Thursday, November 21, 2013

Reader's Diary #1084- W. P. Kinsella: Shoeless Joe

When I bought this book on my Kobo, suddenly Recommended for Me were such books as Moneyball and Eight Men Out. The assumption being, clearly, that I must be a baseball fan. Sorry to say, I read W. P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe mostly due to Kinsella being a Canadian and I found it interesting that this novel of his, which often appears in "best sports novels," never seems to be considered Canadian. It's about baseball, for one. Sure we have a team in the major leagues, sure there are clubs across the country (my nephew is one hell of a pitcher, actually), but come on, it's hockey country. Or lacrosse. Heck, football, curling, figure skating... Baseball is an American game. Sure more of them watch football, probably basketball, too, but baseball is a quintessentially American symbol. Like apple pie, bald eagles, Smith & Wessons, and Budweiser.

Not far into it, I started to think of how American the book actually is. It's literally the American Dream. (Or technically, I suppose, "an" American Dream, if I insist on using "literally.") But then I realized that I was really in no position to make that call. Maybe it's an outsiders view of the American Dream, a stereotype. And maybe I was just hung up on that because of baseball. By the time J. D. Salinger showed up (how cool and unexpected was that?!) I started to realize how easily adapted one could make this story. Salinger's there, maybe it's an analogy of someone writing a novel. But really it could be any dream that one pursues beyond all reason.

It's a beautiful book. Poetic, profound. It may just be the best novel I've read all year. I'll knock off a few points for having two dimensional female characters, but otherwise I was marveled.

(I haven't seen Field of Dreams, based on the book, however, so I have no idea how it would compare. Anyone want to weigh in?)


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I just realized that I have not read any of Kinsella's baseball books. Field of Dreams is quite a lovely movie, but as I haven't read Shoeless Joe, afraid I can't comment on the comparison.

Lee-Anne said...

The book is better than the movie, although the movie is pretty good too. They changed the character of J.D.Salinger (or at least gave him a different name) which meant that all the subtle connections to The Catcher in the Rye and the real Salinger were lost. You are right... it's funny to think of it as a Canadian novel. It's so saturated with the American ethos.

Nan said...

I read the book thirteen years ago and wrote in my book journal that it was 'a lovely story, very nicely written.' I'm also very fond of the movie.

As far as the Canadian/US thing - I think of Deborah Crombie, an American who writes just about the best English mysteries I've ever read. Maybe Kinsella was just wild about baseball, and wanted to set his book where the whole Shoeless Joe thing happened. I read that part of his education was in Iowa. There is a very good wikipedia entry on him. Still alive, I'm happy to say.

Lisa said...

Field of Dreams is one of my favorite movies (despite the fact I am not a huge fan of Kevin Costner). I'll need to add this book to my want to read list.