In honour of the Philadelphia Phillies second victory of the season (April truly is the cruelest month….btw, one of the best lectures I ever attended as an undergraduate featured a great aside about cultural relativism and the understanding of Poetry. The test case was “April is the cruelest month” which is ironic in climes like England and America, but rings too true in rainy parts of Africa), I’ve decided to post a list of my favourite baseball novels.

1) The Natural, Malamud. 1406_109703906100.jpgA perfectly crafted piece of fiction with surprising emotional depth and tenderness. Malamud wonderfully recasts the legends of King Arthur in telling his Baseball epic, turning the Baseball diamond into a mythic site for chivalrous battles in a way that doesn’t come off as trite. The legends of king Arthur were actually quite popular in Yiddish literature, and I wonder if Malamud’s reinvention of the Arthurian myths was facilitated by his knowledge of the Yiddish literary tradition. While we usually don’t think of Malamud as a Yiddish author, his tombstone calls him “der bal ha-mayses,” the storyteller. Its interesting to speculate. Any cross-cultural intertextuality would only add to this already rich and nuanced book. Also not a bad movie.

2) The Universal Baseball Association, Coover. One of the strangest books you’ll ever read about Baseball. Probably because it’s “really” about God, religion, the nature of evil, randomness, storytelling, and interpersonal dynamics. Plus its Roobert Coover, so the book will alternate between making no sense and being perfectly written and hilarious.

3) The Celebrant, Eric Rolfe Greenberg. A delicate portrait of the relationship between a player and a fan, in a simpler, more genteel time. It’s also a terrific story of immigration to America and Americanization. Beautifully written.

4) The Great American Novel, Roth. One of the best “failures” I’ve ever read. The introduction is a great piece of literature, madly comic and satiric although with enough depth to be read as a proper narrative. And then the book DISINTEGRATES. It becomes a bizarre collection of scenes with almost no purpose. All the energy of the start is just lost, picked up for a scant moment only to disintegrate again. I almost wonder if Roth was trying to write a bad novel.

And, lastly, a dishonourable mention: Michael Chabon’s Summerland. As I said earlier, I haven’t enjoyed anything since K&K. Summerland is basically a ten cent version of The Phantom Tollbooth. If that’s your thing, go for it.

It’s been so long since I heard about the book (and so long since I’ve heard anyone talk about it), that I’d completely forgotten that Michael Chabon was writing a novel about a Jewish settlement in Alaska, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Not only that, after being delayed over a year, it’s being released next month. I was actually a bit worried that the book would become my second-favorite unpublished, unfinished Chabon novel, behind Fountain City (link is to the first chapter), the story of a quest to build a beautiful, baseball only ballpark (at the time that seemed gauche). Chabon eventually abandoned the project and, in an act of catharsis, wrote Wonder Boys instead.
I haven’t really enjoyed a Chabon book since K&K–and I especially disliked The Final Solution–but I’m eagerly awaiting this one. I’m also hoping I get a chance to read it; I still haven’t read more than 50 pages of Against the Day (“kegen dem Tog,” for those who prefer to read the Yiddish original). Between the new Chabon, Philip Roth’s upcoming Nathan Zuckerman swan-song Exit Ghost, Murakami’s After Dark, and Yesterday’s Salad’s own (shepicksyournose) J.K. Rowling’s new school boy yarn, there’s a lot to look forward to in the literary world. But sadly, until someone publishes the collected works of JT, the world has no chance at reification.