Saturday, May 3, 2008

Five best: baseball fiction

Nicholas Dawidoff's books include The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg and the newly released The Crowd Sounds Happy: A Story of Love, Madness, and Baseball.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of "Baseball Fiction For the Prose Hall of Fame." Number One on his list:
You Know Me Al
by Ring Lardner
Scribner, 1916

Ring Lardner's story of the ambitious young man from the sticks who comes to the big city to make his fortune became the seminal literary baseball narrative. Most baseball fiction veers toward the maudlin, but Lardner had a horror of sentimentality. This mordant book is as deft and shrewd as the protagonist, a hay-in-the-hair pitcher from the Indiana heartland named Jack Keefe, is boastful and self-deluded. It takes the form of a series of letters home from Keefe to his "Friend Al" Blanchard, side-splitting, semi-literate epistles in which Lardner, a former Chicago sportswriter, makes use of his matchless ear for translating the vernacular of early-day ballplayers into timeless prose.
Read about all five titles on Dawidoff's list.

Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections, on Dawidoff's The Crowd Sounds Happy:
I've never read a memoir whose author has remained truer to his boyhood self. The young Dawidoff who loved Ted Williams, Elvis Costello, and Samuel Johnson has grown up to write like an original amalgam of all three, and the result is an intricately recollected, uncommonly frank self-portrait with something terrific on page after page.
Read an excerpt from The Crowd Sounds Happy and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue