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This Sunday: Baseball books for opening day, and the lives of novelists

March 30, 2012 |  2:11 pm

Decades ago, when baseball was truly the National Pastime, those wealthy enough to own teams were called sportsmen. They were mostly a conservative lot and believed in maintaining the “integrity of the game,” whatever that meant, at all costs. All except one. That owner -- Bill Veeck -- had a maverick streak a mile long and the fortitude to shake things up. Yes, he’s the guy who used publicity stunts when he owned the hapless St. Louis Browns in the 1950s, and he sponsored the disastrous “Disco Demolition Night” in Chicago in 1979 that caused a near riot. Showmanship aside, he was also a visionary who tried (and nearly succeeded) in bringing major league baseball to the West Coast years before Walter O’Malley brought the Dodgers west.  Think of that for a minute. The opening games of the baseball season are upon us again, so we are trotting out three excellent baseball books in our Sunday pages. The aforementioned Veeck is the subject of "Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick,” a biography by Paul Dickson that is reviewed by Mike Downey, a former columnist for The Times and the Chicago Tribune who knew Veeck in Chicago, when Mike was working for the Tribune and Veeck owned the White Sox. As always, Downey offers a lively, fascinating take on the book and the man at its center.

David L. Ulin, our resident book critic and New York Yankees fan, reviews “Damn Yankees: Twenty-Four Major League Writers on the World’s Most Love (and Hated) Team,” an anthology edited by Rob Fleder, a former senior editor at Sports Illustrated. Included in the book are excellent pieces by Pete Dexter, Jane Leavy, Leigh Montville, Ulin writes.  Love 'em or hate 'em, the Yankees always make for fascinating reading.

And Chris Erskine, our Fan of the House, Man of the House and, now, Man About Town, looks at “Imperfect: An Improbable Life” by Jim Abbott and Tim Brown.  This is the autobiography of Abbott, who pitched astonishingly well, for the Angels and Yankees, among others, despite having been born with just one hand. An inspirational story? Well, yes, but also a very down-to-earth book on a very human being.

Wait, there’s more. Stepping outside the base lines, Carolyn Kellogg does some heavy lifting in reviewing “Lives of the Novelists,” British critic John Sutherland’s compilation of literary biographies that clocks in at more than  800 pages. If you are interested in John Bunyan, Jane Austen,  Edgar Allan Poe,  Anthony Trollope, the Brontes, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, William Faulkner, Henry James or George Orwell, this is the book for you. Kellogg writes that the work “has an internal continuity that makes it read like history, not an encyclopedia. And Sutherland’s writing is just plain delightful.”

More after the jump

"Delightful" also describe Margaret Wappler’s lively review of “Threats,” a debut novel by Amelia Gray. Wappler writes that Gray’s description of the lowly blackhead is “one of the most gorgeously clinical paragraphs” you’ll likely ever read.

And Susan Carpenter reviews “I Hunt Killers,” Barry Lyga’s novel for those 15 and up. She writes that Lyga’s “multiple-murder mystery focuses on the son of a notorious serial killer who is forced to confront his fears that he will follow in his dad’s footsteps and must also reconcile his attraction to grisly deaths.”

 “The best stories write themselves,” Nick Owchar notes in his fascinating piece on the literary gold mine that marks this month’s  100thanniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. There is fiction and nonfiction and picture books galore. Get a jump on the anniversary with Owchar’s list of the titles to look at.  His Siren's Call column this month also points out that reading Thomas Penn's splendid "Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England" is a good way to fill your time if you're eagerly awaiting the new season of HBO's "A Game of Thrones."

We also have our bestsellers list. This week, Carrie Fisher’s memoir “Shockaholic” makes its debut at No.  9 on the nonfiction list.

If you missed it during the week, take a minute and check out Carpenter’s profile of Lincoln Peirce, the mind behind the “Big Nate” books and comic strip.

As Always, thanks for reading

-- Jon Thurber, book editor

Photo: Bill Veeck (tie-less, second row) takes in a game in 1943. Credit: Bob Sandberg / Walker & Co.