Sunday, January 19, 2014

Just Keep Swinging: The Art of Fielding

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Little, Brown, 2011

*Paperback AND shirt for the book sent to me by the publisher - thank you so much!!*

There's something truly magical about when a book comes into your life at just the right time, and such was the case for me when I started reading The Art of Fielding. At Westish College, a small liberal arts school in Wisconsin on the coast of Lake Michigan, the worlds of five individuals are forever changed by a baseball season. When Henry Skrimshander, an unassuming looking guy who is actually a brilliant shortstop destined for the big leagues, makes a routine throw that has disastrous results, events unfold and lives become intertwined in ways so much bigger than they could have anticipated.

Though this time of year is resolution season rather than baseball season, now is a fitting time to pick up this novel. Goals are great, of course, but this book looks down the path that so many of us end up walking down despite are refusal to acknowledge it. It starts with Henry and what do you do when your confidence is shaken? Other characters are faced with equally daunting questions, sometimes overlapping. What do you do when your plans don't work out? Is it possible to live your life as one person only to realize that's not really you at all? How much are we willing to pay or sacrifice for the things we want, or thought we wanted?

I felt a certain kinship with a few of these characters due to their ages. While I adore YA for a lot of reasons, there's something about being in your 20s and college that brings about a certain kind of panic that teenagers can't fully appreciate. It's a constant state of confusion in how some days you can feel so grown up, and most days you feel like someone made a mistake because there's no way you're ready for this.

While I liked this book, it isn't for everyone. At times, especially in the second half of the novel, I felt like I couldn't understand the responses characters were having in some situations, and one story line's conclusion was a bit too convenient for my taste. Also, considering Mr. Harbach is from Wisconsin, I was surprised at some vocabulary choices. I have family and friends in the state, actually not far from fictional Westish, and upon asking them, they said they'd never heard of a "gut course" (what I've always known as a blow-off class) or people in the area who referred to people in their first year of college as 'freshpersons' rather than 'freshmen.' However, none of these criticisms would be enough to stop me from recommending this story. Maybe just read it along side something a bit lighter for balance. I was rooting for Henry and empathized with him deeply every step of the way, and this novel is deserving of the praise it's received over the years.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

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