It's very very difficult to write emotionally poingnant, simply worded, nostalgic prose. Many people try, and often times the harder one tries, the more garbage-esque the output is - metaphor-ridden schlock that sounds like, well, a student in a writing class trying to write fancy sounding stuff. I am very confident in my writing ability, but I'm not writing prose - I'm not writing novels, be it fiction or non-fiction. I'd like to, but I don't think that's what I do. Josh Wilker, however, does - effortlessly - in a new book, Cardboard Gods.
I don't know how else to describe this book other than remarkable. Wilker narrates through his childhood, seamlessly tying stories about his awkward learnings of the world to baseball cards he had in his collection - the one thing he was passionate about. He notices subtle little wordings on the back of the cards, and expertly dissects their true hidden intended meanings. In my favorite passage of this nature, he picks up on the back of Eddie Leon's card, which notes:
“Leon has been among Chisox’ leaders in Sacrifices in ’73 & ’74.”
Among the leaders? On a single team? In bunts? I don’t know how you could say any less about a guy without saying nothing at all. It suggests that when the White Sox really needed some bench guy of slight build and twitchy middle infielder reflexes to go up there and lay down a bunt, they looked first to somebody other than Eddie Leon, but if their top bunting specialist was for some reason otherwise occupied (perhaps he’d been entrusted with the more important task of going into the clubhouse to fetch a cold drink for one of the RBI guys such as Dick Allen or Beltin’ Bill Melton), well, then it was Eddie Leon’s time to go up there and intentionally make an out by tapping the ball as softly as possible."
His way with words is amazing - inimitable. As the cover blurb from ESPN's Rob Neyer describes it: "Josh Wilker writes as beautifully about baseball and life as anyone ever has." I absolutely agree with that. My only regret is that Wilker is a handful of years older than me, so the baseball cards he's referencing are just a few years earlier than the ones I spent all the money (and much of the time) of my youth collecting. Still, Wilker writes so perfectly that even though these specific cards didn't evoke specific nostalgic memories from my life, you can feel Wilker's memories and struggles in the pages.
If you ever collected baseball cards (or are a fan of beautiful writing), this book is a MUST. It's an easy read, and for a change, I appreciated the hardcover version because it's coated in a material that's supposed to evoke the wax-pack wrapper feel of old school baseball cards.
Cardboard Gods instantly vaults itself into elite company on the list of books I have found to be written in a style that is pure beauty. (Life of Pi, Water for Elephants, to name a few others).
Please see my Amzon.com affiliate disclaimer on my right sidebar. If you buy this book, or anything else, after clicking through the link above, I'll get a tiny commission while you still pay the same price for the book; but as usual, that has absolutely nothing to with my rave recommendation.