When I read the reviews surrounding this book, they all had one thing in common: sweeping statements that people who do not follow or enjoy baseball will still most definitely enjoy this book. I have to say, I think they’re wrong. I happen to be a person who does love baseball and follow it fairly regularly, so for me this book was great. However, I did get the strong sense that if I didn’t know what the stats, plays, or teams were, I would have found this book a bit tiresome. So there you go, a totally honest piece of feedback in the very opening paragraph. If you don’t like or understand baseball and don’t have a desire to do so in the future, I wouldn’t recommend this book.
Now getting to the flip side of things. If you do understand, enjoy, or love baseball you will truly appreciate the simplicity and poignancy of this book. It’s one heck of an emotional sports book and shows just how baseball is indeed America’s favourite pastime.
Calico Joe is a fictional story but there were times when I was hard pressed to remember it. John Grisham is as deft as usual in weaving this tale. The book is filled with memories, stats, and real events and people from 1970s baseball. The story shifts back and forth between the 1970s and present day. It is told from the point of view of Paul Tracey, both when he was around 11 years old and younger and when he’s an adult in his thirties. He tells the story of his alcoholic, abusive, major league pitcher father and how one violent act on the field ruined dozens of lives while dashing an entire country’s hopes and dreams.
Yes. It’s that big.
I’m amazed as to how many emotions John Grisham has managed to pour into what most people see as just another sport. My favourite part of the book was every time there was a mention of a game or a particularly memorable moment in baseball history. Reading about the excitement, the buzz, the high emotions, and the hoards of people that metaphorically lived and died by the score made me emotional. It was the perfect reminder to see that baseball isn’t just a sport; it’s a lifestyle. For some, it’s life itself. I found my heart pounding and goosebumps on my flesh, just as though I were watching a live game. Honestly, I should amend what I say above–this book isn’t just for baseball fans. It’s for sports fans in general. The plot line could easily apply to any team sport: football, soccer, hockey, cricket, even lacrosse!
At the same time, it also covers a wide range of human emotions. Regret. Mercy. Acceptance. Pride. Fear. Strength. Community. Forgiveness. And it’s only 194 pages! I definitely had tears in my eyes as the book wrapped itself up. It’s a short, neat little story that is a perfect blend of sports and human behaviour. What a man does on the field represents what he will be known as for the rest of his life off the field. Unwritten codes of behaviour can affect not just the game but lives. Most importantly–the decision to act or not act. All key points in sports that represent key learning lessons in life as well.
John Grisham has definitely hit a home run here. I thought he was perfect for books about law and only the law. This has proved that the man can truly write about anything and make it fantastic.