Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball’s Color Line (Atlantic, $25),by Tom Dunkel, is sports journalism and narrative history at its best. While most Americans think of Jackie Robinson’s debut in the Major Leagues as the event that broke the color barrier in baseball, Dunkel has unearthed a remarkable and previously untold story of a formidable semipro baseball team in the mid 1930s that included some of the nation’s most talented black ball players, including Satchel Paige and Quince Troupe. The team didn’t play in New York City or Chicago or a major metropolitan area, but in the drought-ravaged, Depression-ravaged remoteness of Bismarck, North Dakota, in the mid 1930s.
In his eighth collection of humorous essays, David Sedaris celebrates all that is a little “off” in life, from the come-ons and exclamations of Lonely Planet’s phrase books (“That is amazing/weird/wild!”) to the difficulties of being an American living abroad in the Bush years. My favorite observations in Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (Little, Brown, $27) involve the racial awkwardness occurring both before and after the elections of President Obama (turns out we may have a little work to do on the whole racism thing yet). Your favorite moments may be Sedaris’s uncomfortable memories of buying condoms in bulk at Costco, or when his voice morphs into that of a self-righteous suburbanite in one of the featured short stories. Whether or not you’re already familiar with Sedaris’s inimitable voice, you’ll find his take on modern life delightful.
This remarkable book, A Dog Walks Into a Nursing Home: Life Lessons From an Unlikely Teacher (Riverhead, $26.95), by Sue Halpern, writer and editor at The New York Review of Books, tells the story of how Halpern and her six-year-old dog, Pransky, become a therapy team at a county-run facility for the elderly near their home in Vermont. The writer, whose previous books have explored the brain’s connections to aging and memory, among other topics, frames this story through her experiences of the seven life virtues while she and Pransky form extraordinary relationships with residents at the home. Pransky is the star of this deeply touching and humane book, and it is through the dog that the author offers a provocative and brilliant examination of what really matters in life and how we might find grace, happiness, and humor while dealing with the real challenges of growing older.