Comfort Books

Tax season is always a stressful time around the Warnick house. With a professional musician in the family (my wife is a violist), tax time has always been, well…taxing, but now that I have also joined the ranks of the self-employed, it has become that much more overwhelming. For 2013 we had twenty W2’s and 1099’s. Twenty! Yes, we do have an accountant. A few years ago we spent an entire Sunday doing our taxes on our own with Turbo Tax. At the end, after we submitted them, we looked at each other and realized we had no clue if we had done them correctly. We’ve had an accountant ever since. Even so, it’s always a guessing game as to how much we’re going to owe this year.

In times of stress, while many people turn to “comfort food” to ease their troubled minds, I frequently find myself turning to “comfort books” to help relax (OK, yes, I turn to comfort food, too…). For me, a comfort book is something for which the reading of it is a purely pleasurable experience. I want to be able to sit down, take a moment to read a chapter or two, and come out of it feeling more relaxed then when I started. This rules out much of my usual reading material. Whereas Connie Willis’s books on time-traveling historians in WWII era London or Henning Mankell’s Wallander series are really excellent reads, they are not the sort of books I turn to to soothe my soul. For that, I turn to baseball.

My go-to comfort books for the past few years have been memoirs and essays on America’s pastime. I love books about the history of the game and tend to gravitate towards authors who focus on the subtle nuances and pace of the game – writers not afraid to spend an entire chapter talking about sitting in the bleachers of a late July battle between two non-contenders on a hot and humid Texas night in 1982. They are masters at adapting their writing style to embrace the sights, sounds, and tastes of the game – less about telling a story; more about the slow rhythms and atmosphere that surrounds a night at the ballpark. David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49 and October 1964, Buzz Bissinger’s 3 Nights in August, and Dan Barry’s Bottom of the 33rd are all brilliant examples of this style of writing and my own personal comfort books. Summer of ’49 got me through my wife’s surgery to remove a meningioma. October 1964 was there when I came home late every night during my ACCME reaccreditation. 3 Nights in August traveled with me while going solo to a weekend conference in Spain.

Last week I attended the ACCME’s “CME as a Bridge to Quality” Accreditationangell Workshop and spent an evening wandering around After-Words New & Used Books — a must-stop for me whenever I’m lucky enough to have a little free time in Chicago. While browsing through the used books, I was thrilled to find a pristine hardback copy of Season Ticket by Roger Angell, one of my absolute favorite baseball writers (and one of my favorite writers, period, as exemplified by his recent New Yorker article on aging). What better way to get through the stress of another tax day than a series of essays on baseball in the 80’s — the decade that shaped and molded my childhood fandom — by our greatest living baseball writer? Just read these few sentences on escaping a crowded parking lot during a July 4th Mets game:

Actually, by the time we turned up at Shea the lot was full, with the gates and pay booths closed, and we had to make do with a narrow, muddy little junkyard off some street out beyond the center-field parking sectors, where a local entrepreneur took our seven bucks and then absolutely buried us in a welter of other late-comers. No hope, but when we found our way back there, hours later, beyond the motionless thousands of overheating cars and captive fans and patriots self-blocked in the main lot, someone in our group spotted a little alley at the back of our yard, and we took a chance and swung that way, against the flow of cars inching out, and found a miracle there: an empty street. I zipped through a couple of blocks, hung a right away from the honking tangle, extemporized a dazzling U-turn under the Whitestone Expressway, guessed and grabbed another right, spotted the good old boat basin off to my right, and laid a little left onto the Grand Central Parkway: home free, homeward bound, with the cheers of my fans in the car and cascades of Queens-side Roman candles on either hand celebrating our brilliant departure.

Sounds about perfect to me. If anyone needs me, I’ll be reading.

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3 responses to “Comfort Books

  1. Let me just say…your own prose is as soothing as the mellifluous tones of Bob Sheppard announcing my beloved Yankees during a double-header in the sweltering July heat at the old stadium on 161st in the Bronx.

    I, too, find solace in reading and appreciate a writer who can call up my sense of nostalgia with a side of longing for a bygone era. I may have to seek out a copy of Season Ticket…

  2. This post has given me an awesome birthday/christmas list for my husband. He’ll be shocked that I could figure out good baseball authors.

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