit on the team like that. After all, even ignoring the games played, those 20 HR would have been third on last year’s Red Sox. His .299 BA would have been just below Dustin Pedroia’s .301. The .926 OPS? Only David Ortiz had a better one last season. Quit on the team? Please.

Frankly, it’s a little weird, because Manny is the type of player the media usually loves. He’s quirky. Has some funny stories. What a player to adore. Really, he only had one flaw.

He didn’t talk to the media. So, once again, players who make the media jobs easier (See Pedroia, Dustin and Ortiz, David) are praised above all others. Players who don’t (See Drew, JD and Matsuzaka, Daisuke) are bad mouthed and run out of town. If they can make us all hate them on the way out, even better. But, it didn’t work with Manny.

But, they just can’t stop trying.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Win, or the Start of a Winning Streak?

The Red Sox won! They won! That’s so fantastic!

Sure, being 1-9 over their last ten games isn’t a huge increase over being 0-10. But, it has the same effect as a player getting that first hit of the season. In that case, it’s nice mentally for the player to not look at the scoreboard and see that .000 batting average anymore. Similarly, it’s nice for the team to remember that they can win. There’s none of that “pressure” trying to end the streak.

It also puts an end to all the talk of how many teams with various length losing streaks have made the playoffs. Or how long it’s been since a losing streak of each length, and whether those teams made the playoffs. Now they can just play.

Because, the problem with those “previous losing streaks” stories is that they don’t take context into account. I’ve said before that losing or winning streaks don’t define a team. I team isn’t good because it wins ten in a row. A good team might win ten in a row. Conversely, losing ten in a row doesn’t make a team a bad team. But, comparing it to bad teams that lost ten in a row is certainly supposed to imply that.

Has a ten game losing streak doomed the Sox season? Of course not. It would be ridiculous to even suggest that at the end of May. There are over 100 games left. What the streak stories have tried to do is say that like other teams that have lost a lot in a row, this team has no talent. Obviously, that’s not the case. Want some proof? Check out the 2011 Red Sox.

I know. I know.

Most people like to refer to that team as the one that “collapsed.” I’ve never subscribed to that. I look to the fact that they won the same number of games that year as the team that won the World Series. Sure, winning one more would have been nice. But, if you win 90 games, that’s a season for you. (Heck, this year with the second wild card, that team would have made the playoffs with a four-game cushion.) You may remember that the Sox had a bad couple months that year. In fact, in August and September, they went 24-32. That’s a .429 clip. This year, the Sox stand at 21-29. That’s a .420 pace. So, it’s not like the Sox need to go on some inhuman run the rest of the season. It’s not like they need to go 100-2 in order to salvage the season. They just need to reproduce something they’ve done before, very recently. Even the rest of the 2011 season wasn’t elite. After all, they went sub-.500 in April that year. So, in April-July, the Sox went 66-40-.623. To get to 91 wins this season, the Sox would need to go 70-42-.625. What’s unrealistic about that?

Really, this team is just 2011 in reverse. They had all the injuries and poor rookie performances at the end. In 2014, the Sox have had them all at the beginning. Assuming the Sox come back healthy, there’s no reason to think the Sox can’t match that 2011 team. Not to mention the fact that this division isn’t breaking down any doors this year. The Sox are going to be playing a lot of lightweights the rest of the way. If they can put it together, that .625 clip might be a breeze.

The ten game losing streak will be a funny story in the World Series.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Phun Phrom the Phillies Room

Ok, first of all. Why is it that whenever I talk about the Phillies, I feel compelled to spell every word that should have an “f” with a “ph” but I don’t do that when I talk about a phone?

I recently received a great shipment of cards from Jim, the keeper of the fine blog The Phillies Room. It wasn’t exactly a trade. Basically I periodically send him all my Phillies cards, and he does the reverse with his Red Sox cards. It’s a great arrangement. Especially when cards show up in my mailbox like the ones he just sent over. Let’s have a look, shall we?

We’ll start off with the trader. Yes, I said trader. He traded his Red Sox uniform for one covered in those weird pinstripes. You might also say he traded his soul for a big check. As for the “traitor” that some people thought Sox fans were trying to call him? I don’t see it. The Sox offered him vastly less money than the Yankees. Red Sox fans were always distant with him, since we all knew he was leaving. And, fans generally gave him a hard time when he missed time with a broken rib and separated shoulder. So, not sure where he owed fans anything, or should have any loyalty to the team or city. This card is just a nice reminder of the two rings he earned in Boston. And, look how shiny!

Speaking of which, this Jonny Gomes card has a nice sheen to it as well. I especially like this card because I happened to be at this game. It’s always nice when a card can have a personal connection like that.

The  Boggs definitely does not have a sheen to it. But, that’s kind of the point. It's supposed to have that old-time feel to it. Great looking card.

Of course, if you read The Phillies Room regularly, or follow it on Twitter or like it on Facebook (and, frankly, I have no idea why you wouldn’t do all three) then you’ve already seen this card. It’s a beautiful card of a Red Sox pitcher who, I admit, I had never heard of. But, it’s a low print run on-card autograph. It could be of the batboy, and I’d be thrilled. After all, I’ve spent money on a sticker autograph of a Red Sox scout.

Which really comes to the only bad part of the little arrangement I have with Jim. It might take me a while to acquire something comparable to that piece of greatness. Hope he’s patient.

Thanks again to the Phillies Room!

Friday, May 23, 2014

From the Pedro Binder

2005 Topps Postseason Highlights

Thought we could all use a reminder of good times today.

There are quite a few things that I really like about this card. First, I thought Topps did a great job in 2005 of incorporating the base card design into its subsets. And, if you ignore the fact that my scanner cropped off the border, you can see the same twisting stripe design used elsewhere in the set. It really helps with continuity. I’d like to give Topps credit for using a picture from the game they’re talking about. But, really, that’s to be expected in a highlights set. I do like that it’s a celebration pic. As opposed to a random pic of Pedro throwing a pitch. The highlight on the card is that the Sox took a 2-0 series lead. That’s something Pedro would be very excited about. (I know I was.)

My only complaint is that the Red Sox and ALDS logos take up so much room at the bottom. If each of those were half the size, it would leave a lot more room for the picture. But, as usual, at least Topps did a good job of tucking their logo into the corner.

All in all, a great card celebrating a great moment in Red Sox history.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What Did Signing Drew Do?

Well, for one thing, it settled everyone down just a little bit. Not, the hidden weapon is here. It's like when everyone falls in love with the back-up quarterback. He's here now. What are you going to whine about next?

Don't get me wrong. I think it's a good idea. More talent is always better than less talent. Frankly I'm a little surprised to see the Sox agree with that, since they often do the opposite. But, Drew offers some stability. Especially with Middlebrooks down for at least a good bit of time. Having a better-than-average shortstop there to fill in is a big asset. Switching Bogaerts to third clearly makes the most sense. Maybe this will actually help him. Instead of looking over his shoulder all the time, maybe Bogaerts can just play. There is no plan B. Just him.

But, what about when Middlebrooks comes back? I know, the answer will be that these things tend to sort themselves out. But, assuming that Drew and Bogaerts are both playing at at least close to a level you'd like them to be at, can you really send Middlebrooks back to Pawtucket? I know that 25 isn't exactly old. But, at some point do the Sox just need to see what they have in him? To fish or cut bait?

Personally, I would have preferred that Drew be the back-up. Start the kids, but let Drew give each of them a day off every week or so. Maybe three starts a week, plus a defensive replacement. From there, it's the youngsters chance to just play. But, I doubt the Sox are paying Drew $10 million to be a back-up or platoon guy. He’s here to play. It’s up to the youngster to take their time and grow.

Or, be traded.

Is Drew the savior? Of course not. But, as I said, the Sox didn’t need to be saved. They need a quality player to add some more stability. They’ve done that.

I guess they’ll sort everything else out later.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Are the Red Sox Bowling?

I used to do quite a bit of bowling. (Candlepin, of course.) I’m sure you all know how it works. You roll three balls and try to knock over ten pins. Do that ten times, and see how many you get when you’re done. Obviously, the best plan is to get as many down with the first ball, to make it easier on the next two. Or, to eliminate the need for the next two altogether. So, sometimes I would roll that first ball of the first frame right where I wanted it to go. It would be in a spot I couldn’t have done better if I placed it there. Then, something odd would happen. It would take a funny bounce off the head pin and only knock down a pin or two. Or, it would somehow drive straight through the pins and only take two or three down, leaving a nasty split for the next two ball. But, I’d have to say to myself, “That’s OK. You put it right where you want it. Next frame, just do it again and things will correct themselves.” And, sometimes that was true. The next frame, the ball would be back in the same spot, and 8 pins would fall down. Or all ten. Or, maybe, the same thing would happen. I’d get that funny bounce again, and only three would drop. So, I’d have to tell myself to keep at it. I was doing what I wanted, and eventually it would work out.

Until I got to the fifth frame, still telling myself that. Suddenly, despite me doing everything I wanted to do, to the best I could expect, I was halfway through the string with nothing to show for it. I had wasted the string.

This Red Sox season reminds me a little of that.

They’re not playing poorly, exactly. Sure, some of the players are struggling. Jackie Bradley Jr is having trouble hitting his weight. Xander Bogaerts isn't an all-star, and will Middlebrooks hasn't broken through yet...when he's in the line-up at all. Even the vets are having some off moments. But, really, if Bradley was hitting .280, how many more wins would the Sox have? They've been middle of the pack for a bit. They might not be hitting the head pin, but they're at least hitting the three.

Which brings us to time. Have they lost the string yet? Well, they're at the quarter mark for the season. So, they've tread water for over a month now. Almost two. You might be concerned they they've wasted too much time with bad bounces to catch up. But, if you look at the standings, you see that they're only three games out in the division. They're only two games back of the second wild card. 

They haven't wasted the string at all.

There's still plenty of time left, if you believe in the team. And, no, I don't mean in the "real fans Believe! Gotta have faith!" sort of "believe". I mean, if you look at the team and believe that Bradly can only get better. If you believe that Xander is really an upper half shortstop. If you believe that AJ can produce what Salty did last year, or believe that Victorino just needs to stay healthy to become a top player in baseball again. If you believe that hitting with runners is scoring position isn't a skill, but something that will eventually even out. If you believe that water will find its own level, then the Sox are in good shape. The rest of the league is faltering right along with them. 

There's plenty left in the string.

Friday, May 16, 2014

From the Pedro Binder

2002 Fleer Platinum Clubhouse Collection

This card tries to do a good job with itself. It even almost does it.

I’m torn when it comes to memorabilia cards. Do I want the card to be designed around the piece, or do I want it to be an afterthought? In this case, the design clearly took the piece of jersey into account. It incorporated the shape for the cutout twice in the design, to make sure it had a spot. It doesn’t work for me. It makes it seem like the rest of the card is less important. Of course, I also don’t like it when they just take a regular card and cut out a hole in the picture to insert the item.

I’m pretty hard to please, apparently.

Other than that, the card does a great job. The “Clubhouse Collection” name is appropriate, since the card contains a piece of something you’d find in a clubhouse. There’s even a picture of a clubhouse right there on the top of the card.

For an insert card, all the important information is there. Pedro’s name, and his team. There’s even a color team logo. What don’t I like? The Fleer Platinum logo is almost bigger than the Red Sox logo. Heck, it’s almost bigger than the picture of Pedro. What else? The name of the insert set is plastered right in the middle of the card. Is that the most important thing?

Assuming that they’re not lying, I do like that the front of the card tells you it’s a “game-worn jersey.” Not a “used item” or a “uniform part.” It telling you right there that this was worn in a game. I don’t even have to flip the card over to find out. It’s right there for all to see. That’s fantastic.

Again, assuming it’s true.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Ortiz or Manny?

Last night, the NESN poll question went something like “Other than David Ortiz, which player has been the best free agent signing for the Sox in the last 20 years?” The choices were Keith Foulke, Tim Wakefield, Johnny Damon, or Manny Ramirez.

Obviously, the easy answer was many Ramirez. I’m just wondering why they needed to qualify it. Even if David Ortiz were included, wouldn’t the answer still be Manny?

I will agree to one aspect. That as a current fan favorite, including Ortiz might have skewed the results to him. After all, he hit two home runs last night, and Manny didn’t. I also agree that Ortiz was a “better” signing in that he was certainly cheaper. So, the Red Sox got more bang for their buck with Ortiz than they did with Manny. But, if that were the criteria, Wakefield would have been an easy choice after Ortiz. From a minor league contract, to team leader in wins? Sounds like a good signing to me.

So, it must actually be about the quality of the player. Which would you have rather had, Ortiz or Manny?

Well, let’s see. Ortiz is playing in his 12th season with the Sox. Manny played 8. So, you could say that you got Ortiz longer, so he was a better signing. But, what about production while they were here?

Ortiz is creeping up the team leaders in any number of categories, while Manny didn’t quite get so far. Ortiz’s 382 HR, for instance, place him third all-time on the Sox. Ramirez is sixth, with 274…in 500 fewer games. Manny had a better career batting average. Had about 500 fewer hits, and a couple hundred fewer runs scored. Overall, I’d say that Manny put up better numbers if you’re looking at an average season.

What about the postseason? How does Manny compare to the greatest clutch hitter in Red Sox history? Pretty well, actually. Both have a World Series MVP to show off. Both have dramatic home runs to win games. Granted, Ortiz has more of those. Manny won two rings with the Sox, Ortiz three.

The most important part of the argument for me is that during Ortiz’s best years, he batted third, with Manny batting fourth. You could argue that Ortiz wouldn’t have been the same without Manny lurking in the on-deck circle. When Ortiz batted fourth behind Manny, I don’t think you could say the same thing. I think Manny was certainly the more important of the combo.

Does that make him the best signing? To me it does. I can’t argue with the raw production that came out of Manny when he was here. 

What do you think?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Do the Red Sox Have Too Many Prospects?

I’m ignoring the obvious answer of “no.”

After all, I understand that there’s no such thing as too much talent. Your farm system can never be too deep. But, there reaches a point where it starts to be tricky to figure out what to do with all these players.

I think the Sox are reaching that point.

The Sox have a couple players tearing up the farm system, with absolutely no place to go.

Take Mookie Betts, for instance. There are some who have seen him play who insist he has no business still being in the minor leagues. He’s certainly putting up the numbers to support that, as he reaches base every game, and every other at-bat or so. But, he plays second base. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Sox have a second baseman this year. And next year. And every year until 2022. I think it’s fair to say that there won’t be a spot for Betts at second.

You could switch him to short. Lots of players make that switch. There’s an opening there. Oh wait. They have a guy there too. Some Bogaerts kid who speaks four languages. He’s only 21 and should be there next year, along with the next handful. OK. So, two dead ends.

How about third? The guy who was at third last year had an up and down year, and was actually benched in the playoffs. Could Betts or the linguist play third? And replace a guy with 30-home-run potential at the position? Who’s 25? That doesn’t make sense either.

How about first? Maybe one of that crew could shift to first. Oops. Blocked again. And, he’ll be here next year too. Batting fourth in the line-up.

How about the outfield? That Betts kid can absolutely fly. Maybe in center field? Let’s see…the guy in center this year is the best defensive center fielder the Sox have had in I don’t know how long. Oh, and he’s 24.

That leaves the corner outfield spots. The guy in right has one more year left on his contract after this one, and was the Sox most productive player last season. Blocked.

So, left field? There’s no obvious starter at the moment. The guy who sees a lot of the time is still an injury waiting to happen. So, you could shift your speedy second base super-prospect to left field in order to find him someplace to play. That’s all you have.

Not exactly a great option.

There’s a similar problem in the rotation. Forget about the prospects, even. Brandon Workman pitched to a 2.45 ERA last season in three starts in Boston. Pitched at least six innings in all three, and gave up 2 runs or fewer in each of them. Three starts, three quality starts.

He’s in the bullpen. He’s 25 years old.

Where is there room for any new players?

Usually, my answer would be simple. Trade the prospects for major leaguers. Sell high, and get quality back.

But who? And where?

Even if I trade five top prospects away, I need a spot to put the guy that comes to Boston. Sure, there’s an opening for Giancarlo Stanton in left. And, if the Sox got Mike Trout, He’d find a spot somewhere. But, that really only applies to the A-list guys. And, teams aren’t trading a lot of those guys. Otherwise, Stanton would already be in left field.

Trading for a solid all-star doesn’t make any sense. You’re not going to trade a prospect for a player who will be around for a couple years when you have quality youngsters at just about every position at the major league level. Would you make a spot in the Red Sox line-up for Adam Jones or Alex Gordon?

What it’s coming down to is having so many players, that the Sox can’t utilize them to their full potential. There’s just no space. They have too many prospects.

Is that possible?

Friday, May 9, 2014

I Scored!

May 7, 1999

I remember this game quite clearly. A buddy of mine called, and said he had an extra ticket, and wondered if I was interested. A quick look at the calendar reminded me that this was my mother’s birthday. It was also two days before Mother’s Day, when I had Sox tickets of my own. So, the decision was an easy one.

Absolutely. I wanted the ticket.

Why was I so sure? Take a look at the pitcher’s box. Yup. Pedro Martinez was on the mound. Then look at the visiting team. Anaheim. That means Mo Vaughn would be returning to Fenway, to face Pedro Martinez.

Clearly that’s more important than my mother’s birthday.

Did the game end up being worth it? You tell me. Keep looking at the pitcher’s box. Pedro got the win. He went eight innings, only gave up six base runners, and struck out 15. Yup. Vintage Pedro, before we were sure that it was vintage Pedro. How about Mo? Pedro struck him out in his first at-bat, much to our delight. He also struck him out in his third at-bat, just for fun.

What about the Red Sox offense? They didn’t need much of it on that day. But, they scored six runs anyway. It was a balanced attack, with everyone getting at least one hit, and six different people scoring runs.

The hero of the game? I have to give it to Mike Stanley. He drove in three runs on the day, getting three hits. He was all the Sox needed to get the win.

The goat? It’s a little tricky with all those hits. But, I need something out of my number three hitter. So, I’m going to hang the horns on Reggie Jefferson. 1-4, no runs scored, and two strikeouts. That’s not going to get it done.

But, in the end it didn’t matter. As with most Pedro games, the offense was a secondary consideration as he let the Sox cruise to victory.

And the scorecard shows how it happened.

(Oh, and Happy belated Birthday Mom!)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

From the Pedro Binder…

2004 Topps

Luckily for all of us, my scanner was apparently able to capture an image of this card just before it was sucked away into a black hole. This way we are all able to admire it beauty…as long as we cock out head slightly to the right.

Is it a thing of beauty? Well, I guess that’s up for some discussion.

It certainly has a lot going for it. Frankly, most base cards to. There is a large picture, front and center. The team name is quite obvious on the top of the card, where it’s easy to read. The player’s name and position are nicely tucked into the corner. As a right-hander, I prefer the name to be on the left side of the card, to make for easy searching. But, that’s a minor point. The fact that the name of the player and the team are in foil continues to be a major point. Why Topps insists on making that hard to read is beyond me. There’s a simple red line tracing around an irregularly shaped border. As I’ve said before, there’s only so much you can do with a border, so a simple jog is a nice touch. Topps also added Pedro’s number, and a little foil sketch in the corner. I admit that it took me much too long to realize that the sketch wasn’t a generic one. It’s actually a smaller version of the main photo. Fantastic.

I like the photo itself, too. It’s not Pedro in mid-windup. He’s not staring down a hitter. It’s something different. To be honest, I’m not really sure what he’s doing. Is he leaving the field and telling the rest of the team to follow him? Is he directing a throw? Is he pointing out a tripping hazard?

What do you think he’s doing?

Whatever it is, it makes for a nice card. The picture is the main focus, and the design elements enhance that fact, as oppose to cluttering it.

Nicely done.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Red Sox 1-36: 33 is for…

33 Intentional walks to Ted Williams in 1957

Wow. That’s a lot of intentional walks.

Now, I know that the intentional walk is falling a bit out of favor these days. Why would you put any base runner on if you didn’t have to? Recent computer simulations have suggested that if you walked Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds every time they came to the plate, it would just mean the guy behind them would drive in 150 runs. And, that makes sense. The more time someone bats with runners on, the more times they would drive them in. If the guy batting behind David Ortiz came to the plate every time with Ortiz on first, at the very least every home run would score two.

But, if you’re going to employ the selective intentional walk, the 1957 version of Ted Williams would be a good place to use it. Sure, Ted was getting older. He’d only play three more seasons. But, he led the league in batting that year, and produced a .328/.462/.584 slash line. Those three numbers were all down from the year before when he again led the league in hitting, as well as the other two categories, when he went .388/.528/.731. (All three of those numbers were the second best of Ted’s career.) So, if there was ever a hitter that would warrant some unique strategy, it would be that guy. Adding to that argument would be the people hitting behind Williams. His protection. I checked out a handful of box scores to see who batted fourth in games. Dick Gernert was the Opening Day clean-up hitter. In May I saw Gene Stephens take a turn. In June, there was a case of Mickey Vernon doing the honors. I’m guessing that it wouldn’t take much to convince you that you’d rather face any of them than Williams.

So, while walking Ted every time he comes to the plate would be foolish, I think I’d have a hard time arguing against doing it every one in a while. After all, 33 walks meant only about once every three or four games he played in that year.

Even today, I think it would be hard not to walk him at least that often.

33 is for the 33 intentional walks Ted Williams got in 1957

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Defending Xander’s Defense

Everyone seems pretty certain that Xander Bogaerts is a special player. He’ll be a star in the heart of the Red Sox line-up for years to com.

What has recently been a little less certain, is his position. Can he be the Red Sox shortstop? Is he too big? Is he too clunky? What will happen?

Some of this is natural comparison by all of us. The last two regular shortstops for the Sox were Jose Iglesias and Stephen Drew. Iglesias may be the flashiest, fun to watch shortstop the Sox have had. While Drew wasn’t flashy, he was a very good defender who earned his spot in the postseason line-up almost solely because of his glove.

So, it’s natural that we would look at Bogaerts as something less than good. I’d wager that every error he has made this year would have been an easy play by either of the two that came before him. That gets frustrating, especially when it’s a critical error at a critical time. But, that’s not fair.

Nor is it necessary.

Sure, Bogaerts is having some growing pains. He has to learn how to play defense in the major leagues. He has to adjust to faster runners. Instead of remembering which guy on the other team was speedy, most of the other team is speedy. The whole game is just a little faster. So, he needs to figure out how to speed things up, instead of being surprised that a guy is almost to first. That’ll take just a little time.

I’m not suggesting he’ll turn into Ozzie Smith. His minor league career doesn’t imply anything like that. But, he’ll be solid. Heck, he already is solid. He’ll make the plays he’s supposed to make. If he’s going to hit the way everyone thinks he will, that’s all you need from him on the field.

In the meantime? It stinks when his errors are hurtful. Especially since those are the ones everyone seems to remember. With any luck, the rest of his learning curve consists of bases empty errors with two outs. Those certainly hurt a lot less than with two on in the ninth. But, I suspect over the season his bat will win the Red Sox many more games than his glove costs them.

Many many more.

What people are reading this week