Tag Archive for Roger Angell

James Preller Interviews . . . The Happy Nappy Bookseller

I first encountered Doret Canton and her singular blog when I read this post back in May, 2008. She was saying nice things about my book, Six Innings, so, naturally, I fell madly in love. In today’s world, that means: We read each other’s blogs. I recently asked if she’d be willing to be interviewed. And, hey, look, here she comes now . . .

Note: Not really Doret.

Doret, though we’ve corresponded sporadically over the past year, I really don’t know much about you. So let’s start with some basic facts: Who are you?

Well, you know my first and last name and I’ll throw in my middle initial for free: Doret A. Canton. I am from the Bronx, N.Y.

Though for some reason I never got an accent. I’ve been in Atlanta since 1996 and I still don’t have an accent. I am pretty sure I am immune to them. I didn’t learn about children’s literature in an air-conditioned classroom or office but rather on the unforgiving retail floor. Now I can pretty much hold my own in a conversation about children’’s literature, and if need be I’ll fake the funk.

Doret, I’ve been faking the funk all my life. In the “kidlitosphere,” you represent an under-served population and offer, I think, a valuable perspective on children’s literature. You are a bookseller. And an African-American. And definitely not “inner circle,” whatever that may be.

As a minority, I know how it is not to be represented or to find your stuff in the back corner. So on my blog and the displays I do at work I always strive for balance. About a year ago, I looked at the YA table and I noticed it was all girl-centered titles except for Stormbreaker, by Anthony Horowitz.  My first thought was OMG, how did I let that happen?  What does that say to the teenage boys who pass this table? Now the table its about 50/50, and I feel much better showing it to teenage boys and mothers who have sons.  When the holidays roll around I check the calendar so I know when Hanukkah begins so I can get the books out on time. I may not always achieve balance . . .

. . . but I always strive for it.  It’s the same with my blog.  I just want people to come and discover authors they may not find elsewhere.

What motivated you to blog?

Before I started my blog, I was a bloghopper, leaving one or two comments. I finally wanted to start my own after finishing a YA book by an African-American author because I knew there was nowhere to talk about it. I noticed there didn’t seem to be many African-Americans blogging about children’s and YA lit. So I said, Why not?  When I was thinking on blog names I knew I wanted something that reflected my melanin. So people who visited would know which box I checked in the last census.

When I started a little over a year ago, I didn’t know where I was going to go with it but I knew I wasn’t going to review only African-American authors.  I enjoy reading many authors, styles, and genre. I wanted that reflected on my blog.  (No one puts this bookblogger in a reading corner!)  It was really slow going in the beginning.  I was like, “Hello, is anyone reading?”  I started to feel like that always-falling-down tree in the forest that no one hears. Early on I was lucky enough to get some nice links from Kelly Herold over at Big A Little A and Jen Robinson.  Those links felt like welcomes and encouragement.  So thank you, ladies!

I know what you mean. Those few people who reach out, provide links, and write comments are so important. Validation, you know; it’s not all navel gazing.

So what have you learned along the way? Any surprises?

I’ve learned to always be willing to stand by what I say and never blog angry. Site meter checking is the blogger equivalent to authors checking their Amazon ranking.  For a while I was obsessed with checking my site meter to see who stopped by. I still get a kick out of seeing when someone from another country has visited.  I love it when authors take the time to leave a comment.  It means a lot.

I had been thinking about trying to get to know you better for a while -– I’m curious about you, and you’ve always been nice to me -– but one of your recent blog posts sealed the deal. As you wrote in the poem: “I don’t like to play the Card/But this time I am licking the back/smacking it on my forehead and calling/B.S./And that’s what this rant is about.” Have you gotten any response from that self-proclaimed rant?

I’ve only gotten positive responses for the rant. It would be easy for me to go on about authors of color being under-represented online but I don’t want to come across as the angry Black girl — besides, do it too much no one will listen. I decided I was better off exposing the few people (and I am not being humble, I have site meter, remember) who visit my blog to diverse reviews.

I love how you inject your personality into your book reviews. These aren’t “official” reviews from some kind of anonymous, official, sanitized source of wisdom: It’s Doret Canton talking books. For example, this quick review of Pure by Terra McVoy. You began it this way: “I thought this was very good. I liked it so much I’ll forgive the pink cover and just pretend I don’t see that cherry.”

I try to have fun with my reviews. I just hope my love or enjoyment of the books comes through. If you want something more professional, go to Kirkus or SLJ or someone with a degree. I simply do me and that makes it fun. To do anything else seems like work. One time I did up my review game for Zetta Elliott‘s YA novel, A Wish After Midnight. For two reasons: 1) It was a self-published book, and I wanted to give people a reason to take a chance on it; and 2) I wanted to prove to myself that I could write a slightly more professional review.  But I did stay true to me. Towards the end of the post I have, “Don’t roll your eyes” in parenthesis. I like to think of that as my Duckie prom moment. Remember, Duckie got dressed up for prom but still wore his crazy shoes?

Um . . . nope. I have no memory of a Duckie. In crazy shoes or otherwise. But don’t let that stop you.

I won’t. Whenever I can fit in an 80’s movie reference like “Pretty In Pink,” I’ll do it. I think a good review is honest with a little heart in it.  That statement probably doesn’t include New York Times reviews, but since I have yet to understand one from beginning to end, I am not entirely sure.

Well, I loved Lisa Von Drasek’s review of Six Innings in The New York Times Book Review. But I do think that’s what’s great about your blog, specifically, and great about blogging, generally. No one needs authorization to blog (read: speak your mind); you just do it. Now more voices can be heard. The dialogue has become more open and inclusive.

One of the great things about blogging is freedom, to share. There is no order to my blog but that’s my choice. One of the beautiful things about blogs is individuality.

It’s like what you said before, about not knowing where it might lead. You start a blog and then, gee, you wonder, What is this, exactly? What have you gotten yourself into, you know? So you make it up as you go along, and gradually it becomes perfectly itself. But please, Doret, let’s turn the conversation back to me. You’ve said that you enjoy my recurring “Fan Mail Wednesday” feature. What about it do you like?

I love Fan Mail Wednesday, wish more authors did it. I like the way you take the time to interact with your fans. Your responses are fun, honest, witty and show much respect and appreciate for your fans. Can you bring back the dog who was speaking to President Obama?

Thanks for that. A funny thing about those two “letters to the president”  my dog wrote: They were by far the two most popular posts on my blog. You can imagine how much I resent Daisy for that. Now I feel like Daisy, my Goldendoodle, should have her own blog. But the problem is I  have this job that gets in the way –- and a career to relentlessly, shamelessly self-promote.

Speaking of which: Look everybody, more pictures

of me, Me, ME! Look: I’m SQUINTING!!!

You know, Doret, I get a kick out of it when you complain about customers, little things that happen in the store. It’s like we’re co-workers, there’s a confidential/conspiratorial tone to it, and I can imagine you rolling your eyes as you type, shaking your head, muttering, “Oh Lord.”

Earlier when I said I learned about children’s literature on the unforgiving retail floor, I wasn’t kidding. Some customers don’t play — you had better know what you’re talking about. Don’t try and fool them, they’ll catch you and call you out on it. Some costumers are just crazy. Some are just plain mean. (Emily Post, where are you?  Please tell these people to get off their phones while receiving help.)  Complaining about customers on my blog is a good way to get it out of my system. Plus they add a little more bite to the bookseller in my blogger name. If there was a musical for the book industry, I’d be singing and dancing (off-key and off-beat), “It’s a Hard Knock Life” (with the Jay Z beat), while picking up book reshelves and giving customers the evil eye.  Every once in a while screaming, “Books are not coasters!”

No, not coasters – but they do make great furniture. Every house should be filled with them.  Doret, you are obviously crazy about baseball. What are the baseball books you are recommending this season?

I love talking about sports books because they can turn non-readers into readers. Here are eight new baseball books that I’ve read and reviewed:

The Prince of Fenway Park by Julianna Baggott. I loved this one.  So far this is my favorite baseball book of the year.

Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse by David A. Kelly, illustrated by Tim Jessell. This was a great early chapter baseball book. I’d highly recommend it for baseball fan parents who are looking for something a little longer to read to their child.

Mudville by Kurtis Scaletta. I loved the way the main characters were developed.

Mighty Casey by James Preller,  illustrated by Matthew Cordell. As always I really enjoy your text J.P., but it’s Cordell’s light and easy illustrations that make it okay for me to add it to this list (don’t want people to think I am playing favorites). And that really did look like pee!

Baseball Crazy edited by Nancy E. Mercado. Great collection of baseball short stories, from authors such as Jerry Spinelli, John H. Ritter, Sue Corbett, and more.

Top of the Order by John Coy.
If a parent came to me and said my son hates reading but loves baseball, I would show them this book. Coy took the time to create four characters and situations boys could relate to.  This book could show many reluctant readers that reading isn’t so bad.

The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane. It’s about a girl who pitches on her eighth grade baseball team, with a wicked knuckle ball.

Change-Up Baseball Poems by Gene Fehler,  illustrated by Donald Wu. I loved everything about this collection of poems.  The text and the illustrations are a beautiful match.

These next four I haven’t read yet, but I’m looking forward to them:

The Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz. I know this is a great baseball book when non-baseball fans are giving it great reviews.

Ray and Me by Dan Gutman. I take Gutman’s baseball card adventure series for granted because its always so good.  I do plan on reading this one. It’s about Ray Chapman, the only major league baseball player to get hit by a pitch and die in a game.

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Andre Winter. I saw this reviewed  over at Fuse #8.  My first thought was, That’s a beautiful baseball book I must read.

The Baseball Talmud by Howard Megdal.
This is the history of Jewish players in major league baseball.

In a recent email, you asked me about, “your Mets.” It used to be “our Mets.” What happened? You haven’t crossed over the to Dark Side (read: Yankees), have you?

I could never cheer for the Yankees.

I agree, it’s like rooting for a Swiss watch. Roger Angell, who is one of the great pure writers of the past fifty years, says that people have more “Mets” in them than “Yankees” — that we’re more shaggy dog than exalted champion.

That quote couldn’t be more perfect, and I will always root for the Mets.

Okay, Lightning Round:

Five favorite books you love pressing into customers hands?

1. Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
2. Marcelo In the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
3. Flygirl by Sherri Smith
4. Carter Finally Gets it by Brent Crawford
5. A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
6.  Fairy School Dropout by Meredith Badger

(Six is the new five!)

Favorite music?

Neo-Soul, Pop, Rock and Jazz.

Favorite movies?

Anything with a good story line that doesn’t rely on special effects.

What other sites can you recommend that celebrate diversity in children’s literature?

* The Brown Bookshelf
* Color Online
* Crazy Quilts
* Mitali’s Fire Escape
* Paper Tigers
* A Wrung Sponge

To be fair, I do run across a few other reviews of authors of color at other blogs — but its not nearly enough. I am not going to do the percentages, that’s too much math for me. If I was to take a guess, even including the blogs I’ve mentioned, reviews of authors of color wouldn’t make up 5% of the kidlitosphere.  That’s simply not right and there’s no excuse. It’s 2009, we have our first Black president; this should not be an issue. I don’t want anyone to stop reading and talking about the books they enjoy, but be more open and inclusive. Everyone should check out Diversity Rocks Challenge. It was started by Ali from Worducopia.  This is a pressure-free challenge that encourages bloggers to add more color to their reading list I don’t do challenges — I am too lazy — but the Diversity Rocks Challenge requires no effort. After reviewing an author of color you simply link it to the site. That’s it, you come and go as you please.  Also check out Crazy Colored Summer Reads over at Crazy Quilts. Edi has compiled a great list of titles featuring teens of color.

Thanks for that info, Doret. Lastly: Ali or Frazier?


Doret, my friend, thanks so much for stopping by. I really enjoy you and love that you are out there, shouting loud, staying proud. Keep up the great work.

Shouting loud, staying proud —  with those four words I am almost tempted to put up a Black power fist.  Instead I’ll say thank you, James, for finding me interesting enough to want to interview. And please bring back Daisy, her fans are waiting.


My Ten All-Time Favorite Baseball Books

I always like to read a baseball book around this time of year. So I just ordered Ron Darling’s new one, The Complete Game: Reflections on Baseball, Pitching, and Life on the Mound. Here in upstate New York, we’re in the mud stage, where the fields are not quite ready, but hope is in the air. We can feel it coming, outside, playing that game we love.

To make any kind of all-time “Top Ten” list of books is ridiculous, because I keep coming across potentially great books that I haven’t read (yet!). Or read so long ago that my memory is unreliable. Ball Four? It’s been more than 30 years. It was funny, right? But why let that stop the fun? So those caveats aside, here’s a list of ten favorite baseball books, in no particular order.


by Lawrence S. Ritter

A no-brainer, my all-time favorite. No other book touches closer to the heart of the game. From an Amazon review: “An oral history of the game in the first two decades of the century, Glory sends out its impressive roster of players to tell their own stories, and what stories they tell–the story of their times as well as of their game; the scorecard includes Rube Marquard, Babe Herman, Stan Coveleski, Smoky Joe Wood, and Wahoo Sam Crawford. A delight from cover to cover, Glory is the next best thing to having been there in the days when the ball may have been dead, but the personalities were anything but.”


by Arnold Hano

A few years ago, I took a men’s team down to Texas for a hardball tournament for ages 38 and up. I was GM, manager, and player. One of the players gave me this book as a gift. Hano captures one glorious day, September 28, 1954, when he attended the first game of the 1954 World Series. At age 84, Hano recently recalled: “When I subwayed home six hours later in a state of delicious languor, I decided to write about my day. The book I wrote, A Day in the Bleachers, does not deal just with the game. Oh, it does that too — the famous catch by Willie Mays takes up nine pages — but mainly it is about my day. I banter with a Brooklyn Dodger fan nearby (she carried a flag proclaiming her allegiance). I mutter incantations of hope during the not-quite 10 innings of strife. I wince at Cleveland pitcher Bob Feller’s valiant attempt to get himself in shape by doing push-ups in centerfield during batting practice, his backside too high. I marvel as Alvin Dark of the Giants intercepts a ground ball with his bare hand in the eighth inning. And I recall one final picture that day, umpire Larry Napp running down the right field foul line, indicating that a ball struck by New York’s Dusty Rhodes was indeed a game-winning home run. Immediately, all I had seen began to percolate in my brain. I had a book to write.”


by Robert Coover

I like this line from a July 7, 1968 review in The New York Times: “Conversely, not to read it because you don’t like baseball is like not reading Balzac because you don’t like boarding houses. Baseball provides as good a frame for dramatic encounter as any. The bat and ball are excuses.” Coover was an experimental writer, an innovator, and this is possibly the most creative, imaginative of all the baseball books I’ve read. In brief, with pen and paper and three dice, a man, Henry Waugh, creates his own world, peopled with vivid characters — in this case, the Universal Baseball Association, Inc. Genius. The book had added appeal to me, personally, because as a boy I filled notebooks with imaginary games I played by rolling dice — very much like Henry Waugh did in the novel.


by Roger Kahn

A classic. I read this one as a teenager and it was one of the first books — of any kind — that blew me away. Even moreso, I suppose, because the Dodgers were my mother’s favorite team before they broke her heart and moved to Los Angeles. Kahn, too, rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers as a child. He later covered them in the 1950s as a beat writer. According to a review in the blog, Curled Up with a Good Book, “In The Boys of Summer, Kahn reflects on the Dodgers and his own boyhood following the team. He visits with the Dodger greats to find out about their life after baseball and their own reflections on the team. What makes this arguably the seminal sports book, the book against which all other books in this genre should be judged, is Kahn’s ability to both paint a lyrical, moving account of his heroes and allow us to share intimate times on and off the field with icons such as Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, and Duke Snyder . . . This is a book that belongs on every sports lover’s bookshelf. It is a literary masterpiece that masquerades as a sports memoir.”


by Phillip Roth

Published in 1973, this satiric book involves another fictional baseball league, the Patriot League, and could be the funniest take on baseball. If you haven’t read it, you must. The set up for the story takes Roth about 40 pages before he gets on firm ground, and then the story rolls and the laughter ripples. From a review in The New York Times: “The ballplayers of Roth’s fable, though they bear the names of deities, are anything but images of perfection. The Mundys consist of 50-year-old veterans who have tottered out of retirement, a French-Canadian refugee from the Japanese League, adolescent boys, an alcoholic ex-con (“the Babe Ruth of the Big House” when he played for Sing Sing), a peg-legged catcher, a one-armed outfielder, a midget relief pitcher and so on. Named for their founder, the legendary Glorious Mundy, they are the sacrifices implicit in his credo (“baseball is this country’s religion”), and their season of shame, relieved only by an 11-game winning streak powered by a secret diet of synthetic Wheaties concocted by a teen-age genius, culminated in a 31-0 loss to the pennant- winning Tri-City Tycoons on the final day of the season.”


by Joe Posnanski

Buck O’Neil, a former star from the Negro Leagues, teams up with the great Joe Posnanski — one of my favorite bloggers and sports writers working today — and together they tour the country for various public relations events and ballgames. While Posnanski documents the journey, recounting Buck’s baseball memories along the way, it is the spirit of Buck O’Neil that shines through: his hopefulness, his zest for life, his grace, his humility, his soul. I found this book poignant and uplifting. A joy. For a nice interview with Joe Posnanski, click here. Said Leigh Montville: “This book is flat-out terrific. If Gandhi had played baseball, he would have been Buck O’Neill.”


by W.P. Kinsella

I haven’t read this book in a long time, my memory of it is vague, and it may not be a fashionable pick due to the Hollywoodization of the film adaptation. But I remember being struck by Kinsella’s magic realism, his richly imaginative take on the baseball novel — Kinsella, for me, took the typical baseball story and brought it to a whole new place; and in doing so, opened up my own thinking about baseball and books and the realm of what was possible. Of course, even non-readers know the movie, The Field of Dreams, the at-times smarmy film starring Kevin Costner. At his best, Kinsella is lyrical and deep, writing not only about baseball but also love and memory, fathers and sons, dreams and truth. Many writers tend to go a overboard when talking about baseball  — the prose too purple, too much religion in it — and Kinsella shares those faults. But there are other times when he absolutely nails it. An important book for me, since it came out in 1982, right around the time in my life when I first dreamed of becoming a writer.


by Michael Lewis

Absolutely the right book at the right time. Lewis is a great nonfiction writer. His research (thanks to incredible access to Oakland A’s GM, Billy Beane) is thorough, he organizes his information beautifully, and much like Malcolm Gladwell, Lewis has a knack for conveying complicated ideas in a clear, accessible, entertaining manner. That is, he’s a hell of a writer — but not in a way that you’d necessarily notice at first, since it’s not so much about style as it is about substance. Here’s what Tom Wolfe had to say: “What does it take to turn a subject like baseball statistics into a true-life thriller not even a baseball-loathing bibliophobe could put down? Answer: saturation reporting, conceptual thinking of a high order, a rich sense of humor, and talent to burn. In short, Michael Lewis. Moneyball is his grandest tour de force yet.” Word is that they are going to make a movie based on Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt. Really. Fun fact: Lewis is married to Tabitha Soren, former MTV reporter.


by Charles Alexander

McGraw is one of the game’s great originals, a mercurial character whose career spanned the early decades of baseball, as it grew from its rough-neck, pugnatious roots into the national pasttime. Here’s a review from Amazon, written by Jeff Silverman: “Alexander’s marvelous biography of McGraw does what McGraw’s own My Thirty Years in Baseball couldn’t: it lets the volcano that was the man erupt in all its raw glory. A true baseball original, McGraw, as Alexander describes, ‘ate gunpowder every morning and washed it down with raw blood.’ He loved to win, but he hated losing more, and as manager of both the old Baltimore Orioles and New York Giants, he’s the only skipper in the game’s history to win almost 1,000 games more than he lost. McGraw was so outsized, flamboyant, fiery, and, at times, sentimental, that it would be easy to caricature him; Alexander’s remarkable achievement here is that he doesn’t (nor does he succumb to hero worship or bubble bursting). His triumph is letting McGraw stand on his own two spikes; the man — and the legend — have no problem standing up for themselves.”


Roger Angell

Hands-down, my favorite baseball writer ever, but that claim places Mr. Angell in too small a box. Sentence for sentence, Roger Angell is one of the great American writers of the past 50 years, period. And I’ll punch anyone in the nose who doesn’t think so. I love the shape of his sentences, his language, insight, and humanity. But because his form is most often the essay, Angell really hasn’t written a great (great, great) full-length book. Don’t get me wrong, his collections are wonderful and I own them all. When I was writing Six Innings, it was all I could do to limit the amount that I stole from Angell, the master. I’ve written one fan letter in my life — and it went to Roger Angell. Still, I had to pick something from his work, so I went with Five Seasons, probably because it focuses on baseball in the middle 70’s — perhaps the last truly great era of the game. From The New York Times Book Review on Five Seasons: “A book for people who miss good writing, who miss clarity, lucidity, style and passion. It’s a book for all seasons.” Since 1956, Angell has worked as an editor for The New Yorker, where most of his eloquent writing has first appeared. His stepfather was E.B. White, not a bad writer himself.



Bill James

I’ve had a love/hate/love relationship with Bill James, but he may be the most influential baseball writer to ever put pencil to scorecard, purely in terms of changing the way we’ve come to know the game. His annual “Abstracts” — which often exposed the foggy thinking behind baseball’s most cherished “conventional wisdoms” — were must-buys for me throughout the 80’s. Over the years, James seemed to grow increasingly bitter and his writing got snarkier, more unpleasant. Despite his growing legion of fans, the baseball establishment appeared to reject and ignore his ideas. A rebel and provocateur, James loved the role of gadfly, of misunderstood outsider, yet at the same time seemed to pine for the game’s warm embrace. After years of writing in the wilderness, James finally gained full acceptance in 2003, when he was invited inside, hired into the progressive, sabermetrically-inclined front office of the Boston Red Sox. Smart club, those Sox. A wonderful baseball blogger named Rich Lederer did an outstanding series of articles called, “Abstracts from the Abstracts,” where he brilliantly details the importance of each book. Fantastic stuff. And for a quick sample of James, here’s a famous extract taken his 1988 Baseball Abstract. The brief piece is now widely known as “The Bill James Primer.




One of the early influences for the format for Six Innings was a landmark book, titled Nine Innings: The Anatomy of a Baseball Game by Daniel Okrent — a man largely credited with inventing Fantasy Baseball. The format is essentially one game, a nothing game, June 10, 1982, Brewers vs. Orioles, including everything that happens on the field and, more importantly, inside the head of Mr. Okrent. Some folks consider this to be one of the most significant baseball books ever, in part because of Okrent’s analytical, Jamesian approach. It used to be out of print, and I’m glad to see that it’s made a comeback, hopefully with more success than Oil Can Boyd. Many other baseball books have taken that “one game” structure, including For the Love of the Game by Michael Shaara , The Last Nine Innings by Charles Euchner, and as I mentioned above, A Day in the Bleachers by Arnold Hano. With all those books in mind, and more, I knew that I was very much writing Six Innings within that tradition, and for that tradition, and that knowledge gave me the confidence to proceed.

I was tempted to make a long list of Honorable Mentions . . . but figured maybe you’d like to help. So, come on, which books did I forget to mention?