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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You don't need to know anything about baseball to enjoy this book, but I think it helps
I hate watching sport, know nothing about baseball and haven't enjoyed a sports themed book before (not that I've read many - I tend to avoid them), but increasing enthusiasm for The Art of Fielding persuaded me to give it a try. I'm pleased that I did as this is a modern classic that will be talked about for years to come.

The first few chapters did their best...
Published on 5 Jan. 2012 by Jackie

versus
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I made efforts to like it
This novel feels manufactured, written by a committee. It does not flow as a natural story would, you can clearly see that parts of the story added just to complement the initial idea.
Despite being long enough, even the main characters are one-sided, not developed enough and the story drags on in some parts.
The main two seems to be asexual and removed from the...
Published 14 months ago by Marin P


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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You don't need to know anything about baseball to enjoy this book, but I think it helps, 5 Jan. 2012
This review is from: The Art of Fielding (Hardcover)
I hate watching sport, know nothing about baseball and haven't enjoyed a sports themed book before (not that I've read many - I tend to avoid them), but increasing enthusiasm for The Art of Fielding persuaded me to give it a try. I'm pleased that I did as this is a modern classic that will be talked about for years to come.

The first few chapters did their best to put me off - I could see the writing quality, but the endless baseball references did nothing for me.

"Henry played shortstop, only and ever shortstop - the most demanding spot on the diamond. More ground balls were hit to the shortstop than anyone else, and then he had to make the longest throw to first. He also had to turn double-plays, cover second on steals, keep runners on second from taking long leads, make relay throws from the outfield. Every Little League coach Henry had ever had took one look at him and pointed toward right field or second base. Or else coach didn't point anywhere, just shrugged at the fate that had assigned him this pitiable shrimp, this born benchwarmer."

Without the hype I would probably have abandoned this book after the first few pages, but I persevered and at page 50 I was rewarded with chapter 6 which didn't mention baseball at all. Instead it introduced Moby Dick, an English professor and a glimpse of the magical writing Chad Harbach is capable of when he talks about something other than sport.

As the book progressed I became increasingly attached to the characters in the book and completed its 500 pages in a surprisingly quick time, but on reaching the end I found I was quietly impressed rather than bowled over with excitement. I didn't find anything particularly new or interesting in The Art of Fielding. It is simply a well written book about American college life - and I have read a lot of those, although I admit this is one of the best.

I think those who have been through an American college will have a far greater appreciation of this book than I did. I found it very similar to The Marriage Plot in terms of both style and subject matter - with The Art of Fielding being the better book in terms of consistency and message.

I'm also sure that I missed some of the relevant baseball references and their significance on the bigger picture. I'm afraid that those who claim this book will give the reader a passion for baseball are wrong, but I agree that it isn't necessary to enjoy the sport to appreciate this book.

Despite my criticisms I do think this is a very good book. It is a simple story, but one that is very well told. It is hard not to feel compassion for the well developed characters. I just hope that next time Chad Harbach will devote his time to writing a book that doesn't contain any sporting references.

Recommended, especially to American graduates.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Undemanding Campus novel about friendship and ambition - and baseball, 7 Nov. 2011
By 
Ripple (uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Art of Fielding (Hardcover)
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"The Art of Fielding" is basically a US-style campus novel featuring baseball. There are similarities in style between this and many of John Irving's works, with baseball substituting for Irving's wrestling focus. This, to the UK-reader, raises the first potential barrier as we are, as a rule, largely ignorant of the US fixation with the intricacies of baseball. Certainly you don't need an in depth knowledge to appreciate this story - it is really a story of friendship, ambition and the sporting dreams of youth - but despite a loose understanding of the sport I felt that I would have benefitted from more knowledge particularly towards the end when there is a climatic baseball match. You kind of get the point, but I certainly felt that I was missing out on a little of the tension, in much the same way I'd expect a US reader to be perplexed if the story had been based on say, cricket. It's a minor flaw though and it would be a shame if potential readers dismissed it for this reason.

For me, a more serious issue was that after a strong start - as a young Henry Skrimshander, a baseball fielding prodigy in the Roy of the Rovers manner (to horribly mix sports) is spotted by college über-jock Mike Schwartz and encouraged to enroll at the preppy but academically minor Westish College - the middle of the book loses it's way a little and kind of drifts along for a while, before things rush to a slightly unsatisfying and unbelievable ending.

Once arrived at Westish, Henry is roomed with gay, fellow teammate (although he appears to do little to warrant his place on the team preferring to read on the bench), Owen. Also thrown into the main story are a charismatic College Principle, the 60-something year old Guert Affenlight and his errant daughter who just happens to return to her father having fled a depression inducing marriage to find that her father appears to be falling in love again, although that strand of the story does rather stretch belief.

The characters are thinly drawn and perhaps even a little cliché. After 500 pages of so of a novel, I would expect to have more understanding of the motives and drivers of the characters that I had here. It's not a "great novel" in the manner of say the campus-featuring Donna Tartt's "The Secret History" and is not even as complex as the early John Irvings that it so put me in mind of. But it's undemanding and enjoyable for all that.

When Henry's impressive run of zero errors comes to an end in a freak accident, his struggle to regain his confidence and overcome doubts that he never had before, together with the relationships between Henry and his teammates - particularly the influential Schwartz - are interesting and largely entertaining. The passages devoted to the Affenlights (father and daughter) never really convinced me though. Affenlight snr's affair is somewhat difficult to believe and once free of her marriage, the formerly depressed Affenlight jnr, Pella, appears to show an almost complete recovery in no time at all and becomes something of a rock for the students.

As an undemanding read, it has plenty going for it if you don't look too deeply into its flaws though.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Book of second chances and balls that are hardly, or almost impossible, to catch..., 16 Nov. 2013
This review is from: The Art of Fielding (Paperback)
"The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach is a debut novel that somehow resembles classic "Moby Dick" novel although instead whaling, the main motive is baseball.

This novel actually has five main characters, students in campus, although sometimes it seems that the most important only one named Henry, whose life paths are interwoven in good in bad way through a whole book that although entertaining seems in its last third sometimes too long (without the need).
And although the baseball is its main motive, it doesn't require to even knowing the rules for it, even after you will read it maybe you'll want to look a match or two.

The story starts with an unimportant tournament when guy named Henry Skrimshander will impress student coach Mike Schwartz, who will recruit him to Westish College in Wisconsin and they two will become good friends.

The novel's title is a fictional book about baseball that is Henry's inspiration and gives him strength whenever he is feeling low, that was written by a retired guy who holds record for number of games without any any errors.
Henry dreams about meeting him and even beat his record, but achieving it would need him to go through lot of crisis, and lacks of confidence.

Also here is the Owen character, who is Henry's roommate, a smart guy, who is not so more into baseball but his role will be shown important later in the novel.

Also, there are two more important characters.
First is Guert, who is college president looking much younger than his 60 having one daughter named Pella who run away and married an older architect, and whose only obsession is Owen which continuously destroys his life.
Last one is Pella herself, who was young and stupid, and now she is back home trying to rebuild her life.

Reader will participate in some original twists that are sometimes emotional or encouraging, sometimes even both.
And while story will unfold, a reader will be like in a baseball game taken on a game of second chances and balls that are hardly, or almost impossible, to catch...

Chad Harbach debuted with this novel, and as mentioned earlier, the biggest flaw that can be assigned to this work is its length that is unnecessarily long making it in last third sometimes difficult to finish.
Also, he invented characters names that are so innovative and hard to forget that you will remember them long after you forget the plot of the novel.

Therefore I can recommend this book even to those who doesn't know anything about baseball, because any other sport could be chosen as background story, although please be advised to have some patience near the end of the book...
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, one of the best novels I've read in years..., 23 Sept. 2011
By 
G. E. Harrison (Cheltenham, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Art of Fielding (Hardcover)
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A couple of years ago while on a road trip in the States I stayed in Cooperstown, an idyllic American small town at the tip of Lake Otsego in New York State that is home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I did think about going in there in order to gain an insight into America through its national game but then I remembered that I don't have the slightest interest in cricket, let alone baseball.

Although the action of `The art of fielding' does centre around a mid-western college baseball team, ultimately the book isn't really about baseball but about people and relationships. I would have possibly got more out of the novel if I had understood the finer points of the game but I liked the book fine as it was and you can kind of get the drift of what is happening. In fact I really liked this book, it's one of the best novels I've read in years and it completely sucks you into the cloistered world of Westish College. We are introduced to a cast of marvelous, flawed characters including Henry Skrimshander, Mike Schwartz and Guert Affenlight all of whom I found totally believable. I was a little disappointed by the cliched ending - both on the diamond (which resembled many of the numerous films depicting baseball) and in the cemetery - but in many ways this fitted in with the sentimental tone of the rest of the book.

Overall this is an amazing accomplishment for a first novel - self-assured, very well written and at turns both poignant and very amusing. I shall look forward to reading more of Chad Harbach's work
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book about sport, what's not to hate?, 16 Jun. 2012
This review is from: The Art of Fielding (Paperback)
That was my reaction when I was told this book was about sport but I was so wrong. The Art of Fielding is a brilliant read because the characters are so involving and original. You care what happens to them and you are in turns devastated and encouraged. You will debate who your favourite character is and best of all they will be real for you.

I relished learning about the context of baseball which was a complete unknown to me. Set in a university in the American mid West this book is very accessible for English readers and surely has to become a classic read. It has taken ten years for Chad Harbach to write it such is the accuracy of the detail. I hope his next will be published sooner but even so, it would be worth waiting for.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I made efforts to like it, 23 Dec. 2013
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This review is from: The Art of Fielding (Paperback)
This novel feels manufactured, written by a committee. It does not flow as a natural story would, you can clearly see that parts of the story added just to complement the initial idea.
Despite being long enough, even the main characters are one-sided, not developed enough and the story drags on in some parts.
The main two seems to be asexual and removed from the outside world until the dean's daughter is introduced in the story with no credible actions.
I struggled up to the end and after the grave digging final scene, more appropriate for a Mark Twain novel for teenagers I ended up asking myself - which is the audience this book was written for?
Not for me.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable in the moment, but flawed as an idea, 30 Dec. 2014
By 
R. A. Davison (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Art of Fielding (Kindle Edition)
In The Art Of Fielding, promising young baseball player Henry Skrimshander is spotted by sporty college kid Mike Schwartz. Somewhat improbably for a person apparently in their second year at university, Mike has the power and influence to make sure Henry gets a scholarship to a minor New England college with a tenuous association to the novel Moby Dick. From there a novel about sports in college ensues.

In terms of the prose it flows well, and feels well written, it's not necessary to know anything much about baseball to know what is going on. The characters are in general likeable and Henry's journey from invincible to tormented can be compared to any number of successful sportsman. Alas, the problem is not prose nor characterization, but plot.

On the one hand you've got Henry's story, and all in all that side of it works well, but the blurb reads something like "when a throw goes wrong, 5 lives are changed" and the idea that they were changed simply by that ball and not by the disastrous choices made by the individuals themselves which aren't particularly related to the foul ball, is silly at best.

The other side of the plot-coin is the Dean, Guert, his fractured relationship with daughter Pella, and his dangerous obsession with one of his students. On the one hand it reminded me in tone of John Williams' Stoner. On the other hand this novel is two different college stories, in which a poor effort has been made to shoehorn them into one and establish tenuous links between Guert and Pella and Henry and Mike. They just don't connect. Even the plot twist that brings this side of the story to crisis point doesn't hold much water and feels quite forced. The denouement, after a character passes away, belongs in a much lesser, much more melodramatic novel

That said, did I enjoy it as I read it? Yes. It was only after I closed the book, and thought about writing a review that it just seemed faulty somehow. And it didn't 'stay with me' as other recommendations assured me it would. I had to look up what some of the characters names were because I just didn't remember.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I think about this book a lot. I really, really loved it., 14 Feb. 2014
By 
ghandibob (Swansea) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Art of Fielding (Hardcover)
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An admission and an approval: I read this book at least a year ago, before I had read many press reviews; before I read the Vanity Fair article recounting the long road Chad Harbach travelled in writing the novel; before I knew if there would be a backlash, or even any lash at all; before it became a 'talked about' novel.

But don't think this is some stake in the ground. Some attempt to claim a better, lonelier knowledge of the book. Some 'understanding'. No. This is merely to say I think about these characters, these incidents, at least once every week, and have done since I read about them.

I remember (and I'm refusing to internet-enquire any of this, including the spelling) Affenlight walking across the campus grounds. I picture him with a gown that follows obediently, like a water dog. I remember Owen's glasses, Owen's face, Owen. I remember Mike Schwarz and Henry, obviously. I remember the details of their training: the running up stadium steps, the lifting of weighs in a basement room; I remember Henry climbing a tree so easily because he has become conductor of his elegant body through years of sweat and sick and toil. I hear the sound of a baseball hammering into a leather glove. I feel the rush of Henry's arm as he releases the ball to first base, beating the runner by three steps. Which is to say: evocative.

My memories of the book are my biases. I like baseball. I watch baseball. I've played sport and trained for it too. But I also love reading. And I'm a fan of modern American novels. So The Art of Fielding is almost algorithmically designed to entertain me.

But that said, shouldn't it mean something that I think about it still? It counts as a recommendation, no? I do like books whose characters hang around: for different reasons, Mae (also, Bailey) in Dave Eggers's The Circle, which I'm reading at the moment, are bugging me in a good way; I've lost their names, but things the characters do in Jeffrey Eugenides's The Marriage Plot stick with me too. These three, I realise, are campus novels, and big enough you have time to tuck their people into your memories, safely under your folds. And whether you like sports or not, I think it's worth watching Henry strive to get better at something he already does well. Be that life or baseball.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An interest in baseball not required, 20 April 2013
By 
Benjamin (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Art of Fielding (Paperback)
The game of baseball is a mystery to me, and has little appeal, even less so the fancy dress that seems to go with American field games, and having read the book I may be a little better informed about the game but I am no more enthusiastic; but none of this hindered my enjoyment of The Art of Fielding.

The novel centres on a small group of individuals: Henry Skrimshander the young teen with an exceptional talent when it comes to handling a baseball; Mike Schwartz the college baseball captain how discovers Henry and talks both Henry and the quite backwater Westish College into his enrollment; Owen the super cool, gay black who is Henry's college roommate; Guert Affenlight the college principal; and Pella his daughter. We do get to meet other member of the team who comprise a wide mix of natures but their role is relatively minor.

Henry and Mike soon become close friends, in fact Henry seems to have little else in his life besides baseball and Mike, so when things start to go wrong for Henry he is dependent on Mike, who is not always up to the task. His involvement with Henry is not helped when Pella appears on the scene and inevitably distracts Mike.

Keeping an eye on the proceedings is Guert Affenlight, but this dashing and handsome older man begins to take too close an interest in Owen, an interest far from discouraged by the beautiful, slender young man, but which can only lead to disaster.

The Art of Fielding is a well written and well constructed story, my appreciation of which was in no way hampered by my lack of interest or knowledge of the game of baseball. The characters are appealing and and clearly individual and one soon becomes concerned for each one of them; this is a touching and rewarding story of loyalties and friendship.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A novel about characters and yes, baseball, 22 Aug. 2012
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This review is from: The Art of Fielding (Paperback)
I found The Art of Fielding on the London Underground. Or rather I saw a big poster advertising it and the cover caught my attention - it just screamed American college students. I made a mental note of the title so that I could look it up when I got home. As soon as I read the blurb, I knew I had to have it. The Art of Fielding is a novel about baseball, about relationships between people and about identity.

The story is told in the third person viewpoint (almost omniscient) following five main characters as they make their way through life at Westish College. First up is Mike Schwartz - he is on both the football team and the baseball team. The thing about Mike is that he has this knack of being able to get people to do whatever he wants. You could say he has the gift of the gab but it's more than that. He's passionate about winning and he manoeuvres people into making them make choices that he wants them to make. He's not a star player, he's not an academic genius but he gets people. I think I liked Mike best of all. But I started out being Henry's fan. Henry Skrimshander lives for only one thing - baseball. His school days are nearly over and he thinks his dream of being a baseball star is over but then he meets Mike Schwartz.

Mike observes Henry in action after a game. Henry is a shortstop. (If like me you don't have a clue about baseball, don't worry. You can still figure out the essential stuff.) Mike does his thing and Henry ends out going to Westish. When he gets there he meets his roommate, Owen Dunne. He too is on the baseball team. He earned his place at Westish after winning an Award. He's a literary intellectual. Owen helps Henry navigate college life. He is perhaps more of a "knowing" character than the others. He gives off an air of self-confidence and being comfortable in his own skin which the others do not.

Our final two characters are father and daughter. Guert Affenlight is the president of the college. He was once a Harvard professor but he is Westish through and through. His estranged daughter Pella, 23, arrives having left her husband without telling him. Their two lives become intertwined with our three baseball heroes and their ambitions.

Harbach's characterisation is so detailed that it makes you feel every emotion and believe every sentiment. It is as if you live these five lives as you read and become at one with the story. You live the highs and the lows of college life. I haven't mentioned the plot and that's because this is a novel about characters - if you need a plot, then it's centred upon them following their dreams and the difficulties they face in trying to make them come true. That sounds so clichéd but it really isn't. This is not a Hollywood movie.

I love this book. I love the setting of Westish. I love the characters and their quirks. I love the literary references to Moby Dick. This is a debut novel and that makes me sad because I want to read another book by Chad Harbach. When I voiced this to my husband, he said "but that means you have so much to look forward to. All the books he's yet to write". I guess he's right.

Recommended for fans of:

· Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
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The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
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