The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach

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The Art of Fielding

Five words from the blurb: college, baseball, friends, love, American

I hate watching sport, know nothing about baseball and haven’t enjoyed a sports themed book before (not that I’ve read many – I tend to avoid them), but increasing enthusiasm for The Art of Fielding persuaded me to give it a try. I’m pleased that I did as this is a modern classic that will be talked about for years to come.

The first few chapters did their best to put me off – I could see the writing quality, but the endless baseball references did nothing for me.

Henry played shortstop, only and ever shortstop – the most demanding spot on the diamond. More ground balls were hit to the shortstop than anyone else, and then he had to make the longest throw to first. He also had to turn double-plays, cover second on steals, keep runners on second from taking long leads, make relay throws from the outfield. Every Little League coach Henry had ever had took one look at him and pointed toward right field or second base. Or else coach didn’t point anywhere, just shrugged at the fate that had assigned him this pitiable shrimp, this born benchwarmer.

Without the hype I would probably have abandoned this book after the first few pages, but I persevered and at page 50 I was rewarded with chapter 6 which didn’t mention baseball at all. Instead it introduced Moby Dick, an English professor and a glimpse of the magical writing Chad Harbach is capable of when he talks about something other than sport.

As the book progressed I became increasingly attached to the characters in the book and completed its 500 pages in a surprisingly quick time, but on reaching the end I found I was quietly impressed rather than bowled over with excitement. I didn’t find anything particularly new or interesting in The Art of Fielding. It is simply a well written book about American college life – and I have read a lot of those, although I admit this is one of the best.

I think those who have been through an American college will have a far greater appreciation of this book than I did. I found it very similar to The Marriage Plot in terms of both style and subject matter – with The Art of Fielding being the better book in terms of consistency and message.

I’m also sure that I missed some of the relevant baseball references and their significance on the bigger picture. I’m afraid that those who claim this book will give the reader a passion for baseball are wrong, but I agree that it isn’t necessary to enjoy the sport to appreciate this book.

Despite my criticisms I do think this is a very good book. It is a simple story, but one that is very well told. It is hard not to feel compassion for the well developed characters. I just hope that next time Chad Harbach will devote his time to writing a book that doesn’t contain any sporting references.

Recommended, especially to American graduates.



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  1. Shelley says:

    I agree about the sports angle; but sadly, I wonder if this book would ever have been published had it not had the baseball hook.

    1. Jackie says:

      Shelley, You could be right. It is selling loads of copies based on you “I liked it despite the baseball” angle. Shame that good books need a hook in order to be published.

  2. Andi says:

    And yours is another trusted opinion telling me to read this book. I also avoid any and all things related to sports (baseball in particular).

    1. Jackie says:

      Andi, it is so hard to decide whether or not to read a book when the premise sounds so unappealing. All I can suggest is to be patient, get a copy from the library and give it a try. I suspect you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  3. Sandy says:

    A gazillion people have loved this book, no? So I did recently buy it. So now it is on my shoulders to read it. My goal is to read it in 2012!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I haven’t seen a really negative review of this book yet and I can’t imagine finding one any time soon. Not everyone is going to love it, but I can’t imagine anyone really hating it. I look forward to reading your review some time in 2012 :-)

  4. Meghan says:

    Ha, as an American graduate, this should suit me just fine then! I also tend to like quieter stories, so your review has actually made me more excited to read it. I’m not really a big fan of baseball, so I’ve been curious as to how that would affect my enjoyment. Looks like not too much!

    1. Jackie says:

      Meghan, An American graduate who enjoys quieter stories? This book is made for you! I look forward to reading your glowing review very soon ;-)

  5. nomadreader says:

    I found several parallels between this novel and The Marriage Plot too. It was interesting to hear your perspective, as both a non-sports fan and someone who didn’t go to college in the U.S. I’m partial to both college novels and Midwestern novels, so this book had two big things to its advantage already for me! I also found it to be a quick read and think it will be a modern classic because it is both good and quite an easy read, particularly for its length.

    1. Jackie says:

      nomadreader, It is very similar to The Marriage Plot and I almost regret reading them so close together. I’m not really a fan of American college novels (prefer UK university ones :-) ) but this one was very engaging and much easier to read than I expected. Glad you found my perspective interesting.

  6. Amy says:

    Your terrific review is actually the first I’ve read of this book although I’ve seen it on many ‘Best of 2011’ books. I wondered how much of the story was devoted to baseball because, although I probably know more about baseball than you do, Jackie :o ) I’m not a fan. I’m happy to know that after about 50 pages there’s no longer a major focus on the sport! Since I enjoy books about American college life and this is one that is partiicularly well-written, I’m going to put it on my wishlist.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, Quite a lot of the story is devoted to baseball, especially in the beginning, but there is enough going on around it to interested those of us that hate sport. If you enjoy stories about American college life you’ll love it. Enjoy :-)

  7. Steph says:

    I don’t really care about sports at all either, although I must admit that baseball is actually the one sport I kind of like given that I did play it when I was growing up so I actually know all the rules! That said, I was still very reluctant about this book because I still don’t really want to read about sports… however, that snippet you posted really isn’t that bad, I suppose because I do get the references. A friend of mine said this was her favourite book of the year… that paired with your endorsement (despite your apathy towards baseball) makes me think that it will be worth reading (though I probably won’t make it a priority, but should a copy find it’s way to me through the used bookstore or library or some other low-effort means I will give it a shot!).

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, If you think that snippet isn’t bad then you’ll breeze through this book – I picked one of the most basball ridden paragraphs I could find! I’m sure it will be very easy to find copies of this book in the library soon. Enjoy it when you get around to it.

  8. I’m like you, Jackie, I don’t care about sports and don’t know the first thing about baseball. A reason for me not to touch the book. But then you come and say, hey, this is a good book! Hmm, maybe I will pick it up one day – but I’m still not convinced. Sounds like way too much baseball to me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, If you ever decide to pick it up remember to get past chapter 6 before abandoning it :-) I agree that there are books with far more interesting premises out there. I’ll try to introduce you to more appealing books next time!

  9. Kathleen says:

    I’ve heard a lot of “buzz” about this. I’ve been through am American college and DO love baseball so maybe I would enjoy it more? In any case, I am going to give it a try based on all of the reviews I’ve read so far.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, It has had a lot of buzz, but I think it deserves it. I think you’ll enjoy this one.

  10. stujallen says:

    I m, in two minds of this book Jackie I did look at it in waterstones at weekend I m not a hype book fan and this is a bit hyped and I like books about sport but last I read another american book disappointed ,but that said one of my all time favourites is underworld dom deillo which has a baseball element to it ,I know a bit about baseball but it still puzzles me ,nice review still in two minds I may wait to pbk out then its not to much to spend ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, I’m afraid I’m a sucker for hype. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one once the hype fades away.

  11. Jenners says:

    The whole baseball thing is a turn-off for me but if you can get over it, so can I. Plus I went to an American college so it sounds like I might really appreciate this.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I can’t believe I’m saying that I enjoyed a book about baseball, but if I can I know you can too. Go for it!

  12. Mome Rath says:

    I’ll side with Kathleen and say that the baseball angle (in addition to the good reviews) makes me more willing to pick up this book sometime this year, despite my preference for international (and generally older) literature. Great review, and I hope you enjoy some great reading in 2012!

    1. Jackie says:

      Mome Rath, I hope that you have a wonderful 2012 too!

  13. There were only a couple of points at which I had the “Too much?” feeling about the baseball parts; for the most part, I sailed through, thanks to the college setting, the quiet bookishness of it, and a curiosity about the themes connected to the father-daughter pair (avoiding anything spoiler-y).

    I didn’t find myself immediately drawn to any one of the characters, but nor did I find myself with that sense of disappointment you sometimes get when you’re reading a novel with a large cast; I just contently read on and on and on and probably would have done so for that many pages again!

  14. Kells says:

    Have to say that baseball is def not my thing, but may I might be surprised as to how the rest of the book goes. Ive been listening to Elaine on The Book Report! I love the show, I like to listen to what the authors have to say about their books. Go to to have a listen.

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