Kemper's Reviews > The Art of Fielding

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
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Aug 10, 15

really liked it
bookshelves: 2012, modern-lit, sports, favorites
Read in January, 2012

This novel should win some kind of award for Best Character Names. Check some of these out: Henry Skrimshander. Guert Affenlight. Pella Affenlight. Adam Starblind.

No John Smiths or Jane Does allowed in this one.

Mike Schwartz is a hard working and ambitious student athlete at second rate Westish College in Wisconsin. At a summer league baseball game, Mike sees Henry Skrimshander play and instantly recognizes that he’s seeing the kind of fielding talent that can only be called genius. Skinny Henry has just finished high school and assumes his days in organized baseball are over because all the college scouts passed him over because of his lack of size and below average hitting ability. Where Henry excels is at playing shortstop where no ball gets past him and all of his throws are right on target.

Mike arranges for Henry to get a baseball scholarship to Westish, and begins putting him through a rigorous training regimen designed to turn him from a talented fielding shortstop into a complete baseball player. As eager Henry flourishes under Mike’s guidance, the Westish baseball team starts winning for the first time, and pro scouts have started talking big money just as Henry is on the verge of breaking the record of his idol for most consecutive games without an error.

Then one bad throw with disastrous consequences shatters Henry’s confidence and suddenly leaves him unable to complete the simplest toss during a game. As Henry struggles to get his mojo back, Mike is realizing that his own ambitions may be bigger than his actual talent. The school president Guert Affenlight, a Herman Melville fanatic, has fallen in love with Henry’s gay roommate Owen, and Guert’s daughter Pella has just come to the campus looking to jumpstart her life after a bad marriage.

You don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this one. The author doesn’t engage in the practice of trying to sell the readers on the greatness of the game. Henry loves it because it’s what he was born to do just like a great painter was born to paint, but other characters complain that it’s boring. Even Owen, who is on the team, bitches about it and prefers to read in the dugout rather than watch the games.

For the first half of this book, I was completely sucked in by the characters. Any one of these could have made a great book by themselves: Pella’s backstory about leaving high school to marry an older man and coming to Westish to finally pick up where she left off. Guert’s falling for Owen after a lifetime of heterosexuality and fearing that he was making a fool of himself. Mike’s bitterness over thinking that he’d never be truly great at anything himself while completely dismissing his own talent for motivating and getting the most out of people. All of these were excellent and the writing makes you feel for all of them.

Where it really hits a next level is with Henry’s struggles. Harbach spends a lot of time in the early going telling us about Henry’s development into a top baseball prospect and his incredible grace on the field. And he’s also just a helluva nice guy, the kind of student who doesn’t like to talk in his English class because he’s worried that he’ll hurt his sensitive teacher’s feelings. He works his ass off not for fame and fortune but because he wants to be the best. Then he's helpless to keep it from falling apart just as he’s about to achieve his dream. It’s painful, particularly the way Harbach puts you into Henry’s head on the field where he’s over thinking every play to the point where I almost found myself yelling aloud, “Just throw the fucking ball to first, Henry!”

That’s why I almost consider this a horror story with it’s notion that no matter how much work has gone into something, talent is such a mental thing that it can be destroyed in moments if the wrong set of circumstances cause self doubt to creep in.

Unfortunately, things got a bit too drawn out in the second half of the book, and the various self-destructive cycles that some of the characters enter when things get rough almost turned them from sympathetic into tiresome whiners. Shaving about a hundred pages from this book and tightening it up would have made this a five star read. It’s still an excellent book with some great characters and very good writing.
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Quotes Kemper Liked

Chad Harbach
“You told me once that a soul isn't something a person is born with but something that must be built, by effort and error, study and love. And you did that with more dedication than most, that work of building a soul-not for your own benefit but for the benefit of those that knew you.”
Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding


Comments (showing 1-29)




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message 29: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Great review, Kemper. Love the names you mentioned at the beginning. No Chips O'Toole?


Kemper Stephen wrote: "Great review, Kemper. Love the names you mentioned at the beginning. No Chips O'Toole?"

Nope. No sign of Mike Honcho either.


Doneen You're so right about all the weird names. Westish College????


Jackie You're so right! Such great names. I finished reading last week, but still can't get Guert Affenlight out of my head - and that's just his name! Loved the book; couldn't find much to fault in it, and certainly didn't think it was too long. I could've read it forever. Congratulations to a first time and, hopefully, long time author. Unputdownable.


Michael Thayer I almost laughed out loud reading your review of the names. I'm currently working at a circulation desk at my local library and laughing out loud would be inappropriate.


Kemper Jackie wrote: "You're so right! Such great names. I finished reading last week, but still can't get Guert Affenlight out of my head - and that's just his name! Loved the book; couldn't find much to fault in it,..."

Yeah, those names were stuck in my head for a while after reading, too.


Kemper Michael wrote: "I almost laughed out loud reading your review of the names. I'm currently working at a circulation desk at my local library and laughing out loud would be inappropriate."

Don't blame me if you get fired!


message 22: by Geri (new) - rated it 4 stars

Geri Mariano Couldn't agree more about the names!


David "Quentin Quisp" was my favourite.


Kemper David wrote: ""Quentin Quisp" was my favourite."

Yeah, I should have him included him on that list too.


Christa It's Adam Starblind, actually. Ridiculous nonetheless. One player's surname was Suitcase!


Kemper Christa wrote: "It's Adam Starblind, actually. Ridiculous nonetheless. One player's surname was Suitcase!"

Oops. Where did I get Rick? I fixed it. Thanks.


message 17: by Lucy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lucy You missed the best name: Rick O'Shea!


message 16: by Sara (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sara You are skilled! We exhort you!


Kemper Sara wrote: "You are skilled! We exhort you!"

Hey, I swear that's not me in those pictures..... Oh, you said EXHORT, not EXTORT.... In that case, thanks!


Wwmrsweasleydo Not just the character names. What about "Sperm Squeezers" as the name of a work of literary criticism?


message 13: by Kemper (last edited Jul 16, 2013 07:16PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kemper Wwmrsweasleydo wrote: "Not just the character names. What about "Sperm Squeezers" as the name of a work of literary criticism?"

I had worked very hard to forget that.


Angel Fitzgerald What about Rick O'Shea? Playing baseball. Pretty funny.


David Ronald Firbank would be proud.


message 10: by R (new) - rated it 3 stars

R i thought Kempers review is a bit too excessive...I mean you dont need to re-write the whole plot summary just write your opinion of the book. This is a review not a synopsis


Kemper Robash wrote: "i thought Kempers review is a bit too excessive...I mean you dont need to re-write the whole plot summary just write your opinion of the book. This is a review not a synopsis"

3 paragraphs of summary so that I could talk about what I liked about it in the next 5 paragraphs. Learn how to read, how to count and go fuck yourself.


message 8: by Amanda (last edited Oct 13, 2013 12:10PM) (new)

Amanda Kemper wrote: "3 paragraphs of summary so that I could talk about what I liked about it in the next 5 paragraphs. Learn how to read, how to count and go fuck yourself."

Now that's the kind of brevity some people expect and deserve. And by people, I mean asshats.


message 7: by R (new) - rated it 3 stars

R haha well I thought his response was a bit brutish and juvenile but thats o.k.


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

I completely agree with you about this book having the best names in history. There was no ordinary names which just showed how much creativity went into this book as even the names where well thought out. I also found myself yelling at my book multiple times as I wanted Henry to get out of the rut he was in more than anything. He was such a great guy and lovable character that I never wanted anything to happen to him as he was so innocent that when he couldn’t get back in the game I was devastating for him. It was also frustrating as not only was he a nice guy he was such a hardworking guy who deserved everything that he worked so hard for all his life. I love your point on how takent is such a mental thing that can be destroyed when doubt creeps in as he had the talent and if he would have believed in himself would have risen to fame but his self doubt ruined it all. The way we think really has an influence on how we perform and thats a scary thing. I agree the page definitely should have been about 100 pages shorter but throughly enjoyed the book.


Becky Excellent review, I really enjoyed it!


Greg Z Here's the thing for me: this book gets really, really, weird toward the end. But I was so caught up in the story and so blown away by the redemption that I believed every single word, even Sperm Squeezers, or whatever it was.


Greg Z Kemper wrote: "Wwmrsweasleydo wrote: "Not just the character names. What about "Sperm Squeezers" as the name of a work of literary criticism?"

I had worked very hard to forget that."

Kemper, I was so caught up in this, and the final redemption, and the overall weirdness, that I bought every single name, even Sperm Squeezers.


Greg Z Jackie wrote: "You're so right! Such great names. I finished reading last week, but still can't get Guert Affenlight out of my head - and that's just his name! Loved the book; couldn't find much to fault in it, a..."
Jackie, I'm with you, fabulous book, perfect, best one I've read this year. I loved the names and bought into all the weirdness.


Greg Z Kemper wrote: "Robash wrote: "i thought Kempers review is a bit too excessive...I mean you dont need to re-write the whole plot summary just write your opinion of the book. This is a review not a synopsis"

3 par..."

Kemper, I guess I should say: I bought into it, hook, line, and sinker.


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