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Friday, October 15, 2010

Baseball Reads

It is that time of year again. The championship series for baseball begin tonight.

Living in Chicagoland for the past 13 years I have noticed that people here are very good at ignoring baseball's existence once the playoffs roll around (except for 2005 when the White Sox won the World Series; that year, baseball was all people would talk about). All the sports talk these days is about Da Bears, the Blackhawks and the Bulls. Although I like these teams, I am a Jersey girl who loves her Yankees, and just I love this time of year.

Despite lower television ratings, baseball is still "America's Pastime," and as a result, there is a great literary tradition of baseball fiction.  Personally, I am a big fan of any fiction featuring baseball, so I thought I would share some of my favorites with you.

Take the books I am suggesting, add a few of your own ideas, and set up a small baseball themed display at your library to coincide with the World Series. It will catch the attention of even the most casual babseball fan. The idea is to play off (pun intended) what is going on in the world when you are displaying books. Your patrons like that what they have been hearing about in the media, or what has been on their mind, is reflected in the books you are highlighting. It shows them we care.

So here are some of my personal favorites in baseball fiction. This is by no means a comprehensive list. And, I cannot even begin to scratch the surface for nonfiction, but at least when it comes to assembling nonfiction for a display, you can gather them all by call number quite easily. Please post a comment to add your own baseball fiction suggestions too.
  • I love W.P. Kinsella. Many of you may know his book Shoeless Joe from which the film Field of Dreams was adapted.  But my personal favorite is The Iowa Baseball Confederacy in which the Cubs play a game against a team of amateurs, a game which may have never ended.
  • Another classic is The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover.  This cult favorite is a must read for both baseball fans and anyone who plays fantasy sports (I am both).  Here Henry creates an elaborate single-player, 8 team baseball league, using dice to control the players and teams.  As he gets more involved with his "game," Henry loses touch with his real life. It is a haunting and comic story.
  • Steven King loves baseball too. The good news for non-horror readers is that King's baseball books are not in that genre.  Try this year's novella, Blockade Billy or the wonderfully haunting Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, which is one of my go-to titles for someone who wants a "good read" but cannot bear to be more specific.
  • If you have never read The Natural by Bernard Malamud (and no, watching the movie does not count), now is the perfect time of year to check it out. It is the story of a past his prime baseball player, who, when he finally gets his chance on a big stage, shines! Malamud is a wonderful storyteller. If you have only read The Natural, try something else by him.
  • In Summerland, Michael Chabon has created a young adult, fantasy for baseball fans of all ages. Set on a Washingotn State island, a new resident who is a ball bad player, gets recruited to play  baseball, in games that they need to win in order to save the world.
  • Pete Hamill often includes babseball in his historical novles about immigrants in New York. It makes perfect sense since baseball, and Americaare so intrinsically linked in our national consciousness.  Snow in August has the most blatant baseball storyline, as it is set against the summer that Jackie Robinson came to the Brooklyn Dodgers, and tells the story of how a young Irish boy and a Rabbi bond over the game.
  • The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa is a book I have talked about on this blog before. The story is about a man whose memory only lasts 80 minutes, but one thing he can remember is baseball statistics. This novel is set in Japan and has a moving and memorable scene where the main characters all go to a baseball game for the first time. Even readers like me who have been to dozens of professional baseball games will be moved by this scene. It will bring back memories of your first time too.
  • Many years ago I had fun reading, Castro's Curveball by Tim Wendel.  This is not a great work of literature, but it is a fun story for baseball fans. Castro's Curveball imagines what Fidel Castro's baseball career could have been like through the eyes of an old American who played with him.
  • Philip Roth's The Great American Novel, is not one of his best known works, but it is a satirical novel which takes a very un-nostalgic look at baseball.
  • Underworld by Don DeLillo is one of my all-time favorite books and the entire thing hinges on on baseball. As the novel opens it is October 3, 1951 and at the Polo Grounds, Bobby Thomson hits “the shot heard round the world,” while half way around the world, the Soviets test their first atomic bomb.  The story then jumps to 1992 in the American desert where Nick Shay, a waste analyst who now owns that famous baseball, reunites with a former lover, Kara Sax.  DeLillo uses the two stories that of the fate of the ball, told from beginning to end, and that of Shay and Sax, told from the end to the beginning, interweaving real historical characters, to create a web of interconnected experiences that recounts the shared experience of all Americans in Cold War America.
  • Play For A Kingdom by Thomas Dyja brings together two of my favorite fictional frames, baseball and the Civil War. Here Union and Confederate soldiers meet before a huge battle to play baseball.

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