"From here on in, I rag nobody."
Our book first begins with Henry, a pitcher for the New York Mammoths, receiving a phone call from his friend, Bruce, in Minnesota asking him to fly from Chicago to meet him. Shortly after, we learn that Bruce is suffering from Hodgkin's disease (cancer of the blood), a fatal illness for which there is no cure. Henry keeps Bruce's illness a secret so Bruce, a catcher, can still play baseball, and even asks for a condition of his contract to be that he and Bruce stay together. As the season goes on, Bruce is the subject of ridicule and pranks from his teammates, but as news of his illness spreads among them, the team rallies to keep the catcher on the team. Per Charles Poore of the New York Times, 1956, "In its elementals, Bang the Drum Slowly has two familiar themes. One is the story of the way a doomed man may spend his last best year on earth. The other is the story of how a quarrelsome group of raucous individualists is welded into an effective combat outfit."
While Bang the Drum Slowly is a book centered around baseball, it is not just about baseball. In fact, you could say it isn't really about baseball at all. Time is fleeting. This is something that becomes incredibly apparent as we see Henry face the knowledge that his friend his dying and become more aware of his own mortality. When you are young, as Henry and Bruce are, death isn't something you think about. It is way ahead in the future. Bruce's illness is stark reminder of the human condition. Death, eventually, finds us all.
So with that, let's move on to some discussion points. If you missed the introduction in January, you can check it out here.
The title of this book, Bang the Drum Slowly, actually comes from a line in the song "The Streets of Laredo", a song about a cowboy that dies young. Do you think that title is appropriate? Can and should baseball players be compared to cowboys?
There were other themes prevalent in this book other than the mortality of man. Which ones did you notice?
Harris used a very interesting narrating technique in telling his story by having Henry narrate in his own vernacular. I read in a review someone refer to him as "Huck Finn in a baseball uniform". Does that add anything to the story? Would you have preferred the author to have used a different technique?
I listened to a little of the book via audiobook and found it very interesting, specifically because of the narration. Did anyone listen to the book this way?
There was, again, some great nicknames in this book, like Henry "Author" Wiggen. Any you liked?
Michele, Henry's daughter and first child, is born as his friend Bruce is dying. What, if any, do you think is the significance of this?
How, if at all, do you think the story changes if the Mammoths were playing poorly? Would the players have been as sympathetic?
This book was written in 1956. Has it stood the test of time? Is it still relatable to the modern reader?
Do you think it is "better" to die young, during life's "prime", or live a long life, declining into old age? What about baseball careers? Do you think it is better to "go out on top" or play for a long as possible, even if the best days are long gone?
We all remember the terrible tragedy that resulted in the untimely passing of the Cardinals young and promising rightfielder, Oscar Taveras. Did you find yourself thinking of that at all while reading this book? Did you notice any parallels from reality to fiction?
Are there any other stray observations or topics you would like to discuss?
Later this week, I will introduce the final Viva el Libro for this off season, but, so we can get our books as soon as possible, I will let you know what it is. With baseball just around the corner, I think a book like Once More Around the Park will lead in perfectly.
Previous Viva el Libros Books:
i. The Summer of Beer and Whiskey, Edward Achorn: Intro; Recap