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Cynthia Ozick has a sterling reputation as a writer of fiction and essays. I can’t attest to this reputation as I’ve read none of her fiction and only a handful of her essays. But I believe she’s a good writer.

Two weeks ago, she wrote an essay about Bernard Malamud in the New York Times Book Review because the Library of America has published two volumes of a projected three-volume, complete-Malamud collection. It was a well-crafted essay, intelligent, respectful of Malamud who was a giant of American fiction.

Late in the essay, she mentioned “The Natural,” Malamud’s first published novel. It is a great great novel set in a mythical baseball world. In fact, it is a mythical novel. And although it is not only about baseball, or even mainly about baseball, it uses baseball for its framework. Got that?

In a footnote, Ozick proclaimed — bragged? — she never read The Natural because it’s about baseball. When I read the footnote two weeks ago, I raised an eyebrow.

Today, Artie Spander sent me a link to the e-edition of the article, and that made me think again about Ozick’s review. The e-article omits the footnote. So, I can’t quote the exact footnote and I apologize for that. But, believe me, Ozick has not read The Natural, although she’s had 62 years to get around to it — it was published in 1952. My paperback edition (Avon) is only 217 pages. Ozick could have read the book in a leisurely afternoon, gritting her teeth if she had to.

It seems snobby to me to reject reading an American classic because it involves baseball. Malamud didn’t feel baseball was beneath him. Philip Roth, John Updike, Ring Lardner, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Mark Harris, George Plimpton, Jacques Barzun, to name a few, wrote about baseball. Didn’t feel the national pastime was beneath them.

The way she looked down at baseball makes Ozick seem kind of snooty tooty. Is that how she wants to come off?

In her New York Times essay she wrote, “The Natural stands tonally apart from Malamud’s other work.”

In what sense is The Natural tonally apart from Malamud’s other work? I mean, how could Ozick know since she’s never bothered to read The Natural?

This reading lapse on Ozick’s part is more than snobby. It’s irresponsible. Look, Malamud wrote three great novels — The Natural, The Assistant, The Fixer — and four or five of the greatest short stories in American Literature. Ozick is telling us she has not read one-third of Malamud’s best novels. That’s a big reading gap. Inexcusable in a reviewer. Couldn’t the Times have paid for someone who actually read the complete Malamud?

I believe Ozick would enjoy The Natural. And baseball is easy to get — nine innings, each team gets three outs per inning, nine guys on each side. A cinch.

Cynthia, if you ever want to read the book, I’ll gladly send you my copy.

Footnote with a footnote: Spander just emailed me Ozick’s footnote. Here goes:

“This reviewer has not read and is not likely ever to read The Natural, a baseball novel said to incorporate a mythical theme. Myth may be myth, but baseball is still baseball, so never mind.”

 
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Comments

19 Comments

  1. Jack Orion

    Ozick might have a pet-peeve of debut novels (I know I do). Nobody speaks well of her debut, Trust.

    I liked The Natural when I was a kid. Liked The Tenants when I got into Malamud–thought that one was underrated.

    Haven’t read Roth’s baseball novel because people tell me it stinks.

    March 24th, 2014 2:52 pm

  2. MP

    Lowell,

    I understand your vexation. My wife wouldn’t read the book or see the movie, A River Runs Through It because ‘fishing is boring’.

    March 24th, 2014 2:54 pm

  3. John Sousa

    My wife hates baseball. Growing up she felt neglected because my mother in-law would shush if the A’s game was on the Radio. She says this is why she can’t read “Underworld” by Don Delillo because of its baseball frame. What a terrific novel.

    March 24th, 2014 3:58 pm

  4. chris

    maybe she saw the movie instead……lol. Snobby snooty tooty…………good ones Lowell!!

    March 24th, 2014 5:55 pm

  5. tom clements

    hey, lowell, if you haven’t already get a copy of “The Art of Fielding” — there’s a great novel that has everything (and nothing) to do with baseball. And everything (and nothing) to do with “Moby Dick”. Looks like Cynthia misses out on A LOT.

    March 24th, 2014 6:15 pm

  6. Dr. Feelgood

    It’s a lesson in the effects of personal bias. We all have them.
    The need to justify our negative preferences, to make them more “valid”, reveals a flaw.
    You like chocolate, I like vanilla, so let’s fight! Why do we do that?
    It’s better that I not talk about at all about chocolate.
    So what’s the point of retribution toward anyone who doesn’t like the same books, or sports, or WHATEVER, that we may hold dear.
    Maybe she truly loathes baseball and everything associated with it- what’s wrong with that?
    Give it a rest.
    The idea of sending a copy to Ms. Ozick, along with your viewpoints, is an excellent idea. That give and take could be quite interesting. Would love to hear about it.

    March 24th, 2014 8:25 pm

  7. Stan

    If you don’t know anything about the sport of baseball,how can you buy into the myth of “The Natural” ? It was snooty though of her not to acknowledge that their is no point of HER reading the book,since she is ignorant of the sport.
    But,that might have taken more truth then she can admit.
    To her… a bat is just wood. It only represents termites.

    March 24th, 2014 8:33 pm

  8. Stan

    On another blog I might have said it represents something..uh,.else to her,and that deters her from reading the book
    . But I know the rules here..wink.wink.

    March 24th, 2014 8:35 pm

  9. MRO

    First of all, “Artie” Spander? I thought he was Art.

    Not liking baseball is like not liking ice cream. Makes no sense.

    March 24th, 2014 9:01 pm

  10. CohnZohn

    MRO, Spander is my friend. I call him Artie. Ira Miller calls him Artie. Is that OK by you?

    March 24th, 2014 9:12 pm

  11. Brady

    If there’s one thing I learned studying english, it’s that a great book is never about its subject; the subject is merely a platform for the meaning, sentiment, philosophy, or idea.

    The Natural isn’t about baseball. It just uses baseball as the vehicle. I think that a great reader (which can be the key – perhaps Ozick is not actually a great reader) would like a great book, even if its subject was a cardboard factory.

    March 24th, 2014 10:16 pm

  12. mendozaline

    “On Oct. 21, 1976, Bernard Malamud made an entry in his notebook: “Bellow gets Nobel Prize, I win $24.25 in poker.” Saul Bellow and Malamud are two sides of a coin minted at an early 20th-century immigrant bank: on the one, the all-embracing, belligerent, polyamorous Caesar; on the other, the dutiful grocer’s son.”

    from

    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303730804579435001129600812

    March 24th, 2014 11:18 pm

  13. Steve the cat rescuer

    This reminds me of a recommendation I made to someone whose favorite writer is Joyce Carol Oates. I suggested she read On Boxing, but she wrinkled her nose and said, “I hate boxing, I will never read that.” Too bad, maybe her best work.

    March 24th, 2014 11:44 pm

  14. Brian in Oakland

    Lowell, how about a letter to the editor? Seems like you have the stuff for a good one.

    March 25th, 2014 9:41 am

  15. Streetglide

    Okay, I’ll step up to the plate: I find writers, artists, musicians, politics and probably food from New York the City incredibly superficial. No, pompous, make that pompous. Or maybe bloviated flatulence. Yeah, like that line in Catcher in the Rye where he says his teacher smelled like lilacs and s**t.

    The only place I’ve seen the same attitude in Sactown is in the parking lot of the local Food Co-Op. Those people will kill you with thier Prius, each and every one of them showing the are more damn conscious than you, now get out of my way I’m i-m-p-o-r-t-a-n-t, can’t you see my Equal sticker and my Sierra Club decal? No but I can see your nose hair and those ear muffs growing out of your hearing apparatus.

    I can take so much baseball. More than I can take of basketball which is zilch. Good word, “zilch.” But the times they are a changin’ so who knows, maybe in my dotage I’ll listen to the Giants on an old tube-type Philco in the front room with my dog who does not smell like lilacs…

    March 25th, 2014 12:32 pm

  16. Streetglide

    Yeah, I know it’s “their” and you’re from Brooklyn, not Manhattan, big difference… and is it Prius’, Prius’s, Priusses, what would Strunk do? I vote “Fords…”

    March 25th, 2014 1:51 pm

  17. NeverWrong

    Superficial and pompous writers such as Dostoyevsky, Euripides, Christopher Marlowe, Tennessee Williams, Chekhov, Racine, and Pascal were zilch on basketball, too, Streetglide. So you have something in common with writers, whether you like it or not.

    March 25th, 2014 9:52 pm

  18. Streetglide

    Don’t recognize those names as folks from New York City NW. What’s you point?

    March 26th, 2014 6:47 am

  19. NeverWrong

    Sorry, Strgld, I didn’t grok “from New York the City.” Got it now. Changes the meaning of your post entirely for my re-read. I was off.

    March 26th, 2014 7:11 pm

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