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The Art of Fielding

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The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment - to oneself and to others. At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment - to oneself and to others. At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended. Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners' team captain and Henry's best friend, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life. As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment - to oneself and to others.


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The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment - to oneself and to others. At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment - to oneself and to others. At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended. Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners' team captain and Henry's best friend, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life. As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment - to oneself and to others.

30 review for The Art of Fielding

  1. 4 out of 5

    RandomAnthony

    Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding is 2/3rds strong but maybe 100 pages too long. You know that weird paradox you feel when you like a book but kind of wish it was over? I felt that around, oh, page 350 of The Art of Fielding. So while I can recommend the novel, with reservations, I can't make the four star leap. The storyline revolves around five characters and readers shouldn't be misled into thinking, as the inside cover description seems to imply, that Henry is the star and the four other cha Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding is 2/3rds strong but maybe 100 pages too long. You know that weird paradox you feel when you like a book but kind of wish it was over? I felt that around, oh, page 350 of The Art of Fielding. So while I can recommend the novel, with reservations, I can't make the four star leap. The storyline revolves around five characters and readers shouldn't be misled into thinking, as the inside cover description seems to imply, that Henry is the star and the four other characters lesser lights. The five meet, collaborate, have sex, become codependent (maybe...I'm not sure what “codependent” means) and evolve over the course of a couple years on the campus of a small northeastern Wisconsin college. Water (specifically Lake Michigan) and Moby Dick recur as themes that, I would bet, a grad student somewhere is analyzing in a paper right now. Harbach writes in a controlled, professional writer's workshop manner about 80% of the time. His writing is good, clean, and high-quality but, unfortunately, occasionally reads sterile. The "gay guys discovering each other" subplot was trite and predictable. Only in the last fifty pages does he passionately let loose. The novel's end is serene and satisfying. The first 460 pages are more like a clinic on how to write well. Nothing wrong with that. If you like austere, well-constructed novels, you'll like The Art of Fielding. Franzen gives a cover blurb, by the way. He's a good reference point for Harbach; “kind of like Franzen” would describe Harbach well. The prominent positioning of baseball in the title and storyline might lead non-sports-oriented (is that a word?) readers to question if this novel is for them. That's a fair inquiry. I bet you expect me to say, “No, you'll like the book even if you don't know much about baseball.” But I won't. Baseball knowledge/appreciation will increase your interest and/or understanding of The Art of Fielding. Too many scenes involve the committed, meditative approach Mike and Henry employ while on the diamond. If you don't know where a shortstop stands in the infield, stay away from this book. You won't get it. So I liked The Art of Fielding and expect the novel to garner many end of the year prizes and, possibly, a film deal leading to a serious, oscar-worthy movie. I just can't get passed the idea that, for a week or so before the final push toward the last page, I wasn't looking forward to reading this book much. Maybe the skyrocketing press and reviews raised my expectations too high. It's possible. Recommended with tempered enthusiasm.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Miriam

    People love to talk about the "great" books that aren't good reads. There's also the crap that people call "beach reads" but gobble up without taking seriously. But The Art of Fielding falls under a third category: A book I didn't like so much that I wanted to keep reading it. I wanted to like it, I did. I like books that take place in college. I like baseball. I like baseball metaphors even more. but it felt like a book that took 10 years to write and not in a good way. Characters that I imagine People love to talk about the "great" books that aren't good reads. There's also the crap that people call "beach reads" but gobble up without taking seriously. But The Art of Fielding falls under a third category: A book I didn't like so much that I wanted to keep reading it. I wanted to like it, I did. I like books that take place in college. I like baseball. I like baseball metaphors even more. but it felt like a book that took 10 years to write and not in a good way. Characters that I imagine Harbach struggled with, felt like he struggled with them and instead of dealing with it, he just left them hanging. He built up Henry and then had him fall apart so very quickly to such extremes AND THEN (spoiler) for no clear reason he makes amends (though I guess the extent of the amends is debatable). I think what bothered me the most though, was that this felt like a Tom Wolfe novel (the most obvious is I Am Charlotte Simmons ) but instead of creating complicated characters who have to deal with the consequences of their actions or characters who don't deserve the abundance of good luck that comes their way and know it, his characters are so one-dimensional that as much as I wanted to care about them, I couldn't. There's a benefit to realism, but if you don't create the "real," yet exciting (or at least compelling) characters to go with, why read it? I'm not sure why I wanted to keep reading it. Maybe it was in order to respond to people who sing its praises. Maybe it was to be justified in my dislike. Regardless, I propose a new genre of reading: anger reading (better name suggestions welcome).

  3. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    I loved this book! (I suppose it's appropriate that I start off my review like a fan.) While reading it, I couldn't help but reflect upon and compare this novel to The Marriage Plot. Both are about college-aged kids (though set in different decades); mental illness is an element in both; and while the love triangle in the Jeffrey Eugenides novel is paramount, the one here (which is sort of (though not really) a love triangle) is more subtle and more realistically portrayed. (I almost want to say I loved this book! (I suppose it's appropriate that I start off my review like a fan.) While reading it, I couldn't help but reflect upon and compare this novel to The Marriage Plot. Both are about college-aged kids (though set in different decades); mental illness is an element in both; and while the love triangle in the Jeffrey Eugenides novel is paramount, the one here (which is sort of (though not really) a love triangle) is more subtle and more realistically portrayed. (I almost want to say that, excepting the baseball, this is the book Eugenides wanted to write.) Literature is prominent in both, but here it has a lighter touch (less pretentious, one might say). There's also a beautifully written, lyrical passage in the Harbach that reminded me of my favorite passage in Eugenides' Middlesex. Though I've read Moby-Dick, it's been awhile and I'm sure I missed some of the references to it in this novel set in a fictional Wisconsin college where Melville is important to its existence. One section in the Harbach evoked (at least for me) E.M. Forster's Maurice. The fictional (the book-within-the-book) "The Art of Fielding" evokes Ted Williams' The Science of Hitting. The fictional author of the book-within-this-book is Aparicio Rodriquez, whose name evokes that of the great shortstop, Luis Aparicio. Though it's not said, I imagined the baseball-loving Rodriquez parents naming their child after Luis. (Also, Henry's chasing of the college record, held by Rodriguez, for consecutive games without an error recalls the chasing of Robin Ventura's college hitting streak by Garrett Wittels a couple of seasons ago.) But forget all the comparisons. This book stands on its own merits. It is intelligent, engaging and wry. It is a world unto itself, as most great books are. The characters go on living beyond the page, the story went places unforeseen, and I didn't want it to end. Baseball being a major plot/metaphor/theme (and the way Harbach wrote about it) made it all that much richer for me.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Man, I really didn't want to like this book. And here, quickly, are the reasons why: Number 1) Pure jealousy. Harbach got paid like a bajillion dollars for his very first novel. I was paid slightly less than that. Okay, a lot less than that. Number 2) I don't like n+1 magazine, of which he is the co-founder. I find it pretentious and boring. I would honestly rather read Cat Fancy. Number 3) Harbach wrote an article about MFA vs. New York writers that was, in a word, uber-douchy. And anyone who we Man, I really didn't want to like this book. And here, quickly, are the reasons why: Number 1) Pure jealousy. Harbach got paid like a bajillion dollars for his very first novel. I was paid slightly less than that. Okay, a lot less than that. Number 2) I don't like n+1 magazine, of which he is the co-founder. I find it pretentious and boring. I would honestly rather read Cat Fancy. Number 3) Harbach wrote an article about MFA vs. New York writers that was, in a word, uber-douchy. And anyone who weighs in on that argument has already told you something about themselves that you'd be best off not knowing. So, as you can see, I had all my petty reasons amassed into an army of pre-read hatred. I was ready to unleash the critical beast and be confirmed in my belief that all hyped literary things are, at heart, overrated, particularly new "it" books written by new "it" writers. Then I read it. And I'll be damned if it isn't a really good book. It's not earth-shattering. It's not even particularly person-shattering. But it's great storytelling, particularly when it comes to the friendship/rivalry of the two baseball players at its core. Harbach writes sports with a strong balance of precision and emotional coloration. He literally had me on the edge of my seat during his masterfully-imagined game days. I felt like I could see the whole field expand in front of me, but, on top of the action, I had access to the internal state of the players. And when it came to the wondrous and beleaguered Henry Skrimshander (a note: the names in this book will either be the best or the worst names in literary history, depending on your personal taste), it was fascinating to get inside the mind of a natural who is beginning to deal with the unnatural. And it was just as compelling to see the game from the eyes of Mike Schwartz, the old soul team captain who pops "Vikes" like they're beer nuts. Off the diamond, Harbach was a little less successful, but still batting at decent average (Ha! A baseball pun). While I had moments of disbelief with the gay affair that takes up a bit more page space than it likely should have, it was never completely bungled. And the lone female character, Pella, avoided token status with a compelling backstory and a believable case of indecision. Her life is pretty much defined by the men vying for her affections, but it helps (a tiny bit) that she admits this early on and tries to free herself of the affliction. The prose is a seemingly-effortless mix of clarity with flourishes of the lyric, particularly in moments of high action. I also really liked all the poetic waxing about America's pastime and the art of being a shortstop. On the whole, this was a solid meaty book about surprisingly interesting meat-heads. I cared. I invested. I wanted to be in the locker room of Westish College, post small-stakes win, all the while contemplating suffering, love, perfection, and the infinity pattern of a baseball's red stitching. But when I was done, I was happy to go back to being a barely-coordinated nerd. Less chance of a pulled groin.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    I’ve been in a bit of a book slump. I started and stopped three books before beginning this one. I picked it up solely because it is so different from what I have been reading. Score. It took a little while for me to become engaged because of the slump, but things soon clicked. The main protagonist, Henry Skrimshander, is a young baseball player and college student. His bible, a beat up book called The Art of Fielding, is full of philosophy and practical pointers on how to become the best player I’ve been in a bit of a book slump. I started and stopped three books before beginning this one. I picked it up solely because it is so different from what I have been reading. Score. It took a little while for me to become engaged because of the slump, but things soon clicked. The main protagonist, Henry Skrimshander, is a young baseball player and college student. His bible, a beat up book called The Art of Fielding, is full of philosophy and practical pointers on how to become the best player he can be. But this novel is not a baseball book per se. Yes, baseball is part of the setting as is the campus of a small liberal arts school in Wisconsin called Westish College, but the book is not focused on baseball or college. It is a character-driven story, a most wonderful character study of five very distinct people with intersecting lives. We have Henry and his gay roommate Owen. We also have college President Guert Affenlight and his previously estranged daughter, Pella. Finally there is Mike Schwartz, inspirational captain of both the Westish football and baseball teams as well as Henry’s mentor. Mr. Harbach does an exceptional job of bringing these characters to life. We are invited into the heads of all and get a meaningful understanding of each and every one. In many books, the reader is lucky to get one well-developed character. To have five in one books is a rare treat and one to savor. I came to really care about all five of these people and have no doubt I will remember them for a very long time. Some say there is some predictability to the story and the ending. I didn’t find that at all. I loved the little twists and changes of direction that I was not expecting. The ending is well done. Though there is room for future speculation (which is just fine in my mind), it is unrushed and poignant. Who could ask for more? I am especially impressed with The Art of Fielding as it is Mr. Harbach’s debut novel. Unfortunately, it is his only novel. As it was published in 2011, I’m not sure another is coming anytime soon or at all, which is a shame. But we do have this one, and I highly recommend it to all interested in entering the captivating world of these five memorable characters. Interest in baseball not required.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    I have stood there, with my knees bent, on the balls of my feet. I have watched the signs and where the catcher sets up. I have known with some sense of probability if my pitcher can throw the ball where the glove is set. I have watched the hitter's swing, listened to the sound. I have intuited. So I have moved, left or right, back or in, often before the ball leaves the bat, before life, if you will, comes my way. Another example of how Life, as the columnist Thomas Boswell once mused, imitates I have stood there, with my knees bent, on the balls of my feet. I have watched the signs and where the catcher sets up. I have known with some sense of probability if my pitcher can throw the ball where the glove is set. I have watched the hitter's swing, listened to the sound. I have intuited. So I have moved, left or right, back or in, often before the ball leaves the bat, before life, if you will, comes my way. Another example of how Life, as the columnist Thomas Boswell once mused, imitates the World Series. Now the ball is safely in my glove, but having bounced first, it can not stay there. I must throw to first. Having already successfully intuited, I must now correctly calculate. For the hitter is now a runner, and I must gauge his speed. I see him, a moving picture in my peripheral vision, flying down the line. I see the first baseman too, but less so. It is partially faith which makes me think he will be there at the terminus of my throw. I grip the laces, hoping it comes clean from my glove, doesn't snag on the webbing. I am off-balance, but I have done this before, which makes it both good and bad. Because I have done this and I have not done this. I have, as they say, hurried a throw. So I have been there, assigned a ticket in life, between Second and Third, when everything can end well, or not. It is not a good thing to be a thinking-man's shortstop and to experience Doubt. Henry, the shortstop in this readable but cliched novel, is placed in that moment in Prufrockian terms by the author. When muscle memory should once again get the ball safely to first, and on time, the Love Song rears its head and asks Do I dare? And do I dare? You would be hard-pressed to write a better movement of Steve Blass Disease than Chad Harbach did. However, well, the rest of the book sucked. The story flies by, as if that's a good thing. But it's Writing 101. Dialogue, shallow to begin with, ends in mid-exchange so, you know, you will want to get to the next chapter to find out what happened. The foreshadowing is so obvious that it almost spoils the plot. (What do you think will happen by the end of the book to the guy smoking cigarettes who is having chest pains in the first 100 pages?). The characters are from central casting. I know, I know, I know. Baseball fiction often tends to magic realism, like when long-dead ballplayers come in from the cornfield. But there's nothing magical here and it's not real. Maybe I'm just a guy who doesn't like liberties taken with my favorite sport. I mean, they could have gotten a better actor than Ray Liotta to play Shoeless Joe, maybe even one who hit left-handed. Here, Harbach has a college team playing back-to-back doubleheaders on consecutive days. That would never happen; don't have enough arms. Annoyingly, Harbach insists on infusing his characters with ethnic or gender identity, as if that will do in place of character development. So we have the all-time great retired shortstop, Aparicio Rodriguez (wince). The beautiful gay boy who makes a 60 year-old straight man lose his mind. (Not exactly Death in Venice or The Immoralist but Harbach woulda if he coulda). The Jewish catcher. There was no reason to make him Jewish except to check another ethnic group off the roster. This college catcher, by the way, decides to go to law school, so he applies to the top six law schools in the country (Yale, Harvard, Stanford, etc). But just those. While Henry the shortstop jumps from Freshman to Junior year in one sentence, the catcher takes a chapter to hold the last letter of rejection or acceptance in his hands, finally letting it open from the steam of the whirlpool. How's that for an existential moment? Hamlet in a steam bath. But we, of course, don't learn whether he was accepted for another several chapters, such is the writing device at play. And of course, if you can't get into the top six law schools, then you can't go to law school. (In my defense, I was trapped on an airplane and down to my last book, so I had no choice but to read on). Most grating was Harbach's insistence in making sure that everyone knows he's a card-carrying feminist. So, he will write about the best professor on campus but only use the first initial, so the reader will assume it's a man, when, of course, it's not. Gotcha! Same thing with a treating physician. Same thing with a sports agent. But worst of all, to really, really, really prove that he's a feminist, he insists on calling freshmen freshpersons! Incessantly. For this alone he should roast in Hell and must be stopped. How about this: you want to be a feminist, don't treat women like assholes. Given the chance, with the lone female protagonist, he paints her as waffling and male-dependent. Accepted to Yale, Pella never goes, instead hooking up with a married man who calls her Bella in condescending fashion. She takes it, letting herself waste away on alcohol and anti-depressants. When she finally breaks away, she floats without bearing, mooring only to have sex as if that's all she was born to do. But to get one last chance to prove his feminist credentials, Harbach gives us this: Pella felt her own eyes getting moist. Humans are ridiculous creatures, she thought, or maybe it's just me: a purportedly intelligent person, purportedly aware of the ways women and wage laborers have been oppressed for millennia -- and I get choked up because somebody tells me I'm good at washing dishes. Speaking of sex, Harbach can't or won't write about it. And there were times when it wasn't gratuitous and should have been written about. But true to device, Harbach ends those chapters with a literary coitus interruptus. Sorry for all the negativity, but as Harbach tells us, "Literature could turn you into an asshole.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Fabian

    UNBELIEVABLE. Baseball is, without a doubt, kinda sorta, um... dull. But with near-perfect (actually more perfect than near-perfect) "The Art of Fielding," the passion in the hearts of five individuals will likewise light a passion within the impressionable reader. I am not kidding. I LOVE this novel. I was convinced that "The Marriage Plot", a kindred book-- same time, same themes, same environment-- by Eugenides was the definitive college novel of our times. I am sorry to say (well, not really) UNBELIEVABLE. Baseball is, without a doubt, kinda sorta, um... dull. But with near-perfect (actually more perfect than near-perfect) "The Art of Fielding," the passion in the hearts of five individuals will likewise light a passion within the impressionable reader. I am not kidding. I LOVE this novel. I was convinced that "The Marriage Plot", a kindred book-- same time, same themes, same environment-- by Eugenides was the definitive college novel of our times. I am sorry to say (well, not really) that this one takes the cake. You care so SOOOOO much for every single fully-realized character, all five of them (I actually developed a crush for Mike, felt horrible for "protagonist" Henry, empathized with silly Pella...)--this is a novel to definitely remain safely within the canon. Take that Roth! Saying that the novel is dead, that literature sucks nowadays--terrible mistake on your part! Everyone, read this immediately. I beg you--! (You will ask, like I did, where the hell is the Pulitzer for this one?!?!) I read this in one sitting-- coming home from Vegas is exactly a 12 hour drive. It is a whopping 512 pages. It is THAT superb, my literature-loving friends. Find it. Read it. It's the best book I've read all year. (All decade?)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Stuart

    I'm from Wisconsin. This book takes place in Wisconsin. I love baseball. This book is about a baseball team from a fictitious Wisconsin college, Westish, which seems like a mix of Ripon and Lawrence. I love that fictitious name by the way. I love that school's absurd tie to Herman Melville as well and its funny Melville-related sports handle, The Harpooners. In a lot of ways, this book is as tailor made for me as a sharp ground ball is to a shortstop eager to make a 6-4-3 double play. It's not s I'm from Wisconsin. This book takes place in Wisconsin. I love baseball. This book is about a baseball team from a fictitious Wisconsin college, Westish, which seems like a mix of Ripon and Lawrence. I love that fictitious name by the way. I love that school's absurd tie to Herman Melville as well and its funny Melville-related sports handle, The Harpooners. In a lot of ways, this book is as tailor made for me as a sharp ground ball is to a shortstop eager to make a 6-4-3 double play. It's not surprising that I think that mostly this book is very good or as they say in Wisconsin, where modesty is king, pretty good. But there are flaws as one might expect with a first novel. There are also pet peeves that I have about coming of age, college-located novels that this book brings to the fore. Here's the good news. In plain, precise prose, Chad Harbach tells a big-hearted story about five people - four young and one old - trying to find fulfillment and (sometimes) love in a tiny Midwestern college town. The story is well plotted and carefully thought out. Mr. Harbach clearly knows how to write. He's read Moby Dick many times no doubt (I've only read it twice), and essentially turns Melville's ship of men into a baseball team. If you like Moby Dick, you'll probably like this testosterone laden book. If you don't, you probably will hate it or maybe even more likely just be bored. There are some slightly sour elements in this book related to my pet peeves. Like almost all college located novels, this one seems to assume that colleges are all about the humanities. That's simply not believable. Less than 10 percent of people major in the humanities at most schools, even liberal arts colleges in Wisconsin. The age of the prominent English professor ended about 30 years ago; he or she doesn't matter anymore. Also this book plays both light and earnest with a sexual relationship between a faculty member and a college student. I found that relationship to be creepy; there was nothing funny or uplifting about it, that's for certain. Like many good first novels, this one starts with a bang. The two main characters and their bond are established within the first twenty pages. Also like many good first novels, the author doesn't quite know how to end his story and has use a "how convenient for the author" event to pull the plug. There are many times when characters are moved like marionettes for plot purposes and you can see the strings. But then there is the fun word play - especially with the names of characters and places - and the amusing antics of the characters that make up for the first novel clumsiness. The Art of Fielding is mostly a fun read, droll and often light hearted. The language is crisp. If I scored this novel as a baseball game, I'd say that it was mostly well played. It had a couple of bizarre errors, but the teams showed a lot of hustle, the pitchers were intelligent, there were a couple of home runs, and it was fun to watch. If you're a fan of good writing and baseball, you'll likely get your money's worth.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Campbell

    *mild spoilers* 100 pages in and the author has already *twice* withheld information from the reader which would be apparent to the character. Is there a name for this? The first time it's dialogue overheard by a character, dialogue which the reader is meant to mistake for sex when in fact it's two people lifting weights. But the character is outside the weight room, so there's no chance that /he/ would think it's sexual. The next occurrence: one character is straining for a glimpse of another, wor *mild spoilers* 100 pages in and the author has already *twice* withheld information from the reader which would be apparent to the character. Is there a name for this? The first time it's dialogue overheard by a character, dialogue which the reader is meant to mistake for sex when in fact it's two people lifting weights. But the character is outside the weight room, so there's no chance that /he/ would think it's sexual. The next occurrence: one character is straining for a glimpse of another, worried that his interest will betray his crush. While the identity of this man's interest has not yet been provided to the reader (though simple, literary math makes its deduction almost perfunctory), and so the character's name (the crushee) is not used till the end of the passage, it is known to the crusher. Thing is, I get the intended *effect* of both these passages. They're just so calculated for the reader, foreign to the characters. ---> Now just under 200 pages in... this is not a good book. It has the appearance of a good book, the elements of a good book, but I'm very close to abandoning it. Plotted and paced like a soap opera, and not nearly as clever as it thinks it is, the writing is middling and its "insights" banal rather than revealing or challenging. ---> page 237: a character tries to will himself to have an erection: "Missles, redwoods, the Washington Monument." I wish this was meant to be funny. Seriously, Austin Powers shows more ingenuity with imagery than this book. ---> two major characters sleep together for no good reason other than that they're alone in the same room. This may happen in college, but as these two characters have been drawn, it just doesn't ring true- and the consequences of the liaison seem rather convenient for the narrative. ---> page 429: "Melville had once called America a seat of snivelization; what Affenlight wanted was a seat of swivelization." This is what passes for "humor" in The Art of Fielding: strained, self-congratulatory literary reference that is not only inorganic but also wastes both words and the reader's time. Other demerits: a dramatically timely death; cardboard characterizations of every figure on the fringes of the narrative; abandonment of subplots; "cliffhanger" chapter breaks; withholding of information sheerly for dramatic effect; obvious dialogue. Also, can we get a moratorium on the Saintly Gay Sage character? For pete's sake, this one's nickname is even "the Buddha." Yes, now I'm finished. There is a certain satisfaction in the terribleness of The Art of Fielding— particularly when by the end it veers off into John Irving territory. What a pat, pretentious, superficial book. I would call it a waste, but that would mean the writing showed promise. The Art of Fielding is to the novel what the summer blockbuster is to the movies: a heavily hyped investment property that appears to contain all the elements of a satisfying story but, on its release, reveals itself as anything but a rewarding experience.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    As a HUGE fan of the game, I really enjoyed this baseball themed novel centering around Henry Skrimshander.....his glove named Zero and his desire to be the best.....to someday play Shortstop for the STL CARDINALS.....But this story surprised me.....there's so much more to it than just baseball.....Without divulging any secrets, I'll just say.....the novel intertwines friendships and relationships among five flawed characters who struggle to find their way in life and follow their dreams.Love ho As a HUGE fan of the game, I really enjoyed this baseball themed novel centering around Henry Skrimshander.....his glove named Zero and his desire to be the best.....to someday play Shortstop for the STL CARDINALS.....But this story surprised me.....there's so much more to it than just baseball.....Without divulging any secrets, I'll just say.....the novel intertwines friendships and relationships among five flawed characters who struggle to find their way in life and follow their dreams.Love how this heartfelt story comes together in the end.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    I Absolutely loved this book! It was 'The Perfect Novel'. About Baseball: There 'is' baseball in this book. So, for those people who really do not like baseball 'at all' ---(but are still open to reading this GEM of a story) ---you might surprise yourself and expand your interest in the game itself. (at least grow to respect the game -the players -and the *Art-of-being-on-a-Team*). What else is this book about 'besides' Baseball? Life--friendships--all types of relationships --(male bonding at i I Absolutely loved this book! It was 'The Perfect Novel'. About Baseball: There 'is' baseball in this book. So, for those people who really do not like baseball 'at all' ---(but are still open to reading this GEM of a story) ---you might surprise yourself and expand your interest in the game itself. (at least grow to respect the game -the players -and the *Art-of-being-on-a-Team*). What else is this book about 'besides' Baseball? Life--friendships--all types of relationships --(male bonding at its best & at its worse) --love--power-- appreciation for classic literature--wisdom --ethics--challenges--courage--fear--forgiveness--honor--leadership-- The Characters: Mostly Men... (men I grew to love deeper as I turned each page) With one main female (I liked this woman).... Let me quote a line (coming from Pella) Here is what Pella is 'feeling' and 'thinking': "Pella felt like she knew a lot about men, but she couldn't imagine what it would be like to be one of them, to be in a room of them with no woman present, to participate in their silent rites of contrition and redemption." Note: I'm a 60 year old woman. I don't play Baseball --nor am I a baseball fan --- but this is *NOT* just a GUYS BOOK. (although, how great for 'men' to have this book to read). Me: I like all types of stories --(I'm not 'THAT' picky) ---but there is something 'extra' special being a woman ---reading a book filled with lots of male testosterone. It was a treat to 'hang-out' with the guys in this book! (and of course I wanted to be *Pella*) One more thing to say (without giving anything away). I cried in this book. I was pretty much 'mush' for a good many pages ---My emotions were hit hard. The author hit a nerve with me (tender spots: of my own family 'remembering'). Chad Harbach, (whomever you are) -- I applaud your writing --your passion and compassion (excellent storytelling)!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Gail

    Is there a way to give a book six stars on here? Because I'd keep adding them if I could, I loved "The Art of Fielding" that much. Truly, I didn't want this novel to come to an end. Last night, I put the book down with 30 pages left. I honestly thought, "I want one more day to delve into this world." But then, 20 minutes later, there I was, picking it back up to reach its final page (and discovering a wholy satisfying resolution, which rarely happens for me with most books). This is one of those Is there a way to give a book six stars on here? Because I'd keep adding them if I could, I loved "The Art of Fielding" that much. Truly, I didn't want this novel to come to an end. Last night, I put the book down with 30 pages left. I honestly thought, "I want one more day to delve into this world." But then, 20 minutes later, there I was, picking it back up to reach its final page (and discovering a wholy satisfying resolution, which rarely happens for me with most books). This is one of those novels where the characters don't just live on the page. They live WITH you. Here I was, book nowhere in sight, and yet I still found myself at points of my day, wondering what Henry and Schwartz and Pella were doing at that very moment. The hype for this one? TOTALLY WORTH IT. And to say "The Art of Fielding" is a book about baseball is to say "Friday Night Lights" is a TV show about football. Yes, yes, the book's protagonist is short stop (and baseball phenom) Henry Skrimshander. Yes, there are plenty of scenes that involve the diamond and batting cages (and a central plot point that involves Henry's first-ever errant throw). But it's SO much more than that so don't let all the sports talk dissuade you from reading it. Because wrapped up in all those baseball analogies are the universal themes of suffering and failure and that age-old question of "What am I doing with my life?" It may be a stretch for some, but for me, this is as good as it gets in earning that rare title of Great American Novel. Finally, my love for "Art" may very well be jaded but that's only because I've learned so much about how it came to be. Chad Harbach spent NINE years laboring over this, his first-ever novel. NINE YEARS. Only to go from a poor guy with debt collectors after him to landing a book contract worth more than $600,000. If you've made it this far in this review (god bless you), and if you love "Art", you owe it to yourself to find a way to read the Vanity Fair story that details how this book came to be. Find it either in the October 2011 issue of Vanity Fair or online in this eBook (which, it may be $2 but it's worth the investment if you have an e-reader. It's a fascinating piece: http://www.vanityfair.com/magazine/eb...)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Sumi

    Let’s play ball! And let’s have a ball while we’re at it! Part baseball book, part campus tale, and part Aspiring Great American Novel, Chad Harbach’s The Art Of Fielding is one of those highly readable, absorbing tomes that creates an entire fictional world you believe in and want to spend lots of time in. Naturally gifted shortstop Henry Skrimshander (see note about names below) is discovered and recruited to Westish College, a small liberal arts school in Wisconsin on the western shore of Lake Let’s play ball! And let’s have a ball while we’re at it! Part baseball book, part campus tale, and part Aspiring Great American Novel, Chad Harbach’s The Art Of Fielding is one of those highly readable, absorbing tomes that creates an entire fictional world you believe in and want to spend lots of time in. Naturally gifted shortstop Henry Skrimshander (see note about names below) is discovered and recruited to Westish College, a small liberal arts school in Wisconsin on the western shore of Lake Michigan. Although Henry is an awkward, skinny, naive small-town boy and a bit of a cipher, he demonstrates his magnificent gift playing for the Westish Harpooners, and soon he’s being scouted by agents for the big leagues. Other players on the team include Mike Schwartz, the beefy catcher who discovered his talent – he’s got bad knees, wants to get into law school, and has a gift for spotting talent and organizing the team; and Owen Dunne, Henry’s college roommate, who’s a brilliant student, proudly gay, and has a habit of reading books in the dugout when he’s not playing. The college’s president, Guert Affenlight, made his reputation as a Melville scholar and wrote one best-selling book. Edging into late middle-age, he currently finds himself obsessed with a student who’s about a third his age. Meanwhile, Guert’s estranged daughter, Pella, has walked out on her marriage out west to an older, established architect and has come home to begin life anew. Early on, one disastrous baseball throw changes the lives of all of the book’s characters, and we spend the next 450 pages witnessing the outcome. Some of it will make you cringe; much of it is psychologically fascinating; and all of it is highly readable. Harbach has a natural storytelling gift, rather like John Irving and Jonathan Franzen, both of whom provided “blurbs” for the paperback edition I read. Switching points of view among the main characters (everyone except Owen, for some reason), Harbach effortlessly gets you deep into the lives of these disparate characters. And while we see bits of baseball games throughout the book, somehow Harbach manages not to repeat himself with recounting games. The climax is truly climactic. (Directors of boxing movies have a similar problem. How do they make this sport look and feel different and not monotonous?) I have a few quibbles. There’s a book-within-the-book called The Art Of Fielding, a sort of handbook/philosophical treatise on the game by a famous shortstop called Aparicio Rodriguez. I thought more would happen with this book, and with Rodriguez, who eventually pops up in the novel. I also found myself frustrated with Henry and his seeming lack of personality. I think this is intentional, though. But I loved Harbach’s storytelling skill, the way he deals with a group of men and a single-minded leader in the same way that Melville did in Moby-Dick (note: many of the weird names come from this book, or from other literary/mythical sources). And I appreciated the psychological insights of Pella, a character I initially disliked and came to admire. I can’t wait to read what Harbach writes next.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    Review 1.1 updated introduction. I've finished the book. I was a little wrong about how the book would end, I think I liked the book more because of the way it wrapped up than I expected to. I gave it an extra star. It is a pretty good book, not a great book, there are problems with it, some of the characters could be developed a bit more in places and some of the middle part of the book could have probably been reworked a little bit to make it not feel like a slog for a little bit, but with the Review 1.1 updated introduction. I've finished the book. I was a little wrong about how the book would end, I think I liked the book more because of the way it wrapped up than I expected to. I gave it an extra star. It is a pretty good book, not a great book, there are problems with it, some of the characters could be developed a bit more in places and some of the middle part of the book could have probably been reworked a little bit to make it not feel like a slog for a little bit, but with the short chapters and crisp writing the book progressed nicely even if the plot at times felt like it was just treading water. There was another Infinite Jest(and Hamlet) moment towards the end of the book, I was going to say that there was no real correspondence between the character of Schwartz and Gately, but actually there are quite a few similarities. The relationship between Schwartz and Henry has little relation to any kind of relationship between Gately and Hal though, still though, is there something to the similarities of the scene? Am I giving away too much? Is there a reason why I think of Gately and Schwartz by their last names but Hal and Henry by their first? And with those pointless observations, I'll return to the original review, with the last quarter or so even less relevant than it was when I first wrote it (shocking, that I would have non-relevant shit in a review?) The original review: Q: How white is this novel? A: This novel is so white, even the token black character is half-white! Oh, I kill me. But jokes aside, this novel is this years answer to last years Jonathan Franzen novel (which I haven't read, but I think I can safely say was the book white people liked to read last year). I'm not just saying that because it's blurbed by Franzen, but there is the same midwestern (upper?)middle class feeling to the book. If I wanted to be a little more creative I'd say this is this years answer to a John Irving novel. If I were going to be a cynical fuck (and maybe this is covered in the e-book about the creation of the book, maybe it's not, I'm probably never going to read it), I'd say that the James Patterson blurb on the novel is also pretty telling. Jimmy P with the army of hacks at his side working to churn out about a book every six weeks (I wish I were joking about this) writes in the same short chapter style that Art of Fielding is written in, and I wonder if the blurb and the short chapters are an attempt to beckon the hoi polloi, who lap up his books like they were something you lap up really quickly and don't think too much about what they are lapping up, to make the jump into the shallower waters of literary fiction. The book has 80 something chapters in just over five hundred pages of text. Actually, the average chapter is 6.22 pages long, the kind of length I loved when I was a kid and had to see how long each chapter was before I'd start reading it, and then feel a giant sense of accomplishment when I got to the end of my sprint of reading. I haven't actually finished the book yet. I still have ninety four pages to go, but I know I'm probably not going to write a review of this book once the work and fighting class week starts for me and then there are the holidays and I have a shitty track record of writing anything for goodreads when I'm at my parents house, so I'm going to do this review without knowing how the book ends, although I have a fairly good idea how it's going to wrap up with only one or two plot threads sort of up in the air with their endings not telegraphed like a drunk throwing haymakers. All of my assholishness of the first real paragraph aside, I am enjoying this book. It hits enough 'intellectual' buttons to make it seem like a smart read, the writing is crisp and unobtrusive (Random Anthony described his writing as "His writing is good, clean, and high-quality but, unfortunately, occasionally reads sterile" and I full-heartedly agree, he wrote a review that is probably better than mine and can be read here), and for people who like to read about middle-class people and their problems this is the reading equivalent of going to see a well-done but inoffensive independent movie. At a few points in the book I thought that the author might have been trying to write Infinite Jest-lite, but that may just be the kids in school playing sports element that is common to each book; but the 'main' (I don't know which character I'd say is really the main character, they all get pretty equal footing, but this one seems to be the pivot the story revolves around) character, Henry, has the same empty shell like quality that graces Hal in IJ, but these are probably just some similarities that weren't intended. I could point out, though, that there are probably paragraphs of IJ that are longer than the longest chapter in this book. But, I did enjoy reading this book, so far at least and I don't see any reason why the last hundred pages or so should be any different. And I'm saying that going into the book wanting to really dislike it. Or maybe not wanting to, but expecting to dislike it. I thought that it would turn out to be like the other novels by N+1 editors that I've read, sort of smug privileged overly educated post-grad school sort of novels. I haven't enjoyed the two previous outings I've had with the editors of N+1 but this time I've been having a fine enough time that I might even consider reading a second novel by the author, that is if he writes one. This book still suffered from some of the myopia of academia but it was tempered with enough real humanity and awareness of a bigger world than a grad school seminar that it didn't get pulled down by the fatal flaws in All the Sad Young Literary Men and Indecision (to promote my older reviews, and to let you and I wonder about what it means that this book and ATSYLM were given comparable stars in the star rating system in my head, although I have a feeling a year down the line I will think somewhat fondly of this book (because I'm white and enjoy things that white people enjoy), but I will probably remember liking the other book even less than I'm remembering not enjoying it now, but apparently at one point, soon after finishing the book, I enjoyed it more than I remember enjoying it. What does this say about our own tastes and memory? Am I (or you? I don't want to be presumptuous, though) even a reliable indicator to my own feelings as they were about this, or maybe anything? Have I just become my own unreliable narrator? What does it mean to go through if you think of the voice in your head that tells your own story as being possibly deeply flawed about even the most basic of memories?) Now, sometime in the next day or so I'll finish up this book, and if I have any major changes of opinion about this book I'll amend the review.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lorri Steinbacher

    Everything they're saying about this book is true. I couldn't put it down. First, Harbach knows how to tell a story. I want to make a Franzen comparison, because this book gave me the same type of satisfying "ahhh" feeling I have when reading him, but he is not Franzen. Sometimes reading Franzen is like taking a vitamin. You know it's good for you, but sometimes it's a little bitter going down. Not so, with this book. His writing is lovely, without being highbrow. If you are a baseball fan, you Everything they're saying about this book is true. I couldn't put it down. First, Harbach knows how to tell a story. I want to make a Franzen comparison, because this book gave me the same type of satisfying "ahhh" feeling I have when reading him, but he is not Franzen. Sometimes reading Franzen is like taking a vitamin. You know it's good for you, but sometimes it's a little bitter going down. Not so, with this book. His writing is lovely, without being highbrow. If you are a baseball fan, you will be mesmerized, because he writes about baseball with a poetic and philsophical tone, yet with an everyperson appeal to it. All of the characters felt fully realized. By twenty pages in, you cared about everyone you encountered. Henry and Schwartz's relationship was fascinating. You were rooting for them to work it out as much if not more than you would root for a romantic couple. At first look you might want to label their relationship a "bromance" in the pop culture parlance, but you'd be wrong. Their relationship seemed much more essential, was filled with much more gravitas than the word bromance would imply. I'd even say there isn't yet a word that adequately describes the kind of love and affection that Mike and Henry had for each other. Pella calls Schwartz out on it, in a half-joking-half-jealous-but-100% convinced-of-its-truth way. And it's not that you imagine that their realtionship has any kind of homo-erotic tension, because it doesn't. You need only to contrast the relationship between Owen and Affenlight and Henry and Schwartz to see that love between two people (I want to say to men but even writing that fells like I am giving the wrong impression of the book, which just goes to show, I guess, how hard it is to pin down and names complex, complicated emotions) can take any number of forms. There were images that made me put the book down and think on them awhile, there were uncomfortable moments where my heart wanted to break for Henry, there were many, many moments, in fact. The sole main female character in the book was handled well and believeably. My one and only complaint was that perhaps all the characters were a bit idealized, no one had any egregious flaws. An entire baseball team didn't flinch in having an "out" gay man on their team, Mike's addiction to pain pills is glossed over, even the affair of a 60 year old man with a gay teenager feels "right". And speaking of Owen, good Lord, he was Oscar Wilde in a baseball cap. But I think it is simply that kind of book. Harbach created characters and a story that makes you believe. Definitely in my top five books this year.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Brown

    William H. Gass writes eloquently about his desire to find his ideal reader, one who was perfectly suited to the material, the tone, the subject matter of his work. He writes for this reader, whoever he or she might be, probably never fully expecting to find such a creature. I am the ideal reader for The Art of Fielding. To wit, a Venn diagram: I'm sure there are others out there, a secret brotherhood of ivy-loving, two-seamer fetishists, lurking in dank hallways dreaming about spring and middle William H. Gass writes eloquently about his desire to find his ideal reader, one who was perfectly suited to the material, the tone, the subject matter of his work. He writes for this reader, whoever he or she might be, probably never fully expecting to find such a creature. I am the ideal reader for The Art of Fielding. To wit, a Venn diagram: I'm sure there are others out there, a secret brotherhood of ivy-loving, two-seamer fetishists, lurking in dank hallways dreaming about spring and middle relief. Perhaps that's why this book is so popular -- perhaps I'm not all that bizarre. It's comforting to think so, actually. For a book that I was more or less put on this earth to read, The Art of Fielding took awhile to hook me. Partially, I felt that defensiveness that we all feel when someone tells us something is perfect for us, or so funny, or amazing. "Well, we'll see about that." I kept looking for the tiny flaws in the book, the places where my own knowledge of baseball surpassed Harbach's. And there were a few such moments -- it seems unlikely that a Venezuelan citizen like Aparicio Rodriguez would be a record holder at the NCAA level, for instance. A player of that lineage would likely have gone from a baseball academy to the minor leagues then on to the majors without ever setting foot in an Intro to American Lit class. But it's a small thing, and for the most part, Harbach clearly knows the game. What tripped me up more was the tone of the book. It has a nostalgic mood, one that sometimes felt at odds with the book's humor or irony. As I noted early on, the novel felt like it took place in the 1950s but with iPhones. In a way, it reminded me of another great baseball novel, The Brothers K. But where that book took place in the 50s and 60s, The Art of Fielding happens, more or less, now. The result is a sort of unreality, the feeling that the book takes place in a world much like ours, but not ours at all. Adding to this feeling are the sometimes outlandish names. There's Guert Affenlight, the president of Westish College, the location of most of the action in the book. His name is the first of many Melville allusions in the book (Guert Gansvoort was a commodore in the US Navy and a cousin of Herman Melville's, or so Google tells me). Henry Skrimshander (another Melville allusion). Adam Starblind, Craig Suitcase, Pella Affenlight, and on and on. Even Aparicio Rodriguez, an odd portmanteau of shortstops, seemed labored. It's hard naming characters, I imagine, and I appreciate a well-named one, like Le Carre's, but sometimes these felt a bit too interesting. I was happy whenever Mike Schwartz appeared on the page, simply for his sturdy workmanlike name. And despite all of this, I loved this book. It started with Mike Schwartz, a character I wanted to know, wanted, at times, to be. It probably stems from my infatuation with athletes who hit their ceilings at the high school or college level. I'm talking about people who can play well and sometimes even dominate at a lower level but are not good enough to go pro (or on to college, depending). They're poetic creatures, these athletes, and Harbach has created a great one in Schwartz. He's a moral compass, an anchor for his otherwise somewhat light story, and the beating heart of this novel. Much like his name, he felt the most real of any of the characters in the book. He broke my heart. Guert Affenlight, despite his unwieldy name, came to life, as well. My favorite chapter of the book is probably Affenlight's backstory, how he discovers the transcript of a rare Melville lecture that sets him on the path that would be his life. It reminded me a bit of Stoner, by John Williams, another great campus novel. Affenlight finds more love in his life than Bill Stoner, thank god, and when the novel begins, he's fallen for a boy named Owen Dunne, another baseball player, and Henry's roommate. I know that others have had trouble with Affenlight's plot, deeming it unrealistic, but I found it to be among the more moving parts of the book. I don't know how often men who've been straight their whole lives become gay, but I believed it of Affenlight. And his struggle to navigate his love not just for Owen and his daughter Pella but for Westish College, as well, was engaging throughout. Schwartz recruits Henry Skrimshander, the greatest shortstop he's ever seen, to come play ball at Westish College, in Wisconsin. There, he molds Henry into a player good enough to do something nobody at Westish had ever dreamed of doing -- turning pro. Schwartz wills Henry to be better, cajoling him into lifting weights, running stadium steps, hitting endless BP. And it all pays off. Henry plays so well that he ties the great Aparicio Rodriguez's streak of errorless games, a great accomplishment for any shortstop. But then Henry hits his roommate and teammate Owen in the face with an errant throw -- the first of his career -- and everything spirals towards oblivion. Putting aside the issues I had with the tone of the book (as well as the ending, which I'll let someone else decry), Harbach is a sensationally talented writer, and there are more than a few lovely passages. I loved this quote in particular: "The ability to throw a baseball was an alchemical thing, a superhero's secret power. You could never quite tell who possessed it." I admired so much of the writing in this flawed but heartfelt book that I would recommend it to people who didn't know a thing about baseball. You don't need to know anything about the game to admire writing like this: Baseball was an art, but to excel at it you had to become a machine. It didn't matter how beautifully you performed sometimes, what you did on your best day, how many spectacular plays you made. You weren't a painter or a writer -- you didn't work in private and discard your mistakes, and it wasn't just your masterpieces that counted. What mattered, as for any machine, was repeatability...Can you perform on demand, like a car, a furnace, a gun? Can you make that throw one hundred times out of a hundred? If it can't be a hundred, it had better be ninety-nine. Good stuff, and consistently good throughout. As one of his own characters would say, "Chad Harbach, you are skilled. I exhort you."

  17. 4 out of 5

    Perry

    Farcical Fiction That Insults Gay Athletes as So Obsessed with Sex as to Lack Any True Commitment to Their Sport This novel scorns both logic and reality. Near its opening lies one of the most absurd scenes in "serious" fiction: Owen, a college baseball player, reads French literature in the dugout as he's about to go on-deck to bat in the game then lustily hits a sacrifice fly after which he swoons over the opposing pitcher. C'mon, gimme a break! Anyone who has competed in sports (from 10 years o Farcical Fiction That Insults Gay Athletes as So Obsessed with Sex as to Lack Any True Commitment to Their Sport This novel scorns both logic and reality. Near its opening lies one of the most absurd scenes in "serious" fiction: Owen, a college baseball player, reads French literature in the dugout as he's about to go on-deck to bat in the game then lustily hits a sacrifice fly after which he swoons over the opposing pitcher. C'mon, gimme a break! Anyone who has competed in sports (from 10 years old to 22) sees through this farce immediately. No one reads during the competition (e.g., in the dugout) and I don't care if this is the co-ed intramurals semi-finals, Lizzy Caplan's look-alike is pitching, Amanda Seyfried's double is catching, and a Beyonce's on first, no heterosexual player will be "swooning" after a sac fly without a moment's thought about the score, whether the players on base safely advanced, the game implications, what inning it is, the next guy up, when will I next come up to bat, how many outs and a dozen other things going through a competitor's brain in the midst of battle. For this reason, I think it insults gay athletes to stereotype them as ridiculously shallow, callow, effeminate and sex-brained to act like a juvenile gay Beavis (or Butthead) in a competitive situation. There can be no patching up this kind of demolition of the suspension of disbelief that's needed to maintain interest in the story. What a Huge Disappointment. Why publish previews that mislead the reader into believing that this novel centers on the game of baseball*? Are publishers that clueless? Instead of centering on college baseball or any credible variation thereof, this dud's main storyline focuses on an unbelievable May-December romance between Owen, said unrealistic 20-year-old college baseball player, and his 60-year-old male college president. The book has very little believable dialogue, credible characters or plausible storylines. It does provide some comic relief with a few absurd scenarios like the one above.↔ Unfortunately though, any comic relief in The Art of Fielding appears wholly unintentional. If there were a fractional star, I would choose it. A scale of 1 to 5 devalues a 5 but inflates a 1. One of the worst novels ever to claim a sport as its center. Awful in its absolutest distillation. *Baseball is competition in its purest form since there are no ties. The competition is between two teams of nine players each who take turns batting and fielding, usually for nine innings (turns batting) unless the game is tied in which case extra innings are played until one team ends up with more runs than the other. ↔Comic relief is, after all, inherent in the game of baseball. Consider, for example, Abbott & Costello's Who's on First? comedy routine, as well as the many euphemisms adopted from the sport into the English language: First base – mouth-to-mouth kissing, especially French kissing; Second Base and Third Base (I don't need to define these); Home run (home base, homer or scoring), meaning, of course, "full" sexual intercourse; and, a Strikeout – a failure to engage in any form of foreplay or other sexual activity. Also cognate, e.g., baseball metaphors for sexual activities and proclivities, such as Pitching, Catching and Switch hitter (a bisexual individual, referencing a player who can bat from either side).

  18. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Crash Davis knew that an important part of Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh’s preparation for the big leagues was to teach him the standard clichés. Baseball, and sports in general, are full of them. There’s a favorite that certain sports books seem to evoke, too: “You don’t have to be a fan of the game to like this.” Since I am a fan, I can’t speak with any authority for those who are not, but my guess is that for The Art of Fielding, it’s at least partially true. I can be more certain if you’re a fa Crash Davis knew that an important part of Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh’s preparation for the big leagues was to teach him the standard clichés. Baseball, and sports in general, are full of them. There’s a favorite that certain sports books seem to evoke, too: “You don’t have to be a fan of the game to like this.” Since I am a fan, I can’t speak with any authority for those who are not, but my guess is that for The Art of Fielding, it’s at least partially true. I can be more certain if you’re a fan of campus novels, in-depth profiles, literary allusions, or quality writing. Five POV characters share the stage at little Westish College in Wisconsin: Henry Skrimshander – the super-skilled shortstop on the Westish team. He’s a rather flat, unassuming character except for his amazing focus on the game and willingness to work like crazy to improve. The Art of Fielding by Cardinals great Aparicio Rodriguez (the perfect shortstop name if your knowledge of the game extends that far) is his Bible. Mike Schwartz – a natural leader of men, captain of both the football and baseball teams, and the one who discovered the slick-fielding Henry. Mike’s a dutiful team-first type, but might have a little problem with pain meds meant for his abused catcher’s knees. He’s also smart enough to get into a very good law school, but maybe not the ones he’s applied to. Guert Affenlight – a Westish alum and now its President. He became a star scholar of early American literature, especially the works of Melville. (Harbach was completely overt tying his book to Moby Dick.) Guert taught at Harvard, was a handsome devil, well-spoken, and could engage any audience. Pella Affenlight – Guert’s daughter who may have been more precocious than was good for her. She opted out of an Ivy League education to be with an older man and it ended up going wrong (surprise, surprise). She’s rebuilding a life at Westish with inspiring resolve. Owen Dunne – Henry’s half-black, all-gay, baseball playing roommate. Owen is brilliant, urbane, literate, and improbably well-liked by the jock set. Harbach drew lines in interesting ways to connect each one of these characters to the others. Shy, coachable Henry was given killer workouts by Mike that included weights, stadium steps, and thousands of balls to hit and field. That coupled with his Zen-like oneness with the ball* paid off. He was on the verge of breaking the record his idol (the aforementioned Aparicio Rodriguez) set for consecutive games without an error. Then something happened, and though it would only be a minor spoiler to say what, I won’t, because I didn’t know myself going into this. Meanwhile, Mike met Pella. Their relationship provides a tension between their ambitions on one side and the potential for contentment reining them in on the other. Then there’s another relationship; this one involving Owen. Readers may or may not want to know about this beforehand. (view spoiler)[Guert, who had always been a lady’s man, is smitten. (hide spoiler)] I’m not allowing myself a very complete summary because that would mean elaborating on what I’ve already judged to be giving too much away. It’s part of the pleasure of the book to see how things unfold. If you’re like me, you’ll find it all too easy to get personally involved in the characters’ lives, too. You’ll have rooting interests beyond the Westish 9. The Trib’s literary magazine provided some background on Harbach’s rise to fame. Initially, he received zero interest from publishers. Then a young baseball-loving agent went about promoting it and scared up an offer of $175K from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. This was more than Harbach had earned in the 7 previous years of his working life. However, he refused this offer and ultimately saw his agent bring it to auction where it garnered a bid of $750K from Scribner. Harbach instead accepted $665K from Little, Brown because they offered him the chance to work with Michael Pietsch, David Foster Wallace’s editor for Infinite Jest. I liked this one a lot, though I can’t quite see it as 5 stars. It was very well written, but had some slightly annoying quirks. As my wife recently asked as she was reading it, do people really say freshpersons now? A few of the plot points stretched credulity, too. Still, a fifth star was tempting. Resorting again to clichés, we saw the old “baseball as metaphor for life” trope play out well both on the field and off. It featured foiled plans, imperfections, and chances at redemption. And you know what else? It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. *As TA0F within TAoF said, “One moves not against the ball but with it. Bad fielders stab at the ball like an enemy. This is antagonism. The true fielder lets the path of the ball become his own path, thereby comprehending the ball and dissipating the self, which is the source of all suffering and poor defense.”

  19. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa

    So after about five paragraphs, my impression of this book was "Wow, this is seriously a Dude Book." And I wondered if you could enjoy it if you didn't totally love baseball, or even care about baseball much at all. But then I got really into it and thought the plot and characters were great for maybe half of the book, and then I thought it totally lost steam and was not so great. But you don't have to love baseball to like it, and if you love Moby Dick you will appreciate that the author really So after about five paragraphs, my impression of this book was "Wow, this is seriously a Dude Book." And I wondered if you could enjoy it if you didn't totally love baseball, or even care about baseball much at all. But then I got really into it and thought the plot and characters were great for maybe half of the book, and then I thought it totally lost steam and was not so great. But you don't have to love baseball to like it, and if you love Moby Dick you will appreciate that the author really loves Moby Dick, and there are some endearing characters, and it is a good read and worth reading, I think. However. This is a Dude Book, in so, so many ways. And I am going to tell you about that. (Editor's Note: So this maybe turned out more sarcastic than initially intended. I just kept pulling quotes and it just kept getting more ridiculous! Anyway, I DID like this book and don't mean to say that it's all bad. Some of it is lovely! But still. Hah. I mean, really). The primary theme of this book is Relationships Between Men. How they can toe the line between love and friendship and sexuality and how the deepness of relationships between men is pretty much the deepest most important thing there is, and chicks just don't get it. Just to hammer this home, one of the main characters writes a book called The Sperm-Squeezers, "a study of the homosocial and the homoerotic in nineteenth-century American letters," and this book is very wise and important and everyone who is anyone in the book cares about this book and thinks it's The Business. The one female character (whose breasts must be mentioned at every turn, I might add. Not in a leering way, but just because she's a chick and so we need to know what's up with her breasts, of course) has a husband who is by far the most unlikeable character in the book. This guy is a whiny, controlling jerk who wears TURTLENECKS (this is clearly supposed to be a MAJOR red flag). He is described as "the kind of man who wilted around men but bloomed when dealing with women--supremely heterosexual, indifferent to or disdainful of or afraid of other men, but also supremely attuned to women's needs and interests." In the logic of this book, this is all we need to know to conclude that he is The Worst. As for relationships between women, we get one discussion of those before they are dispatched with as useless (or worse!). Again, the book's one female character wonders during a time of crisis whether there are any women she might reach out to, but then concludes that she "had always gotten along better with men and that was unlikely to change much here, where most of the women were younger than she and would no doubt shun her and be scared of her and call her a slut no matter what she did." No doubt! This is based on .... no events that actually occur in the book or are alluded to in any way. I guess this is just supposed to be unquestionably the life experience of a smart woman with nice breasts. Apparently that pretty much sums it up, and there is just nothing to be done about that! What a bummer. On sports and masculinity "Man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man. And he is only completely a man when he plays." In case you thought girls might be able to understand this whole sports thing. And don't worry! Our one lady character is cool, but just in case you thought she might Get It: "Pella felt like she knew a lot about men, but she couldn't imagine what it would be like to be one of them, to be in a room of them with no woman present, to participate in their silent rites of contrition and redemption." It's too deep for the likes of us, Pella. In the very waning pages of the book, out of left field (as it were) we encounter a totally shrill, pushy female shrink who attacks the central male friendship in the book, argues that one character's use of the word "pussy" as an insult might indicate something problematic, and is buffoonishly clueless about sports. Obviously, also, The Worst! And totally wrong about Henry and Mike! Their love is pure! She can never understand! Stupid girls! Incidentally(?!), in that it's less of the whole theme of the book, this is also a White Dude book. There is one real character who is a self-described "gay mulatto," and he is a real dude with feelings and depths and an identity. But otherwise we get a sexy, shiny (literally) black woman who gets one conversation about how she is interested in a dude who is not interested in her, and a magical wise old latino baseball player who doesn't say much, but is wise. Okay. Sorry. That was a lot of snark for a book that I actually enjoyed quite a lot. The End!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Neil

    How much of a book must one read before one's opinion of it is valid? I read 60 pages of The Art of Fielding, but I loathed much about it. First: Harbach doesn't have much grace as a stylist, and the descriptions read like something from young adult novels (I don't have the book with me any longer, but I remember being particularly irritated by a description of Schwartz as someone who "goes out and gets what he wants." One could argue that the use of such a cliche is meant to reflect Henry's mod How much of a book must one read before one's opinion of it is valid? I read 60 pages of The Art of Fielding, but I loathed much about it. First: Harbach doesn't have much grace as a stylist, and the descriptions read like something from young adult novels (I don't have the book with me any longer, but I remember being particularly irritated by a description of Schwartz as someone who "goes out and gets what he wants." One could argue that the use of such a cliche is meant to reflect Henry's mode of thinking, but that's the way Harbach writes everything in the first 60 pages, which included three characters' points of view.) Plenty else annoyed me, but it was probably an effect of me already not liking the book, not a cause: I disliked the way in each chapter he tried to come up with some stupid, hamhanded twist (in chapter one it was the way it turned out unexpectedly to be modern day, thereafter it was Henry presumably hearing people having sex only it turns out to be lifting weights, Owen being on the baseball team, etc.) The character of Owen is one of the silliest I've ever encountered; what person, homosexual or otherwise, would introduce himself to the coach of a baseball team you're trying out for with a line like "I trust you don't mind having a homosexual on your team?" What coach would respond "The only thing I mind is Schwartz over here playing football. It's bad for his knees!" (All this is paraphrased from memory.) I am a progressive, liberal, pro-gay marriage, etc., kind of guy -- way, way more so than your average sports coach, I'd wager -- but if I were a baseball coach and someone introduced themselves to me like that, I'd have no response but "What the fuck are you talking about?" Then, if they started reading on the bench, I'd cut them. Judging by the first 60 pages of the book though it probably turns out the baseball coach is gay and in love with Owen, or something. Other things that irritated me: the way in which we're supposed to believe that, because this is a good college, the students on the baseball team are these intellectual titans (the son of the economics professor, Owen in general, Schwartz quoting philosophers while they lift); in my experience, at least, the median athlete at any college is well below the median non-athlete in terms of intellectual curiosity, no matter the prestige of the institution (Harvard's football team is not on the same level as its Physics majors). I disliked the sudden montage of Henry lifting and going through his sophomore and junior year and becoming a prospect; I would've preferred he just skip to his senior year and refer back to it. I'd just finished reading The Corrections prior to this; I don't think Franzen had anything in particular to "say" other than to offer a collection of bleak observations of life, but he writes so well that one can at least lose themselves to that. Harbach, I'm going to guess, has nothing in particular to say in the remaining 10 million pages of this book, other than probably eventually taking Henry, this pseudo-mystical character, and turning him into some sort of Buddha or Christ figure or something. But if an author has nothing to say, he'd better be a titan of style. Otherwise he just shouldn't bother.

  21. 5 out of 5

    christa

    By this time last year, the world of contemporary fiction had me dizzy with a one-two whammo of love and envy. Shit was tight. I wouldn’t pay $50 to press my breasts against the stage while my favorite band played. I’d have paid $50 times 50 to scrape gum off Jennifer Egan’s shoes or observe Gary Shtyngart with his lips wrapped around a bottle of top-shelf vodka. And then there was “Freedom” and then there was “House of Tomorrow.” Panic ensued: Which one did I want denting my cheek when I went t By this time last year, the world of contemporary fiction had me dizzy with a one-two whammo of love and envy. Shit was tight. I wouldn’t pay $50 to press my breasts against the stage while my favorite band played. I’d have paid $50 times 50 to scrape gum off Jennifer Egan’s shoes or observe Gary Shtyngart with his lips wrapped around a bottle of top-shelf vodka. And then there was “Freedom” and then there was “House of Tomorrow.” Panic ensued: Which one did I want denting my cheek when I went to sleep? Would Hilary Thayer Hamann be my little spoon? This year has been a dud. I say that as of right this second. There is a lot of promise in that yet-to-be-released queue. But if someone dangled me by the ankles over a body of water teeming with water snakes and said: “Give me your Top 10 of 2011 or you’re going down, kisser to forked-tongue-kisser!” I’d end up with a face full of belt material. I’d have my number one, though. Reading it felt like a sigh. Finally something I can strap to this dismal year to keep it afloat. Thanks, Chad Harbach. “The Art of Fielding,” Harbach’s debut novel, has that Iriving-collegiate chill to it, though it’s coming off the Great Lakes rather than an East Coast bay. The story is built around Henry, a kid from small-town South Dakota with no life plans, but who is pure poetry at shortstop. He’s complicated in his lack of complications. For more than 500 pages, little else about him will be revealed. Baseball genius, reads and re-reads his idol’s book “The Art of Fielding.” No favorite foods, no lust, no introspection, no humor. Just baseball and what it takes to get better at baseball and what happens when he hits a terrific and ill-timed slump. Henry is discovered by Mike Schwartz while playing summer ball. This lumbering loaf of an athlete, hopped up on the pain pills it requires to play Division III football and baseball, sees Henry’s potential and takes action. He gives Henry the hard sell, sends for his transcripts, goes suave on Henry’s doubting father and gets the kid enrolled at Westich College. Schwartz is a dynamo. A big body who makes things happen for other people, yet cannot kick the pills, get into an upper tier law school or finish his thesis. The university’s president Guert Affenlight has taken a shine to Henry’s super cultured, eco friendly, gay roommate Owen. The 60-year-old, who looks 50, falls hard in his only homosexual crush. Also: his daughter Pella has left her husband in California and is auditing classes. She’s whipped the Westich boys into a froth, but it’s Schwartz who lands her. Then, disaster. When agents and scouts start dangling dollar signs in front of him, Henry makes a bad throw, the first presumably of his life, and everything goes haywire. He starts thinking too hard, questioning throws, pausing too long and making the first baseman work way too hard. This, in turn, throws off everyone around him. This buzz-book has gotten enough chatter that it’s impossible to not give it an extra finicky read. So you secured a $650,000 advance, eh Mr. Harbach? Big numbers for a rookie, huh? Well I don’t like the pacing of the first 50 pages! A reader might think to herself. Then that same reader might re-evaluate the critique after a bit of self-analysis: It’s not so much that Henry jumps grades within a single paragraph. It’s that he is so fun to read about that you don’t want to grow up too fast. The novel is proof that fiction doesn’t have to start itself on fire. The story isn’t surprising or twisting or heart wrenching or cruel. It’s easy. Sometimes its predictable, but sometimes it dekes left and goes right. But hot damn if I didn’t love every single character -- enough at one point to want to order 50 pizzas to Harbach’s house to get back at him for what I thought he was going to do to one of them. Now. I need to find nine more books that sing before that ball drops.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    One of the best books I read last year. Don’t be put off by the sports content; I could not possibly be less interested in competitive sports. Really, the baseball theme is neither here nor there.* Rather, The Art of Fielding is about male relationships – a core of homosocial and homoerotic friendships, with delicious reference to the works of Herman Melville – and about coping with failure. The character names may be a bit preposterous, and the main character rather thin and forgettable in the e One of the best books I read last year. Don’t be put off by the sports content; I could not possibly be less interested in competitive sports. Really, the baseball theme is neither here nor there.* Rather, The Art of Fielding is about male relationships – a core of homosocial and homoerotic friendships, with delicious reference to the works of Herman Melville – and about coping with failure. The character names may be a bit preposterous, and the main character rather thin and forgettable in the end, but all in all I was reminded once again of the comfort of giving oneself into the safe hands of a novelist who knows just what they’re doing: the pleasure of being midway through a big, delightful novel and having no idea where it will go and what will happen, but knowing the journey will be great fun; as C.S. Lewis once said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” It’s a marvel, this act of creating a whole world from nothing; a blank screen becoming over 500 pages of gloriously plotted fiction, with characters you care about and don’t want to say goodbye to when the book ends – I felt almost disloyal moving on to another novel the day after finishing this one. After such a stunning debut, who knows what heights Harbach will reach? *That the sport is merely a metaphorical window onto life Harbach confirms explicitly in the novel: “this formed the paradox at the heart of baseball...an apparently pointless affair, undertaken by people with a special aptitude, which sidestepped attempts to paraphrase its value yet somehow seemed to communicate something true or even crucial about The Human Condition.”

  23. 4 out of 5

    Conor

    Well, this story sure was lovely. None of the normal caveats—Franzen comparisons, n+1, a story of privilege, another white male penning Americana—takes away from the highlights of this book: its warmth, breadth, sense of control, poetry, and its many engaging arcs. I was reading other books while I read this one and I kept discarding them because how can you read YA when “The Art of Fielding” is waiting to resolve itself? I suppose that could be seen as a commentary on the other books I was rotat Well, this story sure was lovely. None of the normal caveats—Franzen comparisons, n+1, a story of privilege, another white male penning Americana—takes away from the highlights of this book: its warmth, breadth, sense of control, poetry, and its many engaging arcs. I was reading other books while I read this one and I kept discarding them because how can you read YA when “The Art of Fielding” is waiting to resolve itself? I suppose that could be seen as a commentary on the other books I was rotating rather than this one, but I’m struggling to come up with another book I’ve enjoyed over the past few years that would have had a chance of coaxing me away for any period of time. For totally basic lovers of “The Nix,” “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” and “The Corrections,” like yours truly.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Larry H

    It has been said that "baseball is life." Whether or not you agree with this statement, for the characters in Chad Harbach's fantastic new novel, The Art of Fielding, baseball may not be life, but it certainly is at the crux of their lives. Henry Skrimshander is a scrawny, aspiring baseball player whose effortless talent during a summer league game attracts the attention of Mike Schwartz, an athlete at Westish College, located on the shores of Lake Michigan. Mike gets Henry enrolled at Westish a It has been said that "baseball is life." Whether or not you agree with this statement, for the characters in Chad Harbach's fantastic new novel, The Art of Fielding, baseball may not be life, but it certainly is at the crux of their lives. Henry Skrimshander is a scrawny, aspiring baseball player whose effortless talent during a summer league game attracts the attention of Mike Schwartz, an athlete at Westish College, located on the shores of Lake Michigan. Mike gets Henry enrolled at Westish and becomes his mentor, coach, torturer, and biggest advocate, and Henry finds himself turning into a superstar, being mentioned as an early draft pick in the major leagues. And then one errant throw sets a chain of events in motion that affects the lives of not only Henry and Mike, but also Guert Affenlight, Westish's president, who finds himself caught in the grips of an obsession he never imagined; Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, who returns to Westish after escaping an impulsive marriage, and wants to start anew; and Owen Dunne, Henry's roommate. This is a book about baseball that transcends the sport itself—it is a book about how frightening realizing your dreams, and falling short of them, can be. Amazon chose The Art of Fielding as its best book of 2011. And while I'm not ready to bestow that title on it just yet, I can unequivocally say it's one of the best books I've read this year. Harbach has created an unforgettable bunch of characters, and while the situations he puts them in may not be unique, the way he tells their stories and how they handle what comes their way is truly fantastic. He is a terrific writer and at times, a sentence or two would make me pause and read it again, just to marvel at his word choices. This is a book of over 500 pages that read like a much shorter novel, yet when I finished it, I wished I had more of it to savor. Truly fantastic.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Aldrin

    Call me Ishmael. Or not. Some days ago—never mind how long precisely—although having little money in my wallet, and with nothing particular to interest me at home, I thought I would gad about a little and see the slightly crowded part of the city. It is a way I have of warding off the solitude and improving the ventilation. Whenever I find myself growing grim and all that, I account it high time to get to a bookstore as soon as I can. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, alm Call me Ishmael. Or not. Some days ago—never mind how long precisely—although having little money in my wallet, and with nothing particular to interest me at home, I thought I would gad about a little and see the slightly crowded part of the city. It is a way I have of warding off the solitude and improving the ventilation. Whenever I find myself growing grim and all that, I account it high time to get to a bookstore as soon as I can. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the bookstore with me. There now is my favorite bookstore, beckoning. I enter, and inside I see a lone copy of a newly published book installed inconspicuously within a shelf of mostly old releases. I remember hearing about the book from a recent episode of the Three Percent podcast, where the two hosts, publishers both, recommended several forthcoming books. Alongside such established names as Haruki Murakami, Peter Nadas, and Joan Didion, the unfamiliar name Chad Harbach was mentioned. The name is that of a fairly young literary man, a co-founder and co-editor of an excellent literary magazine, and now a debut novelist. I grab his novel. On its cover it boasts a blurb generously provided by Jonathan Franzen, who last year released his latest novel to critical acclaim. It’s rather thick and heavy.  The book is called “The Art of Fielding.” I fool myself for a moment into thinking that the last word of the title is a proper noun, pertaining to that renowned 18th-century novelist. It isn’t long before the realization dawns upon me that the term comes from baseball, a sport I know practically nothing about. But for a book ostensibly about baseball, it does have a curious epigraph: “So be cheery, my lads / Let your hearts never fall / While the bold Harpooner / Is striking the ball.” —Westish College fight song This of course recalls the Nantucket song in that Great American Novel, “Moby-Dick”: “So be cheery, my lads, let your hearts never fail, While the bold harpooner is striking the whale!” Herman Melville’s famous book—or, rather, The Book, as it is fondly referred to in “The Art of Fielding”—is a prominent fixture in Harbach’s novel. It’s often alluded to and quoted by the novel’s narrator (who is nameless, unlike Ishmael in “Moby-Dick”) and its main characters (many of whom have peculiar names). The fictional Westish College, a small liberal arts school on the shores of Lake Michigan where much of the story is set, has a statue of Melville, who once visited the school, and its baseball team is called the Westish Harpooners. The book starts with the momentous discovery of the Harpooners’ team captain, Mike Schwartz, of Henry Skrimshander, a shy and scrawny shortstop. I don’t know what a shortstop is, and already I’m too caught up in Harbach’s Franzen-like prose and, indeed, Henry Fielding-esque undertones to be bothered to look up its meaning; even if I were reading on my Nook I doubt I’d be willing to interrupt my momentum for a few seconds of tapping and holding on the word until its definition appears on the screen. Whatever it is, Henry seems to be extremely skilled in being it. So, Mike recruits and mentors Henry, and Henry buffs up and begins to build a reputation as a prodigy in the art of fielding. “The Art of Fielding” is also the title of the book-within-a-book that Henry constantly cracks open and whose words he knows by heart. It’s a book of baseball-related aphorisms written by the fictitious Aparicio Rodriguez, world-famous shortstop and record-holder for the longest errorless streak. Henry is set to break his idol’s record, but then, out of nowhere, he throws an errant ball. Suddenly he seems to have contracted what’s known in baseball parlance as Steve Blass disease and lost his mastery of the shortstop position, as though he were a powerful wizard stripped of his magic by an unseen and ineffable force. No longer does he epitomize the ideal shortstop defined in aphorism no. 26 of the twice-fictional book: “The shortstop is a source of stillness at the center of defense. He projects this stillness and his teammates respond.” Like the monomaniacal Captain Ahab, Henry becomes intent on getting back that one vital thing he has lost, but at the risk of losing more, including his relationship with Mike and, above all, his sense of individual worth.  Just as The Book is not only about whaling even though it’s an account of a sailor’s adventures aboard a whaleship, this book is not only about baseball even though most of what happens happens to baseball players in baseball fields, locker rooms, and dugouts. “The Art of Fielding,” like most aspirants for the title “Great American Novel,” is essentially about The Human Condition, “being, basically,” Harbach writes, “that we’re alive and have access to beauty, can even erratically create it, but will someday be dead and will not.” He illustrates this point not only through Henry’s rugged trajectory but also in the variegated movements of the other main characters whose inertness towards growth and self-fulfillment is somehow remotely countervailed by Henry’s misfired baseball, its function to outfit the plot with impetus making it a distant echo of the wayward snowball in Robertson Davies’s “Fifth Business.” The ball hits Henry’s gay roommate and benchwarming teammate, Owen Dunne, on the head, and from his brief hospital confinement he emerges with a new squeeze quite unlike his previous lovers. Guert Affenlight, a widower in his sixties, gets involved in a May-December affair that may cost him his reputation as one of Wisconsin’s most eligible bachelors and, more important, his post as president of Westish College. (That a survey of Guert’s situation here immediately follows that of Owen’s certainly does not stem from an arbitrary arrangement. Hint, hint.) Pella, Guert’s prodigal daughter, returns home from a failed marriage only to be entangled by more emotional turmoil. Mike enters a sort of omega zone as regards his friendship with Henry and just now begins to take stock of his efforts; “Those who cannot do, coach,” he sadly realizes. Harbach inhabits these characters’ minds and reports on their wanderings with an alternation of brisk dialogue and translucent introspection that can easily provoke the envy of even the most seasoned novelists. In doing so he not only demonstrates in “The Art of Fielding” that one wrong move does not a person break, but he also brings into focus the connections, both sustained and missed, that do a person make. He goes above and beyond merely using the oft-metaphorized game of baseball as, well, a metaphor for life.  Having reached the book’s home run of an ending, I come away from “The Art of Fielding” with the knowledge that I made the right decision in buying it despite my having little money in my wallet that day in the bookstore. But I still don’t know exactly what a shortstop is. — Originally posted on Fully Booked .Me.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    So I liked this book. Wasn't quite sure at first but it's good. Centers around a college baseball player and the people connected to him.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Gary

    I loved this book.....I loved the feel of it.....I loved the literary atmosphere of it.....the college intellectualist of it.....I loved the story of baseball, but most of all I loved the story of life,it's joys, sorrows,and unexpected turns and twists, and it's complications. I have always thought about what poem, or story to have read at my funeral???....after reading this book,you might figure out what I have decided to have read at my funeral.....no rush on that event....but this book inspire I loved this book.....I loved the feel of it.....I loved the literary atmosphere of it.....the college intellectualist of it.....I loved the story of baseball, but most of all I loved the story of life,it's joys, sorrows,and unexpected turns and twists, and it's complications. I have always thought about what poem, or story to have read at my funeral???....after reading this book,you might figure out what I have decided to have read at my funeral.....no rush on that event....but this book inspired me,and pointed out to me how life goes,and how it goes on....long after we are gone. Read this book and enjoy!

  28. 4 out of 5

    K.D. Absolutely

    This is a story of 5 people whose lives seem to be hinged on a championship game in an American national college baseball. They have a world of their own and unfortunately, a world that is unfamiliar to me so although I liked this book, I was just not as thrilled as probably my Goodreads friends who are familiar with the rules of American baseball. Making things worse is the fact that I am still to read Moby-Dick; or, The Whale so I just did not get the references that this book has that great b This is a story of 5 people whose lives seem to be hinged on a championship game in an American national college baseball. They have a world of their own and unfortunately, a world that is unfamiliar to me so although I liked this book, I was just not as thrilled as probably my Goodreads friends who are familiar with the rules of American baseball. Making things worse is the fact that I am still to read Moby-Dick; or, The Whale so I just did not get the references that this book has that great book of American literature. But plot-wise, the book is engaging as the lives of the 5 unfold and intertwine. Four young college students and the dean of the university. Three baseball star players and a father and her daughter. Harbach was able to interject the themes of suicide, ambition, latent homosexuality, May-December affair, friendship, casual sex and quite simply - without being mushy - love. The reading is easy: you can read this book while ignoring but listening to your talking friend in front of you or while you are in a crowded place. At times, it felt inconveniently long as I struggled following the thoughts of the five characters as they simply do foolish things (that we all sometimes do at some parts of our lives anyway) that you would not plan or even think of doing. But in the end, you'll realize that the characters are just real as we are. That we all choose from the options we are presented to come up with decisions that we think will be better for us. Then later we'll find that either we made the right choice or not. But in the end, we take the risk and that is oftentimes, what life is all about or what makes it rewarding as we learn from our mistakes. There are many thought-provoking lines that made me stop a number of times while reading as I tried to reflect on them. This one is my favorite: "You told me once that a soul isn't something a person is born with but something that must be built, by effort and error, study and love. And you did that with more dedication than most, that work of building a soul - not for your own benefit but for the benefit of those who knew you." There are at least 10 of these lines that I dogeared. These lines are not your Hallmark-type of beauty but they are nice to ponder with and I guess this is the main reason why I liked this book. But then had I read Moby Dick and if I were familiar with American baseball, I would have rated this with at least 4 stars.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Andy Miller

    This is the best novel I have read in a long, long time. Once I started, I didn't want to put it down, but at the same time I didn't want it to end. I expect to read this again many times. The book reviews tell you that this about a college baseball team which develops into a winning team under the defensive prowess of the star shortstop Henry Skrimshander. While some reviewers correctly note that to say that is a baseball book is like saying Moby Dick is a fish story, even the best reviews don't This is the best novel I have read in a long, long time. Once I started, I didn't want to put it down, but at the same time I didn't want it to end. I expect to read this again many times. The book reviews tell you that this about a college baseball team which develops into a winning team under the defensive prowess of the star shortstop Henry Skrimshander. While some reviewers correctly note that to say that is a baseball book is like saying Moby Dick is a fish story, even the best reviews don't give the complexity of the book justice. Henry, a kid from small town and family who had never been to college and has self doubts is just one of many characters that the reader comes to know as a real person. Mike Schwartze is the team captain and excellent student who plans to go to law school even though everyone tells him he would be a natural coach. You learn that he applies to only the top 7 law schools with no safety application and then can't bring himself to tell anyone the results. Pella Allenbright is the university president's daughter who had earlier turned down an admission to Yale to marry an older man and rebel against the Eastern private school system only to later come to Westish college to start her life over. She also represents the non baseball fan for this book, she had never been to a baseball game. Her father, Guert, unexpectedly falls in love with Henry's gay roomate and teammate, Owen. I was put off by that story angle when I read reviews, but it turned out great. Guert may be the most interesting character and Owen the most likable This book was rare in that it was fun to read but also made you think. I found myself wondering why a character did what he or she did, what the character was going through, and repeating dialogue in my mind. The description of a soul by Owen in an informal memorial at the end of the book is one of the best pieces of writing I've ever read. And the plot was just great. Every time I anticipated what was to happen next, I was wrong. And I loved finding out I was wrong. Again, this is a great, great book I recommend to everyone

  30. 4 out of 5

    Terzah

    I apologize in advance that this review is really going to be more of an indictment of contemporary fiction than a true review...but that's what I'm in the mood for. God, do I need something good to read! The first two chapters of this book (I got an advance copy at work) gave me such high hopes. Funny, a good sense of place and time, a knowledge of baseball (and a clear love for the sport), interesting 3D characters....I actually handed it to my husband, who is even more of a baseball fan than I I apologize in advance that this review is really going to be more of an indictment of contemporary fiction than a true review...but that's what I'm in the mood for. God, do I need something good to read! The first two chapters of this book (I got an advance copy at work) gave me such high hopes. Funny, a good sense of place and time, a knowledge of baseball (and a clear love for the sport), interesting 3D characters....I actually handed it to my husband, who is even more of a baseball fan than I, and said, "Here. Read the first chapter. You'll love it. But then I want it back!" Unfortunately, he did give it back. And I kept reading. And within a few more chapters my hopes came crashing down. Far from any fields of dreams, I was back in the cloudy, depressing world of "The Emperor's Children," "Freedom," "Special Topics in Calamity Physics," "The Monsters of Templeton." Lots of archness and cleverness, little real feeling. One measly female character of any significance, and of course she was the shallowest, least real one. No moral center. Sexual confusion. Confusion of sex with love. An academic setting (this being the refuge of the newly-minted MFA writer). Blah. Blah. Blah. Harbach can write (that's why I gave this one extra star), but what's the point of being a good writer if you have no sense of the poetry beyond words, the poetry that is story (and please don't confuse story with soap opera)? I may just have to give up on contemporary fiction altogether. It's just been disappointment after disappointment.

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