The memoir follows Wilker, now 42, into his adulthood, most of which he characterizes as a series of failures for a would-be writer. Having long since stopped collecting baseball cards, Wilker found himself lost and adrift, with childhood’s “unbroken ladder of years seemingly aimed in the direction of the gods” having dissipated.
In 1999, in search of fulfillment and literary inspiration, he moved for a year into a Vermont cabin without electricity or running water while teaching creative writing at a small state college. Without much else in the way of stimulation, he found himself staring at his baseball cards by a kerosene lamp. The childhood memories stirred up by the cards inspired him to write. By turning to his cardboard gods, Wilker found his voice as a writer. His blog followed a few years later, followed by the book deal. (In addition to his writing, Wilker works part-time as an editor and proofreader, and lives in Chicago.)
Wilker counts Frederick Exley, author of “A Fan’s Notes,” a fictionalized memoir weaving his New York Giants super-fandom around tales of his alcoholism and mental illness, as one of his literary heroes. Exley’s influence is apparent in “Cardboard Gods.” Both narratives are steeped in the authors’ feelings of failure, but they end on a triumphant note that is the writing of the books themselves. “Cardboard Gods” is also a worthy descendant of “A Fan’s Notes” in showing that when it comes to sportswriting, what the games mean to its fans is often more interesting than the games themselves.