Read This: The Art of Fielding

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Occasionally I read a book where I get entirely lost in the world the author paints. Usually, this happens with fantasy (Game of Thrones*, Harry Potter, etc.). But when I get absorbed in a fictional (but not fantastical) world built by a realistic book, it's even more enchanting because it feels SO REAL. That's exactly what Chad Harbach accomplished in The Art of Fielding, his debut novel.

*Aside: I wore black the entire weekend after I suffered the first "big death" in GOT.

If you're assuming this is a book about baseball, it is. It's also a book about unconventional relationships and Moby Dick and uncertainty and codependence and transitions. It's a book about art; it's a book about love. It's an astoundingly compelling book. It's my favorite book I've read so far this year.

First, baseball. Harbach follows the collegiate career of Henry Skrimshander, a quiet, smallish Short Stop with an exceptional talent for fielding, an obsession with St. Louis Cardinal's Hall-of-Famer Aparicio Rodriguez*, and a complete dedication to improving his game and taking it to the next level beyond being the star player for the Westish College Harpooners.

*Sadly, Aparicio Rodriguez is fictional just like Westish (a small liberal arts college on Lake Michigan in Wisconsin I wish I had attended).

Skrimmer's fire is fueled by the coaching and direction of motivational catcher Mike Schwartz, who may not be as infallible as Skrimmer assumes.

Full disclosure: Yes, compared to the rest of the world, I'd be considered a "sports person." I played basketball in college, for goodness sake. And, reading about Henry running bleachers brought back some all-too-specific memories. However, I am by no means a baseball person. My favorite part of baseball? Undoubtedly the bratwursts. 
One of those moments when you think "I love Wisconsin!"
Harbach defied the odds: He created a bizarre passion for baseball in me that I'm having trouble shaking off. Recently, I drove past a uniform-clad little league team, walking toward a baseball field and I got all nostalgic about memories that a.) weren't mine and b.) never actually happened.

Example #2: Stephen was playing a Ken Griffey Jr. baseball video game (ha!) the other night, and when I watched the Short Stop make a throw to first, I thought of Henry. Of course.

But who doesn't think of Henry at Westish? The school's first-ever prospect has an immense amount of pressure on his slight shoulders, and things don't go entirely as planned.

Lest you think the story is entirely about sports, the President of Westish, President Affenlight, has some secret personal involvement with the baseball team and his daughter, Pella, moves back to live with him as she's going through a divorce.

Pella provides a much-needed "big picture" perspective. With most male characters obsessively focused on a single goal (not unlike Captain Ahab in Moby Dick) Pella is more of a free spirit. The complex characters, Herman Melville undertones, and clever writing are sure to draw you into this unforgettable story.

When I set out to write this review, I knew I wouldn't do the book justice, but hopefully I've inspired you enough to give it a try! Or, at the very least, eat a brat. :)

What's your book you've read this year so far? Would love to hear!

p.s. Another page-turner with an underlying sports story.

1 comment:

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