Saturday, May 1, 2010

Cardboard Gods

An excerpt from a review of a new book about baseball cards
Through Baseball Cards, a Meditation on Life
Josh Wilker, in his Web site,, has garnered a cult following from his lyrical autobiographical musings inspired by his 1970s-era baseball card collection.
The format of the blog is simple: For each entry, Wilker posts a scanned image of a card taken from the shoebox, usually picturing a bushy-haired, mustachioed “God” in a polyester double-knit uniform. The card works as a jumping-off point to tell pieces of his life story. Those pieces are synthesized in his memoir, “Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards,” which hit bookstores on Monday.
The book is part coming-of-age tale, part love letter to baseball in the 1970s and to the decade in general, and part attempt to come to terms with the author’s unconventional upbringing to which his lifelong attachment to his cards seems largely traceable. It follows the same format as his blog, with each chapter loosely centering on a late ‘70s baseball card pasted onto the page.
For instance, Wilker uses the card of Herb Washington -– a former sprinter with no discernible baseball skills whom the Oakland A’s signed for the sole function of pinch running -– as a portal into a meditation on the decade’s celebration of experimentation. This is a meaningful theme for Wilker because his upbringing represented an experiment of sorts. For much of his early childhood, he and his brother lived in a three-parent home with his father, his mother and his mother’s boyfriend. Later, his mother and boyfriend moved the family to Vermont to “live off the land,” sending the long-haired boys to a school with no grade levels or structured curriculum.
“Look, it was time to Try New Things,” Wilker writes in the Washington chapter. “Not all of those things worked. But even in the mistakes, or maybe especially in the mistakes, the cockeyed grandeur of the 1970s comes through.”
Amid the confusion surrounding the era in general and their upbringing in particular, Wilker and his brother turned to baseball and baseball cards. The cardboard gods were tangible connections to a mythical American normalcy and clarity missing in their lives.
The book is available here

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