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June 10, 2012

The Art of Fielding



Fiction
2011 Hachette Audio
Reader: Holter Graham
Finished 5/27/12
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)




Publisher’s Blurb:

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.

Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners' team captain and Henry's best friend, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment--to oneself and to others.


I love baseball. I grew up on the L.A. Dodgers (Dusty Baker, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Don Sutton, Steve Yeager, and Reggie Smith) and the San Diego Padres (Steve Garvey, Garry Templeton, Goose Gossage, Tim Flannery, Kurt Bevacqua, Carmelo Martinez, and Tony Gwynn). When we moved from Lincoln, Nebraska to Fort Worth, Texas, we were thrilled to be near a major league park. It was the summer of '98 and when we weren't watching our beloved Rangers at The Ballpark (in Arlington) or on TV, we were watching the the battle between Mark McGuire & Sammy Sosa. It was a thrilling season and we couldn't get enough.

When we moved back to Lincoln, I had to accept that fact that baseball wasn't going to be as prevalent in my life as it once had been. Sure there's the College World Series (in Omaha) and the Saltdogs (in Lincoln), and K.C. isn't all that far to go to take in a Royal's game, but it just wasn't the same. So the baseball books piled up. I loved Doris Kearns Goodwin's memoir, Wait Till Next Year and added Mike Lupica's Summer of '98 to my stack, along with David Halberstam's October 1964 and Roger Kahn's Memories of Summer. After reading a glowing review for Harbach’s debut novel, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. I wound up listening to the audio and while I enjoyed the book, I can’t say that I loved it. A few of the situations (a sophomore in complete charge of recruiting a shortstop?!) were implausible and the ridiculous finale caused me to shake my head in disbelief. Several characters disappeared without a trace and some that that didn’t were nothing but cardboard cutouts. The first half of the book held my interest and enthusiasm, but the remainder of the novel was disappointing and I only finished out of curiosity.

Everyone deserves a second chance and Harbach’s prose, which at times was quite lyrical, has convinced me to refrain from complete dismissal of this author’s future works.

Final Thoughts: Fans of John Irving and Jeffrey Eugenides (The Marriage Plot) won’t be disappointed.

14 comments:

  1. It sounds like it starts out strong but then fizzles out. Maybe better editing would have helped.

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    1. I don't know if it's a case or poor editing or just lack of focus. It's as if he couldn't decide whether to tell a baseball story, a collegiate story or one about a man grappling with his sexual identity--at a late age!

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  2. I've been meaning to get to this one, but THE STAND (1,100pp) is taking all my free time.

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    1. I was going to re-read The Stand for Trish's read-along, but there are far too many new books calling to me. I have the complete and uncut edition and it would probably take me all summer to read 1141 pages! Good luck!

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  3. Hmmm, as a fan of John Irving's I was disappointed in his latest work. So, I may be disappointed in this as well. ;)

    However, your header photo is awesome! I could gaze at that for absolutely hours!!

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    1. I glanced at Irving's latest (read a few pages) and decided it wasn't for me. I don't think you'd really enjoy this one either, Meredith. Are you a baseball fan?

      The photo for my header was taken at Sunken Gardens here in Lincoln. I'll share some more pix...maybe for a Wordless Wednesday.

      I got your lovely letter and will write soon. Love to you, dear friend.

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  4. I loved the first part of the book, but like you, found the second part less interesting. I'm still including it as a favorite, if only for the descriptions of baseball!

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    1. Did you listen to the audio or read the printed version? Have you read The Marriage Plot? It reminded me a bit of that novel, with a pinch of A Prayer for Owen Meany thrown into the mix.

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  5. I've read reviews of this in written form and on audio...not sure if I'll do either!

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    1. And I can't say if I think you'd like it or not. Sorry!

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  6. You had to be a Dodgers fan ca. 1974-1976. That's when Dodger Stadium was my home away from home. I have so many fond memories! But you forgot Bill Russell (my favorite) and Bill Buckner. Oh and how about Tommy John?? I'm sorry this book didn't work for you. I long for a really good baseball story!

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    1. It was more like the 1977 on, Maudeen. I used to watch the Dodgers on tv with my boyfriend and his friends. Yes, I forgot Bill Russell!

      Hmmm, a good baseball story. I'll have to think about that and see if I can come up with a recommendation for you. :)

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  7. Oh bummer! My desire to listen to this one was growing (already in my iTunes), but I'm not so sure I want to now.

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    1. If you already have it on your iTunes, you might as well give it a try. Who knows. This may be one we will disagree on. :)

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