The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, pub. 2011, 512 pg.
Rating: 5/5 stars

I was a little late to jump on the Art of Fielding bandwagon, but, boy, am I glad I did! When this book was released, it garnered a gigantic amount of attention and praise. In my head, though, it was just a book about baseball. How interesting can a book all about baseball be?!

The answer: INCREDIBLY INTERESTING. Because it isn’t just about baseball. The Art of Fielding is a stunningly charming and witty novel about life, love, friendship, and sports. Henry Skrimshander has always been an outstanding shortstop. It’s what got him recruited to play baseball for the Harpooners of Westish College, a small university in eastern Wisconsin. But an errant throw changes his life – and the lives of several of his closest friends – forever.

I’m kind of terrible at summarizing things, so let this review speak for itself. Harbach’s laid back style of writing and his quirky cast of characters had me constantly thinking of Garrison Keillor and his fictional town of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Each person who wanders into the story is both incredibly realistic and larger than life at the same time.

Henry lives to play baseball and make his best friend, Mike Schwartz, proud. Mike, the big, gruff father figure of the baseball team, recruits Henry to the team and takes him under his wing, but he doesn’t have a clue what he’s going to do after when he graduates and has to leave Westish behind. Henry’s gay roommate, Owen, is the voice of wisdom and reason, all the while embarking on a dangerous affair. Pella, the school president’s daughter, was a wild child, but after dropping out of high school and spending several unhappy years married to an architect in California, she finds herself at Westish trying to figure out where she belongs.

Within the first thirty pages of the book, I was completely hooked. Harbach is hilarious, and a complete master of surprise. He flawlessly works humor and innuendo into a book that touches on depression, addiction, sexuality, and death in an off-the-cuff and completely striking manner. It never feels like the book is getting bogged down in topical issues (in fact, he uses such a light hand with administering the more serious moments that they create a beautiful and harmonious contrast with the overall wryly amused tone of the book), but it also never feels like the issues that are dealt with are minimized or ignored.

I can’t emphasize enough how much I loved this book. It was sweet and funny and heartfelt and snarky and amazing. I never wanted it to end, and I seriously mourned when I’d finished reading. If you love books at all or love yourself at all, go pick up this book right now. I can’t imagine anyone not liking it. It’s just so well written and SO GOOD that I’m gushing and rambling and you’re probably reading this hoping that I’ll shut up soon. So I will. But do yourself a favor and read The Art of Fielding at some point in your life. Please. Thank you.

Do you have any books that you love endlessly for any or no reason at all? Which ones and why? Let me know in the comments!

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