My friend Norman told me that he saw a woman walking down the street, reading THE ART OF FIELDING as she walked. “So I thought, That’s gotta be good,” he said. I agreed and ordered the book immediately. From the first page, I, too, was hooked.
In his first novel (which reportedly took 10 years to write), Chad Harbach has created a completely engrossing world peopled by irresistible characters, most of whom attend or work at the self-deprecatingly-named Westish College. The title refers to a made-up book by a made-up baseball star (“Aparicio Rodriguez”—perhaps a composite of Luis Aparicio and Alex Rodriguez) whose Zen pronouncements absorb Henry Skrimshander, the humble-yet-amazingly-talented shortstop whose obsession with perfection leads him—I can say this without giving too much away—to the realization that it is impossible. Whether you like baseball or not, Henry and the other characters (Mike Schwartz, who recruits him; Owen Dunne, his roommate who has an affair with the college president, Guert Affenlight; and Pella Affenlight, Guert’s daughter, who becomes involved with all of them in different ways) will plant themselves permanently in the garden of your memory.
The book is 500-plus pages, and when I saw the cover, I remembered I’d read an enticing review of it when it first came out but had been dissuaded by the length, thinking I had too many other important things to read. No. Listen. Life is too short. You have to read good fiction when you can. Your life will be better for it.