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The Cactus League

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  173 ratings  ·  52 reviews
An explosive, character-driven odyssey through the world of baseball
Jason Goodyear is the star outfielder for the Los Angeles Lions, stationed with the rest of his team in the punishingly hot Arizona desert for their annual spring training. Handsome, famous, and talented, Goodyear is nonetheless coming apart at the seams. And the coaches, writers, wives, girlfriends, petty
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published February 4th 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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  • The Cactus League by Emily Nemens
    The Cactus League
    Release date: Feb 04, 2020
    An explosive, character-driven odyssey through the world of baseball from Emily Nemens, the editor of The Paris Review. Win an early reader's copy!


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    Availability: 84 copies available, 1524 people requesting

    Giveaway dates: Feb 16 - Feb 23, 2020

    Countries available: U.S.

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    Andrew Owen I am loving this book and got convinced after attending a book event with Emily. Beautiful writing and wonderful character development. To answer you…moreI am loving this book and got convinced after attending a book event with Emily. Beautiful writing and wonderful character development. To answer you question, I can't stand watching a baseball game. This book is about people.

    Community Reviews

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    Average rating 3.95  · 
    Rating details
     ·  173 ratings  ·  52 reviews

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    Jan 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
    Nothing is static. "...not a man's career, especially not a ballplayer the first weeks of spring. His batting average, his ambition, his hopes: all is in flux." Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona was a 12,000 seat stadium, the new spring training home of the Los Angeles Lions, a Cactus League team. In February/March 2011, within the span of six weeks, a player could make a team, get sent down or get sent home. An unnamed sportswriter, without press credentials, jobless since his ...more
    Jan 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
    5+ out of 5.
    I don't like baseball. Never found it terribly interesting to watch. So why, then, do I find it so compelling to read? Perhaps it is the structure, a hypothesis about which Robert Coover and now Emily Nemens might agree. More so than football or basketball or soccer or really any other sport, the structure and simplicity of baseball lends itself well to narrative storytelling. 3 outs, 4 bases, 9 innings: there is a structure here.

    Nemens uses the 9-inning structure to tell a
    Feb 09, 2020 rated it liked it
    Most people are probably going to focus on Nemens’ use of the multiple POV, a structure she utilizes with much success (except for the chapter centering around the team owner with a bruised ego, as well the chapter focusing on the players’ wives). Nemens appears to have logged some time at spring training herself, and she paints the whole mess with clear lines for us readers.

    What really stood out to me, however, was the tone Nemens sets throughout the story. This is not a story of redemption,
    Geonn Cannon
    Sep 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
    I'm not huge into baseball, but I'm a big fan of this book (and the Lions, if they exist). The author does an excellent job of showing you characters from the inside out (and occasionally from the outside in) so you feel like you know them in the space of a few paragraphs. I was instantly absorbed by the characters and their world. I felt like I'd been to the games they were talking about, like I knew this team. I recommend this book not only to baseball fans, but also to anyone who likes a good ...more
    Nick Moran
    Feb 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
    Found its stride in the second half, and the final third was an absolute delight.
    Jan 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
    There is a rhythm to the game that those who are familiar with it can sense. The flip to start the double play, the throw back to the catcher, the tapping of the dirt off the cleats… Nemens captures much of the game in nine emotion -filled chapters.

    The characters run the gamut of the baseball world. There’s the superstar whose game is at its peak, but whose home life is filled with conflict. The rookie and the aging batting coach. The women who wait at the player’s gate and the rookies who don’t
    Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
    Full review at: http://www.everydayiwritethebookblog....

    Emily Nemens’ debut novel, The Cactus League, is a book about baseball told through interconnected chapters set in Scottsdale at the beginning of spring training in 2013. Jason Goodyear, a two-time MVP outfielder for the fictional L.A. Lions who is going through a tough stretch, is a recurring character threaded through the chapters (of which there are nine, of course), but the book is told through the point of view of other characters
    I found this book oddly fascinating. I have always been a fan of the type of stories that play with structure. This one wove stories together around one declining athlete. It was a little like Tartuffe, go with me on this. Everyone talked about Jason Goodyear in this book but we never really got to meet him until the end. Same with Tartuffe. Everyone talk about Tartuffe but we don't meet him until Act III. I enjoy that kind of storytelling.

    Normally, I am not a fan of short stories or essays. I
    Feb 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
    Emily Nemen's debut novel "The Cactus League" is not your typical baseball novel. There is no plucky underdog -- bat on his shoulders and heavier than the world -- in a bases-loaded, bottom of the ninth in Game Seven. It is not about the runs scored, the extra base hits, or even the wins and losses. It is not about a game, a series of games, but rather about the game: how baseball is sewn into the very essence of our beings, dictates our perspectives, and shapes our lives and relationships.

    Greg Zimmerman
    Jan 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
    First appeared https://www.thenewdorkreviewofbooks.c...

    If you're like me, and you believe baseball to be a near-perfect metaphor for life, then you'll love Emily Nemens' new novel, The Cactus League. Baseball, as does life, has its own rhythm and flow: time moves at its own pace. That's why a workday seems interminable, but your week of vacation seems to fly by in a blink. Similarly, when a setup man can't find the strike zone in the bottom of the 8th inning, you feel like time is crawling. But
    Jan 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
    Before I discuss how much I enjoyed reading this novel, I must admit that I was predisposed to liking it: Bull Durham is one of my favorite movies and I got engaged at Spring Training in Arizona in 2003.

    Emily Nemens has written an engaging novel which revolves around people whose lives are impacted by the 6-8 weeks of spring training each year in Arizona - the rookies, the veterans, the AAA batting coach, the owner, an agent, the players wives and girl friends, the aging groupies and people that
    Feb 15, 2020 rated it liked it
    As a fan of both baseball and literary fiction I thought I’d love this book. Unfortunately, it was not sufficiently about baseball nor “literary” enough and I did not love it. That’s harsh: I just had too high expectations. The structure is: vignettes about various characters/topics on and circling around a baseball team, all weaving together, and colliding in a final event. Kind of like Tommy Orange’s “There There.” But there were too many dead weight subjects - you could sniff a hint of ...more
    Karen Voitik
    Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
    >Book Review – The Cactus League
    >I am an independent reviewer. This book is a standalone work of fiction that doesn’t really have an ending. The book shows a realistic view of what takes place during baseball’s spring training, told from multiple points of view. Each type of character has a different reason for being where they are. There are the gold diggers who use the naiveté of some of the players to either marry or receive expensive gifts from them. The coaches are trying to create a
    Feb 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
    I picked a good read for this time of year, and the timing of its publication is no wonder. The Cactus League is a compelling look into the lives of ball players, coaches, baseball wives, and more. Each chapter is told from a different vantage point of individuals connected through and around the fictional LA Lions, an MLB team in Arizona’s spring Cactus League.

    From the Arizona setting that becomes almost another character, to the level of detail Nemens provides—talk about an author who did her
    Feb 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
    Shelves: 2020, baseball
    In excitement for a Spring Training-related trip to Arizona, I read The Cactus League, my first fictional book about baseball. Admittedly, I knew nothing of the author nor did I know anything about the plot, but I needed a baseball book to soothe a lack of baseball in the dreadfully long off-season.

    The Cactus League is a series of short, slice of life stories connected by one team and its MVP, Jason Goodyear. Baseball is always about humanity, but this book is less about the game and more about
    Feb 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
    This is a very well-written novel by the editor of the Paris Review. It's an intense, dystopian view of what happens to a fictional team in the spring cactus league of Major League Baseball during one month or so in Scottsdale, Arizona. The author writes vignettes of various players, wives, ex-wives, coaches, ex-coaches, and various hangers-on from the center to the periphery of one baseball team. In the end the stories all come together in an unpredictable way to provide a plausible portrait of ...more
    Jan 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
    Baseball is certainly the most literary sport. It's not my favorite sport, but it tops my sports reading, by far and away. It's no contest. And in this novel-in-stories, baseball once again hits it out of the literary park.

    In 9 stories (get it? Like 9 innings?), we see various angles on the L.A. Lions' preseason Arizona league. We start with the batting coach who once tried for the major leagues himself, who returns to his beloved Arizona home only to find it has been trashed by squatters while
    Jan 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
    Less the story of a single player and more a series of glimpses into the lives that make up the ecosystem of one baseball team at spring training including the agents, organ player, owner, and women looking to hook or hold onto a player. We get to see the ambition, jealousies, desperation, victories, and kindnesses from those who circle the game,some out of love for the sport and some just wanting a piece of the magic. At the center is Jason Goodyear, the star player in crisis, and what he ...more
    Feb 19, 2020 rated it liked it
    Rounded up. I love baseball, its intricacies, its mind games, its serendipity, the drama, and the comedy. And I love a good baseball book. This wasn't one. The author knows baseball for sure and I could relate to the setting in Scottsdale, Arizona, during Spring Training. I've spent nearly 15 years there, hoping against hope that my Rockies would make it to the big games and win this time. Sadly, though, everyone felt like cookie-cutter characters. The women were especially disappointing, ...more
    Derek Moore
    Feb 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
    This is a baseball story that revolves around the lives of people involved in spring training in Arizona. Emily Nemens has very cleverly numbered her chapter 1 through 9 resembling the 9 innings in a baseball game. Each chapter begins with a lesson about the land and other interesting facts. The rest of the chapter is told from the point of view from the other characters who are in Scottsdale for training. Jason Goodyear is the focus. We see him for who he really is, or do we? I found this to be ...more
    Patricia Baker
    Jan 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
    well written book about baseball and life. not especially a fan of baseball, but like the characters that populate this book. it was a circle of evolving people both associated with baseball and those on the fringes. think one of my favorite part was the description of baseball wives and how their baseball husbands idea of the perfect house. "entertainment room the size of an elementary school auditorium, full of leather a semicircle around a TV screen the size of a California king ...more
    Julie Wawers
    Feb 16, 2020 rated it liked it
    My general thoughts about this book are that I’m relieved to be done with this, and I’m sad that it didn’t live up to the hype for me. It’s told from a bunch of point of views all focusing around the Los Angeles Lions, a professional baseball team, and their time spent in Arizona for Spring Training. The reader hears from everyone from the star baseball player to the owner to the baseball groupies. This was definitely well written and an interesting concept, but I just didn’t connect with it. I ...more
    Kathleen Gray
    Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
    You don't have to like baseball (or even know the game really well) to appreciate this interesting debut which circles Jason Goodyear, a star at spring training in Arizona. You learn his story, more or less, through a series of 9 (get it?) interconnected portraits of other associated with the game. There's a coach, an agent, a rookie, a sportswriter, a woman has been married to two players, and so on. And last of all is Jason. It's less about the game than it is about the people. Nemens has done ...more
    Linda Frances
    Feb 13, 2020 rated it liked it
    I'm not much of a sports fan anymore, but I used to like baseball. After hearing an interview with the author on NPR I decided to give the book a try.

    It really seemed more like a bunch of loosely connected short stories than a novel. Most of the stories were interesting, with the exception of the one about the group of wives. I was disappointed that most had no conclusion, and I found them to be more depressing than uplifting.

    I hated the between chapter pontificating by the sports writer about
    David Steele
    Jan 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
    I really liked this book as it helped to chase away the doldrums of being a Pirate fan and the last few years of having a Grinch owner. My dad and his wife used to spend the winter in Bradenton Florida and I spent a week with them in 1998 during spring training for the Pirates. What a great time I had there.
    There are a few thing that I could quibble about. like players wives, none of them had their own businesses and careers? But a good story, great characters and really just a fine book about
    Chris Callahan
    Feb 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
    I couldn’t resist trying this new baseball novel at the start of a new season, so, much to my surprise, there was almost no actual baseball in this book. What is here are some interesting stories and character studies about people who are mostly on the periphery of the baseball world (an agent, an organist, baseball wives and “cleat-chasers”, etc.) and the mostly sketchy off-field activities of players who are in various stages of their careers. This was not what I expected, but that isn’t a bad ...more
    Susie | Novel Visits
    Jan 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
    Note: I received a copy of this book from the Farrar, Straus and Giroux (via NetGalley) in exchange for my honest review.

    I’m not sure there’s anything I like much more than when a book takes me completely by surprise and that’s exactly what happened with The Cactus League. Books that are actually connected short stories typically have me running the other way. I hadn’t realized that was the case with Nemens’ new book until I finished the first chapter and began the second, but oh, I loved that
    Julie Breslow
    Feb 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
    The perfect book to read for Spring Training. Now I'm ready for baseball! Seriously, this is a lovely book--9 stories about people connected to a major league baseball team. It takes place during the team's spring training in Scottsdale Az. I love this book--I enjoyed the baseball insights, but the characters were really well drawn, and the stories poignant. The only thing I wasn't crazy about were the brief intros to each story, written by an "old sports writer." I didn't think those sections ...more
    Lauren Archer
    Jan 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
    What an amazing read. At first glance, I thought a book at baseball, probably not for me. However, after hearing more and more about it, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. Even though this book centers around baseball there is actually very little baseball in this novel.

    For my full review, please visit my blog at:

    Thank you NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
    Feb 18, 2020 rated it liked it
    Nicely done set pieces about the game, the people who play it, coach it, and follow it, especially the women looking for ballplayer mates, and the women who married them. Nemens know the game so well and takes such joy in describing it that you forget where you are. She takes you right into the park for spring training. So as much as this is a "book about baseball," it's really about the people who play it, coach it and follow it.
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