The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I enjoy watching college sports, but I'm not a fanatic. I attribute my lower levels of enthusiasm to the fact that I never played - only watched. I never followed baseball - it just wasn't popular when I was growing up. Despite my lack of understanding and enthusiasm for baseball, I loved this book.
Baseball is a backdrop, and a perfect one now that I think back on the book, for the internal struggles and drama we all have in trying to be good at something we love. A young man, Henry, is technically too small for the position he loves, short-stop, but has talent despite his size. Henry meets Mike Schwartz, who shepherds him into the baseball program of a small liberal-arts college. It is at that college that we meet the other characters and participate in the life and baseball drama of the book.
College is also a perfect setting for this book because it is the place where many people go to decide where the rest of their lives will take them. College also mixes people in the community of shared purpose despite differing backgrounds. I felt as though I was back on my own campus, shuffling around and telling everyone and myself that the current crisis "will be okay."
The author did a great job of showing how the team captain, athletic stars, college president and his exceptionally smart daughter all struggle with being on display. Struggles and screw-ups are so much easier to handle when you can assume that nobody is watching. For these characters, every struggle is played out publicly and the reader knows it.
The characters themselves were so real that I was cheering for them individually and as part of the college community. I was worried as I saw them make decisions I knew could lead to problems later in the book but I was powerless to stop. I felt like a parent sending my child to college and hoping that they can overcome the inevitable problems that will cross their path.
This book is very long, but it held my attention the entire time. Few books can do that for me, and that is the main reason it got 5 stars.
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