January Book Club: The Art of Fielding PREview

Our book club determines our selections for a number of reasons, but the reasoning behind this selection is simple: it was considered by most to be one of the – if not THE – Best Book of 2011 (#1 by Amazon, #3 by NY Times, among others). That’s high praise. Throw in the fact that it has to do with sports, and you’ve got yourself an easy iUMBC choice. There’s lots of hype surrounding this book, and we want to be educated in what the buzz is all about. It’s a book about baseball too, so there’s that.

Yes, the book is about baseball, but it’s also about much more than that. It takes place at a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin on the coast of Lake Michigan. The Westish Harpooners have a terrible athletic program, and their baseball team has been the doormat of the league for years. But along comes a scrawny little shortstop named Henry Scrimshander. He never makes an error. He’s got a rocket for an arm. He worships The Art of Fielding, a short book by his idol, former St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Aparicio Rodriguez. Henry changes everything.

This is Chad Harbach’s first novel, and it is already being compared to the likes of Bernard Malamud (The Natural) and David James Duncan (The Brothers K). You’ll find no argument here – Harbach has clearly spent his share of time on the baseball diamond. His imagery is detailed in a way that only a true ballplayer would be able to articulate. The smell of the grass and leather glove, the taste of the dirt and sweat. His creation, Henry, is a classic baseball mind; he’s obsessed with routine, ritual and superstition. He shows up early and stays out on the field when everyone else has already hit the showers. Baseball is Henry’s religion, and the infield is his place of worship.

But like I said, it’s more than just a great sports story. The Harpooners draw their nickname from Herman Melville’s classic whaling novel Moby Dick, and just like Melville’s novel, this book has some heavy homosexual themes. It isn’t political or graphic, but it paints a vivid picture nonetheless. Couple that with the recent events at Penn State and Syracuse, and you’ve got yourself an extremely culturally potent novel. Should be an interesting “Ultra Manly” discussion come late January.

Get your copy HERE.

About APC

Following his days in the Octagon, APC worked for an undisclosed amount of time tracking and studying a colony of Yetis in eastern Nepal (read more about his travels in his memoir, "Backgammon 101: Let the Yeti Win"). Nowadays, he spends his time in Havana fitting model ships inside glass bottles, and counting his gold bullions with his chimpanzee, Don Ultimo.
Currently Reading:
-Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson
-East of Eden by John Stienbeck
-Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie


  1. I’m 250 pages in: so far it is living up to the hype, at least for me. I’d suggest checking out the ‘Vanity Fair’ feature on how Harbach went from a manuscript to a 6-figure advance ($650,000!) with Little, Brown. I don’t have any of that nook/kindle shit – it’s exclusively on eBook – but if you do, the “VF” article is probably worth your curious consideration.

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  1. […] in the beginning, then fell a little flat as the focus changed.Check out our Art of Fielding preview for some more background on the book.The book produced some pretty homogeneous ratings, as we all […]

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