I’ll get started with, appropriately enough, a baseball book considered by many to be a classic of American literature.
This book is in a… strange situation in literature. Don’t get me wrong, I think the book is fantastic, but it’s also shaded by a pretty fun baseball movie which is purportedly based on it but which really isn’t. I mean, the main character of Roy Hobbs is in there as are most of the minor ones, but the movie – and hey, I am not telling you that you should not like it, but you have to respect the difference here – completely gutted the theme of the book in favor of a more general “ain’t baseball grand?” one.
In my opinion “The Natural” is a must-read for anyone who has ever been interested in the Pete Rose case. Gambling is potentially a huge problem in sports because it can affect the outcome of the games. Sometimes fiction is better than dry fact in explaining why things are the way that they are, and this book is like that. I don’t want to spoil the whole thing, but you know that bit in the movie where Roy Hobbs shatters Lightning and then he’s rounding the bases and he’s bleeding and then suddenly it turns into a scene of father and son playing catch? Needless to say, that’s not in the book. The ending is… just a bit darker than that. Without getting into too much detail, this book is a classic American tragedy – since it’s about baseball perhaps it’s *the* classic American tragedy – about a man who attempts to overcome his personal foibles with God-given talent.
I think that the character of Roy Hobbs in the book is a lot more nuanced and, frankly, interesting than the Roy Hobbs of the movie. The movie Hobbs is just an everyday great guy who has an Eddie Waitkus-like run-in with a Baseball Annie but who is otherwise a pretty likeable guy. The book Hobbs is, well, a lot more like we think professional athletes as being today: more than a little arrogant about all things, super-confident about his own ability to play his chosen sport (is it arrogance when you know you’re good?), boastful, brash… to me, the really interesting bits about a character aren’t the things that he can do but that he can’t or won’t do. And unlike the movie Hobbs, the book Hobbs is full of can’ts and won’ts.
So yeah, great book. I should warn you, though: if you’re already a fan of the movie, reading this may make you want to throw it out (or at least see someone remake it).