Proust has his madeleine. Nick Hornby has his vinyl records. And when Josh Wilker wants to summon the past, he has the scent of bubblegum along with images of Kurt Bevacqua, Rowland Office and Carl Yastrzemski. In his wry, rueful memoir, Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards (Seven Footer Press; $24.95), author Wilker (who blogs at cardboardgods.net) uses the 1970s and '80s ballplayers lovingly preserved in his Topps collection as entry points for recounting a domestically fractured Vermont childhood and a slacker young adulthood. Photos of the cards head each chapter, of which a typical one begins, "I started kindergarten the same year José Morales reached the major leagues, 1973, and continued to attend school every year of his quietly competent, useful career as a righthanded bat for hire." Adds Wilker, "I was the opposite of José Morales. I didn't know how to do anything." Wilker's descriptions of his maudlin existence are enlivened by his observations on the game during the Me decade: "I sometimes suspect that in the mid- to late 1970s, as a reaction to the dominance of the early 1970s Oakland A's, American League owners instituted a secret Mustache Cap." If Wilker had a baseball card, its back might read: Josh is one of 2010's most promising literary players.
SPIRIT OF '76 For the author at age eight, Office's card offered comfort.