I was taking another look at Image File magazine, as mentioned in Monday’s column, basically because I wanted to know the answer to the question in one issue “Why Are There More Football Postcards Than Baseball Postcards?” Some of us just have inquirihng minds.
As it happens, there aren’t. I should have noticed earlier the little sticker on the back of the magazine which mentioned that there was an error in the magazine. The title of one article should have been “Why Are There More Baseball Postcards Than Football Postcards?” This did not affect the basic question in my mind. Why more of one sport than the other?
The phenomenon relates, as it turns out, to the respective age of the two sports and how they were perceived by the American public. (You can buy a copy and read it for yourself. It’s the issue with the postcard showing the University of Chicago football player on the cover, along with the cleverly worded fight song “Chicago, Chicago, Chicago Go, Chicago, Chicago, Chicago.” Catchy.)
It of course made me wonder how many books the Book Fair gets on these two sports, and the rule is pretty much the same. We actually do get about five times as many books on baseball as we do on football. I think part of it relates to what they talk about in the article: baseball books tend to treat their sport as an all-encompassing pastime; football books are about Notre Dame pride, or Nebraska pride or West Central High School pride.
Of course, the sports books most represented in our section every year are those addressed to the individual player. We get dozens of books on How To Play Better Golf, How To Play Better Tennis, How To Catch More Fish, etc. These far outnumber the coffeetable books on the NBA because people are quicker to give them away. (Do you recall the fine old Reader’s Digest joke about the man who suddenly started playing much better golf than his usual partners? They cured him by sending him so many books on how to play better golf that his game fell off right away.)
We also, in the past few years, have seen an increasing number of books on how to teach other people how to play better. How To Coach Soccer may have to have a section of its own one of these days, with How To Be a Referee is right up there. This is because one generation of soccer parents is cleaning out after the kids head off to college and wants to pass the responsibility (and books) to the next.
I’m sorry to say that not every sport in the world is represented on the Sports table every year. For every hundred books on golf we are sent, we may find one on fencing. We have a customer every year who lets me know that curling has been omitted, despite all the other winter sports we can provide literature on. If you fish, we can fill a shelf for you; hunters are going to have to dig through all those books on golf and hockey to find anything.
The same holds true in the sports biographies (also on the Sports table.) Chicagoans donate some sports and not others. Lots of biographies of golfers, centers, and pitchers; only one or two on NASCAR drivers or rodeo riders. (I was planning to wait to tell you this when you were older: Chicago is not, as a city, big on rodeo.) If you come to the Book Fair three years in a row, you can probably find half of the golf autobiographies written since 1960. If you want to read the life of an Olympic synchronized swimmer, you’d best go online.
Other factors enter into this beyond the relative popularity of a sport, as was pointed out to me by one of my many advisors. “Maybe football fans just can’t read,” he said. Fortunately there was a coffee table book on pro wrestling I could whack him with.