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Thursday, April 4, 2013 11:04 am

The book of baseball books

Start off the season with a good read

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Ron Kaplan
501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read Before They Die, by Ron Kaplan. University of Nebraska Press, $24.95.

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game; it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh...people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”

These words, spoken by the actor James Earl Jones in the movie Field of Dreams, are a fitting homage to the game that has inspired us through good times and bad, through depression, wars, tragedy and scandal. No matter how many Super Bowls or tournaments of March Madness we experience, none will ever supplant the game that mirrors America from its birth to its current age. Baseball is timeless and endless and even its own greed or the presence of performance-enhancing drugs cannot destroy its grace and wonder for true fans.

Ron Kaplan
Ron Kaplan understands the attraction of baseball. Kaplan believes in the “small ball theory” of literature espoused by George Plimpton. Plimpton believed that there was a correlation between the standard of writing about a particular sport and the ball it uses, the smaller the ball the better the literature. Baseball literature abounds and Kaplan has produced a compendium of the greatest baseball books broken down by subjects as diverse as fiction, pop culture and books for young readers. 501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read Before They Die, should really be titled 502 Baseball Books because Kaplan’s book is the place where readers should start.

It is no small feat to indentify, organize and discuss 500 books on any subject. By their nature baseball fans are more than willing to debate the books that Kaplan has selected. Even going through the choices I was struck by those books that are not included in the list. No Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, the novel that became the movie Field of Dreams. His young reader category makes no mention of John Tunis, perhaps the greatest novelist for young readers of the 1940s and 50s. There are other omissions based upon personal taste but Kaplan freely acknowledges that his personal collection is more than 2,000 books. He makes no claim that his selections are the best, but they are a significant sampling. The coverage of a wide range of topics and the discussion of an incredible number of books is so well done that quibbling over the inclusion or omission of a book along the way is simply not appropriate.

Every page of this book is a discovery and a delight. Even an avid baseball reader will discover some new books to either check out at your local library or purchase at your local bookstore. On the day I began reading 501 Baseball Books, I added several books to my collection and requested several more from the library.

No baseball clichés are needed to describe 501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read Before They Die. As a new baseball season begins, what better time to follow this wonderful roadmap to greater enjoyment of America’s greatest game?

Stuart Shiffman is a longtime fan of baseball and his beloved Chicago White Sox. He frequently reviews books on a variety of subjects for Illinois Times.
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