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June 5, 2009: A little bit about books…

The queue of books awaiting my attention just got a little longer, so I thought before they get too old, I would at least run down the list of books on my desk I am really looking forward to reading. I picked up several Red Sox related titles at the BookExpoAmerica convention, which was held in New York City last weekend. And yet no book on the Yankees! It felt like there was very little in the way of baseball books, in fact, but maybe that’s just because the GLUT of Yankees and Red Sox books is easing? Or Yankees books anyway, now that all the stadium books are out? (I suppose you could count the Selena Roberts tell-all about A-Rod to be a Yankee book… or would that be an anti-Yankee book? It is NOT on my to-read list.)

BOTTOM OF THE NINTH, by Michael Shapiro, $26 hardcover
First impression: nice looking book! By the same author of a good book on baseball in 1950s New York, “The Last Good Season.” This time he takes on “Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel, and the Daring Scheme to Save Baseball from Itself.” I read The Last Good Season when I was judging a literary baseball award, actually, and although I enjoyed it, I felt it was a bit slow in places. But people feel like that about baseball, too. I just read a little from a random page in the middle of this one, though, and it feels livelier. Maybe it’s just that I’m more attuned to the Yankees’ history stuff in here than I was in the previous all-Brooklyn book.

YOGI BERRA: Eternal Yankee, by Allen Barra, $27.95 hardcover
I keep getting Berra and Barra mixed up. But indeed the subject of the book and the author are not related. Since the passing of Phil Rizzuto, Yogi is the last significant standard-bearer of a generation of Yankees. Tommy Byrne is gone, too, but Yogi is the one most recognized, most loved, most cheered in his appearances at the stadium. One really wonders how much longer he’ll be around, and something tells me I will want to read this book twice. Now, while I can still shake Yogi’s hand in Spring Training, hanging out in the shade waiting for batting practice to start, and again later (hopefully much later) after he does eventually go on to the big ballgame in the sky. It’ll probably feel quite different both times.

ROLLIES FOLLIES: A Hall of Fame Review of Baseball stories and Stats, Lists and Lore, by Rollie Fingers and Yellowstone Ritter, $14.95 paperback
This is a book I didn’t intend to pick up, but at BookExpo America I was on my way to a meeting and walked past the Clerisy Press booth–or almost did as the word BASEBALL on one of their banners caught my eye. Now, I thought I knew all the publishers of baseball books, from the university presses up to the big guys. So I stopped to pick up their catalog and the next thing you know I am talking baseball with two guys, one of whom, it turned out, was a descendant of the guy Crosley field was named for. We talked non-stop about baseball for a good 15-20 minutes, and at the end they handed me this book with the comment, “I’ve never met a woman, or anyone really, who knew as much about baseball as you do.” I told him it’s because I’ve read So Many Books about the sport. (Which is true.) The book looks to be a fun compendium of unique lists, anecdotes, facts… the last thing I’d call it is dry, which is why I’m hard-pressed to just say “facts.” The book is less like a lecture or even an interview with Mr. Fingers and more like a night out on the town with him. Nice mixture of history and modern stuff, too.

GAME SIX, by Mark Frost, advanced reading copy
Frost already has a track record as a NY Times bestselling author for “The Match” and “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” so tackling Game Six (the Fisk game) of the 1975 World Series seems a no-brainer. Especially given the success of Richard Bradley’s “The Greatest Game” about the 1978 “Bucky Dent’) game. I expect this to be gripping reading, but Game 6 is one I’ve written about a lot myself, so just like with Bradley’s book I expect to be nitpicking it a lot as I go. The great stories, just like the best myths and fairy tales, can be told over and over without losing anything in the re-telling. The publisher is banking on the Sawx making the postseason. The book has an October release date.

DIRTY WATER: A Red Sox Mystery, by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith and Jere Smith, $22.95 hardcover
This book is by a mother and son writing team and published by the small but focused “Hall of Fame Press,” based in Kingston, Rhode Island and the Scholar Athlete Hall of Fame. After their autographing I stopped by the publishers booth and encountered the authors again and we talked Red Sox for a good ten minutes. The book has a lovely package and I’m already predicting it will be a great Father’s Day gift in these parts. (Though not for my Dad. He is Yankees Only.) Mary-Ann has written mysteries for other publishers, and Jere writes a baseball blog, so she said it was a great chance to team up. I am looking forward to a fun read, as soon as I get time for it!

Finally, a baseball-related book…

TESTING THE ICE, by Sharon Robinson, $16.99 hardcover, illustrated children’s book
This is a children’s book by Jackie’s daughter, who has written several other books, too, but this one is a beaut. Yes, I actually read this one all the way through, since it is a kids book and so short enough for me to fit in. But I couldn’t stop turning the pages. The art is breathtakingly gorgeous, painted by Kadir Nelson, some based on historical photographs, but just incredibly interpreted. The two-page spread of Jackie sliding home in the 1955 World Series (Yogi Berra blocking the plate) is so amazing I find myself rooting for the Dodgers for a minute. (Yogi insists to this day that Robinson was out.) I’m not an artist so I lack the language to describe the richness of this art. It belongs in a museum. And how can you go wrong with a true story from Sharon Robinson’s childhood that makes a great picture book? This one is autographed to me, so I must go buy a copy for my nephews, Owen and Carson. And I will.

Thanks to all the publishers who make sure my To Read queue is never empty. In this batch, Times Books, W. W. Norton, Hall of Fame Press, Hyperion, Clerisy, and Scholastic. Actual reviews to come.

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