Sunday, April 06, 2008


Fifty pages into the Japanese book Shakespeare and Baseball, and I've discovered that baseball's roots lie in a small village in England, where maidens milking cows often threw pepples at the neighbouring farmers as they passed on by.

I think.

The danger when attempting to read anything above the alphabet in a foreign language is that there's a great possibility, if not probability, of totally misunderstanding what you've read.

The first part of the book traces the origins of baseball itself from varius games involving hard round objects that were created by peasants in England. Now I'm at the part where British folks are coming over on the Mayflower, and introducing various forms of these sports to the Yanks. And, at some point, the game of baseball as we know it was created; I just haven't got to that part yet.

How all this ties into Shakespeare, I have no freakin' clue.

But the author seems to be having a good time. As I mentioned before, when the Japanese pursue something, they pursue it, and the author mentions how he was invited to a modern-day simulation of one of the old, British-style games, this one reenacted by folks in seventeenth century outfits somewhere in New England. And, sure enough, there's the author, in a black-and-white photo, grinning broadly, surrounded by fellow sporting enthusiasts. He is pursuing his passion, and it shows.

What I like about attempting to read a foreign language is that you feel like you earn every word you comprehend. Every idea that seems to make even a fair bit of sense by the time you finally reach the end of a sentence is a cause for internal celebration. Unless I'm reading science stuff, or math stuff, reading English itself rarely feels like work; it's a groove I get into, period. But reading Japanese is so damn hard, and takes so damn long, that I feel almost, well, proud of finishing a page. It's actually quite a feeling, becoming a little bit literate after years of work. I still move my lips when I read Japanese, but that, too, is something I enjoy; I feel myself trying, and in this modern, media-blitzed age of inertia, actually feeling something is not a quality one should dismiss so easily.

So, I'll keep plugging away at it. I'm gradually realizing that this is a book about baseball, more than Shakespeare; scanning the author's credits, I see that he's also written Japanese books about Babe Ruth and the old Negro Leagues, so that's obviously his forte. Yet I can sense where the book is leading; an examination of how games and stories migrated, shifted, changed forms.

Like the reading of the language itself, that's only my 'sense' of things, and the book could quite likely change course and go in a radically different direction.

If it does, I might not understand completely where it's going, but getting lost in translation along the way will be half the fun.