The best baseball novels you’ve probably never read

Who am I?

I’m a writer and a lifelong baseball fan with a weakness for baseball-ish fiction. For a lot of folks, this means reading the usual suspects: Kinsella, Malamud, Coover, Roth, DeLillo... But I especially enjoy stumbling across under-the-radar novels that can’t help but surprise in their own ways. I enjoy this so much, in fact, I went out and wrote one of my own – inspired by the life and career of an all-but-forgotten ballplayer from the 1880s named Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlap, one of the greats of the game in his time. In the stuff of his life there was the stuff of meaning and moment… of the sort you’ll find in the books I’m recommending here.


I wrote...

A Single Happened Thing

By Daniel Paisner,

Book cover of A Single Happened Thing

What is my book about?

A father, a daughter, a forgotten icon of 1880s baseball... these are the players in Daniel Paisner's haunting novel about the specter of love and legacy that fills our days and colors our relationships.

A Single Thing Happened
tells the story of a going-nowhere book publicist, David Felb, who encounters the ghost of a former ballplayer - Fred "Sure Shot" Dunlap, a once-legendary second baseman whose career has lapsed into obscurity. Soon, the spirit of Dunlap begins to unsettle Felb's relationships and cloud his already murky worldview. As his tether on reason appears to unravel, the protagonist's daughter Iona - a colorful teenager with a penchant for DayGlo-dyed hair, body piercings, and our national pastime - joins Felb in his quest to be proven sane and whole. In the end, it is Iona's emergence as a confident, self-reliant young woman that sets Felb right, even as his marriage unravels on the back of this ghostly apparition. 

The books I picked & why

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Summerland

By Michael Chabon,

Book cover of Summerland

Why this book?

It feels a little misleading to suggest that a Michael Chabon book is widely underread, but this one almost never comes up when I talk to writers and readers about their favorite baseball novels.  Perhaps it’s because Chabon, one of our most celebrated writers, imagined Summerland as a book for young readers, and while it is surely that, it is also surely so much more. It’s strange and wonderful and oh so beautifully written. The author’s prose jumps off every page with an exit velocity that demands your attention. Read it with your kids or your grandkids. Read it on your own. Just, read it. 

Summerland

By Michael Chabon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Summerland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the Pulitzer Prize winning Michael Chabon comes this bestselling novel that blends fantasy and folklore with that most American coming-of-age ritual: baseball—now in a new edition, with an introduction by the author.

Ethan Feld is having a terrible summer: his father has moved them to Clam Island, Washington, where Ethan has quickly established himself as the least gifted baseball player the island has ever seen. Ethan’s luck begins to change, however, when a mysterious baseball scout named Ringfinger Brown and a seven-hundred-and-sixty-five-year-old werefox enter his life, dragging Ethan into another world called the Summerlands. But this beautiful, winter-less place…


The Resisters

By Gish Jen,

Book cover of The Resisters

Why this book?

I was looking forward to this one and read it as soon as it came out, early on in these pandemic times. It’s not really a baseball novel, except it kinda, sorta is. Mostly, it’s a subversive look at a dystopian future that turns on the redemptive power of baseball. It made a lot of noise on publication, but the focus of most of the reviews leaned away from the baseball bits and into the dystopian bits. Gish Jen writes gloriously about the game – but also about life and love, longing and belonging, hope and hopelessness. 

The Resisters

By Gish Jen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Resisters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The moving story of one family struggling to maintain their humanity in circumstances that threaten their every value—from the highly acclaimed, award-winning author of Thank You, Mr. Nixon. • “Intricately imagined … [It] grows directly out of the soil of our current political moment.” —The New York Times Book Review

The time: not so long from now. The place: AutoAmerica, a country surveilled by one “Aunt Nettie,” a Big Brother that is part artificial intelligence, part internet, and oddly human—even funny. The people: divided. The “angelfair” Netted have jobs and, what with the country half under water, literally occupy the…


Suder

By Percival L. Everett,

Book cover of Suder

Why this book?

Any novel that shines a light on the adventures and misadventures of a fictional Seattle Mariners third baseman with a pet elephant that answers to the name Renoir is worthy of your time and attention. I’m late to the party on this but so glad I sparked to it. 

Suder

By Percival L. Everett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Suder as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Craig Suder, third baseman for the Seattle Mariners, is in a terrible slump. He's batting below .200 at the plate, and even worse in bed with his wife; and he secretly fears he's inherited his mother's insanity. Ordered to take a midseason rest, Suder instead takes his record of Charlie Parker's ""Ornithology,"" his record player, and his new saxophone and flees, negotiating his way through madcap adventures and flashbacks to childhood (""If you folks believed more strongly in God, maybe you wouldn't be coloured""). Pursued by a raging dope dealer, saddled with a mishandled elephant and an abused little white…


The Dixie Association

By Donald Hays,

Book cover of The Dixie Association

Why this book?

I was working as a flak at Simon & Schuster when this book came out, and I helped to write the flap copy, so it feels to me like I had a hand in it. As an aspiring writer, I remember admiring the hell out of this novel. On a recent re-read, as a grizzled, wizened veteran writer, I still do. Hays gives us a collection of memorable characters, and a wild, vagabonding tale that offers a glimpse at minor league life in the deep South. There’s humor and heartache and all that good stuff. 

The Dixie Association

By Donald Hays,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Dixie Association as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An account of a season with baseball team, the Arkansas Reds. Their line-up includes an ex-con first baseman, a couple of real Reds on loan from Castro, young bucks on the way up and old-timers on the way down, all led by a one-armed Marxist and ex-major leaguer named Lefty.


Bucky F*cking Dent

By David Duchovny,

Book cover of Bucky F*cking Dent

Why this book?

I loved this book the moment I saw the title. And the cover! I loved it even more when I noticed it shared a publication date with my own baseball novel back in 2016, so it feels to me like we’re related. The title and cover alone should earn this one a spot on your shelf, but there’s tasty goodness inside. Duchovny’s love of the game is apparent – but so too is his Ivy League education. He writes like a lifelong reader, with a keen eye for baseball and its denizens and an ear for poetry. He’s funny af, too.   

Bucky F*cking Dent

By David Duchovny,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bucky F*cking Dent as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ted Fullilove, aka Mr. Peanut, is not like other Ivy League grads. He shares an apartment with Goldberg, his beloved battery operated fish, sleeps on a bed littered with yellow legal pads penned with what he hopes will be the next great American novel, and spends the waning malaise filled days of the Carter administration at Yankee Stadium, waxing poetic while slinging peanuts to pay the rent. When Ted hears the news that his estranged father, Marty, is dying of lung cancer, he immediately moves back into his childhood home, where a whirlwind of revelations ensues. The browbeating absentee father…


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