I often say that being in a book club is great for reading books you would otherwise not have picked up or even heard of at all. But sometimes, and this is one of those times, I must also say that those books are not always good ones.
Our pick this time was ostensibly about the history of baseball and why girls don’t play it, which seems like a pretty interesting topic, actually. I’ve certainly watched the heck out of A League of Their Own, and was a rabid baseball fan back in the ’90s along with all the other Clevelanders, and even played softball for a summer before realizing I was absolutely terrible at it.
But this book was basically doomed for me from the beginning for the faults of being a) nonfiction, but moreso b) academic. If I’m going to read nonfiction, it’s going to be some Mary Roach-style, dryly funny, oddly interesting nonfiction that has me bothering Scott with “did you know?”s all day long.
Stolen Bases, to put it mildly, does not do that. I did learn some things that I did not know, like that Bob Feller was a little racist and that Albert Spalding apparently had some daddy issues, but they weren’t terribly interesting things. And the book was less dryly funny and more just painfully dry — it often read to me like someone’s research paper that they found out after finishing it was supposed to be 200 pages instead of, like, 20. There was a lot of repetition and redundancy and more than a little bit of seemingly baseless (ha!) speculation, and then some entirely different topics thrown in for good measure.
Those topics were pretty interesting, like the parts about the history of baseball as she is played and about racial discrimination in professional ball and how ladies totally play cricket all the time in those weird countries that play cricket, but they didn’t tie in terribly well with the alleged theme of the book. Even the parts about women playing baseball were presented less from the standpoint of “why aren’t women playing baseball” and more from the standpoint of “why are women systematically oppressed, even when it comes to sports”, which is not quite the same thing. I think if the book had just been called, like, How Baseball Hates Ladies and Non-WASPs and also Britain: a Study of Gender Politics, it would have been covered.
It might also have been helpful if Ring had gone out and interviewed baseball players and softball players and coaches and professional league administrators and whatnot and had gotten some current opinion on the topic, rather than collecting the opinions of dead people and calling it a day (not that you don’t need dead people, there are just a lot of dead people in this book). Or if she had picked a baseball-playing woman, like, say, her daughter, and written a biography of her… basically, I wanted this to be a very different book and I was sorely disappointed.
I thought perhaps I was just too far out of school and all that academic writing business, but those members of my book club who are in the business of writing academic things were also put off by the writing style and the lack of focus in the book, so at least it’s not just me?
Recommendation: Only read this if you’re super-duper interested in baseball and gender, and if you are that interested maybe go write me the Mary-Roach-ified version?