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Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2008

Down Memory Lane

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You can never know too much—not even about sports. The body of human knowledge is simply too great to be ingested in one sitting, and even those who hunker down habitually will likely discover new delights in Doug Schmidt’s new book. Even the title, They Came to Bowl: How Milwaukee Became America’s Tenpin Capital, may be a revelation to those who had no idea it was.

This easy-to-read book, full of fun asides and historic photos, offers a diverting summary of this much-loved pastime. Schmidt loosely traces its development from the ancient German rite of “kegel toppling” (claiming that even Martin Luther was rather partial to a round when he wasn’t nailing articles to the doors of churches) to its journey to the East Coast of the United States among the cultural baggage of early European settlers. But primarily Schmidt delivers what the title of his book promises: a survey of bowling’s popularity in Milwaukee in the 19th century under the stewardship of those like Abe Langtry. Schmidt also mentions other bowling personalities—Enrico Marino, Ned Day and Billy Sixty, to name a few. He even makes a case for bowling as a kind of brawny, beer-strewn battleground for race and gender, moving (rather grudgingly) from a “white males only” sport to gradual acceptance of nonwhite players and women.

But this nostalgic sojourn down memory lane ends on a somewhat mournful tone. Schmidt examines the decline of the game’s popularity under the lens of urban decentralization, inflated scores, even changes in drinking habits—anything to explain why a pastime that was once as native to city dwellers as beer-drinking has fallen to the wayside.

You can meet Schmidt when he comes to Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop in Brookfield, Jan. 31, at 7 p.m. Meanwhile, for the central character in Meg Rosoff’s new book, What I Was, looking back at his obsessive youth conjures up as much intense sweetness as it does squirming indignation. With the “architectural sadism” of a 19th-century English boarding school mooring his spirit to incessant misery, young H—an unexceptional student—stumbles upon a beautiful loner named Finn who seems to occupy an idyll free from the unwieldy demands of the adult world. In Finn’s shack, H enjoys moments of awkwardness and bliss, cocooned in a fantasy of unfettered existence, until he’s finally forced to resurface.

Rosoff will be appearing at Schwartz in Mequon, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m.

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