Thursday, February 16, 2012

Panning for literary gold among the spring releases

The mountain of books in my downstairs library is growing, threatening a literary avalanche. With a rambunctious 2-year-old in the house I’m forever re-balancing stacks of books to withstand the shaking and pounding he might unfurl upon the shelves. Lately they’ve been arriving in a steady stream, and with a box due from the Baseball America home office next week, it may be time to weed out some of the less likely candidates.

After taking January off to catch up on some non-baseball books, it’s time to get back down to business. I’m forever on the hunt for good baseball novels, a rare beast indeed. I see a couple of likely candidates in this year’s crop, Calico Joe, by John Grisham, and The Might Have Been, by Joseph Schuster. I’m hoping, of course, that Grisham’s venture into baseball writing will be a little more fulfilling than Stephen King’s 2010 contribution, Blockade Billy, which was so short it was over before it really began.

With the proliferation in self-published books, there may be a darkhorse contender out there yet. The new publishing landscape has opened the gates to fiction writers who previously had little chance of breaking through with the established presses. The likeliest of the bunch (not including mine here, which would be a little over the top) so far looks like Deadball, by David Stinson. At least it seems promising after skimming the first three pages. We’ll see where it goes.

We’ve also got a number of memoirs to choose from, led by one of the hottest names in baseball writing, Dirk Hayhurst, whose 2010 debut, The Bullpen Gospels, converted him from a pitcher who wrote on the side to a writer who pitched occasionally. Paul Dickson’s Bill Veeck biography will be out in April. This was the first new baseball book I read this year and I thought it was very well done. I expect it should do well. I’m now trying to clear the decks to get to Robert Fitts’ Banzai Babe Ruth, detailing the 1934 barnstorming tour of Japan that temporarily seemed to soothe relations between our nations, at least until Japanese nationalism spun out of control.

Fitts’ book looks to be the plum of this spring’s University of Nebraska crop. They placed two books on our top 10 list last year and usually have some interesting releases. Others of note this season include Conspiracy of Silence, Chris Lamb’s account of the role sportswriters played in the eventual desegregation of baseball, and the second volume of Norman Macht’s Connie Mack biography. They may not have the pockets or the reach of the big NY publishers, but you know you’re getting something quality from Nebraska just about every time.

With apologies to Oil Can Boyd and Willie Mays Aikens, whose bios I’m unlikely ever to crack open, here are 10 new releases on my to-read list this spring:

Fiction
Calico Joe by John Grisham (Doubleday, April 10)
Deadball: A Metaphysical Baseball Novel by David Stinson (already available)
The Might Have Been by Joseph Schuster (Ballantine, March 20)

Nonfiction
Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan by Robert Fitts (U. of Nebraska, March 1)
Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick by Paul Dickson (Walker & Company, April 24)
Bushville Wins!: The Wild Saga of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves by John Klima (Thomas Dunne, July 3)
Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry, and Baseball's Greatest Gift by Harvey Araton (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 3)
Extra Innings: More Baseball Between the Numbers from the Team at Baseball Prospectus (BP, April 3)
One Patch of Grass by Andrew Linker (April)
Out of My League by Dirk Hayhurst (Feb. 28)

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