My question to the bookseller when I saw this remaindered was “is this about baseball? Because I don’t care about baseball.” I’ve tried, my dad was a longtime Tigers fan (don’t worry, he’s fine, I used the past tense because all Detroit fans see reason eventually) and I’ve been a good sport and attended many a ball game in my day. I never saw the point until I reached drinking age, and then realized the quantity of beer required to make a bunch of guys standing around in a field would send me into liver failure even if I attended three games per summer. I tried. I can’t. Baseball is just fundamentally uninteresting to me. But, as the bookseller said, “it’s about baseball. But it’s not about baseball.”
This book is so well written I kind of cared about baseball. I mean, not really, my eyes did kinda glaze over when the talk got too sportsy, and it took me a while before I put together a couple of the more action laden set pieces that took place on the diamond, but this was much more a college book than a baseball book. Moreover, it’s about how what we love can paralyze us and keep us from growing – see also Lionel Shriver (of We Need to Talk About Kevin fame)’s Double Fault for those who enjoy having their hearts ripped out.
The story of Henry Skrimshander, shortstop prodigy, and Mike Schwartz, the first to see his potential, The Art of Fielding is as much about the men’s love for baseball and the costs it exacts upon each of them as it is about Westish College where they both play, and the similar push/pull it exacts on Guert Affenlight, the college president, and his daughter Pella. Not for nothing is the school mascot the Harpooner, for Mellville’s hunter of an inescapable but irretrievable white whale.
I loved it. You don’t have to like sports to love this book. Go pick it up; it rewards patience and slow pacing so much so that I might even give baseball another shot.