Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

A Winner!

Still gracing the bestsellers' lists, THE ART OF FIELDING is a dramatic novel centered around a Division III college baseball team.  The college President, his estranged daughter, a talented shortstop, his gay roommate/teammate, and the team captain are at the heart of this book and baseball is the conduit that brings them all together.  One play.  Just one.  Threatens to destroy them all.

If you're new here, allow me to let you in on a well known Alison Fact:  I   love   baseball.  I have been a fan of the game, and, more specifically, the Yankees, most of my life.  At least half of all the non-fiction I read is dedicated to baseball.  So, when a novel came along that promised me rich drama, deep characters and a college baseball team, I wanted in.  THE ART OF FIELDING delivered.

The one play I mentioned above?  I have witnessed live and in person a play like that.  It sucks the air out of the entire stadium.  I don't want to ruin it for anyone who hasn't read it yet, but Chad Harbach captures that moment so dead-on, I don't think I breathed for two pages. 

I threw the book into my husband's hands to read the following:

Baseball, in its quiet way, was an extravagantly harrowing game.  Football, basketball, hockey, lacrosse - these were melee sports.  You could make yourself useful by hustling and scrapping more than the other guy.  You could redeem yourself through sheer desire.

But baseball was different.  Schwartz thought of it as Homeric - not a scrum but a series of isolated contests.  Batter versus pitcher, fielder versus ball.  You couldn't storm around, snorting and slapping people, the way Schwartz did while playing football.  You stood and waited and tried to still your mind.  When your moment came, you had to be ready, because if you fucked up, everyone would know whose fault it was.  What other sport not only kept a stat as cruel as an error but posted it on the scoreboard for everyone to see?

Does a reader have to love baseball or know the game to enjoy the book? Not necessarily, but I think you need at least a basic understanding and an appreciation for the game.  If you do not like baseball, and find the game slow, you may still enjoy this book.  On the other hand, if you are like me and experience heart-pumping excitement in each and every pitch, you're already half way there.

Take the baseball out of it for a minute, and I would still love this book simply for the characters.  THE ART OF FIELDING is character driven, not baseball driven.  There was one scene in Chapter 27 with four characters and I could not help but think to myself how much I would want to play out that scene on a stage.  There was so much going on underneath, so much for an actor to sink his teeth into, and so much for the audience to enjoy being a fly on the wall during such a tense situation.

This is not a quick read.  Instead, Chad Harbach takes his time building his characters, and their relationships among one another until they are completely intertwined, and you are so sucked in you will not care how long it takes you to finish - it's worth it!

Book Extras:
Publisher Page
Reading Group Guide
Author's website, Twitter, Facebook

About the Book:
 THE ART OF FIELDING by Chad Harbach
  • Hardcover: 528 pages 
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (September 7, 2011) 
  • Language: English 
  • ISBN-10: 0316126691 
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316126694

  • About the Author: (from Little, Brown page)
    Chad Harbach grew up in Wisconsin and was educated at Harvard and the University of Virginia. He is a cofounder and coeditor of n+1.

    *Disclosure:  I purchased a copy of this book for my personal library.


    Zibilee said...

    I have been so reluctant to pick this one up based on the fact that it deals heavily with baseball, but hearing you say that it's not necessary to like the sport in order to mentally appreciate the book really has me considering picking this one up now. It sounds like an interesting read, and I do really enjoy character driven novels. Fantastic review today!

    Anne said...

    I am not a baseball fan at all but I absolutely loved this book. From reading this I do have more of an appreciation for the game now.

    Julie P. said...

    Loved this book!!!! One of my favorites from 2011.

    bermudaonion said...

    I like baseball but it's not my favorite sport. I do think I'll like the book a lot, though - I need to read it soon.

    mike draper said...

    I really enjoyed the book too. It certainly has gotten many reader's interest.
    My wife mentioned the book to me after she read it as part of her book club.

    Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

    I did not know that Alison fact!

    TheBookGirl said...

    I need to pick this one up soon...I love baseball, I have read nothing but positive reviews, and a reading buddy has told me I must read it. I don't know why I haven't picked it up before, as it is sitting on my TBR pile but I will rectify that shortly :)

    Stephanie said...

    I am one of those people who fall into the category of not enjoying baseball (give me football anyday - yeah Superbowl champs Giants)!! Anyway, I got a copy of this book at BEA but haven't read it yet in fear of not liking the baseball aspect. I guess I'll have to rethink that after reading your review.

    TeakaToys - H1 Accessories said...

    Lovely review for what seems to be a lovely book! I love it when characters have enough depth to make them more important than the plot itself.

    Limousines said...

    Read this book. It's a remarkable coming-of-age story that happens to be set in the world of college baseball (it could have been set almost anywhere else).


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