NWAW’s October book recommendations

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly

Take Me Out to the Yakyu
By Aaron Meshon
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013

Although baseball may be America’s pastime, the sport’s appeal has expanded to include a global audience.

In children’s book “Take Me Out to the Yakyu,” one little boy shares with readers his love for the sport as he compares his experiences while attending a baseball game in the United States and a baseball game in Japan. The little boy chronicles every last detail of his game-going experiences, including which grandfather attends the game with him, how they get to the stadium, the various snacks and concessions and what the fans cheer and sing during the seventh-inning stretch. He also shares what happens after the games.

While the United States and Japan may be halfway around= the world from each other, “Take Me Out to the Yakyu” shows us that we may not be that different from one another. The young hero of our story eats different foods and buys different souvenirs during the two games, but in the end, we all want the same thing at a sporting event: To have fun and watch our team win.

Since it is so easy to point out what makes us different, it is also important to be able to acknowledge and then look past those differences to see how we are the same. And in learning what makes us the same, we find it easier to connect with others.

Readers also will enjoy just learning what makes a Japanese baseball game different from an American baseball game as author Meshon includes a few (basic) technical details about how the two games are scored differently as well as the Japanese terminology for various aspects of the game.

The Great Tamasha: Cricket, Corruption and the Spectacular Rise of Modern India
By James Astill
Bloomsbury, 2013

When India was still under British rule, the game of cricket was a way for the English living in the country to differentiate themselves from the natives.

But it wasn’t long until Indians started playing cricket as well, bringing their own sense of style to the game – eventually showing the British that they can play the game just as well as anyone.

“The Great Tamasha” is the story of cricket in India and how the sport took shape in the country. Astill juxtaposes the sport’s rise in India with India’s rise into the modern world. According to Astill, Indian princes who loved cricket used the sport to help their principalities thrive. He also chronicles how the sport was not immune to the corruption, nepotism and “back scratching” seen in other parts of high Indian society.

Looking at history through the lens of sport is an interesting and unique way to learn how India came into its own after centuries of foreign rule.

If more historical texts were written in this way – through a specific aspect of society (such as sports, music or literature) – it would make history much more interesting to those who may find heavy, no-nonsense textbooks a bit dry.

Astill also makes many observations of the ways that cricket in India reflected Indian society. Players would split up into teams based on religions, with players of one religion playing against those of another. One team was made up of members from smaller religions; they called themselves “The Rest.” And just as the Yankees and Red Sox have a fierce, ongoing rivalry, Indian cricket also has a major rivalry between two teams: the Hindus and the Muslims. When these two teams played, it was a game no one wanted to miss.

Hideki Matsui: Sportsmanship, Modesty, and the Art of the Home Run
By Shizuka Ijuin
Ballantine Books, 2007

When Ichiro Suzuki made his way across the Pacific Ocean to play for the Seattle Mariners in 2001, Japanese baseball fans began speculating which player would be next to play in the major leagues.

That player was Hideki Matsui, who signed to play for the New York Yankees in 2002.

In this book, Ijuin follows the career of Matsui as he makes the transition from Japanese baseball to American baseball. Having known the ballplayer for many years, Ijuin writes Matsui’s story from his own point of view, in first-person perspective. Given his shared history with Matsui, Ijuin’s tone throughout the book is one a proud parent would have as they watch their son or daughter succeed. And with Ijuin’s wife referring to the ballplayer as “my boy,” it is no surprise that the couple saw him as a surrogate son.

Throughout the story, readers will see Matsui’s endless modesty, which he manages to maintain as he becomes one of the best hitters in Japan. His love of the game is clear, and he constantly shows how lucky he feels to be able to play for a living.

For people who really only know about Ichiro, it might be interesting to read about another player’s transition into the American big leagues. And while Ijuin discusses a lot about how the game itself was different for Matsui, he also showed sides of the baseball player off the field – visiting Ground Zero almost immediately after arriving in the United States, sending relief money to earthquake and tsunami survivors and other acts of modesty and humility.

In a society where it is common to see celebrities and public figures act on their overinflated egos, Matsui’s story is one that gives hope that there are still decent people in the world who won’t let a little money and fame change them. (end)

Samantha Pak can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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