He Built It, and We Came Around...

Since the majority of my friends are of the theatre world, I imagine many will post on Facebook and other social media sites today about the death of Edward Albee, especially since so many of them have had the chance to meet him over the years (as did I). Since I am less theatrically bound (and not to put the man's monumental talent and staggering work down at all), Albee didn't mean quite as much to me as did author W.P. Kinsella, who also died on Friday.

A nice chunk of space on my bookshelves is still devoted to Kinsella's works, which of course include his novel Shoeless Joe, from which the film Field of Dreams was adapted. While I do have a couple of volumes of his short stories based around Native American reservation settings (such as Dance Me Outside, itself turned into a film in the '90s, and The Fencepost Chronicles, each excellent in their own right), most of my Kinsella collection is comprised of his numerous books about baseball.

Naturally, this was the key component to my attraction to Kinsella, that there wasn't just a major fiction writer whose voice actually appealed to me in an immediate sense back then, but that he was as obsessed with the game as I was at the time.

My personal favorite remains Shoeless Joe. While I went nutso over the movie version when it was released (mainly because I had already read the novel), I still recommend the book over the film simply because the writer that the Ray Kinsella character engages in his mission in the book is actually J.D. Salinger, and not the fictionalized knockoff (for legal reasons) played by James Earl Jones in the film. It adds an extra level to the story that the whitewashing for the film negates.

But a close second for me is The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, which is even more deeply immersed in a state of magic realism than Shoeless Joe and manages to work in the 1908 Chicago Cubs, a mythical minor league system, a 2000-inning baseball game, and Leonardo da Vinci at the same time. It's a pretty remarkable book in its own right. And you also can't lose with his short story collection, The Thrill of the Grass.

Never got to meet you, W.P., but I am going to miss you.

[Postscript 9/22/16: As it turned out, very few of my friends posted about Mr. Albee.]


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