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!
Reading Group Guide
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About the Book:
THE ART OF FIELDING by Chad Harbach
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.