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Shoeless Joe (1982)
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.
See also:Sports (Baseball)
Brothers Judd Top 100 of the 20th Century: Novels
Mr. Doggett's Suggested Summer Reading for Students
Orrin's All-Time Top Ten List - Novels
Orrin's All-Time Top Ten List - Sports
-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