In celebration of baseball's Opening Day, we asked Josh Wilker to be our Book
Brahmin. He is the author of Cardboard Gods (Algonquin Books, March 15, 2011), a
poignant and funny memoir about growing up in the crazy '70s. Each chapter
opens with a baseball card--Wilker's talismans during a challenging childhood.
He also has a forthcoming book celebrating the 1977 film The Bad News Bears
in Breaking Training. Josh Wilker
continues to examine his life through his childhood baseball cards at cardboardgods.net. He lives with
his wife in Chicago.
On your nightstand now:
White Mule by
William Carlos Williams. I'm reading some of this 1937 novel at night, thus
qualifying it for nightstand status, but most of it is coming my way on my
really long, bumpy Pace Bus ride to and from work, so I will probably forever
associate it with nagging back pain, intermittent headaches and the tinny
beat-heavy iPod music of Other People (Sartre, I imagine, rode a lot of buses).
Favorite book when you were a child:
Hang Tough, Paul Mather
by Alfred Slote. This novel about a little leaguer with cancer was the first
book to make me cry.
Your top five authors:
How about a starting nine, like a batting
order for a baseball team? Charles Bukowski once did this in a poem, so I
figure even if I don't have permission for this I can channel his "ah,
hell with it, I'll do it anyway" batting stance:
Denis Johnson, SS (dazzling in the
Anton Chekhov, 3B (always makes perfect
Jack Kerouac, CF (think Fred Lynn in '75
but forever; .325/.413/.545)
J.D. Salinger, RF (glove has poems
scribbled on it; .286/.374/.529)
Bruce Jay Friedman, 1B (hilarious
infield chatter; .302/.397/.502)
Frederick Exley, LF (erratic and
Charles Schulz, C (always there when
you need him; .282/.367/.423)
Raymond Carver, 2B (key when things get
Franz Kafka, P (baffling, overpowering
stuff; 2.08 ERA)
Book you've faked reading:
I lie that I read Naked Lunch
all the way through, not that anyone cares or considers the beat artifact a
must-read classic. I just want full credit for the suffering the nightmarish
repetitive anti-narrative inflicted on me during a horrific four-day
cross-country Greyhound bus trip when I was 19.
Book you're an evangelist for:
A Mother's Kisses by
Bruce Jay Friedman. When I discovered this book I practically wept with
gratitude, which as it turns out is possible to do while laughing your ass off.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The Basketball Diaries
by Jim Carroll. I bought this when I was 12 because I thought it would be about
basketball, which it was, though of course it was also about a lot of other
things and instantly became a favorite.
Book that changed your life:
There are a lot of the usual suspects
on my list (On the Road, Stop-Time, The Catcher in the Rye,
Cathedral, A Fan's Notes, Jesus' Son), but since those
books have all had more eloquent cheerleaders than I could ever be, I'll say Mad
magazine. Does this count? I had a subscription as a kid and the Alfred E.
Neuman ethos infected me for life.
Favorite line from a book:
and a ground ball, stabbed by Foulke. He has it. He underhands to first. And
the Boston Red Sox are the world champions."--Red Sox radio play-by-play
man Joe Castiglione, quoted in--among other places, surely--Remembering
Book you most want to read again for the first
The Bronx Zoo by
Sparky Lyle. This book, which presents the 1978 pennant race as a daily journal
from the pen of reliever Sparky Lyle, began my writing life at age 12. As soon
as I finished it, I started my own journal and haven't stopped. But while I've
returned repeatedly to other key personal books, I've stayed away from this
one, because I somehow get the sense that it wouldn't have the same effect on
me as it did then--unstoppable laughter. One more bus ride story: every summer
my big brother and I visited our dad in New York City for a couple weeks, a
trip that required a seven-hour slog on the Greyhound. During one visit I
bought a paperback copy of The Bronx Zoo and started reading it just
after the bus pulled away from Dad standing there waving in the dim bowels of
Port Authority, and for the next seven hours all I did was laugh and show my
brother what I was laughing at, which made him laugh, and then I'd read on and
laugh some more and show him some more and we'd both be laughing, and so that
bus ride flew by like some kind of new transportation altogether, flotation
powered by brotherly laughs. I'd take that ride again if I could.