WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING
"Before being taken over by artisanal cheese and ironic beards, there was... Brooklyn - large enough to be America's 4th largest city. If Brooklyn lore wasn't part of your life, it can be now, thanks to Bill Gralnick."
Good luck with it - and please know your Brother's memory lives on, in me and others, every day - in the words we write and the pictures we choose."
Brian - Brian Williams, NBC News
As a longtime believer that everyone should write a memoir, I’m delighted to report that Bill Gralnick fulfills the mandate with gusto. It’s lively, personal and savvy, filled with characters that will either make you gasp with recognition (between laughs), or inspire you to celebrate the cast of your own life. Or both. Read it. Then write.
--Lynn Sherr, former ABC News Correspondent; author; memoirist.
"Bill Gralnick's colorful memories of growing up in Brooklyn are likely to make any reader wish they, too, had spent their childhood in the wonderful neighborhoods of Brooklyn. The author's vivid stories of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Ebbets Field rang true with me. As a kid, I had the good fortune to spend summers in and around the Dodgers clubhouse and among the great Brooklyn ballplayers of the '50s -- Gil Hodges, Carl Erskine, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, and Newk and Campy. There was no place like Brooklyn. Bill Gralnick tells us why."
-- Peter Bavasi, former Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians president, San Diego Padres general manager, and son of legendary Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi
“I am neither from Brooklyn nor am I Jew. In fact, I am Irish through and through, and yet I found Bill’s stories to be my stories, Bill’s growing up pains to be my growing up pains. No matter where you’re from and who you are, you will find this the kind of book we all need every-so-often, light and enjoyable with a bunch of laughs.”
As a life-long journalist, I have seen what Walter Cronkite meant when he said, “Bad news is good news.” If you want to push aside the bad news, dive into Bill Gralnick’s latest book. You’ll smile your way to the end.”
- Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, has extensive political and wartime reporting experience. He provides analysis of national polls and polls in California, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Georgia. A 33-year veteran of television news and a seasoned political reporter, Malloy has won ten Emmy Awards for documentary work and war coverage. He coauthored a New York Times best selling nonfiction book with James Patterson in 2016. Malloy has a BA in English from Hamilton College.
“I am not Jewish and I am not from Brooklyn, but the tales in this book make me think that as youngsters, regardless of race, creed, or color, we were all the same.”
- A.J. Catanese, Ph.D., FAICP
President Emeritus, Florida Atlantic University and Florida Institute of Technology
"I LOVE IT !!! AND REMEMBER IT WELL!!!
YOUR BEST WORK-QUIT WHILE UR AHEAD!!!”
- Dan Zipkin
"Your book is both profound and witty, a Brooklyn for everyone and your personal story for those who look for it, like me.
When I came to the end and the Post Script, I immediately went back to your Prelude and reread them both for your personal message. Your stories of an unhappy kid, growing up in Brooklyn packed a wollop and were mostly unknown to me.
I look forward to the next installment of your memoirs and hope you include encounters with dogs, snakes and other pets that played a part of what I hope was a happier time for you. I want that quiet little Brooklyn boy that I remember, to be happy". - Bern R.
"Bill, Read your book a couple of weeks ago but then left for Italy (we ate out way through) for a couple of weeks. Now back after some jet lag and want to tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed reading of your childhood exploits in Brooklyn. So many of your episodes hit home as I put myself right in the scenarios you so vividly painted. My neighborhood in Flushing was the same as you depicted. A couple of blocks in one direction and it's like an alien state. I thought of old friends, and girlfriends, that I hadn’t thought about in years. It was fun." - BC/Baltimore
"Itchy Balls" arrived from Amazon this week. I am having a ball thumbing through it, reading here and there, kvelling a lot and loving the Brooklynism's throughout the book. I am having a great time matching my Brooklyn family and neighborhoods with yours and loving the anecdotes and the continuity of the wacky, savvy Brooklyn scene. Congratulations on a thoroughly well written book, that is totally enjoyable, and that captures so vividly the spirit of our old homeland." - Irving
"This volume, by turns nostalgic and hilarious, is an excellent memoir. A paean to his birthplace and boyhood, and, by extension, to all of our growing up years, Gralnick's volume returns us to the joys, fears, and sheer wonderment of our beginnings. His narrator 's Damon Runyon voice adds to the wistfulness of the volume's chapters and leaves the reader longing for more.
Brooklyn, to many people, is synonymous with the Dodgers - that talented and zany collection of baseball players - who collectively awaited "next year." But Brooklyn emerges as so much more ihan one of New York City's five boroughs in Gralnick's coming of age memoir. Parents, playmates, girl friends, all described with the author's steady and wry voice, make us all feel like (honorary) Brooklynites. S. J. Perelman, the humorist, was once asked by a neophyte author for help in titling his forthcoming novel the humorist is alleged to have responded: Does your book contain any grass or trees? The author replied, no. Then "Title your book 'No grass no Trees.'" Gralnick's memoir has both grass and trees. It is definitely worth the read."
“I havent stopped laughing since I started reading Bill’s book.”
- CS/Baltimore, Md.
THE WAR OF THE ITCHY BALLS and other tales from Brooklyn, by William A. Gralnick, Barringer Publishers, Naples, Fl. 2020, 400 pages, $15.95
Reviewed by Jack Riemer
I can’t describe my past with as much ability as Bill Gralnick does in this book, but I sure wish I could. Some time ago, my grandson asked me to write the story of our family and of my childhood years for him, and I thought that I did a fairly good job when I filled about fifty pages with my recollections. But then I read this book and it made my efforts seem feeble by comparison. Bill Gralnick tells the story of his experiences growing up in the long lost kingdom that was Brooklyn in the nineteen fifties in these four hundred pages, and some of these pages made me laugh, some of them made me cry, and some of them made me groan with painful self recognition.
You may think that you had no experiences that are worth retelling, but this book will make you rethink that belief. You may have forgotten what it was like for you when you went through your first day of school---with all of the trepidation and all of the anxiety that anticipating that awesome day filled you with, but no explorer who ever landed on a new continent for the first time felt anything more intense than what you felt that day. You may have forgotten what it was like to live through the experience of learning how the bodies of boys and girls differ, and then trying to figure out what to do with this important and life-changing information, but no scientist in any laboratory even felt more triumphant and then more excite and then more anxious than you did on that day, and your life has never been the same since. And the first day that you drove? ---the day when you slowly, slowly backed the car out of the driveway and drove it a few feet down the street—trying to remember as you did which was the gas pedal and which was the brake---and which was your right foot and which was your left---no pilot and no astronaut ever felt more anxiety and more sense of achievement when he took off for the first time than you did on that day?
We have all had these experiences, but most of us have put them away somewhere, and can no longer locate them in the corner of our brains in which we stored them.
And that is why this book of Bill Gralnick’s is so special. He brings the experiences that he had in his childhood to life and makes us realize that we had them too. We, too, lived in some kind of a “Brooklyn”---wherever it may have been---and we, too, lived on a street, that had its own rules and regulations. There were those whom we were allowed to play with and those that we were not allowed to play with. There were times when we were allowed to play and there were times when we had to come in and do our homework or eat our ‘supper’—(as we called dinner back then). These laws were never codified on paper but they were just as binding as any that are passed by legislatures or organized into codes today.
For example, Bill Gralnick tells of the time when he invited a girl who was not of our faith to his house so that he could show her his room and the toys in it. His mother answered the door before he could. She took one look at the cross this girl wore on her necklace, and pushed her out the door, saying: “Billy has to do his homework now!”
No country club---(a term that none of us had ever heard of back then)---no country club was ever more restrictive than his mother’s house was that day.
And Bill Gralnick tells another story about his mother, this one in which she is a woman who protects her children from violence instead of from intermarriage. They had no gang on his street, but they had one loud-mouthed youngster who was always claiming that they were his gang, and one day this kid challenged the Irish kids who lived on the next block to fight him and his gang. They came, and when Bill and his friends looked at them, they were simply terrified. This kids were much, much bigger than they were, and they came swinging bicycle chains, swishing broken-off antennae (which for the benefit of those who did not live in that world were what cars had before satellite radios came along) and wearing brass knuckles. One of them was the size of an NFL defensive tackle. And there were a lot of them, more than there were of us, says Gralnick.
There was no representative of the United Nations around to negotiate a peace agreement, and I can only imagine what kind of a slaughter there might have been, had it not been for the sudden appearance of his mother. His mother was a college educated woman from New Jersey, who was married to a “professional man” (as those families whose daughters married dentists instead of doctors referred to them), but she sized up the situation quickly, and out of her mouth came words that nobody would have thought she knew. She threated to call the police, and then the navy and then the army, and then she issued her ultimate threat: she was going to call out the marines if they did not go back where they came from imeedjetly and leave her children (which meant all the children on her block) alone.
The gang was astonished, in some part by her threats, and in some part by her vocabulary, and so they turned around and ran---in what was probably the biggest retreat on American soil since the Civil War.
I invite you to read this book---not only if you come from Brooklyn and still remember the Bridge and Nathans and Coney Island and the Dodgers who together defined the borough in that era. I invite you to read this book so that it will prod you to remember your own old neighborhood as well, so that it will enable you to relive your world-that-was, and to transmit a bit of what it was like to your grandchildren.
"This volume, by turns nostalgic and hilarious, is an excellent memoir. A paean to his birthplace and boyhood, and, by extension, to all of our growing up years, Gralnick's volume returns us to the joys, fears, and sheer wonderment of our beginnings. His narrator’s Damon Runyon voice adds to the wistfulness of the volume's chapters and leaves the reader longing for more.
Brooklyn, to many people, is synonymous with the Dodgers - that talented and zany collection of baseball players - who collectively awaited "next year." But Brooklyn emerges as so much more than one of New York City's five boroughs in Gralnick's coming of age memoir. Parents, playmates, girlfriends, all described with the author's steady and wry voice, make us all feel like (honorary) Brooklynites. S. J. Perelman, the humorist, was once asked by a neophyte author for help in titling his forthcoming novel the humorist is alleged to have responded: Does your book contain any grass or trees? The author replied, no. Then "Title your book 'No grass no Trees.'" Gralnick's memoir has both grass and trees. It is definitely worth the read."
Dr. Alan L. Berger
Raddock Family Eminent Scholar Chair in Holocaust Studies
Director, Center for the Study of Values and Violence after Auschwitz
Affiliated Professor of the University of Haifa
Florida Atlantic University
So … Gralnick had Brooklyn. I had Philly.
He had bagels. I had soft pretzels.
He had Duke Snider and the Dodgers. I had Stan Lopata and the Phillies.
He had egg creams. I had Hires root beer.
And we both had amazing, memorable “younger days.”
I buried myself in “Itchy Balls” (figuratively speaking) and emerged smiling a lot and cringing a little as a result of tripping through Bill Gralnick’s capacious memory bank and his deft, understated way with words.
I once described his reminiscing as “Lake Wobegon with bagels.” It is -- and it’s better.
Make “War of the Itchy Balls” required reading for young people in Brooklyn today. Let them weigh what is against what was. It’s more rewarding, more informative than any history book you’ll find.
And it has heart … tons of heart.
- Randall Murray, retired journalist and syndicated wine and food writer.