January Book Club: Art of Fielding REview

The Art of Fielding

Chad Harbach




Consensus on a book sucks.  It makes for boring conversation, a bunch of agreement, and a lot of slaps on the back.  Fortunately, we’re men.  So even when we agree on something we don’t communicate it well, giving us hours of great discussion taking turns saying the same thing differently.

I wouldn’t say that’s exactly how the Art of Fielding book club played out, but it was close.

The general agreement was that the first third of the book was outstanding.  Harbach brought the baseball diamond to life with each crack of the bat and each fluid movement from the fielders.  The book started with the potential to become a great sports story.  Unfortunately, the plot abandoned the baseball focus and only used it as a backdrop to focus on the relationships between those connected to the team.  That’s where it started to fall apart for many of us.

As the focus of the book shifted from the main character’s story to the lives of those surrounding him, our interest waned fairly quickly.  We spent a lot of time arguing on how well developed the characters were developed, until we decided they were well developed but there was no depth to each character.  The main characters (Henry, Schwarts, Pella, Affenlight) were all pretty one dimensional characters, with no growth throughout the entire book.

I’m making it seem like we didn’t like the book, we did.  We were just disappointed with it as it showed such great potential 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 rated it between 5 and 7 (1-hated it, 5-neutral, 10-best book ever!!!).  See the individual reviews for more.

Book Club Snap Shot

(Hover over names for ratings and recaps.)

What we liked:
  • Great sports story (when it focuses on actual sports).
  • Beautifully written.
What we didn’t like:
  • Flat characters.
  • Strayed from the most exciting part of the book: baseball.

The bottom line, is that this will be an entertaining, good not great read, for a majority of men. Just don’t expect a pure sports books.  It’s a story is about relationships masquerading as a baseball tale.

During the first 1/3 of Art of Fielding i thought it was going to be one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. Henry was my kind of ballplayer. He was my hero; I was so pumped with the direction the book was headed. But then it took a sharp turn and morphed from being a killer sports success story into a tale revolving around a handful of characters I didn’t really care about. Instead of Henry being a hero, the book ended up having nobody to celebrate in the end. Good book, but somewhat disappointing.

The first 3rd of this book was fast-paced, interesting, and even manly.  The middle third was bogged down with "relationships" and other elements of a story that don't involve sports, and therefore aren't as good.  The last 3rd was simlar to the first.  For the most part I actually really enjoyed this book, but I could have used a little more baseball for a book supposedly about...ya know... baseball.

There is no denying that Harbach is an amazing writer. The imagery he uses and the scenes he creates cause you to smell the cut grass of the outfield. He drops us, perfectly placed, in small town Wisconsin; it is a place of clock-punching, hard working, blue collar values. He is a master of word-smithing, definitely, my struggle with the book was in the content. This started out engaging and inspiring about a unique ball player, then suddenly turned into a character study. It never became a book about baseball, it is a book about people's lives intertwining. It is about going back home where you feel safe to do what you've always done. It is about asking life's big questions, refusing to risk any answers, then sitting on the bleachers to see how it all plays out. The book didn't inspire me and I was left with the depressing feeling that I can't ever aspire, I will always be my 20 year old self.

The Art of Fielding started off with a promise of a great sports book, and then seemed to get lost in a secondary plot line about characters finding themselves. While this book is written beautifully, I am more excited to see how Chad Harbach develops as a writer than I am about what I read in the actual book. Starts strong, gets murky in the middle, then finishes satisfactorily, but not great. Overall, not a book I will recommend much, but an author I will probably look for in the future.

For a character-driven book (apart from the first 1/3rd, which was coincidentally the best 1/3rd), it was surprisingly devoid of any real dynamic characters--nor did I find myself liking a single one of them. For a book about learning to "be who you are," I just wanted them all to be something different mostly. Very good writing as a craft though in many ways, which is most of the value in the rating.
About zach

Staring out across the hazy mountain range on his latest summitting of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Zach saw with a clearness he had not yet seen. "People should tremble at the very sound of my name", he thought. And it was so. "I should master the manly arts of the world, such as barehanded hunting and blacksmithing". And it was so. "People should call me Z$". And it was so.

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  1. […] of the things we discussed at our last book club meeting was that Harbach was clearly a very good writer, but that most of us didn’t really like the […]

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