Remembering Tony Horwitz


I just learned that journalist and author Tony Horwitz, one of my favorite writers, died today at the young age of 60.

Horwitz’s writing was part history, part participatory journalism,  and part travelogue – three things I love to read, so naturally I enjoyed reading the combination of all three.  He had a way of bridging past and present, and shaking the assumptions we have about history.  He will be missed.

Here are the Horwitz books I’ve read with links to reviews:

I also learned that he just released a new book earlier this month called Spying on the South, which is about Frederick Law Olmsted of all people, a strange confluence of my interests.  Rest assured I’ll be reading that soon!

Remembering W.P.Kinsella


The Canadian author W.P. Kinsella died on Friday, September 16.  H’es most famous for the novel Shoeless Joe which was adapted into the film Field of Dreams.  From the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, if you’d asked me my favorite author, I would’ve said Kinsella.  It’s been a long while since I read a Kinsella book and the last time I read him as an adult I found it wasn’t as good as I remembered, but still a key figure in my reading life.

I was introduced to W.P. Kinsella in an odd way when I received his short story collection The Thrill of the Grass as a Christmas gift from my grandmother.  It seemed an example of my grandmother being clueless since I actually didn’t like baseball at this point in my life.  Also, it was clear she hadn’t read the book since there were many depictions of sexual activity that I’m sure she didn’t want a 10-year-old reading.  But maybe Grandma was a conduit for something because within a year I had become an avid baseball fan.  And Kinsella’s sex scenes were not bawdy fantasy but depictions of the complications and conflicted feelings of people in committed relationships, something a boy should learn about.

And so I became a devoted Kinsella reader, getting every book of his I could find at the library or the bookstore.  His baseball stories were easier to find than his stories about Native Americans, although I read some of the latter too.  My favorite W.P. Kinsella story is The Iowa Baseball Confederacy which involves the 1908 Chicago Cubs, time travel, an endless baseball game and a torrential downpour, and a statue of an angel (which was creepy long before Doctor Who made angel statues creepy).  Here are some other memories of Kinsella’s work:

  • Long before I read anything by Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, this was my first exposure to magical realism.
  • A story of how the Catholic Church hierarchy is so removed from the people of the church, and the harm it causes.
  • Stories of First Nation people in Canada, including one where a couple disguise themselves as Indians from the subcontinent because they’d be treated better in Canada.
  • A swindler using the distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate to win a bet.
  • Baseball fans use the 1981 strike to replace the artificial turf at the local baseball stadium with real grass, one square foot at a time, and the community that forms to tend the grass.
  • Tributes to J.D. Salinger, Richard Brautigan, and Janis Joplin, among others, in his works.
  • A manager has to deal with the knowledge that the Cubs will win the last pennant before Armageddon and there’s nothing he can do to stop it.
  • A story in which a bunch of male friends share punchlines of jokes and the protagonist reveals to himself that he is gay, through a punchline.
  • And my favorite story of all, “How I Got My Nickname,” which is the ultimate bookish nerd fantasy in which a bookish nerd gets a spot on the 1951 New York Giants (as a pinch hitter because he can’t field, throw, or run) and discovers that all the other Giants are readers who have literary discussions in the clubhouse.

I remember being a bit irritated that Field of Dreams deviated from the book – especially regarding J.D. Salinger and the oldest living Cub – as well as being cheezy and melodramatic, but yeah, I liked it too.

Here’s to W.P. Kinsella, and the stories we tell and the memories we share.

A Tour of Massachusetts’ Author-Illustrators


I recently had the epiphany that a great number of 20th-century author-illustrators (chiefly of children’s books) have Massachusetts connections.  Not only that, but many of them have some sort of landmark in the Commonwealth.  So here’s a tour of seven author-illustrators

Eric Carle –  The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art – Amherst, MA

The creator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar lived in Northampton, MA for more than 30 years and this unique museum of picture book art is located in nearby Amherst.

Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel) – Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden – Springfield, MA

Geisel was born in Springfield, immortalizing that city’s Mulberry Street in the book And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street!

Edward Gorey –  The Edward Gorey House – Yarmouth Port, MA

The only artist in this list not associated with children’s books, although that doesn’t mean children can’t read them.  The Gashlycrumb Tinies would make a good bedtime story.  The Cape Cod house where he lived his later years is now a museum.

Robert McCloskey –  Make Way For Ducklings statues – Boston, MA

McCloskey studied at the Vesper George Art School in Boston in the 1930s and the time spent in the Public Garden feeding the ducklings inspired his creation of Make Way For Ducklings.  The book is now the official children’s book of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Nancy Schön’s statues in the Public Garden are always a hit with children.

H.A. Rey & Margret Rey –  The Curious George Store – Cambridge, MA

The creators of Curious George moved to Cambridge in 1963 and nearby their former home in Harvard Square is the location of the world’s only Curious George store.

Richard Scarry – Boston, MA

Scarry was born in Boston in 1919, which may have been the inspiration for Busytown and notoriously bad driving of Scarry’s characters.  Sadly, I haven’t been able to locate a landmark for Scarry in Boston, but here’s an entertaining literary travel story.

I’ve personally only been to the Boston and Cambridge sites on this list, but a wider tour of the Commonwealth is on order.