Anyone named H. Thomas Steele who sits down to write a book on bowling begins with a handicap. H. Thomas is not a bowling name. Tom is, and Tommy certainly is. Yes, Tommy Steele is simple and unpretentious, possibly a brother Raccoon. Sergeant Steele is a good pin name, too. Sarge could be counted on to win a few beer frames. In his book Bowl-O-Rama: the Visual Arts of Bowling ( Abbeville Press, $19.95), Steele tacitly acknowledges the name problem by being pictured wearing a bowling shirt with FLOYD stitched over the pocket.
Steele is a graphic designer whose first book was a colorful salute to Hawaiian shirts. In this, his second work, he pays tribute to bowling kitsch with a well-designed, though undersized, coffee-table book. The author takes the reader on a four-color tour of the game's attic and finds not only shirts and trophies but also clocks, sheet music, costume jewelry and much more.
It is these fanciful items, many from Steele's personal collection, that give the book life. Where else is one likely to find a bowling weather vane? A portable bar in the shape of a bowling ball, complete with pump decanter and liqueur glasses? An automobile shaped like a tenpin?
Steele is a designer, not a writer. The blocks of text that accompany the objets de bowling art are often insipid, though they are, fortunately, never lengthy. The abbreviated text also allows the author to avoid the big questions about bowling and the arts: Why aren't there any great bowling ballets? Operas? Novels? When will Philip Glass score a PBA tournament? Is rock 'n' bowl here to stay?
The book shows a pronounced Southern California bias, but, in fairness, where else has kitsch been so publicly and joyfully embraced? Steele, a native Angeleno, is in touch with the innate humor of his subject. The cover of Bowl-O-Rama features a bowling ball with the three finger holes cut out so the reader can get a good grip on the subject.
H. Thomas has assembled a book more than worthy of his name.