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What to Read Next (No. 270): Unique Baseball Reads
Happy Friday, readers!
This is the time of year that I always let myself get excited about the upcoming baseball season. My excitement tends to peak early in the season, because my Twins (and adopted Rockies) are more likely than not to blow it in dramatic fashion.
The books featured today offer a unique angles on America’s pastime — there’s some sci-fi, philosophy, and a comic book. Even if baseball isn’t your thing, one or more of ‘em may still be of interest, or at least make for a fun gift for the baseball-loving people in your life.
Let’s get to it!
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The Body Scout by Lincoln Michel
Though I heard bits and pieces about The Body Scout when it was first published, it wasn’t really on my radar until I started reading Michel’s excellent newsletter, Counter Craft (“fiction craft, publishing stuff, weird books, and other literary sundries”).
I’m always drawn to writers who take a craftsman-like approach to writing, which comes through in spades in his newsletter. So, The Body Scout jumped up my list and I spent a fun few days with it last week.
Michel’s debut novel is unlike anything I’ve read, combining baseball with sci-fi murder mystery. Kobo is a baseball scout. But in this near-future world, baseball teams are owned by Big Pharma and scouts don’t look for players, they look for scientists. Body modification is not only allowed, it’s the name of the game. Upgraded organs, robotics, bionic eyeballs, even no-longer-extinct neanderthals.
When a star player drops dead at home plate, Kobo is put on the case.
Where he ends up goes beyond what he could have ever imagined — back alley body mods, corrupt CEOs, half-robot/half-human debt collectors. In the background, there’s a bit of a love story, some fun baseball scenes, and a bit of personal reckoning with what it means to be human and to be good enough just as you are.
What I enjoyed most about the story was how balanced it was between entertainment and earnestness, between intense action and sarcastic whimsy. There was a bit of everything and it was all in equilibrium.
The Body Scout was inventive and enjoyable on all fronts and I definitely recommend it if you’re into speculative fiction or sci-fi.
Infinite Baseball by Alva Noe
Baseball occupies a unique place in sports in that it’s one of the few major pastimes that were truly an American creation — basketball being the other big one. The Great American Game is quintessentially linked to our nation's heritage, and our summers.
It’s a slow, cerebral game, rarely descending into barbarism, as other sports routinely do. This makes it ideal fodder for writer types. As Noe points out, there's far more writing about baseball — memoirs (even by the likes of Doris Kearns Goodwin), novels, scholarship, etc. — than most other professional athletic endeavors combined.
Why is that? Noe argues that baseball is much more human than other sports. It's a battle of wills between individuals — pitcher and batter, most often — in which heroes and goats are instantly made, usually in the same moment.
There are times where this delightful collection of short essays gets a bit too philosophical. But overall, it was fun to hear some ideas about the game that generally made me go, "Huh, I've never thought of it that way." Noe argues that Tommy John surgery and steroids are basically the same thing. He writes that baseball's boring nature is part of what makes it so enjoyable, even vital, in our fast-paced world. He muses on the beauty of keeping score by hand.
If you enjoy America's pastime, Infinite Baseball is a very fun little book, even if it delves just a tad too much into heady philosophy a couple times.
The Comic Book Story of Baseball by Alex Irvine
This won’t come as a surprise, but baseball books can get a bit dry. Fear not, this beautifully illustrated, readable guide through baseball’s history is never dull.
Alex Irvine, along with a couple great illustrators, walks us chronologically through baseball's biggest moments and figures. From Cy Young to Jackie Robinson to modern superstars, from the Dead Ball Era to the dominant 1950s Yankees to the Steroid Era, The Comic Book Story of Baseball really, wait for it . . . covers all the bases.
I've read a handful of baseball books and this is definitely the most fun of the bunch, and the one that’s easiest to recommend.
Here’s a couple pages, to get a sense of its look and feel:
That’s all for me this week! Thanks so much for the time and inbox space — I deeply appreciate it.