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October 15, 1998|TIM KAWAKAMI

What: "Shoeless Joe," by W.P. Kinsella.

Price: $11 (Ballantine Books).

I found this book in a good bookstore in Boston, ducking the October wind and waiting for a Fenway Park playoff game.

In it, I discovered a jewel.

Don't read this book because "Field of Dreams" was based on this story. Don't read it for Hollywood hokeyness (OK, the movie was heartwarming, but hokey heartwarming).

Read this as a gentle break from a blockbuster baseball season of noise and pumping adrenaline. Read this as the deeper, darker genesis of the Kevin Costner vehicle.

And now, more than ever, read it--or reread it--for the delightful surprise on Page 90.

Read it for this monologue by the J.D. Salinger character. Read it for his sarcastic--but, you can sense, slightly less than wholehearted--debate with Kinsella, who says that the baseball field in his Iowa cornfield summons the spirits of dead baseball players.

"You? Oh, you won't be there," Salinger says. "You'll be lucky to be home once every three months for a day or so. You'll be off doing the talk-show circuit, and interviews with Playboy and Cosmopolitan. And the Los Angeles Times will pay Jim Murray's way to your stadium, and he'll write a column about being there, and there will be 200,000 new people beating at the doors of travel agencies all across North America."

Read it just to hear his name again, and remember how deeply Jim Murray was embedded in the soul of the sports world--and America.

Read Page 90, and you know this book isn't really about baseball. It's about loss, and dreams, and the American heart. This book was written in 1982, and we are losing more precious things every day.

"Annie and I were in Cooperstown once," Kinsella writes. "We looked at Shoeless Joe Jackson's shoes reposing under glass. 'How come a guy named Shoeless Joe had shoes?' Annie wanted to know. That was years before I built my ballpark. I explained that though Joe's shoes were there, he was not, and might never be."

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