In Elysian Fields, released by Tom Evans this summer, proves itself a fascinating read. The events of this novel take place in the late-1950s, and the feel of the book definitely fits with that time period. Luke Allen is a major league ballplayer in the final season of his career, hoping to have a shot at finally winning a championship before he retires. Luke is having one of the best seasons of his already-Hall of Fame worthy career, due in part to the influence of a series of anonymous notes sent to him from a secret admirer.
The secret admirer, the reader learns, is a poet by the name of Norah Dailey. Norah admires Luke from a distance, and while the two do not physically meet for a very long time, they are nonetheless drawn to one another. The two dance around a desire to meet one another, yet not feeling sure whether they really should.
In the meantime, the reader learns a lot about each character’s background. Each has had a challenging life, in their own way, and each grew up to devote their lives to their respective passions — Luke to baseball and Norah to writing. If you’re the kind of reader who likes to hear about the backstories of a book’s characters (which I am), then you will love the details provided about these two.
As someone who loves baseball and literature, this book proved quite engaging and satiating for both interests. I have long felt that baseball and literature are excellent complements to one another, and the attraction between Luke and Norah serves as a great metaphor for this. Overall, I found the book quite enjoyable. It had hints of The Natural and of Bull Durham in its story line, and yet manages to stand unique, especially in terms of character development. I do wish the story would have continued on a bit longer than it did after Luke and Norah finally do meet, if only to wrap up Luke’s career and establish their relationship a bit more neatly. But again, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and I suppose that sometimes, the next chapters of our favorite characters’ lives are best left to the imagination.
I came across this audiobook, Baseball Legend Joe DiMaggio, through the local library and spent my lunch break yesterday listening to it. Written and narrated by Geoffrey Giuliano, I wondered at first why this biography came only in audio format, with no hard copy or even ebook version. As I listened, however, the reason quickly became apparent.
The recording opens up with a broad, sweeping biography of DiMaggio, which takes up only about the first five or ten minutes of the hour-long book. This biography serves to set the foundation for the rest of the book, which turns out to be a sort of audio documentary of Joe DiMaggio’s life.
The audiobook features recordings of a variety of interviews, some with DiMaggio himself, others with broadcasters from both that era and the present day. Also included are snippets from actual radio broadcasts during that era. Giuliano provides the context for the various audio clips, which cover everything from DiMaggio’s early life to his war service, his 56-game hitting streak to his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, his relationship with his teammates to his life post-baseball.
Overall, I found it a fascinating experience to listen to the various clips. As I mentioned, the entire audiobook is only about an hour long, which made for an enjoyable lunch break. If you enjoy listening to old interviews and other audio clips, it’s worth checking out.
Pitcher Jim Bouton passed away yesterday at the age of 80. Bouton, as many are aware, was the author of Ball Four, a baseball memoir that exposed the behind-the-scenes world of professional baseball. The memoir stirred up no small amount of indignation in the baseball world, and yet is now considered one of the most important sports books ever written.
Bouton passed away at his home in Massachusetts following a long battle with a brain disease called cerebral amyloid angiopathy.
Rest in peace.
This is the second day now that I do not know the result of the juegos he thought. But I must have confidence and I must be worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel.
~Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
But baseball was different. Schwartz thought of it as Homeric – not a scrum but a series of isolated contests. Batter versus pitcher, fielder versus ball. You couldn’t storm around, snorting and slapping people, the way Schwartz did while playing football.You stood and waited and tried to still your mind. When your moment came, you had to be ready, because if you fucked up, everyone would know whose fault it was. What other sport not only kept a stat as cruel as the error but posted it on the scoreboard for everyone to see?
~Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding
Last weekend, I finished 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story by Ed Henry. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this book, going into it. I don’t consider myself a religious individual, and the thought of a book — even one about baseball — trying to shove faith down its readers’ throats was not an appealing possibility. But I’m glad I gave the book a shot in spite of my hesitation, because it really didn’t do that at all. Yes, it talked about religion quite a bit, but more from an objective, this-is-how-religion-factored-into-these-events kind of approach.
This book isn’t just about Jackie Robinson, but just as much about Branch Rickey and about the rest of the Brooklyn Dodgers team during Robinson’s time with them. It serves a biographical purpose when it comes to the lives of both Robinson and Rickey, while also, of course, highlighting the role of religion and faith for both men, both in their everyday lives and in the steps they took in breaking baseball’s color barrier.
His religious convictions, Henry writes, are a big part of what prompted Branch Rickey in his determination to bring a black player into the big leagues. Based on his research, Henry insists that Rickey was not as certain about his decision to break the color barrier as history now suggests, but rather his faith provided him with the resolve to move forward with the undertaking. And it was Robinson’s faith that sustained him through the slings and arrows flung at him on the diamond, even as he kept his promise to Rickey not to fight back.
The scope of the book doesn’t stop with these two men. Most notably, Henry also takes a long look at Ralph Branca, a devout Catholic and good friend to Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers team. Branca, fans might recall, also happens to be the pitcher who gave up the “Shot Heard Round to the World” to Bobby Thomson in the 1951 National League pennant race. Ed Henry delves into the role Branca’s religious beliefs played in his friendship with Robinson and in how he responded to the aftermath of the 1951 pennant race.
Ed Henry references Robinson’s unpublished memoirs to a great extent in this book. In his research, he also drew from previously uncovered sermons and traveled to perform interviews with Robinson’s and Rickey’s family and friends. Overall, I’d say this book is worth the read. True, it is another Jackie Robinson book in an already-large collection of Jackie Robinson books, but I think that Ed Henry does a great job looking at this story from a different angle, even talking about faith and religion without getting preachy.
Now obviously, in peacetime a one-legged catcher, like a one-armed outfielder (such as the Mundys had roaming right), would have been at the most a curiosity somewhere down in the dingiest town in the minors – precisely where Hot had played during the many years that the nations of the world lived in harmony. But it is one of life’s grisly ironies that what is catastrophe for most of mankind, invariably works to the advantage of a few who live on the fringes of the human community. On the other hand, it is a grisly irony to live on the fringes of the human community.
~Philip Roth, The Great American Novel
R.I.P. Mr. Roth…