Name checking Steve Blass disease wins Harbach points in my book, in a book about baseball that really isn't about baseball. If you don't recognize the term, google it, but you might want to wait until it is used in the book so that the definition of the term doesn't become a spoiler for you.
The title "The Art of Fielding" is also the title of a book about playing shortstop by one of the game's legends, and Henry Skrimshander carries his tattered and memorized copy everywhere. He loves baseball, and fields the shortstop position with mechanical perfection, but until he is discovered and mentored by a freshman at Westish College, his dream ended there, with the lower-middle-class horizon of working life looming after high school.
At Westish--an upper Midwest Division III private college that majors in academics and has a track record of losing at every sport--and under Mike Schwartz's tutelage, Henry blossoms into a pro prospect and everything seems bound to go well for him. But life intervenes along the way (remember the part about this book not really being about baseball?), and every relationship around Henry unravels, leaving him exposed in that borderland beyond his dreams. How he and his friends and their relationships are rescued, recovered, or redirected is really what the book is about.
The Art is a rare best-seller for me, and I found that it is very well done, with humor, style, perception, and seriousness easily blended into a book that reads well. Not a classic, but well worth the time.
It is also interesting that baseball is the framework of the story, and is probably the only sport that can carry such weight. I was reminded of Moneyball as I read. Moneyball is the book, and now the very good movie, about how Billy Beane built a winning team out of players undervalued by the traditionalists in the sport because their value existed in often overlooked statistics. If you are familiar with Moneyball and Bill Beane's background keep it in mind as you read The Art.
In this timeless, contemporary novel, we observe the interactions of a number of characters on a college campus. As the story begins, Henry Skrimshander is a shortstop on the Westish baseball team. He had been recruited by Mike Schwartz, the captain of the team. Henry is a shortstop who plays his position so well, he's like a lone star on a blue sky. Henry plays for the love of the game and he goes about his business … more
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, September 2011: Though The Art of Fielding is his fiction debut, Chad Harbach writes with the self-assurance of a seasoned novelist. He exercises a masterful precision over the language and pacing of his narrative, and in some 500 pages, there's rarely a word that feels out of place. The title is a reference to baseball, but Harbach's concern with sports is more than just a cheap metaphor. The Art of Fielding explores relationships--between friends, family, and lovers--and the unpredictable forces that complicate them. There's an unintended affair, a post-graduate plan derailed by rejection letters, a marriage dissolved by honesty, and at the center of the book, the single baseball error that sets all of these events into motion. The Art of Fielding is somehow both confident and intimate, simple yet deeply moving. Harbach has penned one of the year's finest works of fiction.--Kevin Nguyen