AP’s Thoughts On & A Letter to the Author of
The Art of Fielding
by Chad Harbach
It’s been a while since I have truly fallen in love with a book. I have enjoyed them, torn through their pages in a “eat all the potato chips” kind of fashion, just to get to the end (or the bottom of the bag). But the last time I craved a book, was so captivated by its story, its characters, it prose… goodness I can’t really tell you when that last happened.
I knew after the first couple of chapters that I was dangerously hooked to this book. The story of a young man as a baseball player in college and his mentor who loses out on a chance to be something to himself instead of something to everyone else. The story of the baseball player’s gay roommate, intellectual and beautiful, who lures the heart of the College Dean whose mind fixates on studies and the ever-puzzling topic of his daughter. How their stories weave in and out of each other, amazingly their own, together a beautiful tapestry of life, love, and being human.
When I started your book, I thought I had found this little gem that no one else in the world had stumbled upon. How come no one else was talking about this wonderful book? Was I the only one staying up until 3 am the week a research paper, Bar Application, and grant proposal were due just to read about Owen and Guert? I found myself savoring each page, just like the first time I read A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (which I later took to calling your book, “John Irving Does baseball beyond the first chapter.”).
But soon I realized there were so many people, who like me, were obsessed with these characters. I found myself sitting in corners of the law school, gossiping about Pella and relating, in many ways, to her struggles with love. And as we found ourselves examining and questioning, I discovered what, to me, is the most beautiful thing about this book. In these complex, but poetic and real stories, I could see so much of myself in their characters. Sure they weren’t a 25-year-old about to graduate law school and terrified of the world, but they were three boys, a grown man, and a young woman, together, struggling with the very same things I was. (It also didn’t hurt that I love baseball and loved that this book took place in the dugout, on the field, in the stands; like much of my own childhood did).
I had some problems letting go of the book when I finally finished. I promised everyone I knew that they could borrow it from me and we could discuss all these things I had been rambling about for the past week (which, for me to finish a 500-paged novel in that short amount of time is a miracle- I am a slow reader). But when I was done and finally handed it over to my mother, I felt this longing to just keep it and read it again. I will say that the second half was harder to get through than the first, but definitely a very real portrait of these characters. Even with the struggle of getting through the second half (sometimes), I still found myself coming back to it and wanting to know more about the lives of Owen, Henry, Guert, Mike, and Pella.
So, Mr. Harbach– the New York Times has probably written a very eloquent, critical and insightful review of this book. I noticed John Irving commented on your book, which validated my first impressions of it. So many other people could give critical and more articulate reviews of this book, but if you’ll hear me out for just a second more…
Thank you. Thank you for your characters, your perspective, your creativity, and realism. Thank you for the glimpses into the lives of others, so very different from my own, that gave me so much insight into myself. Thank you for making me fall in love with a great book again.
Picking Daisies in Left Field (AP).