I suspect that Jim Brosnan and Anne Hollander never met. They moved in different circles.
They died eight days apart — Brosnan on June 29 at the age of 84, Hollander on July 6 at the age of 83.
“Misery and woe”
Brosnan was a fairly successful major league pitcher with the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago White Sox from 1954 through 1963. But he’s best known for pioneering books he wrote in the midst of his career based on diaries he kept during two of the seasons — The Long Season (published in 1960) and Pennant Race (1961).
These books were the first to bring readers into the baseball clubhouse and onto the field, detailing daily life with an honest edge that was, at times, angry and, often, sarcastic. And always witty, as in this excerpt from The Long Season:
The clouds faked a storm once, then regrouped just north of the ball park to see if the umpires would ignore the threat. Nothing daunts some umpires. We started the game at two o’clock. The rain started at two-fifteen…Burkhart, the home-plate umpire, spent half his time looking at the sky, a fourth of his time watching pitches, and the rest of the time apparently thinking, a dangerous habit for umpires.
If Brosnan outlined the foibles of his teammates and other baseball people, he was just as honest about his own demons, such as thinking too much on the mound and off.
While reading the newspaper and digesting the printed disappointment of the Cardinals’ (and my) failure, I poured coffee into my sore head. Why make it a twice-told tale of misery and woe? Why do I read about it? How can I help myself!
“Sense of authority”
Anne Hollander was, essentially, a cultural historian. Her five books — Seeing through Clothes (1978), Moving Pictures (1991), Sex and Suits (1994), Feeding the Eye (1999) and Fabric of Vision (2002) — used art and fashion as a lens through which to examine the evolution of social mores and ideals. Consider these sentences from Sex and Suits:
A final word about those tight corsets and long petticoats. Even though our present period elevates rebelliousness as a natural and universal feeling, even a virtue, it should not be assumed that all the women in the past were angry victims in their long skirts and tight stays, and felt forced into helplessness because of them. Elizabeth I, Catherine d’ Medici and Catherin the Great were heads of state who steered their nations through difficult times with great political talent, energy and application, usually dressed in garments of great weight and stiffness that were rightly constricted in the mid-section and had skirts and sleeves of immense size. For those women, there was no question that their own sense of authority, and even of political and intellectual agility, was enhanced and supported by these clothes.
A few years ago, I wrote a review of Fabric of Vision, in which I noted:
A big part of reading Hollander is to have her whisper in my ear as I’m looking at some interesting painting…I never gave much thought to the erotic charge that a bare shoulder brings to a work until Hollander took me step by step through the centuries from Titian and Tintoretto, through Caravaggio and Remi, to Cindy Sherman and Marilyn Monroe…
And who would have thought that a work by 17th century artist Jacob Ochtervelt showing a woman, from the rear, playing a virginal, was emphasizing, by the size of the heavy, full lower half of her dress, the heavy, full lower half of her body? I wouldn’t have — until Hollander’s chapter explaining how the dress in some art is designed to reveal the body underneath, even if no skin is shown.
As I’ve said, Brosnan and Hollander probably never met. Yet, they met in my mind. And, even though they’ve died, they live there still.
It’s the same for any reader. If you’ve read much of Walt Whitman and Anna Quindlen, for instance, they have taken up residence in you — their ideas, their ways of writing, their world views, their insights. There’s a whole army of writers who are embedded in this way into your consciousness.
But, no, it’s not an army. It’s a conversation of writers — a conversation that you are at the center of.
Brosnan and Hollander are certainly part of the conversation in my brain, along with other writers, great and good. Writers such as Vance Bourjaily, Norman Mailer, Edith Wharton, R.H. Mottram, Terry Pratchett, Robert Caro, Jane Smiley, Frederick Busch, Barbara Tuchman, Andre Norton, Anthony Trollope, Walter M. Miller Jr., Robert Massie, and dozens more.
This evolving give-and-take
I take this conversation for granted — this evolving give-and-take of insights about life. But the deaths of Brosnan and Hollander so close together was a reminder of how much they gave me, and still give me.
Hollander taught me new ways to look at art and at fashion. We often think of history as having to do with wars and revolts, with kings and churches. Yet, art and fashion permit me to look behind events and see how people lived. I can tell what was important to them by the way an artist portrays the human body. I can see how they saw themselves by looking at the styles of their clothing.
Hollander taught me that.
More than baseball, Brosnan taught me about writing. I read his books when they came out in paperback, when I was 13 or so. I learned from him that writing could be smart-alecky and respectful. He taught me that it was possible to love something and yet be made miserable by it. That a team is made up of individuals, all of them quirky.
Brosnan taught me that.
And they both continue to teach me. For that, I thank them now, and for as long as the conversation in my head is permitted to continue.
Patrick T. Reardon