I have always hated sport, any sport. I started wilfully sitting out sports days in protest when I was 14. That year was my first sports day without a fake note, dressed all in black in protest against the sporting house spirit. Across my years of
sports day I have variously skipped it, protested it, started petitions against it and held picnics in the middle of the grounds. It probably started when I was an uncoordinated, chubby six year old, terrified of being hit in the face with something. Since I still possess these qualities as a 23 year old, I think it is safe to say I will not be joining a netball team or enthusiastically taking up bike riding any time soon.
All this is to say: we would think a 500 page novel about baseball would not be the one for me. And that is where you and I would apparently both be wrong!
The Art of Fielding is famous for earning Chad Harbach, an unemployed Harvard graduate, a $665 000 advance for a first novel. It’s about small town guy Henry Skrimshander, a skinny, lanky guy who doesn’t look like much but is in fact preternaturally gifted as a short stop. It’s about Mike Schwartz, the bear of a captain who discovers Henry but worries that he’ll never achieve anything close to Henry’s talent or focus, on or off the field. It’s about Dean Affenlight who, after a lifetime bachelor existence, finds a reason to come to the baseball and his daughter Pella, who flees to Westish University after a failed marriage. It’s about Owen, perhaps the most unlikely athlete ever, a genius with a great sense of style. He spends practise reading, refuses to run, often doesn’t even show up and is still respected by the rest of the team. One of my favourite lines in the book: “‘There’s so much standing around,’ Owen said when Henry asked him what he liked about the game. ‘And pockets in the uniforms.'”
It would be easy to say that The Art of Fielding isn’t really about baseball but about a group of different guys at college coming together and breaking apart. But it actually is a lot about baseball, and I found myself eagerly reading about plays and practises and games because the writing is that good. So whether or not you like sport I would definitely recommend The Art of Fielding.