America’s Favorite Pastime – “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach

October 12, 2015 at 12:50 pm 2 comments

UnknownI don’t enjoy watching baseball.  But I get the nostalgia of it. If you love baseball it is likely someone special took you to your first game and you sat shoulder to shoulder, squinting into the sun, just watching together. There was the smell of peanuts and popcorn, blue skies, the crack of the ball. It is a pastime that is greatly loved.  I have avoided this book because I just didn’t want to read a book about baseball, sorry to all the baseball fans.  But just like the movie “Field of Dreams” really isn’t about baseball, neither is this book.  I am just still trying to figure out what it really is about so pardon the fumbling here.

This is novel is set at fictitious Westish College, a small school on Lake Michigan.  Henry is a talented sophomore short stop, who is being scouted for the draft. He has been training with Mike, the Westish baseball team leader, to get better and bigger and faster.  Henry is graceful and agile and destined for baseball greatness. But then he throws that one ball that hits his friend Owen in the head.  And in a cloud of self-doubt and second guessing, he loses whatever baseball magic he had.

Every description of this novel, makes it sound like it is this bad throw that changes everyone’s lives. The school president, his daughter, Mike and Owen all are thrown in upheaval because of this one throw.  But to me it is not really the pivotal moment and I think that is a lazy way to talk about this book.

The novel, to me, is more about how we have certainty at points of our life and that is nice.  But really that is not how we find ourselves.  At times in our lives , we are sure we are in love or clear on our path to success or certain that our future is set. But when that all falls apart what do we do? That is the measure of greatness.  And every character in this novel, finds themselves at a crossroads and has to decide what next. So yes, there is the bad throw, but there is also the bad marriage, the crossing of boundaries that leads to bad decisions and consequences, the hiding of the truth which isolates. For each character they have their own bad throw that lands them somewhere dark and alone.

Harbach is a talented writer.  Sadly, parts of this novel dragged for me even with the brilliant writing.   What I find most intriguing about this novel, as I think about it, is that Harbach combined America’s favorite pastime, baseball with each character’s journey of self-absorbed doubt and introspection – the finding yourself that the talk shows all claim is so important.  I think with this combination Harbach is hitting on something else. Americans love these personal stories of finding ourselves through adversity.  In truth this is our other favorite American pastime.  Peanuts, cracker jacks and finding ourselves. It’s a home run every time.


Entry filed under: October 2015. Tags: , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Nella  |  October 15, 2015 at 3:01 am

    What a great review, because you put your thumb on how I felt about the book. Being South African, I know nothing about baseball, but still enjoyed the book thoroughly. A bit of editing down might have helped though.

    • 2. Emily C  |  October 15, 2015 at 8:27 am

      Thank you! I agree. It was a bit long for what it was trying to do.


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.


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