Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Book Review: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I did not want to read this book. Yes, it got great reviews from all the right places, but something about it just rubbed me the wrong way. I just got the pretentious, overhyped vibe from it. I considered it, but then I got one look at the length (528 pages!) and was even more sure that my original knee-jerk reaction was right. Then my book club picked it.

And thank God they did because I adored it!

Henry Skrimshander is a young baseball phenom at Westish College, more than ably coached by a senior, Mike Schwartz, who discovered him in the first place. Just as Henry is coming into his own, there's a bad accident involving Henry's roommate, and Henry loses his confidence. Without baseball, who is he? And Mike's future is also crashing down around his ears, complicated by Pella Affenlight, the president's rebellious daughter who has suddenly returned after a very young and misguided marriage.

It's been a while since I've read a book set at a college and I'm reminded how much I love these when they're done well. Mr. Harbach perfectly captures the small college feel. And Henry is such an endearing character. He's a bit of an archetype, but in a good way. Mike is even more endearing because unlike Henry, he has no natural talent, except a talent for working insanely hard, and knowing how to get the very best out of people. Pella's character is intriguing because it's one we don't often see - a reformed rebel. She ran off with the much older teacher when she was only 18, in fact she didn't even finish high school, but now she's seeing the error of her youthful impulses and is unsteadily moving to put her life back on track. There's also Owen, Henry's roommate, and Guert, the college principal and Pella's father, and a cast of characters on the baseball team.

I occasionally laughed out loud with the humor! I feel like I could walk around Westish and know where I was. You don't have to know anything about baseball to enjoy this book. The characters are the key, and the characters are fantastic. When I got 100 pages in, I was so in love with the book, that I was thrilled I still had 400+ pages to go. And yet, it was a fast read for the length. I am thinking that even though it's so early in the year, this book is going to be a contender for my favorite book of the year. Every time I think back on it, I get a warm, fuzzy feeling and I catch myself smiling. Go read it, now.

I got this book at a WNBA Book Swap event.


Kristen said...

I'm glad that you enjoyed it! I didn't want to read it either, but everyone was talking about it, so I jumped on the bandwagon, read it, and loved it! It was one of the best books that I read last year!

Booksnyc said...

Thanks for this ringing endorsement - I have the book on my shelf too and am intimidated by the length (and my lack of baseball passion. I do see great reviews everywhere I turn.