This year marks the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s seminal Beat text On the Road. Most people know the legend of the itinerant, hedonistic Kerouac, a man in perpetual search of new experience, a new way of writing and, more often than not, something to open his beer with. What many don’t know, however, is that from an early age, Kerouac developed an elaborate fantasy baseball universe. Using real players alongside notable personalities of the day, Kerouac assembled imaginary teams and, with the aid of dice and a system of playing cards, had them compete in an endless season, all of which was recorded in great detail, from minute statistics to Lardneresque game summaries. All of Kerouac’s fantasy baseball writing has been collected, along with many other things, in the New York Public Library’s exhibition Beatific Soul: Jack Kerouac On the Road, which begins November 9th (nypl.org). In honor of Kerouac’s unlikely interest, we’ve assembled our own fantasy lineup of literary greats by position, in hopes of starting a few barroom arguments. Enjoy.
FRAUDS, VILES AND OTHERWISE
Hall of Famer: Shakespeare
Marlowe, Bacon, Raleigh — everyone has their own pet theory about who actually wrote Shakespeare’s stuff. Personally, we’ve always suspected Chuck Palahniuk.
Starter: JT Leroy
Remember that old ‘80s movie Just One of the Guys
where Joyce Hyser dresses up like a dude in order to write a story for her school paper? No? Laura Albert does.
Backup: James Frey
He so totally did too go all the way with Marissa Pessl at Morgan Entrekin’s kegger last weekend! Yo, that chick was begging for it!
SOURCES OF INSPIRATION FOR WHEN THAT WHOLE WUNDERKIND THING DON'T PAN OUT
Hall of Famer: Kurt Vonnegut
Before Kurt had even published so much as a single short story, his brother, Dr. Bernard Vonnegut, had already discovered the use of silver iodide for the artificial stimulation of rain clouds. And if you don’t think he rubbed that in during family dinners, well then, you just don’t know Bernie.
Starter: Millard Kaufman
We hope that McSweeney
’s discovers us when we’re 89 years old, too.
Backup: Penelope Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald started writing novels at age 60 as a way to amuse her dying husband. Won the Booker Prize two years later. Easy as pie!
OUR LADIES OF THE SHORT STORY
Hall of Famer: Alice Munro
Yes, we’re aware that Jonathan Franzen loves her. No, we’re not going to hold that against her.
Starter: Amy Hempel
She once kicked Hemingway’s ass in a bar brawl in Havana. Seriously. It’s on Wikipedia.
Backup: Lorrie Moore
Like your friend’s hot mom, only if your friend’s hot mom was always getting published in the New Yorker
BENEFICIARIES OF JUDICIOUS EDITORIAL INTERVENTION
Hall of Famer: Thomas Wolfe
In college we tried to start a rock band called Maxwell Perkins. It broke up because we all wanted to play lead guitar. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
Starter: Raymond Carver
So it would seem that Carver left a fair bit of his writing in the surprisingly capable hands of Gordon Lish. That’s minimalism, bitches!
Backup: David Foster Wallace
Don’t get us wrong, we loved Infinite Jest
(honestly, it actually is really good), but did you know that fucker was originally supposed to be at least twice as long?
Hall of Famer: Mikhail Bulgakov
At a private literary gathering in 1935, the party’s hostess proposed a toast to the Soviet writer V.V. Veresaev. “No,” said Boris Pasternak, “I want to drink to Bulgakov. Veresaev is a great man, of course, but he is a lawful phenomenon, while Bulgakov is an unlawful one.” The moral of the story? Bulgakov was kind of a badass.
Starter: Milan Kundera
Kundera spent his time in Prague writing novels and working to reform Czech Communism. You spent your time in Prague smoking hash and sitting in some lame ex-pat bar scribbling in your moleskin notebook. Advantage: Kundera.
Backup: James Baldwin
We get the feeling reading him that if we’d ever met James Baldwin on the street he’d have just punched us right in the face. Which is cool, man.
ROLLING ONE-MAN COTTAGE INDUSTRIES
Hall of Famer: Ford Maddox Ford
Wrote an ungodly amount of poetry, criticism and fiction, including the classic novel The Good Soldier.
Made an unflattering cameo appearance as Braddocks in The Sun Also Rises
. Basically birthed modern fiction as founder of The Transatlantic Review
. A decent day’s work, no?
Starter: Dave Eggers
The last time Dave Eggers actually slept? Sometime in late 2002. He dreamed about argyle sweaters and Stephen Malkmus in a pirate mask.
Backup: Norman Mailer
So, just wondering, but… how many fistfights have you been in over your lifetime? One? Two? Ha! Norman Mailer has been in at least 4,000! And he’s still had time to start the Village Voice
, run for mayor, make a couple of movies, write a shitload of books and win a pair of Pulitzer Prizes. You loser.
THE HOPELESSLY PRIAPIC
Hall of Famer: Marquis de Sade
If Rick James had lived in 18th-century France, he would have been the Marquis de Sade. Imagine it — volume upon volume of highbrow erotica written by Rick James. Super-freaky, indeed.
Starter: John Updike
Sometimes, you’re better off just letting your subject speak for himself. As with, for example, this passage from Updike’s novel Villages
: “…her cunt did not feel like Phyllis’s. Smoother, somehow simpler, its wetness less thick, less of a sauce, more of a glaze.” What? Is this a sex scene or an episode of Yan Can Cook
Backup: Philip Roth
Two words: Portnoy’s Complaint.
Hall of Famer: Thomas Pynchon
To be perfectly honest, the books we can more or less do without. His Simpsons’s
cameos, though – well, can you come up with a better way to squander your anonymity?
Starter: Don Delillo
Who do you think misses the Cold War more? Don Delillo or Norman Podhoretz?
Backup: Philip K. Dick
Remember that Keanu Reaves movie where Keanu is working surveillance on Keanu and everyone is doing a bunch of drugs and Robert Downey Jr. is there and the screen and the lines are all squiggly and stuff? Yeah, that was pretty trippy.
Hall of Famer: Ralph Ellison
One brilliant novel just wasn’t enough to satisfy you people, huh? Ok, fine. In that case, Mr. Ellison would like to kindly invite you to bite him.
Starter: John Kennedy Toole
On the one hand, it sort of sucks to have killed yourself before your now-classic debut made you a world-famous author. On the other hand, at least you don’t have everyone hassling you about what you’re planning for a follow-up. Seriously, that can get on a guy’s nerves. Just ask Ralph.
Backup: Harper Lee
Well, she did have a letter in Oprah’s magazine about a year ago. So, you know, there’s that.
THE DISTRESSINGLY PRODIGIOUS
Hall of Famer: Marcel Proust
Look, if Proust had really intended for anyone to read all of Remembrance of Things Past
, he would have put the madeleine scene at the end of the book, not the beginning. Why do you think they always save the weather report for the end of the local news? This is Marketing 101, people.
Starter: William T. Vollman
An interesting fact: even William T. Vollman has never actually read all of William T. Vollman’s stuff.
Backup: Vikram Seth
It’s not that he’s actually written so many books as that the ones he has written are so goddamn long. Ok, well, actually, just one of them (A Suitable Boy
) is all that long. But it’s really, really long. The longest single-volume novel ever published in English, in fact. That’s gotta count for something, right?