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Shoeless Joe ()

Orrin's All-Time Top Ten List - Sports

Of course I've read it before, in fact, I read it every Spring.  Actually, I'm sure most of you have read it before, or seen the movie (Field of Dreams).  So I'm not going to bother with a plot outline or a conventional recommendation.  Instead, I ask you to think about the story from an angle which may not have occurred to you before now.  I'd like you to consider the possibility that this is of one the most profoundly conservative pieces of literature that you've ever read.

Alright, I hear you, you're saying I'm a kook & a crank and that it's a singularly unpolitical work.  Yeah, yeah, yeah...  Well guess what?  You're wrong.

In the past fifty years or so, a lot of confusion has grown up about what it truly means to be a conservative.  Reaganauts believe it means being anti-Communist and anti-Social Welfare State, Christian conservatives think it means that you take the Bible literally, Fiscal conservatives think it means balancing the budget, Democrats think it means being a racist, sexist, homophobe who supports animal experimentation and toxic waste, and so on.  Now obviously they can't all be right, but all of the differing views do contain a kernel of truth.  True conservatism means that you treasure and try to protect traditional values and institutions.

This is what the conserve in conservative consists of, the belief that there is something worth preserving in the traditions and societal structures that have been bequeathed to us and that we should exercise extraordinary care in making fundamental changes to them.  This is not to say that conservatives believe in absolute stasis or do not believe in progress.  Rather, conservatives believe that even as society progresses, we must take care to ensure that this progress is consistent with our existing cultural mores and structure to the greatest degree possible.

This stands in stark contrast to the liberal philosophy (exemplified by the New Deal/Great Society) which holds that our values and institutions are fundamentally rotten and need to be replaced.  Moreover, they should be destroyed immediately & we'll come up with better ones as we go along.  The result, as we've seen, of the Left's experimentation has been the complete breakdown of the family, the Church and the Community and a society where we seem to have less and less in common with one another.

Which brings us to the conservatism of Shoeless Joe...

At heart, Shoeless Joe is a novel about how one family in particular (the Kinsellas) and America in general, must cling to Baseball as one of the last unifying institutions in our lives.  Most of us don't go to Church anymore, let alone the same one our parents and grandparents did.  We don't belong to political parties anymore, or at least we're not active in them.  We don't all read the same books anymore, Dickens & Twain & Shakespeare, etc.  We don't go to the same movies.  Hell, we don't go to the movies; we rent them & watch them alone.  We don't even watch the same TV shows anymore; gone are the days when the whole family gathered to watch The Dick Van Dyke show or the moon walk.  Today everyone has a TV in their own room & Junior's watching Pro Wrestling, Missy's watching 90210, Mom's watching Lifetime and Dad's watching CNBC.  All that's left is baseball.

Baseball is one of the last cultural strands that intertwines with all our lives.  We all remember our Dad's taking us to games.  When we go outside to have a catch we still throw baseballs, not footballs or frisbees, unless they're the only things available.  The entire country was gripped with McGwire/Sosa fever last summer.  Quick who has the NFL record for most TD's in a season?  You don't know.  You don't care; noone does.  It is baseball that retains the power to bridge our vast cultural and familial divides.  It binds the Boston blueblood with the Dominican immigrant and the 90 year old grandfather with his 8 year old grandson.  Baseball, with it's odd timelessness & it's change resistant rituals,  is one of the few remaining unifying constructs in our lives.

So read this one again, and Doris Kearns Goodwin's Wait Till Next Year while you're at it, and see how shared experiences and memories of baseball can be the great cohesive force in our otherwise fragmented lives.


Grade: (A+)


W. Kinsella Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: W. P. Kinsella
    -ENTRY: Guide to Baseball Fiction: W. P. Kinsella
    -FILMOGRAPHY: W. P. Kinsella (IMDB)
    -ENTRY: W. P. Kinsella (Canadian Encyclopedia)
    -ENTRY: Summary Bibliography: W. P. Kinsella (Internet Speculative Fiction Database)
    -ENTTY: Kinsella, W. P. (
    -AUTHOR PAGE: W. P. Kinsella (Harper Collins)
    -ESSAY: Where it began: 'Shoeless Joe' (W.P. Kinsella, Apr 17, 2014, ESPN)
    -ETEXT: The Thrill of the Grass by W. P. Kinsella [PDF]
    -BOOK SITE: The Thrill of the Grass: Penguin Modern Classics Edition Author W.P. Kinsella (Penguin Random House)
    -AUDIO: The Thrill of the Grass (Denis O’Hare, Selected Shorts)
    -STUDY GUIDE: A Study Guide for W. P. Kinsella's "The Thrill of Grass" (Gale, Cengage Learning)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Thrill of the Grass (123HelpMe)
    -STUDY GUIDE: W. P. Kinsella (eNotes)
    -STORY: Barefoot and Pregnant In Des Moines (W. P. Kinsella, VQR)
    -OBIT: W.P. Kinsella, Author of ‘Shoeless Joe,’ Dies at 81 (Christopher Mele, Sept. 17, 2016, NY Times)
    -OBIT: B.C. author W.P. Kinsella ends his own life under assisted-dying legislation: Writer of Shoeless Joe, adapted into the movie Field of Dreams, dead at 81 (The Canadian Press, Sep 16, 2016)
    -OBIT: W.P. Kinsella, whose book inspired ‘Field of Dreams,’ dies (Faith Karimi and Joe Sutton, 9/17/16, CNN)
    -OBIT: W.P. Kinsella, ‘Shoeless Joe’ novelist who inspired ‘Field of Dreams,’ dies at 81 (Matt Schudel, September 17, 2016, Washington Post)
    -OBIT: Novelist W.P. Kinsella, author of 'Shoeless Joe,' dies at 81 (AP, Mar. 4, 2020)
    -TRIBUTE: The incomparable W. P. Kinsella was born 88 years ago (RICK KLAW, 5/25/23, Tachyon)
    -TRIBUTE: W. P. Kinsella Slides Home (John Smelcer, Ragazine)
    -TRIBUTE: R.I.P. William Patrick “W. P.” Kinsella (Jamie Todd Rubin, Sep 17, 2016, Medium)
    -OBIT: WP Kinsella, whose book became 'Field of Dreams', dies at 81 (BBC, 17 September 2016)
    -OBIT: 'Shoeless Joe' author Kinsella dies at 81 (Chad Thornburg, 9/16/16,
-TRIBUTE: Friends, fans of W.P. Kinsella reflect on his life and death (Molly Longman, 9/21/16, Des Moines Register)
    -ESSAY: The Thrill of the Grass: W.P. Kinsella, baseball, and me (Anna James, January 11, 2018, Martlet)
    -ESSAY: The summer I spent with W.P. Kinsella (Daniel P. Finney, 8/08/19, Des Moines Register)
    -ESSAY: W.P. Kinsella: The voice behind 'Field of Dreams': The movie -- and book -- that 'should never have been made' (Michael Clair, 8/11/21,
So, it's somewhat shocking that Kinsella wasn't raised knowing how to play the game. Though his father played third base for commercial teams in his youth, Kinsella didn't get to play baseball or see a game until he was ten years old. Born on May 25, 1935, in a small town near Edmonton, Alberta, Kinsella was homeschooled until the fifth grade. Only when the family moved and Kinsella started attending school with other children did he get his first taste. Called up to bat on a whim one day, he made contact, lining the ball into the outfield. Unfortunately, he didn't know to run to first base, and the embarrassment he suffered as his peers made fun of him lived with him the rest of his life. "Children are especially cruel to anyone who is different," Kinsella said, "and I had all my weaknesses pointed out in no uncertain terms." He saw his first live action that year, taking in a semi-professional contest at nearby Renfrew Park, home to teams like the Edmonton Trappers. Soon, he fell head over heels for the sport while listening to the 1946 World Series champion Cardinals on the radio, becoming "enthralled with names like Harry 'The Cat' Breechen, Howie Pollet, Red Schoendiest, Terry Moore and Joe Garagiola," Steele wrote. Still, it would take until his collection, "Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa," was released for Kinsella to begin writing more baseball fiction. Once he did, he never stopped. "It was only after [its release] in 1979 that it exploded," Steele said in a recent phone call. "It really was just this wave of baseball literature for the rest of his career. His thought was, 'If that's what they want, I'm gonna keep writing it until they don't want it anymore.'" While part of that decision may have been commercially-minded, Kinsella was a baseball fanatic. He and his third wife Ann Knight were season ticket holders for the Mariners and he had an almost "religious commitment level to rotisserie baseball," Steele said. "They would do drafts and he was hyper-competitive, crazy competitive. So, he was always checking the box scores." When he was on book tours, he would catch games at the local Minor League parks or he'd head to a nearby Major League game. He was even a "card-carrying scout for the Atlanta Braves," Steele noted. Though it was meant to be largely honorary and he never found anybody that Atlanta ended up acquiring, "Kinsella claimed that he was always on the lookout for good ballplayers."

    -ESSAY: Field of Dreams (RVG Fanatic)
    -ESSAY: If You Write It: The University of Iowa Author Who Inspired the Field of Dreams (Josh O'Leary, Iowa Magazine)
    -ESSAY: W.P. Kinsella – Write It and They Will Come. (Our Iowa Heritage)
    -ESSAY: The troubled legacy of W.P. Kinsella: A secure place in the pantheon of great Canadian writers is anything but certain for the creator of "Shoeless Joe." (GEOFF MCMASTER, 10/17/16, Folio)
    -WIKIPEDIA: AstroTurf
    -ESSAY: ORIGINAL ASTROTURF (The artificial turf made famous by Houston's Astrodome (Bullock Museum)
    -ARTICLE: AstroTurf celebrates its roots during 55th anniversary (Dalton Daily Citizen, Mar 31, 2021)
    -ESSAY: The Strange and Fascinating History of "AstroTurf" (FusionTurf, May 17, 2021)
    -ESSAY: This week in 1966, the Astrodome got its AstroTurf: 50 years ago the Dome got fancy new green carpet (Craig Hlavaty, 7/19/16, Houston Chronicle)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: W. P. Kinsella (Kirkus)
    -VIDEO ARCHIVES: “w. P. kinsella” (YouTube)
    -ARCHIVES: W. P. Kinsella (Internet Archives)
    -REVIEW: of The Essential W. P. Kinsella (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of The Essential W. P. Kinsella (Baseball Continuum)
    -REVIEW: of The Thrill of the Grass (Short Stories 101)
    -REVIEW: of Thrill of the Grass (Matthew Prouty, Prezi)
    -REVIEW: of Box Socials by W. P. Kinsella (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Shoeless Joe Comes to Iowa: Stories by W. P. Kinsella (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of THE MOCCASIN TELEGRAPH And Other Stories by W. P. Kinsella (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Going the Distance: The Life and Works of W.P. Kinsella by William Steele (Sheldon Goldfarb, British Columbia Review)


    -FILMOGRAPHY: W. P. Kinsella (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Field of Dream (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Field of Dreams (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Field of Dreams (Metacritic)
    -SCRIPT: Field of Dreams (Subs Like Script)

Book-related and General Links:

-REVIEW: of The Church of Baseball By Ron Shelton (Daniel de Visé, Washington Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: “Field of Dreams”: Baseball, the Prodigal, & Paradise (Stephen Turley, May 26th, 2022, Imaginative Conservative)     -PROFILE : Kinsella: don't say the e-word around here (Cori Howard, National Post)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Shoeless Joe
    -REVIEW: IMAGINARY BASEBALL (Daniel Okrent, NY Times Book Review)
    -The Black Sox Scandal
    -Shoeless Joe Jackson Virtual Hall of Fame
    -ESSAY: The Smaller the Ball, the Better the Book: A Game Theory of Literature (George Plimpton, NY Times Book Review)
    -Field of Dreams Movie Site