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The Cactus League

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3.48  ·  Rating details ·  2,808 ratings  ·  467 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
...more
Hardcover, 275 pages
Published February 4th 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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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.
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Average rating 3.48  · 
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Fran
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 newspaper' ...more
Drew
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 novel-in-
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Dax
Feb 09, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, 3-stars
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, no
...more
Lorna
The Cactus League was a delightful debut novel by Emily Nemens. It actually was a series of short stories, all loosely woven together by our narrator, a former sports journalist from a now defunct newspaper as he encourages us to settle in for the long game. The structure of this book was in nine chapters (or short stories) and reflective of the nine innings a baseball game. It is set in Scottsdale, Arizona where the fictional Los Angeles Lions have come for their spring training as part of the ...more
Matthew
Mar 10, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5 stars.

I love baseball. A lot.

Just how much do I love baseball? So much so I included it as one of my interests on my Goodreads profile! In all seriousness, it’s been a love affair of mine since I was a wee lad of seven, when a perfect storm of my beloved Detroit Tigers winning the World Series and the release of The Natural in movie theaters sparked a fascination that’s just as fervent today.

And yet it’s this fervency that fuels my rather stringent opinion on any baseball-related pop cultur
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Allison
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 comple ...more
Christine
Mar 13, 2020 rated it it was ok
I *really* wanted to enjoy this. Love baseball. Thought it was right up my alley. It was so SLOW, I couldn’t slog my way through it. Too much detail, didn’t care about the characters, parts of it reminded me of Bull Durham (but that story’s already been done). Made it about halfway and bailed.
Scottsdale Public Library
If you know the Valley of the Sun, Cactus League baseball or are a fan of sports fiction, this is the book for you! Being a resident of Scottsdale, AZ, I was especially intrigued by the many local references to iconic restaurants (The Pink Pony and Don and Charlie's), Salt River Fields and Talking Stick Casino, as well as the history and archaeological information about the area that Nemens cleverly includes. The author's love of baseball is also evident in her strong characters, from an aging b ...more
Abraham Allende
Feb 25, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: sports, novel-fiction
Each year during Spring Training I pick up a baseball book to ease me into the mood for the season. Normally, it's non-fiction; a biography of a former player, or a historical account of a significant season. Therefore, reading a novel about baseball was a radical change of pace for me. I eagerly anticipated reading this book after hearing an interview with the author and reading all the other reviews.
I can't express my disappointment strongly enough.
I'm an avid baseball fan, and, I must add,
...more
Gail
Mar 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
I love a good book about baseball, and since the coronavirus has wrecked havoc on this year’s MLB season, this novel (made up of linked stories about a cast of characters whose lives revolve around the Los Angeles Lions, the pro team that plays their spring training games in Arizona) is about as close to the real thing I’m going to get this season.

(Confession: I am still not over the fact that FOX cancelled “Pitch,” so I might have envisioned some amalgamation of Mark-Paul Gosselear and a Hems
...more
Erin
Apr 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2020
This book crawls along like a too-hot afternoon game.
The story focuses on the pre-season decline of an aging star outfielder, told through everyone else's eyes. Yes, it's the popular structure of separate stories held together by one character or event, and here, that's Jason Goodyear, a character whom I wish had gotten more page time and been given a deeper emotional backstory in each one of the vignettes he popped through. The idea of weaving together the many people who are effected by one m
...more
Brad Fox
Apr 14, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not sure what to say but in the end I was disappointed.

I got this book as a birthday present. My mom knows I love baseball. I just don’t get it. As some of the other reviewers have said, the character development starts well but is incomplete. The “chapters” seem to be more like separate stories that interconnect, sort of but in such an awkward way it is difficult to understand why and how. There are some good ideas that aren’t developed and story lines with potential that just stop. Oh, and th
...more
Erica Bauermeister
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I'm not a big baseball fan, but I picked up this book on a recommendation of a friend, and after reading a few pages I was hooked by the author's use of language and her ability to capture characters within a paragraph. This is a series of interconnected stories, set in Phoenix during spring training. There is a narrative arc that runs through the whole book, but what really matters is the insights into each of the characters who are all remotely or intimately connected (more of the former than ...more
Mimi
Aug 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
I am a big fan of character novels as well as baseball. However, one of the things that I have learned is not only do I like character driven novels, but they must be likable - or at least redemptive - characters. This book is a series of interconnected short stories about awful people doing awful things. The baseball element does not outweigh this muck.
James Murphy
May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Cactus League is a novel made up of linked stories. I think it quite accomplished, perhaps the best new fiction I've read in a while. I have to say I'm aware aware that such rhapsodic praise might be colored by the fact that I love baseball novels, which this is. The Cactus League, though, is a different kind of baseball novel. It's not so much about the drama of the game, of any one particular game, let alone one that casts life-defining moments and lessons on unguarded characters ready to ...more
Cherise Wolas
Set in the baseball and baseball-tangential microcosm of Scottsdale, Arizona, this novel is about various characters connected directly or indirectly to the Lions baseball team -- from Michael, the baseball player who never made it to the big leagues and is now some kind of team coach and perhaps soon to be out of a job; to Tami, the aging baseball-bunny, a la the Susan Sarandon character in Bull Durham; to Stephen Smith, the married, black, part-owner of the team perhaps hiding a secret about h ...more
Curtis Edmonds
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"What Nemens does in THE CACTUS LEAGUE --- and brilliantly so --- is to describe the quietly desperate lives of the various characters and invite the reader to find not only empathy with them, but communion as well." Read the rest at Bookreporter.com. ...more
Mary
Feb 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Emily Nemens’ “The Cactus League,” a novel in interrelated stories, looks at the behind-the-scenes lives of players, coaches and fans at the beginning of one spring season in Arizona for the fictional Los Angeles Lions baseball team. Linked by the musings of a recently unemployed sportswriter, the stories explore the marital issues, financial woes, health problems and romantic yearnings of a cast of characters who then briefly appear in other stories (similar to the structure of Elizabeth Strout ...more
Joe
Aug 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful book. Anyone who can tie in jazz legends Bill Evans, and Scott LaFaro to the drama of spring training in Arizona is a great story teller. Well developed characters. Stadium organ player Lester Morrow a favorite. Don’t we all wonder how they get the gig? I recommend this one even if you are not a baseball fan but all the more if you are.
Gayle
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 livi
...more
Anne Marie
Feb 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: baseball, 2020
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
...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.
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
Joe
Apr 02, 2020 rated it it was ok
I read the very favorable reviews for this debut novel and was intrigued. I started reading it this morning and was caught only after about 10 pages. As I read past 100 pages, I wondered if someone else took over the writing. The narrative no longer flowed; the characters and situations were muddled and totally uninteresting.
I’m surprised and saddened by this author’s inability to continue the narrative as she had begun. Then maybe again, perhaps it’s me. Either way, I struck out.
Jimmy Mustion
Mar 09, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2020
This was awful. I just got done reading it and I still have no clue what it was about.
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
...more
Mike
Jan 16, 2021 rated it it was ok
The Cactus League
by
Emily Nemens

2 Stars

I really wanted to like this book, but it just didn’t work for me. The book is a series of related stories centered around a troubled baseball star during spring training in Arizona. The book is billed as a novel, but each chapter is essentially a separate story centered around one character or group of characters that come together during spring training. As a result, there’s very limited character development and little or no flow to the story. The ending
...more
Chris
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
Barbara
Mar 06, 2020 rated it liked it
A small book with a big message about life in the minor and major leagues of baseball. It takes a whole community to run a baseball team, including the star baseball player, the team slut, and the older batting coach featured in the story. The setting of this fictitious story is in the Phoenix area. It is not an exciting novel, but baseball is not usually an exciting sport. My favorite character was Michael, the batting coach, who has made an entire career out of baseball.
Jennifer
Aug 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
I struggled to get into this novel about baseball and chance, but I was captivated by the end. There are a lot of characters (too many?) and a lot of baseball (too much?), but the overall theme about taking chances on the good life and often losing is really compelling. Every move the characters make -- there are baseball players and agents and groupies and people just looking for redemption -- is aspirational and foolhardy and hopeful and tragic all at once.

The Arizona setting plays a prominen
...more
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