The crowd sounds happy : a story of love, madness, and baseball /

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Bibliographic Details
Author / Creator:Dawidoff, Nicholas.
Edition:1st ed.
Imprint:New York : Pantheon Books, c2008.
Description:271 p. ; 24 cm.
Subject:Dawidoff, Nicholas.
Dawidoff, Nicholas.
Sportswriters -- United States -- Biography.
United States.
Format: Print Book
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Review by New York Times Review

As a junior in high school in 1984 studied Russell Baker's Pulitzer Prizewinning 1982 memoir "Growing Up," in which he recounted his childhood after his father died when Baker was 5. He grew up in rural, Depressionera Virginia, without plumbing or electricity, and later in Baltimore, Baker demonstrated that ordinary tales told plainly could rise to the level of art, and the book stuck with me over the years, trough the rise of the memoir industry, as a premier example of writing about boyhood. Nicholas Dawidoff's memoir, "The Crowd Sounds Happy," is a successor to "Growing Up," and it deserves as much attention. Dawidoff, at 45, is a generation younger than Baker (he was 19 when the 57yearold Baker came out with his book in 1982), and his story is more complicated, involving not his father's death but something perhaps more insidious, mental illness. The book grew out of Dawidoff's New Yorker magazine article, "My Father's Troubles," published in 2000, and he expands the fatherson focus into a beautiful portrait of a wounded family. Dawidoff's father earned degrees from Harvard and Yale, but not long after his marriage, he began talking to squirrels, claiming they instructed him to act violently toward his family. Dawidoff's parents divorced in 1966, and Dawidoff, who was 3, settled with his mother and infant sister into a twofamily home in New Haven. His dutyhonoring mother, a schoolteacher, gave the children the bedrooms while she slept on a converted sofa in the living room. The kids made dreaded, often harrowing monthly visits to see their father in New York. Once, when "Nicky" was 6, he visited the Washington zoo with his father, who became enraged and took off, leaving Dawidoff no choice but to run after him. In restaurants his father would verbally abuse the waitresses and then make passes at them. He would also go into rages with eyes bulging, declaring that all the women in the family were whores, including Nicky's beloved Aunt Susi. "Your father is supposed to protect you," Dawidoff writes, "and mine was scaring the hell out of me." In passages often heartbreakingly honest, Dawidoff evokes the "unpredictable sources of harm" he felt at every turn. Some are fairly typical adolescent insecurities fear of schoolyard bullies, shyness around girls, the shame of his clothing and his family's duplex and others are pure terror: a girl in his elementary school is kidnapped and her corpse is found in the woods. Many pages pass without mention of his father, and throughout the book, Dawidoff beautifully blends in familiar details of a 1960s and '70s youth Space Food Sticks, the Hardy Boys, TopSiders and Tretorn sneakers, Lacoste shirts, Farrah FawcettMajors. Though his mother rarely buys popular consumer items, not even a television, Dawidoff portrays these lacks with no cynicism, only pain. As he grows older he gradually realizes that no matter how bad he has it, the black residents of New Haven's horrid, segregationist public housing projects have it worse. Dawidoff's safe haven was baseball. He was introduced to it by his aunt and uncle and a grandfather. His early baseball education came from books. He read and reread Ted Williams's autobiography, finding solace in the man's loner qualities, and he commiserated with Williams's dysfunctional family. He also pored over Lawrence Ritter's oral history masterpiece, "The Glory of Their Times." Before he experienced live action as a fan or a player Dawidoff eventually played on Harvard's team he learned that baseball had the narrative qualities of literature. "With the game's system of making a tangible record of every substantive event, there was a stability and an order to baseball. ... It could be known," he writes. He became a Red Sox fanatic, his imagination ignited by the radio broadcasts. The announcer welcomed listeners to Fenway Park every night, "and right then," Dawidoff says, "a part of me zoomed down the I91 highway entrance ramp and lifted out of New Haven. ... As he introduced the players position by position 'Jim Rice left field, Fred Lynn center field' it was like having the cast of characters read aloud to you from the beginning of a Russian novel." Dawidoff's grandfather Alexander Gerschenkron, a Harvard economist who was the subject of Dawidoff's brilliant biography, "The Fly Swatter," was a Russian immigrant. His major work argued that underdeveloped countries enjoyed opportunities that economic powers didn't have; that "backward" countries could skip steps and "spurt" forward. In effect, Gerschenkron created economic theories to match the compassionate literary values of his heroes Tolstoy, Pushkin, Chekhov and Turgenev. Dawidoff inherited his grandfather's belief in the special possibilities for long sufferers. In an earlier book, "In the Country of Country," he explored the workingclass roots of the music of Ralph Stanley, Jimmie Rodgers, Patsy Cline and others. The voice in "The Crowd Sounds Happy" is inquisitive and graceful while sparing no pain, and it makes one wish Dawidoff had a broader platform, like Russell Baker's old New York Times column. Dawidoff writes, "When you are young there is the terrible inability to understand that it's your deficits that will make others not only like you but feel close to you." He learned this bit of wisdom, but I'm not sure many other adults have. If they did, then crowds might be happy. Sam Stephenson is the director of the Jazz Loft Project at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [October 27, 2009]
Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* In the nine-inning artifice of America's national pastime, Dawidoff limns the only integrative pattern for a perplexed young man watching a father spin into madness, a mother sagging beneath twin burdens of grief and responsibility. Sport thus metamorphoses into profoundly personal metaphor in this piercingly candid memoir, probing the pain and pathos of a difficult passage into adulthood. A solicitous grandfather initiates an eight-year-old Dawidoff into the magic of a Mets game at Shea; yet, as an adolescent, he transfers his loyalties to the Red Sox, finding in their legacy of failure an imaginative complement to his own frustrations. As he regularly tunes his Chronomatic 9 clock radio to Sox games, this lonely teen forgets his personal distress scornful peers' taunting, his father's latest outrage by joining other Sox fans in irrational hope. Spectator longings solidify into real human ties when Dawidoff wins a place on his high-school baseball team, skill with a glove giving him a deeply cherished claim on a piece of the infield. In an epilogue, Dawidoff poignantly ponders his curiously enmeshed reaction to his father's death in 1997 and to the Red Sox astonishing triumph in 2004. A reminder of how deeply sports still shape the American psyche.--Christensen, Bryce Copyright 2008 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Dawidoff (The Fly Swatter) brilliantly takes the reader through his journey of childhood struggles in this moving memoir. Uprooted from Washington, D.C., at the age of three, Dawidoff moved north with his sister, Sally, and mother to begin a new life in New Haven, Conn. There, the author reveals the beginning of his love affair with baseball, first with the New York Mets before changing his allegiance to the Boston Red Sox. The national pastime provided Dawidoff some of his happiest moments growing up, amid a world of pain--most of which evolved from his father's debilitating mental illness that made weekend visits to Manhattan unbearable as he grew older. Other struggles from his boyhood--from the typical adolescent bullying and first experiences with love to the devastating death of his beloved Aunt Susi--are told in vivid and heartbreaking detail. Simultaneously, Dawidoff paints a picture of his remarkable mother, who selflessly provided for him and his sister. It's the Red Sox--baseball's then longtime losers--that provide Dawidoff the most happiness, because of the parallels he draws with his own life: "I was grateful to the Red Sox for taking me out of myself, giving me something to anticipate, for not being too happy themselves." (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Dawidoff offers a superbly written elegiac memoir combining a child's love of baseball with an emerging understanding of the role mental illness plays in destroying love, life, and simple pleasures, notably radio broadcasts of Red Sox games serving to induce sleep as a fan's joy deflects the fears of childhood. Essential reading for anyone who wishes a balm for heartbreaks in youth, torn family life, love, and seventh-game losses. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by New York Times Review

Review by Booklist Review

Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Review by Library Journal Review