Shoeless Joe Book Club Discussion – Day 3

Shoeless Joe Book Club Discussion – Day 3

Hi everyone! I’m back with the discussion questions for Day 3 of our book club discussion of Shoeless Joe. As always, you can leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments here or over on the C. S. Literary Jewelry Facebook page.

  • W.P. Kinsella used the real-life author, J.D. Salinger, as a major character in the book. Why do you think he did that instead of creating a fictional author?
  • Do you think that there are elements and themes in Salinger’s writing (particularly Catcher in the Rye) that apply to Shoeless Joe?
  • Both Salinger and Shoeless Joe are subject to a certain amount of hero worship and notoriety. What are your thoughts on how fame, success, and being a celebrity is treated in the book?

Want to catch up on commenting or see what other book club members had to say? Click here to see our full discussion so far.

P.S. Don’t miss this week’s Friday Favorites collection of great, handmade and vintage baseball themed items from the Etsy marketplace. Check it out here.

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8 Responses to Shoeless Joe Book Club Discussion – Day 3

  1. I think that kinsella used Salinger as a way to pay to tribute to someone he obliviously well as you can maybe get people that are interested in Salinger to maybe try out his book and vice versa. I think in some ways it’s easier then making up a fictional author because you don’t have to explain their books or how famous they are because the people reading the book will most likely know about them.

    I sadly have not read the catcher in the rye. I’m really hoping to very soon.

    I like that Ray does seem some what awe struck by the celebrity of shoeless joe and of Salinger but kinsell also doesn’t go to extreme where it feels too obese or fake.

    • I get what you are saying Leslie but I think that Kinsella chose J. D. Salinger very specifically for Shoeless Joe. I mean, the movie version used a made-up author, Terrance Mann who was played by James Earl Jones, and the story worked just fine. I can’t imagine Field of Dreams without that character because JEJ did a beautiful job with the role. But there is so much of Catcher in the Rye in Shoeless Joe that I think Kinsella finally had to put Salinger in as a character just to be fair.

  2. I have to be honest. I’ve read and enjoyed Shoeless Joe before without having read any J.D. Salinger. I tried to read Catcher in the Rye years ago and was overwhelmed by the urge to smack Holden Caulfield. I figured that life is full of obnoxious people that I have to keep myself from smacking. I didn’t need it from fictional people too. But the truth is that I didn’t read far enough to get to the reasons why Holden was the way he was and I wasn’t mature enough or experienced enough to see beneath Holden’s whole phoney-hating routine. I made another attempt at reading Catcher last year and was surprised by how much my opinion of the book changed.

    So when reading Shoeless Joe this time around, I was really interested to see how my new-found appreciation of Salinger and Catcher in the Rye would influence my thoughts on the book. The first thing that came to me is that the whole concept of the book might have been influenced by Salinger. Instead of The Catcher in the Rye, we have Ray’s father, a catcher in the corn.

    In Catcher, Salinger writes about a baseball glove that Alfie, Holden’s little brother, use to have. It had poetry written on it in green ink so that Alfie would have something to read while he was waiting in the outfield. This baseball glove takes on a special meaning to Holden after his brother passes away and really represents a happier, more innocent time that Holden desperately wants to get back to. I see so many connections between Alfie’s baseball glove and Shoeless Joe. The nostalgia and mourning of lost innocence, the longing for a lost loved one who loved the game, the combination of baseball and poetry, it’s all in Shoeless Joe.

    Another thing that I see connecting the two is the scene in Catcher in the Rye where Holden goes to the American Museum of Natural History. He likes the museum because the exhibits – especially the dioramas – never change. Holden is deeply anxious about the changes that growing older will bring so he is comforted by the thought of an unchanging past. Ray is also facing an uncertain and unsettling future. The life of an American farmer who is connected to and loves his land is being threatened by corporate greed and increasingly mechanized and impersonal model of producing food. Ray’s brother in law and business partner represent a future where farmers working their land is replaced by computers and big business. But baseball, especially the timeless vision of baseball represented by Shoeless Joe, Moonlight Graham and the others, is a comfort to Ray. The irony is that both the dioramas that Holden finds so comforting and the rosy picture of baseball as Ray sees it are somewhat artificial and don’t necessarily reflect reality.

    And if all the similarities between Catcher and Shoeless Joe weren’t enough, Kinsella actually puts Salinger in the book as a major character. I think he did that partially because Shoeless Joe does owe so much of itself to Catcher in the Rye. It seems only fair that Salinger, himself, be there to keep an eye on the proceedings. But I also think that Salinger and Shoeless Joe are very similar in that they both brushed up again the American Dream and it cost them more than they expected. I mean, how many boys grow up dreaming about being a major league baseball player and playing the World Series? And how often do we hear about the dream of writing the “great American novel?” Both Joe and Jerry achieve what so many people only dream about but in doing so, they lose the joy of doing what they love. Ray’s baseball field allows both Shoeless Joe and J.D. Salinger to step away from the weight and pitfalls of their success and to regain their dreams in a purer, more innocent way. Just as Holden, watching his sister ride the carousel at the end of Catcher in the Rye, can finally be “so goddam happy.”

  3. I just thought of another reason why Kinsella might have put Salinger in the book. In Catcher in the Rye, Holden says:

    “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”
    ― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

    Shoeless Joe is already a fantasy about getting to meet a hero of yours and be his friend, even if it is impossible and by introducing Salinger as a character, both Kinsella and Ray get to live out that fantasy with a literary hero in a way that clicks so beautifully with something that the author actually wrote.

  4. Thanks Leslie. Maybe we should add Catcher to the list of possible books to discuss or you can pick it up when you have a little more room on your dance card for a new book.

  5. I wish I’d read this book when it was first released. Since then, so much has been written about Salinger’s personal life that it’s hard to see him as the avuncular traveling companion who allows himself to be kidnapped, sees another man’s vision, and gets to disappear into the dream. But –

    Your summary of how Holden and his walkabout parallels the book is so good ! The funny thing is that I’ve always been a Salinger fan despite (!) Catcher . My connection is through the Glass family stories, especially Franny and Zooey. The central imagery in those writings is compassion – the most basic goal is seeing things for what they are despite what they seem. Bessie’s chicken soup is as holy as the quotes written on the wall (but not in green ink…) in the brothers’ childhood bedroom.

    In a sense, Salinger in this book achieves a transcendence because as a novelist, he can take the essence of human interactions and distill it into a universal narrative — and baseball is our great American narrative. The ancient baseball wisdom is our Lao
    Tse or Epictetus. Salinger behind the wall will learn truths – achieve nirvana. He has no pressing responsibilities the way Ray does, so he is free to go to the next level.

    • “Baseball is our great American narrative…”

      I love this point you make, Melanie. I agree that Baseball is our national narrative. I took a class in college called Heroes and Warriors where we read the heroic epics of several different cultures (The Iliad, Beowulf, The Song of Roland, etc.) and looked at how the concept of the hero evolved over time and what the characteristics of each hero (what made him a hero and what were his tragic flaws) said about the culture that produced the work.

      As a country, we don’t have an Achilles or a Beowulf or a King Arthur. We have Casey at bat and Babe Ruth and Shoeless Joe. Our heroes tell us what we admire and strive to be and in order for them to function like that we need our storytellers distilling the narrative for us.

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