Monday, September 19, 2016

Kinsella's Gone, but Baseball Fiction Remains

W.P. Kinsella, the baseball novelist many of you know if you know anything at all about baseball writing, died yesterday and gave me pause to consider one of my favorite forms of the written word: baseball fiction.

I am not a baseball fan--the affection for baseball fiction might lead you to conclude otherwise--but, ah, baseball fiction ... It can be as wildly variable as Mr. Kinsella's signature novel Shoeless Joe (later "Field of Dreams" as a movie), Mark Harris' Bang the Drum Slowly and Darryl Brock's If I Never Go Back, whose plots are similar in two respects: they center on baseball and they are fantasies.

Baseball is a fantasy sport, and not just fantasy baseball that 20-somethings play in their living rooms. It is slow and given to flights of fancy by those watching, especially during its frequent lulls. Bang the Drum Slowly concerns a dying catcher and the camraderie baseball engenders. Shoeless Joe deals with a baseball field built in a corn field so a man can talk to his long dead father. If I Never Get Back has a college player time-traveling to 1869 and joining the first pro baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. They books are marvelously written.

Consider some from this Good Reads list (all of the following I have read and loved, from this list):

  • Havana Heat, Darryl Brock (my fave)
  • The Natural, Bernard Malamud
  • The Celebrant, Eric Greenberg
  • The Universal Baseball Association, Robert Coover 
  • Castro's Curveball, Tim Wendell
  • The Southpaw and Bang the Drum Slowly, Mark Harris
  • Sometimes You See It Coming, Kevin Baker
  • Veracruz Blues, Mark Winegardner
  • The Cincinnati Red Stalkings and Hanging Curve, Troy Soos
  • The Boys of Summer, Rober Kahn

And let me throw in a special mention of Kurt Rheinheimer, the Roanoke writer-editor (Leisure Publishing, Roanoker and Blue Ridge Country magazines), whose short fiction has been as good as anybody's in the country for about 30 years or so.

His work has appeared in collections in Press 53 and Elysian Fields, among others, and his book of short stories, Little Criminals, is sprinkled with some of the best, along with some contemporary short fiction. His "Umpire" in the bound collection Bottom of the Ninth is simply excellent.

Kurt writes about the minor leagues, an area that gets little attention, but which contains as much drama as baseball on any level. It's baseball and it's fun, even though the game isn't so much.

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