The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Bookers fielded two All-Star baseball teams plus five alternates for our meeting at the home of Donna Walter. As requested, we stepped up to the plate and arrived in our best baseball gear – everything from an original Eddie Stanky St. Louis Cardinal jersey, glove and autographed baseball to an array of Texas Rangers, NY Yankees, and Chicago White Sox caps and shirts – all in honor of this month’s selection, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. In true “Melba-fashion,” she and Pat Faherty decked the house with memorabilia, most provided by the Texas Rangers’ own legendary Shirley, the “cookie lady.” We had popcorn and cracker jacks, a chorus of Take Me Out To The Ballpark, the Pledge of Allegiance to Old Glory, a message from beyond, and a series of guest reviewers.
We’ve all sorely missed MN and it was wonderful to see her looking fit as a fiddle, maneuvering around with her new knee, and full of her usual vim and vigor. Welcome Back! (Little known medical fact – your hair grows when you have your knee replaced…who knew?) We all wish Patty Evans a speedy and full recovery from her severely swollen leg caused by the removal of and disruption of her lymph nodes.
Here’s what our “guest reviewers” (disguised as Bookers) had to say about this debut novel:
Gregory Cowles, The New York Times Book Review: “Chad Harbach makes the case for baseball, thrillingly, in his slow, precious and altogether excellent first novel…It seems a stretch for a baseball novel to hold truth and beauty and the entire human condition in its mitt, well The Art of Fielding isn’t really a baseball novel at all, or not only. It’s also a campus novel and a romance (and for that matter, a full-fledged gay romance, a comedy or manners and a tragicomedy of errors…Welcome to the big leagues, kid. Now get out there and play.”
Joanna Scott, author, Professor of English, University of Rochester: “Chad Harbach can make anything mesmerizing: a potato cube in a bowl of clam chowder, a college baseball player’s batting average, the antics of teenagers, the antics of grownups, the consequences of falling in love, the consequences of falling from grace. What a beautiful book, that is, a feast to gulp and savor.”
Mike Peed, Men’s Journal: Sharp-witted…The Art of Fielding…is an affecting portrait of the seductive powers of athletic talent and society’s eagerness to indulge its possessors. It also transcends baseball…as the novel expands into a meditation on young love and male bonds. Harbach’s prose remains as exacting as say, firing a leather sphere at an awaiting glove.”
Nicholas Dawidoff, author & editor: “Affecting, subtle, funny, and true. The Art of Fielding is mere baseball fiction the way Moby-Dick is just a fish story.”
Sara Nelson, O, The Oprah Magazine: “Astonishingly assured yet seemingly effortless…sport is the metaphor here, but it is only that…it’s a wonderful tale of youth, ambition, love, and a little unpredictable thing called life…in other words, it’s a whole other ballpark.”
Jonathan Evison, author: “Spectacular…wise, warmhearted, self-assured, and fiercely readable debut that heralds the coming of a young American writer to watch. Harbach’s characters live and breathe, yearn, ache, and in the end make you love them for their flaws. You won’t want this book to end.”
Pat Faherty, our own died-in-the-wool St. Louis Cardinal fan (rumor has it a “pet” cardinal resides at the Faherty ranch) delivered the local viewpoint on this novel – loving it because of the baseball but appreciating the quality of the writing and the characters – “it was as though they were all real people.” By chance, she came across an autographed photo of “Stan the Man” Musial, who played twenty-two seasons for the Cardinals…it was a present from her deceased brother – was it chance she volunteered to do the review of this book?
The story is set in a small college on the shore of Lake Michigan. Baseball shortstop, Henry Skrimshander, seems destined for the big leagues, but when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended. To Henry, the baseball diamond was his refuge – he knew what will be demanded and he knew he can provide it…life is more unpredictable. He has spent his career trying to make life as simple as baseball, but it becomes as complex as life itself.” We read through Henry’s fight against self-doubt, his obsession for perfection like Captain Ahab’s pursuit of the illusive white whale, his male friendships ranging from antagonistic, competitive to deeply affectionate and the bonds that connect, un-connect, and reconnect. His mentor and personal guru, Mike Swartz, took Henry under his wing knowing his talent represented a championship for the team…skilled in motivating, manipulating and moving people around with no “art” of his own. Herman Melville is constant throughout the novel and was a conscience parallel to Moby-Dick. In the author’s words, “A baseball team is a lot like a whaling ship; in each case, a group of men who might otherwise have little in common spend an inordinate amount of time in close and not-so-comfortable quarters, excluding the world, in pursuit of a common goal.”
Mr. Harbach answers the question…is there life after baseball for Henry, and for the rest of us? “I think the questions is more; is there life outside of baseball? Until now, he’s been so “regular and orderly” in his life…and that regularity has made him a great athlete but has stunted him in other ways. There’s a tension between the demands of life and the demands of art; that’s what he’s trying to resolve. Can he do the strange, surprising, scary things required to become a real human being with a real inner life, and still devote himself to his craft? For the rest of us, there’s always basketball season.”
The majority of group liked the book; some had difficulty with the gay relationship between the college President and a student, not so much with the nature of the relationship, but the irresponsibility of the President of the college and it didn’t add anything to the storyline. We discussed monomania; perfectionism; how the mind plays a significant role in an individual’s performance; how it is possible for a team member to be both a competitor and a friend; the suggestion that if women had been given the opportunity to compete in sports like their male counterparts, they would be better women because of the experience. Sandy Molander pointed out the only game offered when she was in high school was badminton. We’ve come a long way baby!
Again, that’s what makes our group unique – we feed off the discussion and offer points of view and insight that might not have been discovered otherwise. As always, thanks for your dedication to Bookers!
On the business side
We have changed (again – sorry about that) the May meeting (see notes below.) Thanks to everyone for their cooperation and willingness to compromise. Bonnie Magee has agreed to continue as our Food Czar and she will be in touch when she returns on April 25th. Please contact her directly after this date if you are able to bring some goodies.
Since we chose to revisit Cold Sassy Tree for our bonus June meeting, the other suggestions (Watership Down and the Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet) will be revisited and/or suggested for selection in the upcoming year.
MN gave us a brief overview of Fifty Shades of Gray and the sequels…she has downloaded all of them. If you’re up for a little romp, you might check them out. Also, for a look into the “In-Betweener” generation – growing up in the “black and white” 50’s, check out Growing Up Simple in Texas by George Arnold – thanks Mary Jacobs for loaning it to me.
COLOR CODING SYSTEM:
WHITE: LIGHT READ
PINK: MODERATELY CHALLENGING
May 15st 5th Annual Wine & Cheese Evening Meeting, 6:00 PM
Home of Melanie Prebis, co-hosted by Linsey Garwacki
Book sharing meeting and discussion
Bonnie Magee, Food czar will coordinate the menu
NOTE NEW DATE
June 12th: Bonus Bookers meeting
Home of Pat Faherty, Backup – Sandy Molander
Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
Bookers’ first book selection, September, 2004
Originally reviewed by JoDee Neathery and will be recreated
Summer read: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
September 11th: Kick off to Season 9 of Bookers
Home of Marlene Ungarean, co-host Rosemary Farmer
Reviewer: Patty Evans
October 9th: Home of Beverly Dossett (if doesn’t conflict with garage sale)
Remember The Art of Racing in the Rain – a book not about dogs or racecars, but a book about one dog and his soul mate. We learned lessons in life through the eyes of a dog – a smart dog to boot. This “Art” is not about baseball but a chase of an illusive dream; about preparing, executing, succeeding, failing, and occasionally hitting into a double play.
You gotta’ catch whatever life throws at you.