Growing up, I never could have imagined that I would write a book. In those days, I could barely imagine reading a book … unless it was something by Alfred Slote or Matt Christopher or someone like that. I remember when I was 8 or 9, my mother decided it was time I read Moby Dick. If someone had told me at any point during that agonizing process that I would write a book, any book, I would have undoubtedly thrown Moby Dick at them. And, as you know if your mother made you read Moby Dick, that would have hurt.
My first book, The Soul of Baseball, was, as the cliche goes, a labor of love. I traveled around the country with Buck O’Neil and wrote about the wisdom and joy of my friend. That book was more a calling than anything else, and I will never be prouder of a project than I am of that book. I’ll have a little more to say about Buck and callings in the next few days, by the way. There’s something very exciting happening there.
My second book, The Machine, is about the 1975 Reds and it is meant only to be fun. There are no grand literary aspirations in there (as if I have the talent to muster grand literary aspirations). There’s a lot of swearing. I had considered writing a lot of different kinds of books, most of them along the lines of Soul, but decided that what I really wanted was to write a romping baseball book from the time of my childhood, and that’s what I tried to do.
My third book … well, three is a magic number, isn’t it? I learned that back in the Schoolhouse Rock days. This time around, I really wanted to go for everything, I wanted to take on the project of my life, something that would get at how I feel about sports and life and competition and fairness and unfairness and the world around us.
Well, it’s not that easy to put together a project that can do all those things … and all the wordless things that I did not include there. I had two or three false starts. I came up with several projects that I would still like to write, but not yet, not now, not until I took on something really big and bold and exciting and meaningful.
In the last few weeks, that something big started to come together. I mentioned it in passing in a couple of interviews, teased it on Twitter, but did not say anything because … well, sure, I didn’t want it to fall apart. Well, it’s now signed.
So my announcement is that I will take the next 18 months or so to write a book for Simon & Schuster about the life and impact of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.
I cannot begin to describe how excited I am about this project. I am, as you could probably tell from my previous stories on the man, a huge fan and admirer of Joe’s. But even more than that I am endlessly fascinated by him and his lifelong quest to do something large, to impact America, through football. So writing about Joe, his triumphs, his struggles, his journey, well, it really is everything I’ve ever wanted to do as a writer. I’ll be living in State College this fall, so you can stop in and see me.
My plan is to continue to write for SI and to blog, though the numbers (and, gasp, word count) will undoubtedly diminish a bit. I don’t think I’m the kind who can just disappear into a cave and emerge with a book … I shut down this blog once before to work on a book and three months later started writing even longer posts. So I won’t try that again. We’ll just see how it plays out.
In the meantime, thank you all so much for your support and your kind words and your criticisms and your spelling corrections … this blog has been one of the great experiences of my life. I said above that as a child I never would have believed that I would write even one book. But I feel sure that if you somehow could have explained to me what a blog was when I was 10 years old, I would have thought, even then, “Yeah, that sounds like fun.”