Méira Cook Discovers Baseball Lit and Revisits Faves


The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Every female reviewer of this novel (and many male reviewers) begins by assuring readers that they needn’t enjoy baseball to appreciate Fielding. I think baseball might well be the writers’ sport since it seems to lend itself to such sensuous and lyrical description. I’ve read many books set in the world of baseball although I’ve never actually watched a game and hope never to have to. The Art of Fielding is wonderful, though, a sprawling social novel set in the microcosm of a small midwestern American college. And it’s true what they say — you don’t have to like baseball to love Fielding, although it’s likely that by the end you might by lured into a sneaking if entirely theoretical fandom.


Triomf by Marlene van Niekerk

I first read the South African novel, Triomf, in 1999 when it was translated from Afrikaans into English and was shocked, firstly, by the extraordinary violence of the emotional relationships described and, secondly, by how damn good the book was. The experience of reading Triomf was like holding a burning book in my hands; sparks kept flying off the page and threatening to set me alight. Perhaps, though, I was particularly flammable in those days and this second reading is my way of proving a certain middle aged fire-resistance.

Hope so.

Anyway, Triomf is the story of a family who live in the “white” working class neighbourhood of Triomf, a suburb that was built over the ruins of old Sophiatown, once a vibrant centre of “black” urban life in Johannesburg. I grew up within a stone’s throw of Triomf, a somewhat macabre idiom for the circumstance to be sure, and one that did not always remain in the figurative realm.


The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Tartt with two t’s I always say when recommending this book — but of course it really has three t’s, as one friend pointed out. And that is only the start of the beginning of the duplicities that occur when you first open this book.

I first opened this book in the mid-nineties when I was a student and I’ve since read it at least a half dozen times more. Every couple of years or so I’ve felt compelled to re-read it, I’ve lent it to friends and fellow sojourners, and gone through more than a few editions. My present copy is a threadbare thing, barely held together at the spine, and beach sand rains down softly whenever I open it because the last time I read it was two summer’s ago. If the books that we read, re-read, and become consumed by offer a beguiling if often deceptive account of our own obsessions then The Secret History has consistently kept its secret from me; the secret of why I return to it year after year even when I know every plot turn and twist.

The novel relates the story of a group of friends who attend a liberal arts college in New England. Eccentric, brilliant, somewhat depraved, and mildly hedonistic the friends are Greek scholars but the narrative veers rather more towards Pardoner’s Tale than Oedipus Rex. I loved it the first time I read it and every time since a little bit more. This summer I will read it again and — who knows — perhaps I’ll finally figure out why the secret of this History is so compelling.

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Méira Cook

Méira Cook is a Winnipeg writer and unrequited reader. Her first novel, The House on Sugarbush Road, will be released in September from Enfield & Wizenty.