Originally posted August 5, 2009
Editor's Note: In honor of LGFT Cliff Lee, who will be pitching against the Indians for the first time tonight, here's Andrew's classic post on the books that Cliff Lee didn't read. Enjoy.
Dennis Manoloff: Favorite book?
Who was it that wrote "April is the cruelest month"? Cliff Lee doesn't know the answer and doesn't care. The reigning Cy Young winner's goals for April were simple: locate his fastball, go deep in ballgames, and help the Indians win. Oh, and one other thing: not read The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
"This season, I'm trying to pick one book every month and make sure that I don't read it. I wanted to start off with a good one and somebody told me that The Road was really heavy [stuff], like post-apocalyptic, so I figured that seemed like a good book to steer clear of."
Lee was a bit surprised when he saw that McCarthy's novel was so highly regarded. "I mean, I pick it up and it's got those little stickers on the front-Pulitzer Prize, Oprah Book, all that. I thought to myself, '[Crap] this thing must be pretty readable. This is going to be harder than I thought.' But, for the most part, I was able to achieve my goal."
The hard-throwing Arkansas native links his not reading of The Road to some of the strides he's made in the early parts of the season. "Well, you know I had such a bad first start and I was just racking my brain, what went wrong? Then I realized I had actually been reading some of that stupid book. I was down there in Texas and it was real dusty and [stuff] and I just thought, I don't know what I was thinking, but I probably read a solid 10-15 pages of that thing."
Lee acted quickly and made sure that he didn't read any more of the book. He instructed the clubhouse attendants to "put his [butt] around his elbows" if they saw him reading and he explicitly asked his wife, Kristen, to pound on the bathroom door if he took more than 4 minutes. "I'm normally pretty fast, so I figured four minutes would be enough. There were a couple of times when I had to shout back out though, like, 'I'm not reading! I'm [stuffing]!' It was kind of weird."
"Looking back on it, I was on the mound in Texas and I kept thinking about like "What the [heck] is going on in that book? What does it mean to be human? Are we defined by the infrastructures that surround us or by something more basic, intrinsic? And as I'm thinking, really contemplating this stuff, I'm just getting pounded. It was affecting my concentration. Next time out against Toronto, I was still trying to shake some of it-in the second and third innings especially I kept thinking about how McCarthy refused to use conventional punctuation and what that might've meant about the worldview he was creating. And, [shoot] was it ever messing me up."
By his outstanding starts in New York and back at home against Kansas City, Cliff Lee had left that little bit of reading far in the past. "All I was thinking was, 'Hey ball, go over there and just barely pass over the corner of that white thing.' And you know what? It felt good. Felt normal."
Though The Road had some bumps in it for Lee, he mostly felt like it was a productive month of non-reading. "You know I learned a little about tricks to help me not read, things like turning on the television, eating an extra sandwich when I felt the urge to read, stuff like that. It's definitely going to help me going forward because I'm trying to do this every month."
Lee is unsure which book he is going to endeavor to not read in the month of May but he has some ideas. "Somebody suggested Twilight, and that seemed like a decent choice because I like vampires but I probably don't like them enough to read about them. Plus there's a movie if I really get the itch. I'm also thinking about Awaken the Giant Within because that's supposed to be motivational and I feel pretty motivated right now so, easy, right?" Who knows what book Lee will choose but one thing is clear: he's not going to read it.