September 05, 1977 12:00 PM

by Jonathan Yardley

Ring Lardner, a sportswriter who wrote short stories, light verse, song lyrics and nonsense plays for fun and profit, refused to be a Great Writer (which puzzled and irritated some of his contemporaries like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald). This literary biography of Lardner, by a critic who is also a sports buff, is a scholarly complement to last year’s intensely personal one by Ring Jr. Yardley traces the tortured syntax of ballplayers, their fans and other children as preserved by Ring’s devastatingly acute ear. In biting vignettes and small masterpieces, Lardner’s voice of the Middle West won the admiration of critics from the Algonquin wits to Edith Sitwell. In the process Yardley re-creates America’s post-Edwardian sports era, when baseball was really the Great American Sport. (Random House, $12.95)

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