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The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Art of Fielding (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Chad Harbach, Holter Graham (Narrator)

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2,3481762,677 (3.98)165
Title:The Art of Fielding
Authors:Chad Harbach
Other authors:Holter Graham (Narrator)
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (2011)

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English (170)  Dutch (4)  Italian (1)  German (1)  All languages (176)
Showing 1-5 of 170 (next | show all)
A lovely, easy to read coming of age story about college baseball players. Harbach does a great job of conveying the life-or-death intensity and "drama" that attend so many college aged kids as they grow up. And somehow did it without making me roll my eyes once. The real protagonist (in my view), Mike Schwartz, really made the book for me (he's the catcher, of course; I adore catchers). He's a tragically flawed hero who has aged before his time as he's learning his place in the world (he is still a college boy after all). I imagine some may think Henry is the protagonist of the book, but I see him more as the antagonist—not in the sense of villain, but in the sense of the one who disrupts or opposes and forces the others in story to act. For that matter, he is his own worst enemy. I enjoyed the Affenlight (the college president) and Owen ("the Buddha") subplot. The characters are vivid and lovable even when they're exasperating. And it's nice to see a real female in a boys-sports-coming-of-age book. Pella is the "glue" character who connects the plots and subplots, and while she mostly functions as a device for the male characters and their plots (sigh), she is a fully drawn character who is allowed to do some coming-of-age herself.

I happened to be reading this around the time I was reading some early P.G. Wodehouse public school stories, which made for a fun complement/contrast around the honor codes of boys and their games.

A bit of a SPOILER: my husband and I discussed some implausibility that stretched almost to the breaking point for us, about Henry's return to the baseball field. For DH, it was that Henry would be allowed back on the field, even if they had no other players to put out there. For me, it was that he would be drafted, even in the 33rd round. This plot point is not nearly as bad as the League of Their Own final game, which is just not to be believed, but we found we really had to give a little as readers who know a thing or two about baseball. In this and a few other bits about the closing action, such as the death and subsequent "burial at sea" and a few other aspects of the baseball games, Harbach has given his characters Odysseus-like labors and some convenient tidying up of the plot, but I'm ok with the level of implausibility in this story because I believed and cared about the characters and recognized in the story the kind of emotional veracity that most people's selective and embellished narratives of their own coming of age have. ( )
  charliesierra | Sep 19, 2014 |
I really liked this book... Most of it. So I'll start with what I disliked.

I disliked the amount of adjectives and adverbs and unnessecary descriptives in this book. It's over 500 pages and every time I found something unnecessary ("he tossed it through the open window" - of course it's open! How could he toss it through a closed window?) I was a little irritated.

I disliked a lot of the side stories. I liked Pella as a character, she was interesting, but her presence was mostly unnecessary, and it felt like she was thrown in there to make the bug less macho. This book could have been simplified and I think I would have liked it more - usually I love books with multiple characters and intersecting stories.

But this is a book about baseball, and Harbach is an incredible baseball writer. Harbach is so good at writing about baseball that I couldn't put this book down when I was reading those sections. I was as absorbed as if I had been listening to a game on the radio. I hung into every word. I slumped back in my seat and cringed and rubbed my hands over my face when something bad happened. I gripped the book with white knuckles as I waited to find out if the high arc of the ball of the bat would be a home run or get caught and merely be an out. I could not have reacted much more strongly if I had been watching the game. (Slightly embarrassing, as I read some of this in a cafe.)

And when he isn't describing games, he talks about the beauty of the game, and the nuances. He talks about young players for whom the game is so much more than a game, but he also portrays an older man who finds baseball boring and then slowly begins to see some of the beauty in it. The symbolism is present but not overdone, or over-important. You can take it or leave it, symbolism or no, it's also just a game.

So mostly, I wish Harbach had left out a little of the growing pains and the heartache and heartbreak and complicated character web. I wish there had been a bit more balance (at times it seemed like the baseball wasn't necessary). I wanted this book to be more purely baseball.

Maybe if I'm lucky, he'll write another book that will be. ( )
  GraceZ | Sep 6, 2014 |
4 stars

This is one of the rare ones where I race to the finish the first time, just to find out what happens, and then immediately go back and start sections again, just to savor the prose. Understand me: I wouldn't call this "literary fiction," exactly--it's too real-world and action-y for that label, I think. But the language SINGS in places, sailing a high, hard one past you at times or giving you a low, dirty slider at others. Beautiful, beautiful book. I can't believe it's a debut novel. (The 1 star off is because the midsection of the book drags just the teeniest bit, and some of the goings on are a little over-the-top.)

This is the story of:
--Henry Skrimshander, a shortstop with infinite potential who's recruited by a small private Divison III college that has never won a championship
--Mike Schwartz, team captain, informal scout, and leader of men, who thinks he's going to apply for law school
--Guert Affenlight, president of the college, an academic who's struck by love late in life
--Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, who's returned home after a failed marriage and is now a bit adrift
--Owen Dunne (the Buddha), Henry's gay roommate, teammate, and partner in crime, who Has a Secret

For the first third of the book, Henry is becoming the best shortstop who's ever played the game, tying his idol's record for error-free games and getting scouted by the big leagues. It all goes wrong with one throw, though, and the rest of the book covers the fallout as the team heads for the playoffs for the first time in the college's history.

This book works on many levels: the classic everything-hangs-on-the-last-game sports story; the small-town isolated college pressure cooker; young adults learning about themselves in relationships; the stamina required in the drive to be the best; academic bullshit; and sports politics, among others. I'd heartily recommend this book for baseball junkies (male AND female), those who root for underdogs, fans of small towns (especially in the Midwest), and those nostalgic for their college days. This book hits all these bases, and more. Home run. ( )
  Pat_F. | Jul 25, 2014 |
Great characters, fine writing, and fun to read, especially in summer! ( )
  sberson | Jul 23, 2014 |
Chad Harbach's debut novel begins strong, creating a world the reader easily becomes immersed in and introducing characters that one wants to get to know better. The writing is smooth and flowing, at once simple and sweeping, while he's not John Irving, it's easy to see why the novel has brought to mind Irving for many readers.

However, somewhere past the middle near the end the novel began to drag for me. I still cared about the characters but the events didn't really seem plausible. Or perhaps, the characters weren't complex or deep enough to absorb the events that occur. In any case, several developments felt unlikely and ultimately made the ending far less satisfying.

I don't believe in reviews that give spoilers, but suffice it to say that the catalyst for the protagonist's crisis is never really addressed in any real way that makes sense. Likewise, his roommate is immensely intriguing but never grows to be much more, despite his fairly pivotal role in the novel.

Still, it wasn't an entirely bad read and I'm not sorry I spent time reading it. But it felt like it could've been shorter and towards the end I just wanted to be done with it. If I do get Harbach's next novel I'll likely purchase the Kindle edition instead of splurging on the hardcover. ( )
  Shutzie27 | Jul 9, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 170 (next | show all)
The book is a throwback to a bygone, if not universally mourned era when charismatic white male novelists wrote intelligent bestsellers, and one senses that it is intentionally so....It is a work of stridently unexperimental psychological realism, featuring likeable characters with cute nicknames, dramatic events that change people’s lives, easily identified and fully consummated narrative arcs, transparently conversational prose and big, obvious metaphors.

Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding cross-breeds two genres with limited gene pools, the baseball novel and the campus novel, and comes up with a vigorous hybrid, entertaining and engrossing, though almost absurdly high-minded.
added by zhejw | editThe Guardian, Adam Mars-Jones (Jan 28, 2012)
It's easy to see why The Art of Fielding has done so well: it is charming, warm-hearted, addictive, and very hard to dislike....

The Art of Fielding feels like a novel from another, more innocent age. It revels in themes that have been unfashionable in literary fiction for generations – team spirit, male friendship, making the best of one's talents. In its optimism and lack of cynicism, in its celebration of the wide open spaces of the Midwest and its confidence in the deep inner meaning of baseball, it is a big American novel of the old school....

...it creates a richly peopled world that you can fully inhabit in your mind, and to which you long to return when you put it down.
added by zhejw | editThe Guardian, Theo Tait (Jan 12, 2012)
Centering on an imaginary northern Wisconsin private school and its baseball star-in-the-making Henry Skrimshander, Harbach sidesteps much of the familiar mythmaking that can go along with spinning the American pastime into literature and instead delivers a rich, warmly human story that resonates even if you have no idea what a 6-4-3 double play looks like.
added by zhejw | editLos Angeles Times, Chris Barton (Oct 16, 2011)
Chad Harbach makes the case for baseball, thrillingly, in his slow, precious and altogether excellent first novel, “The Art of Fielding.”
added by zhejw | editNew York Times, Gregory Cowles (Sep 9, 2011)
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So be cheery, my lads
Let your hearts never fall
While the bold Harpooner
Is striking the ball.

--Westish College fight song
For my family
First words
Schwartz didn't notice the kid during the game.
Literature could turn you into an asshole; he'd learned that teaching grad-school seminars.  It could teach you to treat real people the way you did characters, as instruments of your own intellectual pleasure, cadavers on which to practice your critical faculties.
Talking was like throwing a baseball.  You couldn't plan it out beforehand.  You just had to let go and see what happened.  You had to throw out words without knowing whether anyone would catch them--you and to throw out words you knew no one would catch. You had to send your words out where they weren't yours anymore.  It felt better to talk with a ball in your hand, it felt better to let the ball do the talking.  But the world, the nonbaseball world, the world of love and sex and jobs and friends, was made of words.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Au Wetish College , petite université sur les rives du lac Michigan , Henry Skrimshander est devenu une véritable star du baseball: il conclut tous ses matches par un sans-faute . Jusqu'au jour où il rate un lancer facile . Son destin ainsi que celui de quatre personnes vont alors prendre un tour décisif.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0316126691, Hardcover)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:33:13 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

"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."--from publisher's description.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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