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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2010
I should preface my review that I was a blogger alongside the author at [...] and I'm mentioned in the acknowledgments for the book. However, I bought the book myself.

When I tried to describe what Cardboard Gods was about to some friends, I had a hard time. It's a book that is not just read for pleasure, but it also takes you back in time in a way that even a history book can't do.

Cardboard Gods is, in a nutshell, one man's way of piecing together a narrative about his life (especially his childhood) using baseball cards. But that really doesn't do the book justice. The baseball cards are not just pictures of players from over 30 years ago. Instead, they are launching points to get the reader involved with the life of the author.

Wilker expertly weaves together the two threads about his life (growing up most of his life in Vermont with his mother and her boyfriend while his father lived in New York) and the baseball cards and players of the late 1970s.

For a book of a little over 240 pages, there is so much to learn. Even for someone who had a pretty good idea how Josh Wilker's story would come out, I was captivated by the story. It is a unique contribution to baseball literature. It is a valuable contribution to literature all together.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on July 23, 2010
Baseball cards have been around forever - at least since the latter part of the 19th century - giving fans from all walks of life a tangible link to the players on display; from the frequently stiff and absurdly posed phony "action shots" on the front, to a statistical summary of the players' on field performance on the back. Holding the players "in the palm of your hand", or on display in protective card albums typically gives fans a wide range of emotions; from the warm fuzzy feeling we have for our personal heroes to the sheer disdain we have for an enemy player, or one of marginal ability who seems to be in every new pack we buy, taunting us with their useless duplication.

Without a doubt, we're hooked on collecting these little "cardboard gods"; and the author of this book, Josh Wilker, has paid a personal tribute to many of the cards he collected as a kid from the mid '70s - early '80s, with a wonderful narrative that is well-written, at times humorous, and at times quite poignant, as he relives the memories - some good, some not so good - that each card evokes.

From Bake McBride to Thurman Munson; from Jim Rice to Rickey Henderson; each story is told with refreshing candor and eloquence as Wilker rehashes various events from his rather difficult and mundane childhood; always, it's the memories which are attached directly to his personal collection. For every memory the author shares, the reader will more than likely relive their own personal anecdotes that are directly related to that particular card. As an avid collector for many years, I have most of the cards the author shares, including the 1980 Rickey Henderson rookie card, which by chance, seemed to be the most common card that came in the batch of "random" cards I purchased. I'm sure the folks at Topps had no idea this guy was going to be the best leadoff hitter in baseball history when they doled them out to buyers in time for the '80 season.

Whether you're a big baseball fan or simply interested in American pop culture, you'll more than likely find this "All-American Tale" a fascinating, compelling, and highly enlightening journey through Josh Wilker's childhood. It's quite a story and one that I highly recommend reading for yourself.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 2011
Couple of things right off the bat:
1) This is NOT a book about baseball cards or how to collect them or anything like that
2) This book is a memoir of the author
3) Recommended ages for this book 16+

With that out of the way...I've collected baseball cards for over 25 years now so when I saw this book and saw images of baseball cards from the 70's and 80's throughout the book I was excited. I thought "Here's a book that's going to talk about how collecting cards influenced the writer's life" or how it impacted his life in some amazing way and that each of the cards had some great significance. But...honestly I was left disappointed. Yes baseball card's were a major part of his life and was one of the ways the writer connected with his brother and at some points the cards did have an impact in his life. But, often times it felt like the card chosen was tacked on to the story and really had no bearing. Even worse this story was, I don't want to say boring, but it was depressing. It seems like he didn't really have any happy moments growing up. He was called names constantly, his family life was weird, he and his brother didn't always get along, and on and on. Even moments that should have been happy, such as going to a concert, become depressing because a) they didn't really know anything about the guy playing and b) they didn't realize that there was an act beforehand the main guy and left before he ever came on.

Honestly I wish I could have liked this book. I even tried picking it up on different days in hopes that I just wasn't in the right mindset when I started...but the feeling didn't change. The book, while well written, is just depressing to me. It is a creative way to tell a memoir, using baseball cards as the starting points for the chapters, but it just doesn't work for me. Perhaps it will for others though.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2011
They were gods. Of course. Why didn't I think of that? Unattainable. Above all. Beside all. Surrounding all. They permeated my life.

From his love of Yastrzemski to his views askew at Rowland Office, Carmen Fanzone, et al, Josh Wilkers has written a marvel of a book that hit home for me.

My era was 1967 through 1975; my cards wound up elsewhere. Not because my mother tossed them, but because in a few fits of perceived adult behavior I threw a bunch away and later sold a batch at a moving sale to an old woman who signed her Social Security check over to me. On occasion, my gods scream to me from their grubby graves, and some return via eBay.

As for some reviewers who point out that this book is not for kids, I argue that it is. With supervision. You don't protect kids from predatory adults by hiding their existence. This book would have thrilled me as a twelve to fifteen year old and it would have opened my eyes to the very real potential of encountering bad people at a time when I could have used a lesson in that sort of reality. It would have given me a better grasp on the fact that adults are just older kids: good, bad, ugly.

Josh Wilkers' honesty is refreshing, his language considered but never forced, and his insights worthwhile. On the cover, Comedian David Cross jokes that even Canadians might enjoy this book - but probably not Mexicans. I would argue that most card-collecting baseball fans will enjoy this book, but probably not Yankees fans. The author's childish, inappropriate reaction to the untimely death of Thurman Munson was jarring and unexpected. Not the reaction, but the guts it took to share. Raw, real stuff.

Thanks, Josh. I'll be hanging around
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 2010
Josh Wilker's CARDBOARD GODS is a trip down memory lane for anyone who grew up in the 70s collecting baseball cards. The concept that Wilker follows is so simple its genius. He opens each chapter with the reproduction of a card and starts talking about what the card signaled to him as a kid growing up. Sometimes its baseball, other times its the stupid expression on a player's face (see Rowland Office). He evidences his card collecting chops by noting that superstars like Johnny Bench got a ultimate card number like 300. Each new chapter holds the anticipation of seeing an old friend. The only minor complaints are that the book at times has a blog feel to it, more disjointed than unified, and a crudeness that could have been lessened a bit.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2012
Josh Wilker's CARDBOARD GODS is an entertaining, introspective and satisfying memoir about growing up. I'm always doubly entertained when the author is my age, and Wilkins and I share many of the same touchstones, birth in 1968 etc. Wilkins' CARDBOARD GODS refers to baseball cards, but this is not a book about collecting, pricing and storing - what Wilker has done is use specific cards from 1975 to 1981 and use them, whether it's the player or the colors or the style, as a jumping off point to tell the story of his unique childhood. His father was a sociologist in Manhattan and for a time he lived with his father, older brother, mother and her boyfriend as well as his father, until the boyfriend and mother took the brothers to Vermont to "get back to the land." Overnight visits to Manhattan shared space with life in rural Vermont, where Josh and his brother Ian struggled with an alternative family situation that resulted in outcast status amongst their peers. What he and his brother did share was a love of baseball and cards, and Josh was able to use the unwavering numbers on the cards as a constant. Wilker's story is no more horrific than anyone else's - it's interesting that he considered himself a loser when at several junctions of our parallel lives he seemed to be doing better than I was. His brother Ian looms as an iconic character, although since this is Josh's story his brothers inconsistencies in behavior or difficult to decipher. In the 1970s I was more into the CHARLIE'S ANGELS trading cards, but that walk to the corner marker to buy cards is one that I definitely remember. I started baseball cards in the early 1980s and became as obsessed as Wilker; wish I still had them. In the early 1990s got back into them as my baseball obsession grew, but this time more as a collector than a fan - and nope, those are gone as well. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed Wilker's memoir - both the style and the content.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2011
Simply one of the best books I've read in a very long time. I really connected with it. Perhaps it is the similarities in reader-author demographic. Grew up in the 70s (though I appear to be the age of Wilker's older brother in the book), separated parents, loved baseball and Topps cards, have brothers.

This is a classic 'don't judge a book by its cover' per se. It looks like a book for baseball geeks, card collectors or young male adults, etc... but I found it to be, despite innumerable points of hilarity, a very poignant memoir. Crafting the story of his confused and vulnerable adolescence around his baseball cards of the day is a unique strategy. Its seem kind of silly at first thought but works magnificently.

Wilker is a gifted, natural writer whose penchant for poignancy through humor is reminiscent of Pat Conroy. I actually plan to re-read this book and have actively recommended it to several friends. I don't know how he might follow up such a successful first effort, but it would be interesting to have a sequel tied to Wilker's life as he approaches the middle years.

Don't hesitate if you think you might like to read this book. Get it. Read it. Its well worth it. I laughed out loud and I'll admit even choked up a few times. Close to home. Well done, Wilker. You're in the starting lineup.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2010
I quit collecting baseball cards about the time Josh Wilker started. I got back into it for awhile as a grad student, until I attended a fateful card show. As I entered the Holiday Inn, a card seller was explaining to a potential buyer that "you don't need to know anything about baseball. You just check the guides and see what the cards are worth. It's just a product." Not know anything about baseball? I fled such heresy forever, before it tarnished the care that had gone into building my beloved Topps 1973 complete set. But in this case, I must confess, a reader really doesn't need to know anything about baseball to appreciate this marvelous, poignant, sometimes heartbreaking Frank McCourt-esque* autobiography about coming of age in a tough time and place with only two certainties in life, a game and a brother's love. Like Pat Jordan's A False Spring or Willie Morris's The Courting of Marcus Dupree, this is a signal work of literature that shouldn't be marginalized because it hangs it hat on a game. Spread the word.

* The Irish author, not the Dodgers' owner
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2010
This is a great book for anyone who, as a kid, would collect baseball cards and examine their collection over and over again and escape into a different world that only they could understand. I loved this book because it was creative and unique and connected with me in a way no other book has in a long time. Pieces of Wilker's life story are ones we've all heard at one point or another, his delivery is what personalizes these stories and captivates the reader. Every time I put this book down, I would be drawn back to my memories of growing up with my baseball cards and looking at photos of players and imagine what that player's particular city was like and fantasize about how great life must be to be a baseball player. Wilker's chapter contrasting his impression as a child of Steve Garvey, based on the photos on his baseball card, to his un-athletic Father was brilliant. No chapter was a disappointment and each one probed me to read "just one more" before I went to sleep. This book is simply outstanding.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2010
As a baseball fan who loved all those cards of my youth, and one who appreciates excellent non-fiction writing with a sense of humor, this book is in a class by itself. The concept of writing a book about one's life through baseball cards is incredibly original and flawlessly executed. I bonded with the characters in the book, the author's family, and grew worried how things would end up for the author.

Well done, Josh Wilker.
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