The day before yesterday I reviewed the remarkable baseball novel, The Art of Fielding. Of course, as I saw in one review, to say that The Art of Fielding is a baseball novel is about the same as saying Moby Dick is a whaling novel. (An appropriate comparison, by the way, since The Art of Fielding takes place near Lake Michigan and a campus statue of H. Melville. Don't ask. Read it.)
In any case it made me stop and think about the great baseball-based novels. No, there aren't a lot. But the ones I have read are nothing short of sensational (in alphabetical author order):
- Darryl Brock: If I Never Get Back
- Mark Harris: Bang The Drum Slowly
- W. P. Kinsella: Shoeless Joe
- Bernard Malamud: The Natural
- George Plimpton: The Curious Case of Sidd Finch
I know there are many cliches about baseball and life. Philosophers, theologians, political pundits, historians and documentary filmmakers have made that point ad infinitum. Ken Burns' 10 episodes remains the gold standard. But to read a novel about baseball- or with baseball at its heart- takes us to those levels of insight that cannot be touched with facts or even essays. Stories, good stories, are the soul of reality, simmered into the essence of what is important.
No other sport has done this as well as baseball. I am not one of those pundits to be able to explain why. I am an intuitive. I am convinced that is why baseball continues to survive in spite of its institutional (i.e. professional) shortcomings; why we want the Ryan Brauns and Pete Roses and Shoeless Joe Jacksons to tell us that the reality "Ain't so!"
But in the books the winners win, the losers lose, and the fans are satisfied. Or not. Which is when the novel moves from a baseball novel to one that has baseball in its heart.
(I did come across two novels I want to read, by the way. First is, surprisingly, Philip Roth: The Great American Novel. I am surprised I haven't read that, though I have never been a big Roth fan. The other is The Celebrant by Eric Rolfe Greenberg. Add that to my Nook, please? Oops, but no. Neither is available for the Nook. Darn.)