I once clung to the belief that if I did not know something about baseball history and culture, my close friend Mike would – and if he did not know it, then it probably did not happen.
This belief served as the foundation of my baseball worldview until I discovered that Field of Dreams, one of my favorite movies, was actually based on a book. I learned soon after that Mike had no idea either.
My wife actually noticed the reference as the credits scrolled during one of our few kid-free lounging evenings. Not the obsessive baseball fan that I am, she casually, if sardonically, inquired as to whether I knew the film to be based on a book. She clearly had a hunch I did not and reveled in the possibility of having bested me in this area. I quickly swallowed a laugh that had begun to form in my throat as she pointed to the screen. There, I glanced as the words “Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella” tickered up and out of sight.
There it was. The film took its inspiration from a book. A certain level of shame welled up inside. An avid fan and avid reader alike, I was cofounded by how such a detail had eluded me all this time. Indeed, understanding the topic of Shoeless Joe Jackson and the 1919 Black Sox scandal had become an academic hobby of mine, most notably because it represented the crossroads of American organized crime and baseball – two areas of history where I have a considerable, if unhealthy, interest.
I decided to read it without delay and purchased the audiobook to expedite its arrival. Shoeless Joe populated in my device not long after the movie began.
What could be considered a dated review of this 1982 publication might actually be a sort of literary resurrection, since I’m certain many fans are unaware of the book’s existence.
Shoeless Joe proved to be an absolutely charming narrative that reads with clarity and quickness. Kinsella has the ability to convey context with amazing precision and eloquent dialogue. Each scene communicates a robust imagery without lofty language or unnecessarily detailed descriptions. And it dawned on me not long after beginning that Kinsella’s use of the simile was giving the book its readability and charm.
In my time as a writer, I’ve found the use of similes and metaphors to be, if you will indulge me in one, like Babe Ruth on paper: they are either a smashing success or a strikeout. I envied Kinsella’s bravery and creativity. “The sky was a robins-egg blue…” he wrote, “…and the wind as soft as a day-old chick.” It registered later that the charm of Kinsella’s work came not from the simile itself, but from those things he compares.
“Chesty is stocky as a well-packed sack of chop.”
“The wind as soft as a day-old chick…”
“Sloping verandah…was like a herd of cattle clustered with their backs to a storm…”
“Rumors circulate like mosquitoes from a swamp and buzz angrily…”
The descriptions reflect a simpler, homelier time, when nature and farm played a prominent role in one’s context. And interestingly, it all felt familiar, relatable, even though I had never lived it.
I pondered why such nature-centric similes resonated with me. Indeed, the more familiar, modern simile would likely pull from a lexicon of technology, corporations, and medicine. And yet, those words could never connect as nature tends to do. There is an authenticity that modernity could never replicate. While modern references are familiar, they are not who we are.
The naturalness central to Kinsella’s literary technique speaks to human nature.
To borrow from the character J.D. Salinger and his famous quote about baseball repeated in the film: Kinsella’s similes “remind us of all that once was good, and that could be again.”