Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Say Hey Kid & Book Signings (Separate Topics)

The best thing that biographer James S. Hirsch has going for him in Willie Mays The Life, The Legend is . . . Willie Mays, the Birmingham kid who walked timidly onto the Polo Grounds only months after graduating high school and strolled boldly into the Hall of Fame more than two decades later.

Mays, the Say Hey Kid, who played baseball as we have seldom see the game played. He brought to the game an intensity and an intelligence and all encompassing skill that has earned him a place in that argument baseball fans love to have about who was the games greatest player.

Ruth? DiMaggio? Musial? Mantle? Aaron? Mays?

Maybe. If not the greatest, certainly one of the greatest. And Hirsch's biography, written with Mays' approval, makes a strong case for the long-time Giant. Hirsch emphasizes that Mays was a five-tool player -- he could hit for average, hit for power and run, catch and throw. And certainly, at times, do all those things with a flair that no one had seen before.

More importantly, Hirsch writes, "The 'five-tool' designation understates his skills by ignoring his intelligence, preparation, and guile. Mays was always better than the box score."

Mays brought a joy to the game. Hirsch captures that joy, and more. Any great biography of a baseball player must do many things. It must establish the player's "place" in the game. It must establish the game at the time the player played within the context of society. And it must be laced with lively anecdotes from this greatest of sports.

Hirsch does all those things. A bit of a "five-tool" performance from the author of Willie Mays The Life, The Legend.

I haven't had the opportunity to have many books signed in 2010, but March has been an exception.

Peter Matthiessen was the National Geographic this week. He gave an impassioned speech about the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and signed three books for me, including his prize-winning Shadow Country.

Elizabeth Strout signed her Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge last night and Colum McCann signed his National Book Award winner, Let the Great World Spin. Both appeared at Virginia's Festival of the Book.

Chang-rae Lee was at Politics & Prose early this month. He signed The Surrendered (which I am reading now).

And let's see, Helen Simonson signed her terrific Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, William Ferris signed his first book Blues From the Delta, David Corbett's Do They Know I'm Running came in the mail as did Blackout by Connie Willis and Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler and Jim Harrison's Warlock and a signed copy of the 20th anniversary of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried is on its way.

Yeah, it was a good month.