A visit to New York reminds me of childhood, and part of my childhood, if you can believe it, involved going to baseball games. As I grew up in Queens, this mostly consisted of Mets outings in Shea Stadium. We would park about two miles away as you didn't have to pay for parking this way. But more than the game, I think my childhood was typical in that for a while at least, I had a decent collection of baseball cards.
Unlike some kids who bought baseball cards at the candy store (or candy store equivalent), one pack at a time, I had a fast track to baseball success. My dad worked at a clothing factory (mostly women's coats) that had a candy warehouse adjacent. My father would periodically bring home a wholesale carton of something or other, and that would sometimes be baseball cards. (It would other times be Partridge Family trading cards, but that's a story for when Danny Bonaduce has his next rise-from-the-ashes-leaving-addiction-behind-and-I'm-doing-fine-now memoir. It's hard to believe there hasn't been one.)
That's part of why I was intrigued by Cardboard Gods, the memoir by Josh Wilker, recently published in paperback, that uses baseball cards as jumping off points to tell the store of Wilker's rather unusual upbringing. It all started when his mom left his dad for Tom, but instead of Dad moving out when Tom moved in, he just took the living room. Eventually the new couple moved to Vermont and bought a fixer-upper, only it was the kind of foreclosure one with uncomfortable graffiti and weird smells. And bucolic Vermont? Not so friendly. That only made young Josh more dependent on his old brother Ian, but you hit an age where it's hard for brothers of different ages to be so close.
It takes perhaps half a lifetime to settle this unsettling start, but it’s format of the journey that makes Wilker’s memoir special. It’s told through his collection of baseball cards, with each chapter focusing on a different player, from gods like Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Reggie Jackson, and Jim Palmer, to more obscure sprites and winged creatures such as Rowland Office, Bake McBridge, and Carmen Fanzone. Sometimes the cards are asides; other times they are integral to the story. But it’s clear that the Zeus of the bunch is Carl Yazstremski, the anchor of the beloved Boston Red Sox, the team, that like the Wilker family, simply cannot win. Or can they? More on the Cardboard blog.
It reminds me a bit of Pete Nelson'sI thought You Were Dead, the novel from last year about the guy who's confronting his dad's stroke, his girlfriend's leaving, his dead-end job, and a drinking problem. Oh, and a talking dog, of course. The book had some big fans among the staff of Boswellians and was the #1 Indie Next Pick. We hosted an event with him at Boswell with Joe Meno. You can read more here.
And there's another book out from Algonquin, a paperback original called Something for Nothing, by David Anthony, about a 1970's pilot who is convinced to save his failing business with a little drug running, that seems to have the same vibe. Wouldn't it be great to have an event with all these guys reading together? Well Craig was one step ahead of me, and has organized The Free Beer Tour, sending the guys to a half a dozen markets. But where to have something like this?
We had such a good time last year at Sugar Maple last year with Dan Chaon and Justin Cronin that I've been hoping for a good opportunity to go back. So when the folks at Algonquin started talking about sending around three reads for alterna-dads, with the jump-off point that there would be beer served, we immediately thought of our book-friendly bar in Bay View. The other stops are bookstores, but that's a long aside I won't go into here. The event is Thursday, June 2, at 7 pm. Admission is free, but over 21 restricted (Honestly, I think a teenage kid would not get these stories anyway). Lagunitas (the sponsor) is providing one free beer of select varieties of their beer with admission to the event.
Our event includes Eric Holliday's gang of murder balladeers, the band Married to the Sea, which will be playing after the reading.
The gang is touring to several other markets, including Anderson's in Naperville, Left Bank in St. Louis, and Bookpeople in Austin, Texas. In addition, David Anthony is on tour for Something for Nothing. Get the details on his website.
And here's our Facebook page for the event. Don't forget, our free beer tour with Sugar Maple, 441 East Lincoln Avenue, with Josh "Cardboard Gods" Wilker, Pete "I Thought You were Dead" Nelson and David "Something for Nothing" Anthony is Thursday, June 2, 7 pm.
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