The Books and the Boys of Summer
Summertime and the reading is easy. It’s that time when I can read the books I never find time to get to during the school year. I can range far and wide, from Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys, to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, to a re-reading of The Great Gatsby, to Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, to Russell Banks’s Affliction, to Jane Leavy’s biography of Sandy Koufax. I read the way I did when I was a boy—indiscriminately—snatching off the library shelves whatever book happens to catch my eye.
Combining the books of summer with the boys of summer, I just finished New York Times columnist, Dan Barry’s Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game. This is the story of a minor-league baseball game between the Pawtucket Red Sox, the Triple-A team of the Boston Red Sox, and the Rochester Red Wings, the Triple-A team of the Baltimore Orioles, that began on the Saturday before Easter in 1981, and was finally suspended early Sunday morning with the score tied 2-2 after 32 innings played. The game was continued from that point two months later, requiring only eighteen minutes for a Pawtucket victory in the bottom of the 33rd inning. Winner of the 2012 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sportswriting, this is a book about much, much more than baseball. A book about the nature of timelessness, about loyalty, passion, community, and the pursuit of a dream. I dare say there are even some lessons for writers contained therein.
Imagine the eighteen fans who stayed through all 32 innings that April night and morning in spite of cold temperatures and frigid winds, imagine the players (some of them like Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken, Jr., bound for greatness; others like Dave Koz, who come June will drive in the winning run for Pawtucket, but will be unable to make that final climb from Triple A to the big leagues) relying on their baseball instincts to prolong a game that has turned into an absurdity that begs to have an end. Players who want to get out of the cold, who want to sleep. Hitters who don’t want to be 0 for 13. Pitchers who don’t want to be the one to give up the game-winning hit. A catcher who has worked 22 innings. Men who keep doing what they’ve trained themselves to do: to pitch, to hit, to catch, to run, to throw. Imagine how time seems to disappear, how the stillness settles over the nearly empty park so the sounds of the bat against the ball, the grunt of a pitcher as he gets a little extra oomph behind his fastball, the whop of a cleat on the first-base bag, the smack of ball against the leather of a mitt, are clearly heard. Imagine that this will go on forever, baseball reduced to its purest elements, much the way it is on the sandlot when you’re a kid and you keep playing no matter the score, and sometimes after the score has been forgotten. Baseball played for the love of playing.
Imagine all of this and then think about writing. Think of all the hours spent alone in your writing room, writing poems, stories, essays, memoirs, novels, plays, screenplays, or whatever your genre of preference might be. If you’re like me, you’ve got a number of manuscripts that will never be published, things you had to write in order to write the ones that do finally appear in print. You’ve spent countless hours doing what you love to do, which is to move words about on a blank page. And, if you’re like me, there will be countless times when you’ll doubt the worth of what you’re doing. What does it matter if this piece gets written? Trust me, it matters. Ask those men who played those thirty-three innings. Even if that game didn’t amount to a hill of beans in the larger scheme of things, it meant something to those who played it, all of them with dreams of making it to the big leagues. They could have walked away as the night turned into morning. Imagine a baseball diamond with no players. But they couldn’t walk away. The game wouldn’t let them. Their passion wouldn’t let them. Their talents wouldn’t let them.
Again, if you’re like me, you’re prone to whining when the work isn’t going well. You get all out of sorts. You wail out of fear of rejection. You say, “If only. . . .” You look for targets upon which you can cast blame. You long for more time, more calm, more inspiration, more something.
I think about those men who played those thirty-three innings, and I tell myself, “Suck it up, Cupcake, and get in the game. Do what you love with thanksgiving. Celebrate the hours. There’s writing to be done.”
Terrific you have the time now to read at will. For me, I cannot sequester it to a mere span of months; it’s something that must be perpetual for me. I doubt I would be a very pleasant person if I went a day without reading. How lucky I am that my pleasure is also my passion.
What did you think of Wonder Boys? Have you read anything else written by Chabon? The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is quite good. And of course there’s Kavalier and Clay. Have you seen the adaptation of Wonder Boys? Curtis Hanson directed it; Steve Kloves wrote the screenplay. It’s a wonderful film. Michael Douglas is Grady Tripp in the film. I think it’s his best performance. And as added bonuses, we get another great performance by Frances McDormand (Sara)… and a song by Bob Dylan.
Funny, but I’ve been thinking about reading Gatsby again. I haven’t much interest in the film, but my memories of the book are fond ones. Richard Russo mentions Gatsby in Empire Falls, which I read years ago; and as I did so, I remember thinking, I need to go back and visit Nick and Daisy and Jay.
A book to add to your list: The Orphan Master’s Son. Adam Johnson is the author. It is now among my favorites. A stunning, stunning work. Along with The Bright Forever, I now mention Orphan’s Master to people and encourage them to read it.
So your blog has turned into salvation, a reprieve from the deadline to make a buck and where words count for something. The mortgage. But I do yearn for so much more out of them, out of what I can do with them. Thanks, Lee, for showing up. And making it matter. Now if I could just be as consistent as I am passionate.
Thanks for your comment, Naomi. I try to show up as often and as regularly as I can, but let’s be honest: real life has a way of intruding sometimes and making it hard for me to follow my own advice. Still, I think at some point we make the commitment or we don’t.
Thanks for the honesty, Lee. I hear you. And commitment is about a deeper connection with intention and the work, and less about time. (Though time certainly does factor in.) I think I’m slowly getting it. Slowly. The commitment thing! Cheers. And thanks, again, for your thoughts and this blog!
Write a little every day (or most days), without hope and without despair. I really think that if we make writing a part of our daily lives we can accomplish amazing things.
John, I’ve seen a bit of the film, “Wonder Boys.” I love the cast. I liked the novel, particularly the character of James Leer. That was my introduction to Chabon’s work. Thanks for the suggestion of the Adam Johnson novel, which is now on my list of things to read.