All About Books: George Ayoub

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George Ayoub is a retired journalist in Grand Island.

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Among my most prized possessions is a signed copy of “Shoeless Joe,” Canadian W.P. Kinsella’s lyric novel about fathers and sons, faith and hope, seeing and believing, … and baseball. As a lifelong fan of books and baseball, words and whimsy, literary magic and garden variety mysticism, “Shoeless Joe” was right in my wheelhouse, a hanging curveball with the wind blowing out.

It’s neither the best book I’ve ever read, not the most compelling. It did, however, touch me as few books ever have.

I read “Shoeless Joe” shortly after its publication in 1982. Many know Kinsella’s story through its movie adaptation, “Field of Dreams,” an enormously popular film starring Kevin Costner as Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, the story’s protagonist.

Others may know it from the iconic phrase: “If you build it, he will come,” words that prompt Ray to build a baseball diamond complete with lights and bleachers in his Iowa cornfield. And “he,” Shoeless Joe Jackson, comes, as does a host of heavenly players including Ray’s father.

That’s where “Shoeless Joe’ took a most pleasant turn for me. Baseball was an unfailing connective fiber in my relationship with my own father, who died seven years before I read the book. Even when we bickered over the length of my hair or the Beatles or Vietnam or the things fathers and teenaged sons bicker, we were always able to talk baseball in a loving, benign shorthand. No, I never really believed my father was going to walk out of a cornfield. But the book’s intersecting of fathers and sons and baseball, I chose to take personally.

Baseball as a sport, too, with its timelessness and meandering pace and stretch of shimmering green under the summer sun, has always lent itself to storytelling. Indeed, every at bat, every pitch, every sign is a subplot in itself. Kinsella understands both the details and rich narrative alive in every game. So the baseball and the baseball stories in “Shoeless Joe” resonate as true and as sure and as beautiful as a 6 - 4 -3 double play.

I became a “Shoeless Joe” disciple, spreading the word, sure Kinsella’s story would touch lives as it had mine. The little, obscure book was hard find. My copy belonged to the public library in Los Angeles where I lived then.

In 1988 while travelling in Seattle, I found a book store in Pioneer Square with eight copies of “Shoeless Joe.” I bought them all. Over next year I gave them away with the fervor of minor league scout who has happened upon a can’t-miss prospect.

A decade later, my friend Sean who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, saw that W. P. Kinsella was speaking at bookstore. Sean showed up, stood in line, and when his time came, explained to the author about his friend in Nebraska with a spiritual connection to the book.

Several days later a signed copy of “Shoeless Joe” arrived. I tried explain to my five-year old son why I was it was such an exciting event. I’m not sure he understood.

Or maybe he did. Fifteen years later he’s still playing baseball.  


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