When I was working on my memoir about my life as a reader (Turning Pages: A Memoir of Books and Libraries and Loss--available on your trusty Kindle!), I re-read many books from childhood, boyhood, adolescence. I have a whole chapter in the memoir ("Sports Bookie") about my obsession with sports novels when I was in junior high--and, okay, probably later on, too, though it was an interest I concealed from many others.
But I do remember. I read it for the first time--in cloth cover--a volume I plucked from the none-too-copious shelves of the Hiram School Library, arranged up in front of the large upstairs room principally used for study halls. Later, I somehow acquired a copy of the paperback whose covers, front and back, adorn this blog post. The copy you see is not the one I owned as a kid--but it's identical. I found it on ABE, the used-book site that has sucked away so much of my "wealth" in recent decades.
I was thinking about Kid the other day, looked for a vintage copy on ABE, found it, ordered it. And it came just a few days ago. A confession: When I unwrapped it, tears visited my eyes, for it's been more than a half-century since I'd seen this cover.
For some reason, when I was reading the book at Starbucks yesterday, I felt that I ought not let anyone around me see what I was doing (I did the same thing when I read the first Twilight novel in public). And, of course, two different people came over to visit--and their principal reason? To look at the freaking book I was reading! (I'm like that, too, though--I sneak-peek at books other people are reading in public.) But these were not sneak-peeks; these were flat-out Why-are-you-reading-that visits to "my" couch in Starbucks.
I remembered the story very clearly. Roy Tucker--slugging Dodgers' hero center fielder of Tunis' The Kid from Tompkinsville, is flying bomber missions in France during WW II. Their plane has a crash-landing; he hurts his back and leg ... will he ever play again? (Unsure? See: title.) Back home (after being briefly captured by the Nazis, then rescued by the French Resistance), he undergoes some surgeries that don't help, then deals with a doctor who must be a chiropractor (though it's not mentioned). He gets some treatments, does some exercises, "comes back" with the Dodgers mid-season, leading them to the pennant, an achievement not decided until the final game when Roy rushes headlong into the railing to catch a pop foul (he's playing 3rd--that's another story), crashing into it with abandon, giving all for his team and for ... VICTORY! (Tunis leads us to believe the damage is slight--certainly nothing to prevent Roy from starring in the World Series to come.)
I was surprised by a few things. Roy shows a real sympathy for the black soldiers he sees in France, for example--not something you'd expect to read in a boys' book from 1946. The vocabulary is not simple, either: desultory pops up on one page. And the writing? Well ... it's over-the-top sportswriting for YA readers.
An example: That day his fast ball was smoke; his curve was so sharp you could shave with it (189). Writing!!!!
And another word I'd not seen in a long time--but a word that used to appear in newspaper accounts of baseball games--bingle. Webster's 3rd has it--a single. The Random House Dictionary of Historical American Slang traces it back to 1902, but, as I said, I've not seen it--or heard it--in years. (Word's spell-checker doesn't like it, either.)
At the time I was reading books like The Kid Comes Back, the mid-late 1950s, I was certain that I was going to be Roy Tucker. There was no question about it. None whatsoever.
But for a couple of hours the past couple of days, I found myself sliding (safely!) back into the welcoming arms of boyhood fantasy. A nice visit. But I wouldn't wanna live there ...