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Thursday, April 11, 2013
The one about reading

By Jeff MacGregor
ESPN.com

Some seasonal reading recommendations for that slow ride in the club car from spring training up to Augusta.

Ted Williams
There's nothing about fishing in this column, but you'll find Ted Williams and writing worth reading.

For Masters weekend, presuming you've already read this, and everything ever written or tweeted by @DanJenkinsgd, two on golf. The first, a jewel box of a novel, "Train," by Pete Dexter. The second, a reminder that what doesn't kill you might make you Ben Hogan. There's no better comeback story in the history of American sports than Hogan's, and no better instructional primer anywhere than "The Modern Fundamentals of Golf," co-authored by Herbert Warren Wind. It's only equal in clarity and seriousness of purpose may be "The Science of Hitting," by John Underwood and Theodore Samuel Williams. Which gets us to baseball and baseball writing and therefore to Roger Angell.

Because Mr. Angell has been the dean of that form for six decades now, you might buy "The Best American Sports Writing of the Century" for nothing more than his 1975 New Yorker piece "Gone for Good." But then you'll have it handy for Richard Ben Cramer on that same Ted Williams kid, and for John Updike's "Adieu," and for Gay Talese on Joe DiMaggio. In fact readers should keep it forever on their nightstands. Writers should use it as a pillow.

And on every writer's bookshelf between Amis and Atwood or Anderson and Aristotle should be four or five collections of Angell on baseball. But I mention Mr. Angell here not for the commemorative value of fine work done long since, or to honor the body of that work, but to congratulate him as a finalist for one of this year's National Magazine Awards. His elegiac "Over the Wall" from last November can be found online by subscribers, and by holders of library cards everywhere. Just 2 1/2 pages long, it is as beautiful a piece of clear-eyed diamond cutting as you'll ever see.

Roger Angell is 92 years old. And a great hero of mine.

Heroes are complicated. And now that Hollywood has repackaged Jackie Robinson as a cardboard cutout with a soundtrack, you'll want to read more about him. There's no such thing as definitive biography, but two titles you might look into are "Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy" by Jules Tygiel, and "Jackie Robinson: A Biography" by Arnold Rampersad.

No matter which strand of recent American history or cultural DNA you snip and examine, baseball is baseball is baseball is baseball is baseball.

Roger Angell
Roger Angell doesn't just write about baseball.

As I cut and paste and keep track of all these links, I note, too, the weirdness of calling them 'bookmarks' in my browser -- since the one technology seems destined to kill the other. The difference in those technologies is no longer worth noting, much less arguing over, except to the extent that each has its advantages.

From "Free Fall" to "Snow Fall," and from "Accidental Racist" to "The Accidental Tourist" each delivery system has its strengths and its weaknesses. Overtaken on every side by progress, somehow books, like baseball, mostly persist.

As if to prove the point, on Tuesday the city of New York settled a lawsuit with Occupy Wall Street for the dispersal and destruction of its little library in Zuccotti Park by the NYPD in November 2011. I mention this because I'd been down there a couple of weeks before to do some reporting for a column. And I mention that because while I was down there, I'd seen on one of the library's shelves a review copy of "The John Carlos Story," co-written by my colleague and friend Dave Zirin.

Full disclosure: Dave and I have never met, but decided online one day that in a distant and impossible future we would co-manage the Peoples' Metropolitan Baseball Cooperative of Greater New York -- if only the state would seize the Mets and turn them over to us. This has not yet happened.

In the meantime, Dave has a fire-breathing new book out, "Game Over." An indictment of the overlapping corruptions in politics and sports, Dave's genius has been to locate himself at the intersection of both. His work in these lines is not only good, but important. The truth is worth fighting over.

But we say goodbye to The Truth this week, and take the occasion to re-read and recommend "On Boxing," by Joyce Carol Oates. A modern classic. For the entire arc of Mike Tyson's reign of badness and madness, read Oates for the early years and the mythological intimations of doom, and David Remnick's "Kid Dynamite Blows Up," for the late excess and inevitable collapse. Then go back to Heinz and Schulian and Liebling and Schulberg and Deford and Kram and Egan, too.

Because as Oates points out, boxing isn't a metaphor.

Boxing is the thing itself.

And if you missed it, here's another friend and colleague, Jay Caspian Kang, on Don King, shadowboxing in the rapidly gathering darkness.

Daniel Halpern, Muhammad Ali and Joyce Carol Oates
A poet (Daniel Halpern), a boxer (Muhammad Ali) and an author (Joyce Carol Oates) sit on a couch. Pay attention to their words.

Writer's writer James Salter is profiled in this week's New Yorker. He has a new novel out. His most famous is "A Sport and a Pastime," which is no more about sports than the Kama Sutra is about the infield fly rule. It is about youth and possibility and futility and sex well-written and sex well-considered and sex thoughtful and powerful and lyrical and intelligent. Think of it as 50 shades of grey matter. Mr. Salter also wrote the screenplay for what the late Roger Ebert considered the best "sports" movie ever made, "Downhill Racer."

I would recommend to you this about Roger Ebert. And that would remind me to recommend this about Tony Judt. And both men would remind me what it means to be brave.

Then I'd remind you James Salter shouldn't be confused with Richard Ford, who wrote "The Sportswriter."

I'd also suggest you read this and this and this.

Then I'd mention that the New York Mets' butt-dialing vice president of media relations Jay Horwitz just tweeted: It's a three-book trip for Keith Hernandez. First up is "The Accursed" by Joyce Carol Oates.

And I'd tell you that worlds are colliding.