Sunday, April 3, 2011
April 2-3, 2011 [Tribute Post 9]: Three Strikes
As with so many other things, the place that baseball holds in my attention and heart—and thus the place that Opening Day holds on my calendar—has drastically shifted over the last, oh, five and a half years or so. The Braves’ improbable playoff run got me back into the games last fall, but outside of that couple of weeks I probably watched an hour or two of baseball total in the past season. But it’s still been a hugely constitutive part of this AmericanStudier’s identity, and is of course (as the story at the heart of my Stealing Home entry illustrates) a hugely telling part of our core national histories and identities as well. So in honor of Opening Weekend, three baseball stories that are well worth your time, even if you don’t love the game (although they’re even better if you do!):
1) Ring Lardner, Jr., You Know Me Al (1914): I’m as big a fan of modernists like Faulkner, Hemingway, Eliot, and their compatriots as anybody, but there’s no doubt that the literary historical focus on their ascendance in the 1920s has led us to forget, or at least downplay, many of the really interesting voices working in the 1910s. That list would definitely include Lardner, a journalist whose forays into fiction were consistently funny and wise, capturing both satirically and sympathetically vernacular American voices like the narrator of this epistolary novel, a down on his luck ballplayer trying to hang around a bit longer.
2) Tom Dyja, Play for a Kingdom (1998): If it weren’t for the events I chronicled in that aforementioned Stealing Home entry, I’d say that Dyja had found the most compelling historical baseball story of all time: Union and Confederate soldiers accidentally meet during the days before the 1864 battle of Spottsylvania and challenge each other to a series of games. One of these stories that you wouldn’t believe if it were pure fiction, but it did happen; and Dyja builds on that amazing starting point to develop a really rich and impressive historical novel.
3) David James Duncan, The Brothers K (1992): Duncan’s huge and multi-layered novel about the 60s, Vietnam, family, religion, trauma, childhood, love, death, and, yes, baseball is one of my favorite American books, and will probably be the subject of a future blog post all its own. So here I’ll just say that it’s as good for this topic as it would be for any other to which it might be connected, and one that had a pretty formative effect on my high school identity, making it worthy of a weekend Tribute post to boot.
Root, root, root for a more complex and productive understanding of our national history and identity! (Or something like that.) More tomorrow, on one of the best multi-generational American narratives ever seen on the silver screen.
PS. Four links to start with:
1) Full text of Al: http://www.ibiblio.org/eldritch/rl/unomeal.htm
2) Amazon’s Play page (you can get some sense of it by searching inside): http://www.amazon.com/Play-Kingdom-Thomas-Dyja/dp/0156006294
3) Google books of Brothers: http://books.google.com/books?id=rFg_h5iuOXkC&printsec=frontcover&dq=the+brothers+k+duncan&source=bl&ots=hXium2fawR&sig=CNyKZLEzXipmnSgQeybkJVxstXk&hl=en&ei=K8iYTYfVN8z2gAfilOTHCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CDQQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q&f=false
4) OPEN: Any recommendations?