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The Art of Fielding
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1001 book reviews > The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

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Chinook | 282 comments 5 stars

At first, I was worried that I was reading a baseball book. I’d certainly heard that it wasn’t just a baseball book, but the beginning was very baseball and very long. And I had started to think this would be about more than baseball only in that it would evaluate and dissect Henry’s character as he played the baseball. Then the bits about American lit started and I admit to breath in a sigh of relief that at least it would also have stuff about something I could get interested in. But eventually I realized that this book is about broken people and the things the do to try and keep their pieces together. Aside from Owen, who seemed a bit too perfect and understanding and too much of the person each other character needed him to be, the characters are all so flawed but so wonderfully drawn that you can’t help but feel for them and want the best for them. That hopeful ending - not too sacherine, but hopefully and good, was just perfect.

Something about the style or the themes or something made me compare this book constantly with Franzen’s Freedom, though I liked this one a lot more. I actually checked to see if maybe they were both done by the same narrator and maybe that was all, but no. The college athletes, the older man looking back on his life, the complicated family relationships - they seem to have much in common.


Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount) (ravenmount) | 481 comments My review: I have practically no interest in baseball, so this is not one of my favorites right from the start. This novel is about a guy, Henry, who has a natural talent for fielding balls, and seems destined for fame and fortune once he gets through college and gets signed with a major league team. But, after his first error throw ever in a game results in severe injury for his friend and roommate Owen, his skill becomes tainted and he may never really regain his earlier perfect baseball ability. So, he collapses into a mire of self-pity, and eventually manages to start putting his life back on some sort of track.
I could certainly relate to how disorienting it is when your life's plans suddenly are over and your whole sense of self comes into question. So, from that perspective I liked this book. The secondary story about Guelf Affenlight, the college president who falls in love with a male student, the one injured by Henry's ball, adds in a homosexual element, and another angle about how people redefine themselves, and how hard it can be for people to change without running into serious societal obstacles. Pella, Affenlight's daughter, is also going through changes, but hers are within the scope of socially accepted personal development, so she finds the support and resources to get on track with her life even though her father's changed sexual identity had disastrous consequences.

I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads. I am still not really into baseball, and maybe I've read too many List books on homosexual themes, but that element was also not helpful to my enjoyment of the book. I'm actually reading Frantzen's Freedom now, too, and they do make an interesting comparison.


Kristel (kristelh) | 4263 comments Mod
Read in 2012;
Chad Harbach’s debut novel, The Art of Fielding, is a story of Henry from South Dakota who goes to a prep college in Wisconsin to play baseball. He plays short stop with the beauty of an artist but he is nothing but a scrawny kid with no personality off the baseball field. Schwartz gets him into Westish College and begins to train him and polish him. He plays perfectly until he makes a first error and then it’s all downhill until he eventually walks away from the game and enters the depth of depression. The story is about baseball, college life and it is about relationships. You could call this a romance for men. I did not like the first part of the book but I did get caught up with the characters in the second half. I did not like or feel that it was necessary to have the details of the gay love affair. I don’t need or want heterosexual or homosexual love making detailed in a story. I did like the baseball story. The author has talent in crafting a sentence, something I appreciate. I think while it was a character driven novel, many of the characters were just not that believable. The reader did a pretty good job with the various voices and the overall listening experience was good. I give this novel a 3 stars or really 50% good, 50% bad.


Gail (gailifer) | 1543 comments I found this tale of broken young people struggling to find a way to make their dreams come true and when they fail, to at least find some solid sense of self to soldier on, very enjoyable reading. The love story between an elderly college president and one of the young students did not seem at all realistic, but it did capture a strange hopefulness that love stories should contain. I found the writing to be strong and the character development quirky but well formulated. And although I know little about baseball, I did find the male camaraderie and the parallels with the Odyssey warriors and Herman Melville’s whalers to be quite entertaining. All in all I gave it 4 stars.
(Random List Challenge 2020)


Amanda Dawn | 1251 comments I gave a baseball book 5 stars....I'm Shocked XD. When I realized what is was about my first thought was "whelp, I can return audible books if I hate them"....what a great surprise.

I guess my exception to sports media is I can enjoy it if it isn't 'really' about sports. There's A League of Our Own and female empowerment, Rush and the idea that respectful rivalry can be a positive relationship in your life that makes you better, Moneyball and the power of lateral thinking and reframing value, I, Tonya and the cycle of trauma, and there's this great Canadian movie called " The Rocket" about hockey player Rocket Richard that is mostly about anti-francophone prejudice in pre-60s Canada. One of my favorite sports movies is actually a baseball movie called "undrafted" that is fundamentally about embracing the absurd and reframing what success means.

This book actually reminded me of that movie, and I felt like some of the deeper themes being explored here were not just reframing success, but also reframing our sense of identity. Particularly, I was moved by the ways it explored the pitfalls of attaching what you do or what you've externally accomplished/done for others to your core sense of self, and therefore your self worth. This was portrayed beautifully through Henry's self schema consisting solely of his baseball skill ( "a scrawny kid with no personality off the baseball field" is a great description, Kristel), and his full crises he goes through after his 'choke' run.

I think Pella's struggles to see herself as someone with innate worth and unique goals/motivations also parallels and contrasts well with Henry. She can only identity herself and worth at first with what her current status is (married, in school, etc). She waffles through many things where Henry banks on the one- and yet they have the same core struggle. This made their relationship dynamic interesting and engaging to read (well, listen) about.

And while I can't completely identify with their specific stories, the themes and the way their emotions are expressed really hit home for me as someone who is chronically ill/disabled. I was ill for 4 years from highschool to early undergrad, and then enjoyed 5 years of health until a resurgence in late 2020. And I had to learn as a teen (and again as an adult) to believe my worth didn't come from what I could do, especially since I have a tendency to do too much when I'm healthy and consider that a key part of who I am. And it is so hard, especially in a society that defines you and grants your worth based on what you do/produce, to believe that there is more to you than that, and you have other sources of innate worth and ways to frame your identity that cannot be taken away from you. This one hit a heartstring.


As well, the ways it explored the existential conflict of having to reconsider parts of your identity that now restrict you instead helping you were well handled too. I think Affenlight's struggle with his attraction to Owen and what that means about him reflects this perfectly, and the tragic ensuing of his difficulty letting go of a self schema that doesn't serve him anymore.

And finally, as other people have pointed out, I thought the writing quality in general was just really impressive and it was easy for me to get immersed in the story.


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