Crowd Sounds Happy: A Story of Love, Madness, and Baseball

Crowd Sounds Happy: A Story of Love, Madness, and Baseball

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by Nicholas Dawidoff

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Growing up in a doomed hometown with a missing father and a single mother, Nicholas Dawidoff listened to baseball every night on his bedside radio, the professional ballplayers gradually becoming the men in his life. A portrait of a childhood shaped by a stoical, enterprising mother, a disturbed, dangerous father, the private world of baseball, and the awkwardness of


Growing up in a doomed hometown with a missing father and a single mother, Nicholas Dawidoff listened to baseball every night on his bedside radio, the professional ballplayers gradually becoming the men in his life. A portrait of a childhood shaped by a stoical, enterprising mother, a disturbed, dangerous father, the private world of baseball, and the awkwardness of first love, The Crowd Sounds Happy is the moving tale of a spirited boy's coming-of-age in troubled times.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Bruce Schoenfeld
…a painfully evocative memoir of a joyless youth in New Haven, Conn.…the crackle of Dawidoff's writing and his unstinting, if occasionally overbearing, sensitivity make his unfortunate journey compelling.
—The Washington Post
Sam Stephenson
Nicholas Dawidoff's memoir, The Crowd Sounds Happy, is a successor to [Russell Baker's] Growing Up, and it deserves as much attention. Dawidoff, at 45, is a generation younger than Baker (he was 19 when the 57-year-old Baker came out with his book in 1982), and his story is more complicated, involving not his father's death but something perhaps more insidious, mental illness. The book grew out of Dawidoff's New Yorker magazine article, "My Father's Troubles," published in 2000, and he expands the father-son focus into a beautiful portrait of a wounded family…The voice in The Crowd Sounds Happy is inquisitive and graceful while sparing no pain, and it makes one wish Dawidoff had a broader platform, like Russell Baker's old New York Times column.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Dawidoff (The Fly Swatter) brilliantly takes the reader through his journey of childhood struggles in this moving memoir. Uprooted from Washington, D.C., at the age of three, Dawidoff moved north with his sister, Sally, and mother to begin a new life in New Haven, Conn. There, the author reveals the beginning of his love affair with baseball, first with the New York Mets before changing his allegiance to the Boston Red Sox. The national pastime provided Dawidoff some of his happiest moments growing up, amid a world of pain-most of which evolved from his father's debilitating mental illness that made weekend visits to Manhattan unbearable as he grew older. Other struggles from his boyhood-from the typical adolescent bullying and first experiences with love to the devastating death of his beloved Aunt Susi-are told in vivid and heartbreaking detail. Simultaneously, Dawidoff paints a picture of his remarkable mother, who selflessly provided for him and his sister. It's the Red Sox-baseball's then longtime losers-that provide Dawidoff the most happiness, because of the parallels he draws with his own life: "I was grateful to the Red Sox for taking me out of myself, giving me something to anticipate, for not being too happy themselves." (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Dawidoff offers a superbly written elegiac memoir combining a child's love of baseball with an emerging understanding of the role mental illness plays in destroying love, life, and simple pleasures, notably radio broadcasts of Red Sox games serving to induce sleep as a fan's joy deflects the fears of childhood. Essential reading for anyone who wishes a balm for heartbreaks in youth, torn family life, love, and seventh-game losses.

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
“A beautiful portrait of a wounded family.... The Crowd Sounds Happy is inquisitive and graceful.”—The New York Times“Marvelous.... Whether he’s regaling us with the biographies of the ‘75 Red Sox, describing rundown...New Haven and New York in the mid 1970s, or painting a heartbreakingly nuanced portrait of his relationship with his parents, you’ll simply want the story—his story—to continue on and on.” —Chicago Tribune“Evocative.... The crackle of Dawidoff’s writing and his unstinting...sensitivity make his...journey compelling.”—The Washington Post“Poignant and darkly funny.” —The New York Observer“Filled with so many passages of recognizable truth.” —The Nation "The Crowd Sounds Happy vividly captures the crosscurrents of a childhood at once unusually happy and unusually haunted. Dawidoff writes like an angel, and his memoir bids fair to join Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life on the short shelf of great books about American boyhood."—Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma"This beautiful book is like a sharp knife—painful, gleaming and utterly precise."—Joan Acocella, author of Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints"A tender, exquisitely observed recollection of childhood, a failed and hurtful father, and hope."—Alan Lightman, author of Einstein's Dreams"A father-son-baseball story like no other. Dawidoff limns the double life of adolescence so acutely that I found myself wincing at least once a paragraph. I devoured and savored this beautifully written book, even as it broke my heart."—George Howe Colt, author of The Big House"I've never read a memoir whose author has remained truer to his boyhood self. The young Dawidoff who loved Ted Williams, Elvis Costello, and Samuel Johnson has grown up to write like an original amalgam of all three, and the result is an intricately recollected, uncommonly frank self-portrait with something terrific on page after page."—Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Random House
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Read an Excerpt

chapter one


I grew up in a city of dying elms called the Elm City, on a street with no willows named Willow Street. Uncelebrated trees shaded our part of the road, sturdy oaks and mature maples, their branches so thick with leaves that they created a blind curve just before the intersection where the street straightened past our house and made its hard line for the highway. Cars traveled at a clip down Willow Street, especially at night, and because of the curve it was impossible to see them until they’d nearly reached the streetlight glowing out beyond my bedroom window. Yet lying awake under the covers I could hear those cars coming, and never more distinctly than on rainy fall evenings when the wind had blown a scatter of acorns across the pavement. I’d be tensed against my pillow, listening to the whoosh of tires closing fast over wet asphalt, and then, an instant later, a brief, vivid flurry of noise, the rapid, popping eruptions of a dozen flattened acorns, before the whoosh receded into traceless silence as someone else hurried out of town. Long before I knew that I came from a place people wanted to leave, I saw how eager they were to get away.

Every so often a car wouldn’t make it to the highway. From my bed I’d hear the familiar swelling murmur of onrushing rubber—it was like nearing a riverbank through parted woods—and I’d be picturing the car flowing through the blind curve just as the night detonated in a cry of brakes and tremendous thudding impact. I’d crawl to the end of my bed where I could peer at the window glass, but all I could see was the fine silvery mist of rain drifting past the street lamp. Retreating, I’d tug the blankets over my face as my bedroom filled with the hiss of punctured radiators and revolving flashes of hot red light. My mother would come through my door and sit by my side for a few minutes. Then she would run her hand through my hair, give me a pat, tell me to sleep tight, and the door would close. My room felt remote, bigger than usual, and every shadow playing along the ceiling terrified me. By morning, when I went outside for a look, all remnants of the accident would have been swept away so that I might have doubted that anything had truly happened were it not for the chips of headlight glass or the laciniated chunk of engine grille that I’d find in the gutter with the acorns.

But before any of those investigations, there were hours of the night still to go, and as I tried to calm myself with less upsetting thoughts, invariably my mind turned to my favorite baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. There in the dark I evaluated the feats and virtues of the players I liked best. This was the early and mid-1970s, and their names were Griffin, Siebert, Tiant, Aparicio, and Yastrzemski. We had no television, did not subscribe to the newspaper, and my bedtime was not long after the evening broadcasts of games began on the radio, so I knew very little about the Red Sox. In those days, everybody knew less about ballplayers. Yet my desire for familiarity with them was intense, and I arrived at strong impressions, most of which placed peculiar emphasis on the players’ own boyhoods. Griffin, for instance, I had heard was nicknamed “The Dude,” which led to my belief that he’d grown up playing second base in cowboy boots. Because Siebert was always called “Sonny,” my illogical conviction was that he’d been taught to pitch by his father, out behind the barn stalls on the family farm. The musically cadenced name Tiant led to my certainty that the pitcher had taken fife lessons as a child and entertained his teammates after games with Cuban melodies. The diminutive Aparicio, I knew, played shortstop by creeping forward on tiptoes as each pitch was released, an eccentric technique I supposed he had first employed in youth to make himself seem taller, and one that I—tinier than he and intimidating to nobody on the playground—slavishly imitated. I had yet to visit Fenway Park where the Red Sox played their games, and I thought of it as a public greensward, not unlike East Rock Park in my neighborhood, dappled with shade trees, seesaws, basketball courts, picnickers, the ball field itself surrounded by slatted city benches from which cheering citizens took in the game. Because very few of the player names on my baseball cards presented challenges to pronunciation, as a Dawidoff I was grateful to Yastrzemski. That someone had become the leader of the Red Sox despite that less-than-sibilant thicket soothed my concerns that I might somehow be held back in life on nominal grounds. I used to repeat Yastrzemski over and over, always with the tongue-rolling inflection that my Russian-born grandfather, Alexander Gerschenkron, used to make a diphthong.

Naturally, I wanted the best for all these Red Sox men, which in baseball terms meant winning the World Series. I spent a lot of time imagining how it would feel when this baseball apotheosis happened. The Red Sox had not won the World Series in a very long time and by now had something of an accumulating reputation for disappointment, but I was not deterred. Like most people who believe they are awaiting a miraculous occasion, my anticipation took on exalted forms. As I think back now on those moments, mysterious to me is the extent to which my private worldly desires were infiltrated by my aspirations for the Red Sox, how the team brought up the fundamental questions of possibility. At various moments of my early youth, the great victory was conflated with the news that a traveling circus with clowns, trapeze artists, and a sword-swallowing lady was coming to town to perform for an audience of one—me; word that my younger sister, Sally, would be going off to permanently live elsewhere, with another family; a declaration of love from a succession of adored female personages including: Mary Elizabeth, a girl I first encountered on the swings at nursery school and after whom I’d named my tabby cat; the haughty Claire, who had French parents and a propensity to be “out jump-roping” when I called up on the telephone to invite her over to play; and yellow-haired Christine, who wore colorful jumpers and, to my sorrow, moved away after third grade. The most recurrent of my Red Sox World Series reveries made me part of a large, noisy family gathered around a laden table for Thanksgiving dinner with a cheerful father at the head to say the blessing and carve my mother’s turkey.

There were plenty more variations on this theme, and on those sleepless nights, no matter what bumped and rolled outside my window, the Red Sox were there to stand by me. If things grew truly desperate, I had a fail-safe. I was no tabulator of sheep; I counted Yastrzemskis, a brief doxology that never amounted to much of a total before all anxieties faded and the terrible wakefulness was gone.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Nicholas Dawidoff is the author of three previous books. The Fly Swatter was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and In the Country of Country was named one of the greatest all-time works of travel literature by Conde Nast Traveler. He is also the editor of the Library of America’s Baseball: A Literary Anthology. A Guggenheim, Civitella Ranieri and Berlin Prize Fellow, he is currently the Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Crowd Sounds Happy: A Story of Love, Madness, and Baseball 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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