Synopses & Reviews
Set in the suburbs of New York in the 1950s, Wait Till Next Year
is Doris Kearns Goodwin's touching memoir of growing up in love with her family and baseball. She re-creates the postwar era, when the corner store was a place to share stories and neighborhoods were equally divided between Dodger, Giant, and Yankee fans.
We meet the people who most influenced Goodwin's early life: her mother, who taught her the joy of books but whose debilitating illness left her housebound: and her father, who taught her the joy of baseball and to root for the Dodgers of Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, and Gil Hodges. Most important, Goodwin describes with eloquence how the Dodgers' leaving Brooklyn in 1957, and the death of her mother soon after, marked both the end of an era and, for her, the end of childhood.
"What emerges is a perfectly affable and often ever poignant memoir.... There is plenty...to like here. Goodwin shifts gracefully between a child's recollections and an adult's overview.... But there is too little baseball." Peter Delacorte, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
"In a season awash in X-rated memoirs, Wait Till Next Year is an anomaly: a reminiscence that is suitable, in fact ideal, for a preadolescent readership of not just girls but boys, too.... For self-esteem-building female role models, for baseball lore and inning-by-inning action and for a lively trip into the recent American past, you could hardly do better." Ann Hulbert, New York Times Book Review
"This is a book in the grand tradition of girlhood memoirs, either fact or fiction, dating from Louisa May Alcott to Carson McCullers and Harper Lee." Ron Fimrite, Washington Post Book World
"Lively, tender, and...hilarious.... [Goodwin's] memoir is uplifting evidence that the American dream still exists not so much in the content of the dream as is the tireless, daunting dreaming." Boston Globe
From the bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of No Ordinary Times
comes a touching memoir of a young girl growing up in love with her father and baseball.
Set in the suburbs of New York in the 1950s, this memoir re-creates the postwar era, where the corner store was a place to share stories, and where neighborhoods were equally divided between Dodger, Giant, and Yankee fans.
We meet the people who most influenced Doris Goodwin's early life: her mother, who taught her the joy of books but whose debilitating illness left her housebound; and her father, who taught her the joy of baseball and to root for the Dodgers. Most important, Goodwin describes with eloquence how the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn in 1957, and the death of her mother soon after, marked both the end of an era and, for her, the end of childhood.
About the Author
Doris Kearns Goodwin is the author of the runaway bestseller Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. She won the Pulitzer Prize in history for No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II and is also the author of the bestsellers Wait Till Next Year, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, and Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts, with her husband, Richard N. Goodwin.
Reading Group Guide
From Chapter One
When I was six, my father gave me a bright red scorebook that opened my heart to the game of baseball. After dinner on long summer nights, he would sit beside me in our small enclosed porch to hear my account of that day's Brooklyn Dodger game. Night after night he taught me the odd collection of symbols, numbers, and letters that enable a baseball lover to record every action of the game. Our score sheets had blank boxes in which we could draw our own slanted lines in the form of a diamond as we followed players around the bases. Wherever the baserunner's progress stopped, the line stopped. He instructed me to fill in the unused boxes at the end of each inning with an elaborate checkerboard design which made it absolutely clear who had been the last to bat and who would lead off the next inning. By the time I had mastered the art of scorekeeping, a lasting bond had been forged among my father, baseball, and me.
All through the summer of 1949, my first summer as a fan, I spent my afternoons sitting cross-legged before the squat Philco radio which stood as a permanent fixture on our porch in Rockville Centre, on the South Shore of Long Island, New York. With my scorebook spread before me, I attended Dodger games through the courtly voice of Dodger announcer Red Barber. As he announced the lineup, I carefully printed each player's name in a column on the left side of my sheet. Then, using the standard system my father had taught me, which assigned a number to each position in the field, starting with a "1" for the pitcher and ending with a "9" for the right fielder, I recorded every play. I found it difficult at times to sit still. As the Dodgers came to bat, I would walk around the room, talking to the players as if they were standing in front of me. At critical junctures, I tried to make a bargain, whispering and cajoling while Pee Wee Reese or Duke Snider stepped into the batter's box. "Please, please, get a hit. If you get a hit now, I'll make my bed every day for a week." Sometimes, when the score was close and the opposing team at bat with men on base, I was too agitated to listen. Asking my mother to keep notes, I left the house for a walk around the block, hoping that when I returned the enemy threat would be over, and once again we'd be up at bat. Mostly, however, I stayed at my post, diligently recording each inning so that, when my father returned from his job as bank examiner for the State of New York, I could re-create for him the game he had missed.
When my father came home from the city, he would change from his three-piece suit into long pants and a short-sleeved sport shirt, and come downstairs for the ritual Manhattan cocktail with my mother. Then my parents would summon me for dinner from my play on the street outside our house. All through dinner I had to restrain myself from telling him about the day's game, waiting for the special time to come when we would sit together on the couch, my scorebook on my lap.
"Well, did anything interesting happen today?" he would begin. And even before the daily question was completed I had eagerly launched into my narrative of every play, and almost every pitch, of that afternoon's contest. It never crossed my mind to wonder if, at the close of a day's work, he might find my lengthy account the least bit tedious. For there was mastery as well as pleasure in our nightly ritual. Through my knowledge, I commanded my father's undivided attention, the sign of his love. It would instill in me an early awareness of the power of narrative, which would introduce a lifetime of storytelling, fueled by the naive confidence that others would find me as entertaining as my father did.
Michael Francis Aloysius Kearns, my father, was a short man who appeared much larger on account of his erect bearing, broad chest, and thick neck. He had a ruddy Irish complexion, and his green eyes flashed with humor and vitality. When he smiled his entire face was transformed, radiating enthusiasm and friendliness. He called me "Bubbles," a pet name he had chosen, he told me, because I seemed to enjoy so many things. Anxious to confirm his description, I refused to let my enthusiasm wane, even when I grew tired or grumpy. Thus excitement about things became a habit, a part of my personality, and the expectation that I should enjoy new experiences often engendered the enjoyment itself.
These nightly recountings of the Dodgers' progress provided my first lessons in the narrative art. From the scorebook, with its tight squares of neatly arranged symbols, I could unfold the tale of an entire game and tell a story that seemed to last almost as long as the game itself. At first, I was unable to resist the temptation to skip ahead to an important play in later innings. At times, I grew so excited about a Dodger victory that I blurted out the final score before I had hardly begun. But as I became more experienced in my storytelling, I learned to build a dramatic story with a beginning, middle, and end. Slowly, I learned that if I could recount the game, one batter at a time, inning by inning, without divulging the outcome, I could keep the suspense and my father's interest alive until the very last pitch. Sometimes I pretended that I was the great Red Barber himself, allowing my voice to swell when reporting a home run, quieting to a whisper when the action grew tense, injecting tidbits about the players into my reports. At critical moments, I would jump from the couch to illustrate a ball that turned foul at the last moment or a dropped fly that was scored as an error.
"How many hits did Roy Campanella get?" my dad would ask. Tracing my finger across the horizontal line that represented Campanella's at bats that day, I would count. "One, two, three. Three hits, a single, a double, and another single." "How many strikeouts for Don Newcombe?" It was easy. I would count the Ks. "One, two . . . eight. He had eight strikeouts." Then he'd ask me more subtle questions about different plays -- whether a strikeout was called or swinging, whether the double play was around the horn, whether the single that won the game was hit to left or right. If I had scored carefully, using the elaborate system he had taught me, I would know the answers. My father pointed to the second inning, where Jackie Robinson had hit a single and then stolen second. There was excitement in his voice. "See, it's all here. While Robinson was dancing off second, he rattled the pitcher so badly that the next two guys walked to load the bases. That's the impact Robinson makes, game after game. Isn't he something?" His smile at such moments inspired me to take my responsibility seriously.
Sometimes, a particular play would trigger in my father a memory of a similar situation in a game when he was young, and he would tell me stories about the Dodgers when he was a boy growing up in Brooklyn. His vivid tales featured strange heroes such as Casey Stengel, Zack Wheat, and Jimmy Johnston. Though it was hard at first to imagine that the Casey Stengel I knew, the manager of the Yankees, with his colorful language and hilarious antics, was the same man as the Dodger outfielder who hit an inside-the-park home run at the first game ever played at Ebbets Field, my father so skillfully stitched together the past and the present that I felt as if I were living in different time zones. If I closed my eyes, I imagined I was at Ebbets Field in the 1920s for that celebrated game when Dodger right fielder Babe Herman hit a double with the bases loaded, and through a series of mishaps on the base paths, three Dodgers ended up at third base at the same time. And I was sitting by my father's side, five years before I was born, when the lights were turned on for the first time at Ebbets Field, the crowd gasping and then cheering as the summer night was transformed into startling day.
Copyright ©1997 by Blithedale Productions, Inc.
Reading Group Discussion Points
- Like millions of Americans, Doris was caught up in the glory days of baseball in the 1950s, exhilarated by the Dodgers' victories, and pained by each and every loss. Individual players became her heroes, as well-loved and respected as family and friends. How important is it for people -- particularly children -- to have such heroes to look up to? How can we feel such a strong kinship to people we have never met? Are sports figures the best role models? What lessons can athletes teach us about life?
- Doris's parents each pass on their own special gifts to their daughter. Through baseball, Mr. Kearns teaches Doris the importance of telling a story slowly, building the drama to a powerful crescendo. Through reading, Mrs. Kearns demonstrates the beauty of a well-chosen word, and how a good book can take you away to places you might otherwise never go. Discuss how these gifts complement one another and how they came together to make Doris the historian and wordsmith she is today.
- In the 1950s, most fathers did not take their little girls to baseball games. How did you respond to the female point of view in this book? Did you see Doris as the son her father never had? Or was she an extension of his sister, Marguerite? What does Mr. Kearns' relationship with Doris provide that he missed during his tragic childhood?
- Although her childhood was marked by the untimely death of her mother, Doris paints a near-perfect picture of life in the suburbs. How does time affect our memories? Is it natural to "revise" our own personal history? Are we destined to recall the best times of our lives as rosier than they actually were?
- Idolizing her team as only a child can, Doris was fortunate enough to have her childhood coincide with baseball's most glorious heyday. Discuss the sport's changing role in the American landscape through the second half of the 20th Century. Does regional team loyalty still mean the same thing in today's "global village," or has the technology that has made our country seem smaller altered the notion of the "home team?" What does baseball offer that other sports cannot? Is it still our true national pastime?
- One of the most pleasant aspects of reading a well-written memoir is that it often helps you recall dim memories of your own. Did Wait Till Next Year spark any forgotten memories from your childhood? Did it remind you of special moments you shared with your parents, of family traditions that you enjoyed? Did this book inspire you to write down any of your own history to share with family members in years to come?
- Doris says that her "early years were happily governed by the dual calendars of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Catholic Church." In fact, Doris's careful calculations of baseball scores and batting averages charmingly mirror the manner in which she tallies up her nightly prayers. Discuss the mingled roles of baseball and religion in Doris's childhood. Was baseball a kind of secular worship for her? How are these different institutions similar to one another? What does each offer that the other does not?
- Prior to television, Doris listens to baseball games on the radio, relying on her imagination for visual images to accompany the announcer's play-by-play. This changed when the Kearnses bought their first television set and Doris was able to watch the games in the comfort of her own home. How did the addition of television change the face of baseball for Doris and other fans? How did it add to her enjoyment of the game? What did it take away?
- When Doris's sister, Jeanne, is selected co-captain of the "Blue Team" in a girls' athletic competition, Doris is able to witness first-hand the unification that results from competition. Jeanne serves as a role model for Doris, teaching her that sportsmanship and competition are not limited to the world of men. But these types of events for women were rare in the 1950s. What does this say about the culture of that time? Discuss the importance of women's sports and how our society's views on women's athletics have changed. Have they changed enough? What do women miss when they are discouraged from participating in sports?
- The landscape of Doris's childhood remains intact through the first decade of her life, leaving her with a misguided notion that her world will never change. But by the time Doris reaches adolescence, everything that had seemed so permanent slowly begins to slip away. Longtime neighbors move, the Dodgers and the Giants leave New York, and, most important, Doris's mother passes away. How does Doris react to these changes? Has the strong foundation her loving parents provided during her early years prepared her for these sudden changes?
- An important rite of passage for all children is the moment that they first see their parents as real people, not the all-knowing figures they appear to be when we are very young. Childhood is never the same after you see a parent in a moment of weakness. How does Mrs. Kearns' illness force Doris to grow up more quickly? How does it affect her childhood, her relationships with her parents? Can you recall the events that made you realize that your parents were, just like you, infallible and human?
- In many ways, the Kearnses are a traditional, nuclear family of the 1950s, with the father playing the role of a breadwinner and the mother keeping house. Yet, in many ways the Kearnses are quite progressive, teaching their daughters to reach as high as they can to fulfill their dreams. How is Doris different from the other girls on her block? Does her independence and faith in her abilities have its roots in her love of baseball?
- Doris pays tribute to many of her female teachers in junior high and high school. Many of these women rose to the top of their field during World War II -- and then refused to "go back home" when the war was over. Did you have any teachers who stand out in your mind as particularly inspiring? Share your own recollections of an important educator who encouraged you to be your best.
- Doris stands out as a child not only for her ability to realize when she is observing history-in-the-making, but for her ability to see herself as part of it. Is this the result of her early love of reading, where she actually inserted herself into the action of the stories she read? How does baseball play a role?
- One of the most memorable scenes in Wait Till Next Year is when Doris and her young friends imitate the McCarthy hearings which have captivated the nation. What begins as fun and games ironically have the same result as the real hearings, driving neighborhood kids apart and provoking mean-spirited attacks. Discuss other important life lessons Doris learns through current events, such as the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, the trial and execution of the Rosenbergs, the escalation of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. How does her interest in these events prepare her for her role as an historian?