Cardboard Gods: The Book

CG coverIn 2021, Cardboard Gods was named by Esquire as one of the 100 best baseball books ever written

In 2016, Cardboard Gods was named by The Sporting News as one of the twenty-five best baseball books of all time.

In 2011, Cardboard Gods was named as a Booklist Best Book of the Year.

In 2010, Cardboard Gods was named as a finalist for the 2010 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.

The hardcover is available here or here; the paperback is available here; the digital version is available here; and the audio version is available here.

Click here to go to the Cardboard Gods Facebook fan page and follow on twitter @Josh_Wilker.

The Cardboard Gods blurb-o-rama:

“Clever, witty, self-effacing, fun and poignant.” —Chicago Tribune

“A baseball-loving loner deciphers his complicated childhood through his old box of trading cards. . . . Wilker’s book is as nostalgically intoxicating as the gum that sweetened his card-collecting youth. [Grade:] A” —Entertainment Weekly

“Josh Wilker’s Cardboard Gods is a poignant and vivid account of how and why he accessed baseball cards as a survival tool while negotiating a 1970s childhood marked by changing mores and confusing mixed messages. This is a story of brotherly love, survival of the also-ran, and the hope that quickens a kid’s heartbeat each time he rips open a fresh pack of baseball cards, gets a whiff of bubble gum, and, holding his breath, sees who he’s got as opposed to who and what he needs. If you love the writing of Dave Eggers or Augusten Burroughs, you just may love Josh Wilker’s Cardboard Gods, too. I did.” Wally Lamb, author of The Hour I First Believed

“Josh Wilker writes as beautifully about baseball and life as anyone ever has.” Rob Neyer, ESPN

Cardboard Gods is more than just a book. It is something that I lived and live still. It could be my brother and me in that photograph, or my two sons, VW bus and all. Cardboard Gods awakened feelings in me that I have long suppressed. It is a growth novel, like The Catcher in the Rye. People, especially people who love baseball, will carry this book with them everywhere.” —Bill Lee, bestselling author of The Wrong Stuff, Red Sox legend, baseball bat entrepreneur

“Unforgettable…. like a seconds-long snippet of Sister Sledge’s We Are Family or a fleeting taste of a Marathon Bar, it summons time and place and nostalgia in a rush of feeling and memory. In Wilker’s hands, a pack of baseball cards becomes a Gen-X tarot deck, as if arranging them just so can unlock life’s secrets and chart a path to the future. Or, from the vantage point of that more complicated future, navigate us back to a past we didn’t appreciate enough as we lived it.”Ted Anthony, Associated Press

“Proust has his madeleine. Nick Hornby has his vinyl records. And when Josh Wilker wants to summon the past, he has the scent of bubblegum. . . . If Wilker had a baseball card, its back might read: Josh is one of 2010’s most promising literary players.” —Sports Illustrated

“A warm, rich and funny recollection of one American boyhood as viewed through the unimpeachable prism of baseball cards. Literate, nostalgic and sneaky fast.” Brendan Boyd, coauthor of The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book

“This is a story, at its heart, of growing up in America. More specifically it’s about growing up at a time when country, author, and the great American game of baseball were simultaneously in a state of flux. Hippies, post-Watergate Nixonites, parents, kids, teens, and even baseball—forever altered with the introduction of free agency—all grasping at a murky, anxious future. Josh Wilker, using seemingly random baseball cards pulled from his childhood, and the memories and metaphors they invoke, guides us through the restless and awkward story of his life (so far) with grace, pain, and ultimately vindication. In short, it’s a story about baseball and America and his (our) generation. I should note, though, that Canadians will like it too. But probably not Mexicans.” David Cross, comedian and author of I Drink for a Reason

“LYRICAL…. Cardboard Gods is also a worthy descendant of (Frederick Exley’s) A Fan’s Notes in showing that when it comes to sportswriting, what the games mean to its fans is often more interesting than the games themselves.”—New York Times Bats Blog 

“Every baseball card is a story, a player, a history eroding. Josh Wilker understands this profoundly, and scrambles to bring those stories, his stories, to life in uproarious and moving fashion. Just don’t put this book in your bike spokes.”
Will Leitch, author of God Save the Fan, New York magazine contributing editor, Deadspin founder

Cardboard Gods covers territory any boy whose heart pounded at the thought of the wax-paper packages will recognize. If you loved the game, you loved your cards, and you’ll love this book.”—Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“To say Josh Wilker writes beautifully about baseball, or boyhood—as he does—is to halve his ample achievement. Like Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes, Cardboard Gods nails the worshipful contortions and rueful ecstasies of fandom, and its pure dexterity with memory amounts to an athletic event of its own. Evocative, painful, affectionate and funny, Cardboard Gods is astonishing. Like Henry Aaron’s home run ball described herein, Wilker’s book wears its own halo.” Matthew Specktor, author of That Summertime Sound

“Wilker uses these frayed, sugar-scented relics of pre-Facebook kid culture as a means to understanding just what happened to him and his fractured family during the ’70s—and in doing so, he pays tribute to that lost decade’s zany awesomeness.” —AOL’s Asylum.com 

“Josh Wilker has pulled off as nifty of double play as Tinkers-Evers-and-Chance ever executed in Cardboard Gods, reimagining the baseball cards of his youth and effortlessly turning them into a lamp to shine on his own memories in this fascinating read.” Bert Randolph Sugar, author of Bert Sugar’s Baseball Hall of Fame: A Living History of America’s Greatest Game

“We never went bug-eyed over X-Boxes and flickering computers connected to the ‘net. We lost ourselves in baseball cards, our childhoods forever marked and remembered through through the greats and goofballs spread across our bedroom floors. In Josh Wilker’s wonderful book, Cardboard Gods, he reconnects all of us through those snarky, smart-ass and often confusing days of our youth. Thank goodness Mrs. Wilker never threw out those cards. Josh always knew they would be worth something.” Adrian Wojnarowski, bestselling author of The Miracle of St. Anthony

“Though baseball cards once introduced the world to Wilker, now they can introduce Wilker to the world.”—Time Out Chicago

Cardboard Gods is Josh Wilker’s heartfelt and often hilarious look back at life through the prism of classic late 1970s Topps baseball cards.” —Charleston Post and Courier

I love this book. Never read anything like it. I don’t know actually how or where to begin praising it. There’s so much rawness and nakedness, and at the same time a sense of discretion, of un-revealingness. The chapters are cards in themselves, cartoony and Salingeresque, wonderfully spare, tough and sensitive.” —Tony Whedon, author of A Language Dark Enough

“Without ever stating them explicitly, the book asks serious questions of fandom. What does it mean to make imaginary heroes of ordinary men, to make a religion of the statistics on the backs of baseball cards? At what point does fandom cross from being an interest to a lifestyle? As the book progresses, and Wilker struggles to at once free himself from the grip of the Cardboard Gods, and come to terms with his permanent seat at their altar, these questions become so poignant and pressing that it becomes almost impossible for the reader to continue without thinking these questions through for him or herself.” —Eric Nusbaum, pitchersandpoets.com


  1. If all books were this entertaining/insightful/funny/emotional/real, etc., I would have had more of an interest in reading as a kid. Borrowing from Josh’s perspective—I still have my cards and now this book. Maybe there’s still time for part of me to be a kid all over again. Thanks, Josh, for the glimpses and reminders that show me that my world as a kid wasn’t so far out there that at least one other person shared the same kind of love for these, before now unnamed, cardboard gods.

  2. The one thing I really like about the book is that it’s taken from a perspective of someone from Gen. X or from my Generation not the Baby Boom generation. It seems like 90% of these types of baseball books are taken from the perspective/time period of Baby Boomers as if people Born in the 60’s didn’t follow baseball in the 70’s or didn’t collect baseball cards or that their opinion doesn’t really matter because baseball became irrelevant after the mid 60’s.

    The Baby Boomer books usually have the self-important attitude that they stopped collecting baseball cards or following baseball during the “Summer of Love” or the “Summer of Woodstock” therefore everyone stopped collecting baseball cards or following baseball.

    Also Josh really captures what it felt like to be an adolescent/teen during that time period, and frankly I don’t think there’s been enough books written on the subject.

  3. I lived through the 1970’s just as Josh did, and I think he and I are the same age. My baseball card collecting roughly parallels his time frame, and I certainly can relate to the 70’s-related shit that he was going through. The generation gap was huge during that time, as reflected in the Ted Nugent concert chapter. I can’t imagine what it was like for fathers to see their kids go through that period with long hair and strange music. It was not the 50s anymore.

    Josh, did you ever ask your father about that day at the Garden when you saw (or thought you saw) Ted Nugent? I won’t give away the punch line to that chapter, but suffice it to say that it’s as memorable a concert experience as any I’ve ever read. And for the rest of you, if you are thinking about buying that book, that chapter alone is worth the price of omission. Not that the chapter is particularly hilarious; it isn’t. But it is quite profound and interesting and thought-provoking.

  4. Psychsound,

    I was born in Nov ’66 so I guess I’m roughly the same age as you and Josh. My card collecting was from ’74-81, so it parallels Josh’s book. I started collecting complete sets in ’82, but it never felt the same. Then, I collected a lot of cards in ’87, ’89-90 for some reason.

    I agree with you on the notion of the generation gap being huge during the late 70’s. 1978 was only 20 years after 1958 but it felt like 100 years because life had changed so drastically during the 60’s.

    My parents were about 10 years older than Josh’s parents and from France so the gap felt even larger to me.

    Josh also brings up the whole “Disco Sucks” movement and how many rules and how codified Rock music was at the time. To me, this always seemed to be in conflict with it’s original intention of freedom/rebellion/self-expression.

    I could never keep track of what bands you were supposed to like/dislike and in what year the bands “sold-out” or when they began to “suck” or when Rock peaked etc. The whole thing seemed so stupid and arbitrary to me.

  5. Josh: just wanted to say “thank you” for signing a copy of your book for me (via Ofer, whom I also thank), though I have to say, as fate would have it, that my flip-through reading experience happened to begin on pg.148, para 3 … and as a result, if the book were an NCAA bracket trash-talking mailing list, I’d have to unsubscribe from it as well … 😉

    Thanks again. Looking forward to the rest of what appears to be a great, unique read.

  6. I loved the book and am sad that my son can never have the same baseball card experience as we did in the 70s. There are no corner stores to walk to in my Chicago suburb. Cards are too expensive anyway.

    I’ve dreamed of opening a place that sells baseball cards, comic books and ice cream – with no parking lot, just a bike rack. I wonder how it would do?

  7. Like Josh, I began collecting cards in 1975 and the opening chapter made me feel eight years old again…”For a long time, I lived in an angelic state of stupidity and grace. I knew how to find happiness…all I needed was a quarter.”

    I rarely buy hardback books, but I made an exception with Cardboard Gods, a title that so perfectly describes the relationship that boys once had with baseball cards. I would savor or two card chapters at a time, forcing myself not to look ahead, often laughing outloud. About halfway through, I realized that the narrative was equally capable of exploring dark alleys far beyond the reach of any baseball book I had ever read. And finally, I understood that this was sublime literature exposing human nature by way of pop art. And the best part is, as long as Josh keeps writing, it doesn’t have to end.

  8. Finished your book the other night.
    Being a year younger than you, I identified with your story more than I thought I would.
    I have all of the cards you wrote about and even more than you didn’t.
    Thank you for keeping the memories of youth alive.

    If you wanna trade, hit me up.

  9. Josh,
    Great book brought back some great innocent memories. I bought my first pack from Woolworth’s in 1974. Living in Chicago the only card I remembered from that pack was Rickey Eugene Reuschel! Sorry I missed your book tour passing through Naperville, hopefully you’ll have another discussion about your book/baseball cards/life in the near future.

    Goodnight Wockenfuss!

  10. Thanks, Marlon.

  11. I also am around the same age as Josh and a child of the 70’s (born in 1968). Being in Canada the main game was (and is) hockey. Although I didn’t have the same obsession with hockey cards as Josh did with baseball, I did collect them as a kid [all from that era are lost, destroyed or given away]. The only childhood hockey collectable that “survived” was a badly beaten and crayon and glue defaced 1974-75 ‘NHL action players’. You got the rows of “stamps” to glue in the book when you bought ‘X’ amount at the grocery store Loblaws. My wife’s grandmother happened to have a copy of that book and many of the ‘stickers’ that she gave me. Between the 2 books, I was able to make one complete filled book. Also, have many books on hockey and hockey players and a couple baseball ones.

    Have been only a casual fan of baseball. Other than playing very unorganized games as a kid, playing lowest level Slo-Pitch as an adult for about a dozen years before getting a night job at a job quite like the one Josh had (loading trucks on a dock for a courier), and watching a couple games a year of the local baseball team (Thunder Bay Border Cats – Northwoods League), I haven’t had a great interest in baseball and collecting.

    I have read much of his website and bought and read Josh’s book “Cardboard Gods”. This has now got me looking up an obscure 1981 Bill Lee documentary, looking at Rollie Fingers cards on Ebay, and the like.

  12. I just finished listening to the audio book version, and this book was awesome! It brought back memories of my childhood, and of when I collected cards.

    I started collecting back in 1987, when I was 8 years old. I grew up on Long Island, and I rooted for the Mets. I found myself, around summer time, two cards short of having the full Mets team. My dad brought me to a card shop, where the two cards I needed cost him $3. $3…for two cards?!?! I could have bought 3 full packs for that! My parents chalked it up to the cards being in high demand, since it was the Mets, and because they had just won the World Series. Later that year, during a family trip, I was given a box of 500 different 1987 Topps baseball cards. Not one single card was a Met! Were they in that much of a demand?!?!

    Today, I no longer collect cards. My Cardboard Gods are now Paper Gods, as I collect Comic Books. I have actually thought about keeping a private journal, using the comic book covers I have, as references for my memories, much like how you used cards for yours.

    I plan to listen to the audio book again and again, as it was pleasurable and great to hear.

  13. I just re-read this book during our family’s quarantine because of the coronavirus pandemic. The stark reality of this virus and its horrible consequences have shaken the world. I wanted to read this book again as an escape to the horror and uncertainty that everyone I know is going through. But for the isolation of the epidemic, I confess it would probably be still collecting dust on my shelf.
    I really enjoyed it again, and admit to not having followed Mr. Wilker’s career or family since the book was originally published. Could you please tell me what your family members are doing now? To me, the central part of this book focused on the relationship between Josh and Ian. Are you still close? Do you see each other often? And your mom, Tom, etc?
    I loved the book. I love baseball and I collected many, many cards. The way your cards became the backdrop for your story was really fascinating and the book was a pleasure to read for the second time! Congratulations on writing such an outstanding, heartfelt story.

    Chip Rose–May 5, 2020–Michigan

  14. Ha – i just checked one of our local libraries and much to my surprise they have your book!!!
    I have to get it….they will throw it away if it is not kept in circulation

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