Saturday, March 30, 2013

Mixed feelings

Even as a first time author, I totally realize that not every publication will run a review of 501. I even understand that there will be some less-than-glowing reviews. Still I have Google alerts looking for mentions, and since I blog about other books for the Baseball Bookshelf, I have alerts in place for that too. It's getting pretty busy now, as lots of books are coming our and various outlets are running reviews, either individually or as "roundups."

But what am I to make of this from Los Angeles Times book critic David L. Ulin, who starts his baseball book overview thus:

George Plimpton knew the score. A generation or so ago, the late Paris Review editor developed what he called the "Small Ball Theory" of sports writing, which posits "a correlation between the standard of writing about a particular sport and the ball it utilizes — that the smaller the ball, the more formidable the literature."

There are, he explained, "superb books about golf, very good books about baseball, not many good books about football or soccer, very few good books about basketball and no good books at all about beach balls."

Of course, baseball writing isn't what it was in Plimpton's day: There's too much of it, too many exposés and clubhouse memoirs, too many overly romanticized memoirs about little league or lost heroes, the simplicity of another time.

And yet, each year his theory is borne out by new books that surprise us — if only by reminding us that we still can be surprised. Histories, biographies, meditations on the sport and its meanings: At its best, the literature of baseball continues to offer a curious double vision, in which the game exists as much in the mind, in the imagination, as it does on the field.
Compare that with the introduction to 501:

In his introduction to The Norton Book of Sports, George Plimpton described his “small ball theory” of literature. Plimpton, who served as editor for the anthology, believed there was “a correlation between the standard of writing about a particular sport and the ball it utilizes—that the smaller the ball, the more formidable the literature” (13).

Accordingly, since the national pastime employs one of the smaller pieces of sporting equipment, there have been “very good books about baseball,” he wrote.

Sure, it’s a cliché to say that baseball is a metaphor for life (and points off for the unimaginative author who insists on including the Jacques Barzun line, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball,” in his book), but precisely that notion is reflected in the wide range of genres from fiction to philosophy, statistics to science, and biographies to business, among others.

Perhaps it’s the leisurely pace of the game, stretched out over several hours and played during the languid days of summer, that lends baseball to the printed word. The Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown boasts a collection of more than ten thousand volumes dating back to the early nineteenth century, and the Library of Congress has similar holdings.
And yet there is no mention of 501 among the books he reviews.

Is it just me? Am I being paranoid? Or is this just an amazing coincidence, a case of great minds thinking alike in referring to Plimpton at this time?

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