At the risk of offending some of you…

September 25, 2012 · 3 comments

In my regular search for items for the blog, I cam across a couple of review for baseball fiction that caught my eye (ouch) and made me stop.

A bit of background first.

A couple of weeks ago The New York Times ran a front-page review of Telegraph Avenue, Michael Chabon’s latest novel in the Sunday Review of Books. One paragraph in particular stood out for me: “Because a woman in mid-tirade would seem unlikely to pause and imagine herself on camera with Rod Serling, the observation is merely distracting.”

I rarely pay attention to who’s doing the review, but that line made me look. It was written by the author Jennifer Egan (A Visit From the Goon Squad). It made we wonder, would a male reviewer have picked up on that? That, in turn, got me to thinking, how do different demographics of reviewers perceive the material they’re asked to write about? For example, a Jew and an African-American might come to see Rabbi Rebecca Alpert’s book about the Negro Leagues from vastly different perspectives. Of course, you can take this to ridiculous extremes.

The two baseball items that made me think of the Chabon review are Arlene Somerton Smith’s piece on Calico Joe and Ellen Rocco’s piece on The Brothers K and The Art of Fielding, via North Country Pubic Radio’s “Readers and Writers Book Club.”

Rocco notes that her favorite baseball novels deal less with baseball and more with relationships. That is one of the “problems” I had with all the reviews claiming TAOF was a great baseball novel, comparable to the classics of the genre like The Natural and the Harris books. In fact, I submit that they are not. I agree with Rocco that Fielding is about relationships. There’s more actual baseball in Calico Joe (as I’ve written, neither is a particular favorite of mine), but even that is about failing/failed relationships.

At the risk of being sexist, is this a theme that women are more sensitive to than men might be?

Just askin’. Please add comments and/or send emails.


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  • Rodney Walther

    Hi, Ron. Thought I’d offer my two cents. I think it’s fair to say that readers of fiction are looking for stories about people and their relationships with others. The backdrop of the story–be it baseball, the circus, or a Southern plantation–is of less importance. Least important to readers (sadly) is the quality of the writing itself. That is true for both genders.

    Now there may be readers who just want baseball anecdotes and stories (I grew up with one such book of baseball stories and can still remember the interesting tales of Bill Wambsganss’s unassisted triple play and Johnny Vander Meer’s back-to-back no-hitters), but I don’t think this is your typical fiction reader. And I’d bet that most of those folks are men/boys.

    I will not pimp my book here, but I will report that my baseball-themed novel is read mostly by women. Of course, 2/3 of fiction readers are women. The story features the world of Little League baseball, and there is a significant amount of baseball in the book (too much so according to some readers), but at the end of the day, it’s the complicated father-son relationship(s) that drive the story.

    Readers DO respond more to the relationships and less so to the intricacies and beauty of the game that serves as the story’s milieu. And I can definitely see that from the reviews that my readers (both male and female) have written over the past 2 years.

  • Arlene Smith

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I thought you’d be interested to know that I have read “The Art of Fielding” but didn’t feel inspired to write a review of it. I guess that tells you all you need to know – it fit into the “meh” category for me. I think the answer to your question is, of course the reviewer brings her or her baggage to a review and that affects the final product. That’s why it’s important to read more than one and to consider the messenger.

  • Ron_Kaplan

    Thanks for your thoughts, Arlene. You bring up an interesting point re: baggage (did you mean to writer “her or her?” Don’t want to assume you meant “her or his” or vice versa). Who knows what thoughts drift into a reviewers head? S/he could have had a bad breakfast or a spat with their partner which might have put them in a foul mood. On the flip side, I’m agin the “mutual admiration society” reviews that seem to pop up from time to time among people in the same literary circles.

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