Monday, November 8, 2010

On the Coffee Table: Doris Kearns Goodwin

Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir by Doris Kearns Goodwin is the celebrated historian's account of suburban life in the 1950s. The title comes from the motto of the baseball team she grew up with: the Brooklyn Dodgers. She does a very nice job of interweaving the story of the team with the story of her own coming of age.

Photo via Taki's Magazine

It's dangerous to call anything unique. As soon as you find something similar, uniqueness is lost. But I think it's fair to say the experience of Dodger fans of the '40s and '50s is unique in American sports. They witnessed the arrival of Jackie Robinson in 1947, perhaps the greatest of all sports stories of the 20th century. They were on the losing end of baseball's most famous home run: Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World" in 1951. They won the World Series after decades of disappointment in 1955. Finally, they were on the business end of perhaps sports' greatest heartbreak when the beloved team left town for Southern California in 1957, robbing the borough of its only major professional sports franchise. Predictably, Goodwin's retelling of the team's story is expertly conveyed.

Photo via Baseball Forum

And yet, baseball is but a single thread in the book's fabric. Goodwin's portrayal of life in the '50s goes far beyond the love of her favorite team. As readers, we are welcomed into her family's home. We wander her neighborhood, meet her friends and visit the butcher shop. We follow her to her first confession and grow to admire her favorite teachers. We join in her outrage over McCarthyism. In short, it is a warm and intimate account of growing up during interesting times.

Goodwin is a serious person. She has written eloquently on serious matters. And yet, she reminds us that even in the midst of our personal struggles and the grander sweep of political history, our passions are important. For her, the love of a baseball team links her to the stories of her childhood just as surely as the teams I followed in my youth link me to mine. Sports are part of our mythology as a society. While the score of last night's game is not as important as the latest unemployment numbers, it is still important in its way.

1 comment:

  1. Have I already asked you about watching Ken Burns' "Baseball". Goodwin was a GREAT commentator. Her stories are wonderful. Made me buy this book....