Fred C. Harris and Brendan C. Boyd

April 13, 2018

harris and boyd

Here are several things wrong with The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book:

  1. The title. Good lord, what a long and difficult to remember title! I’ve been steering people toward it for many years, and for most of those years I had to look up the title every time. And that’s just when I was steering people toward it in writing. Whenever I had the ill-advised compulsion to recommend it verbally, I would get about halfway in and abandon ship. “The Great American Bubble . . . uh, the Baseball Card Trading . . . ah, fuck it, never mind.”
  2. The fact that two guys wrote it. Good literature can’t be co-authored; the medium depends too much on the singularity of voice. Somehow, however, Fred C. Harris and Brendan C. Boyd did it. The interplay of their voices seems exactly like what I imagine was the genesis of the book: two men in their late twenties cracking each other up late into the night over beers, reminding me of all the nights I got drunk and talked and laughed with my friends in the back of the International Bar near the pulsing jukebox and seemingly so far from the era of our childhood that we usually ended up talking about, just like Fred C. Harris and Brendan C. Boyd.
  3. Its lack of structure. Slapped between its covers are two longer essays in the front, one short essay in the back, and a bunch of scattered sketches in the middle. The essays are probably just fine—I don’t remember. I haven’t read them since I first read the book. On the other hand, the sketches, which take up under a hundred total pages—some pages jammed with text and the cards they’re describing, others with just a few words and asymmetrical chasms of white space, still others that are odd little thematic one-offs, such as a page with pictures of umpires backed by the word “Boo” repeated over and over, another populated by a long list of baseball nicknames—have brought me back countless times, never in any particular order. You can just open the book like the I-Ching and read any sketch and be lifted smiling out of the unstructured malaise of life. (It’s also arguably the world’s greatest book to read on the shitter.)
  4. The lack of an overarching narrative. All my favorite books—On the Road, The Catcher in the Rye, A Fan’s Notes, Jesus’ Son, The Basketball Diaries, A Mother’s Kisses—grab me and pull me through the story of a life. This book doesn’t bother with that. Why then do I love it so much?
  5. That it may have caused me to waste my life. I first read it in the late 1990s, on the recommendation of one of my International Bar cronies, Pete. I was about the same age as the authors, and their hilarious, skewering odes to the journeymen of their childhood surely had something to do with my decision, a couple years later, to stave off insanity while spending a winter in a cabin with no electricity or running water by writing about my own childhood journeymen in a notebook by the light of a kerosene lamp. It’s been nineteen years now, and I’m still writing about my journeymen. The longhairs who wrote this book did it once, got it right, and moved on with their lives. I keep trying to get it right, but the truth is no one will ever do it as good as these guys did.

* * *

In related news, I’ll be appearing alongside some great writers—Dan Epstein, Joe Bonomo, and Ricky Cobb—and will be reading from my own work and the miraculous output of Fred C. Harris and Brendan C. Boyd this coming Tuesday, April 17, at the American Writers Museum in Chicago. For more details please check out the link here.


  1. All those things may be 100% true, but it’s still an unbelievably awesome book that I stumbled across somewhere when I was much younger, and still own & prize to this day.

  2. Own the book… but haven’t sat down and read it (yet). Love the cover design though.

  3. I am not sure how, but my baseball path of 43 years has never crossed with that book. I have read many great things about it over the years, but never tracked down a copy. I should try to find one soon.

  4. I Love this Book. Along with Your Book Josh, the 2 Greatest Books written using Baseball Cards as it’s Main Driving Point. Thank you Guys!

  5. I finally got around to reading this book and, as a child of the fifties,(born in 1943) am glad I did. I paid Amazon five bucks for it and the copy which came from a used book dealer appeared to have been sent straight from someone’s shitter to me. The germs had probably died of old age though since it smelled like no one had opened it for decades. I had owned most of the cards at one time in my life and had a Robin Roberts glove as a kid. Also saw Suitcase Simpson hit a homer at one of the few ML games I attended as a youth. Many of the pop culture names mentioned will be not be remembered by those born after 1960, but for old timers like me this book is gold. Thanks for mentioning it again, Josh.

  6. I JUST bought a copy of this book for a friend, and I spent way too much time rereading it for the 800th time. I’m so glad to see that you enjoyed that book too, Josh, and I can pay you no higher praise than to say that your work has touched me as palpably as did theirs…keep on keeping on, Josh!!

  7. I must REiterate… the best ONE-TWO punch in American Literature… … oh, screw that… in ALL OF LITERATURE EVER OF ALL TIME DON’T EVEN BOTHER TO CHALLENGE ME WITH THIS BECAUSE YOU WILL MOST ASSUREDLY LOSE… “TGABCFTABGB” and Roger Ebert’s “I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie.” You could look ’em up.

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