Monthly Archive for September, 2011

After Something Real: Chris Farley and Batting Stances by Tom Ley

Tom Ley writes for The Good Men Project, and he contributed to 1990s First Basemen Week with The Big Cat and the Water. You can email him at leyt345(at)gmail(dot)com.

When I was a kid I had two discernible skills. The first was the ability to imitate the batting stances of my favorite baseball players. The second was the ability to act out Chris Farley’s “Matt Foley” sketch from Saturday Night Live in its entirety.

For a long time, I thought that these two skills had nothing to do with each other. Matt Foley made me laugh, so I imitated him. I loved baseball, so I imitated my favorite baseball players. That was that- until recently.

A few nights ago I was in the throes of a particular kind of boredom that only extensive Internet surfing can cure, and I came across this picture of Farley:

Naturally, as a former understudy of the man, this picture had a lot of impact on me. I expected that, but what I didn’t expect was for this picture to make me think about baseball.

We’ll come back to the baseball, but first I want to discuss Chris Farley.

Anyone who knows anything about Farley and the tragic nature of his death will immediately understand why this photograph is so haunting. It’s hard to say whether or not the photo is staged or candid, but in my mind it doesn’t really matter. It’s very rare for a picture to so accurately capture the spirit of its subject. This is Chris Farley, the court Jester who donned a crown that’s shine only brought the shadows closer.

The darkness invoked by this photograph is the same darkness that made Farley’s comedy so brilliant. On the surface he was just the “Funny Fat Guy” of his era, but that’s not what makes him memorable. What makes me miss him still to this day was his unique ability to successfully incorporate an undeniably authentic sense of anxiety and desperation into each of his characters.

Take a moment to watch this classic Matt Foley sketch.

This sketch isn’t funny because it features a fat man yelling and falling through a coffee table. It’s funny because Farley so convincingly plays up the “broken man” aspect of the Foley character. He forces the audience to confront the pain and sadness of a life that has slipped its last rung, and then he forces us to laugh at it. A comedian can only pull off a feat like this if he allows pieces of himself to seep into the performance. It’s authenticity that turns Matt Foley in a hilarious force of nature rather than an awkward sock puppet. When he croaks out his famous line about living in a van down by the river, it’s not hard to imagine Farley himself ending up in a van down by the river, thrice divorced.

I find it less than coincidental that the names Foley and Farley so closely resemble each other.

Even as a kid I think I was subconsciously appreciative of Farley’s ability to incorporate his demons into his comedy. I loved the fact that he was willing to show his audience so much of himself, and that we were allowed to embrace the imperfections he revealed to us. We were allowed to love him not in spite of his ugliness, but because of it.

I thought about all of these things as I looked at the photograph in the pale light of my laptop, rehashing all of Farley’s best guttural one liners in my head, and I realized that it was an attraction Farley’s authenticity that drove me to imitate his most memorable character.

Which brings us back to baseball, and more specifically, batting stances.

Baseball is a game that is governed by the rigidity of a diamond and a rule book, and it leaves little room for self expression. There are only so many ways that a player can field a grounder, swing a bat, and dive for a ball in the gap. Some players do these things better than others, but in the end they are all essentially going through the same set of motions.

But not when they are standing at the plate.

When a player steps to the plate, he is given the opportunity to allow some of his true self to seep into his on field demeanor. Gary Sheffield always played the game with a focus in his eyes that hinted at an unseen intensity boiling inside of him, and yet this intensity had nowhere to manifest itself while he was forced to loiter silently in left field. Things changed when he stepped into the box, though. There he was given the opportunity to set free some of his fire, and he did so by violently cocking his bat back and forth, forcing everyone to take notice.

Ken Griffey Jr. always possessed a swagger and athleticism that seemed too big for a stadium to contain. Centerfield was never quite big enough to reveal his true potential, and the youthful cockiness of his backwards facing cap was always snuffed out once batting practice was over; the game demanding that he straighten his bill. This cockiness returned once he stepped up to the plate. He’d stand upright and nonchalant, his elbow cocked high while the rest of his body waited patiently to begin that smooth, unmistakable hitch towards first base once the ball was hit. Swagger oozed out of him while he stood in the box, enough that it was almost impossible to imagine that he was about to do anything other than hit a home run. For me, Griffey Jr. was the most captivating version of himself during those few moments that he spent standing at home plate.

For players like these, the batter’s box was a limitless space, free for them to fill with whatever form of self-expression they wished.

More importantly, players are allowed to take advantage of the expressive space of the batter’s box without fear of scorn or judgement. So many sports, baseball in particular, demand that the action on the field be sanitized. Athletes are expected to maintain a stiff modicum of what is considered professionalism when they are on the field, and anyone who attempts to blur the lines between the two is often shunned by the fans and media. Think players like Carlos Zambrano and Milton Bradley, who allowed their to bleed onto the field, only to get written off as cartoonish, insignificant caricatures. We don’t allow ourselves to embrace an athlete’s raw personality as something that can inform their performance on the field in a way that makes them more compelling to watch. Instead, we often consider such a phenomenon to somehow be an affront to the sanctity of the game.

As a fan of the game, this makes me sad. I’m sad because I’ve realized that I watch athletes and comedians for precisely the same reason; I want to be entertained, and what’s real is often what’s most entertaining.

That’s why I spent so many hours perfecting Sheffield’s violent wiggle and Foley’s broken wail. I was after something real.

P&P Reading Club: Dayn Perry on The Art of Fielding Chapters 1 -17

he art of fielding by chad harbachDayn Perry is a senior writer at NotGraphs and skilled Reggie Jackson biographer.

This runs long, but I’ll do better at reining it in going forward …

“The last time I forced myself to slog through a work of fiction that did not sufficiently move me was during my undergraduate years, which were so long ago as to devastate. Anyhow, I was assigned to read Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain over my December break. The work in question, it turned out, featured far too much time in a tuberculosis sanatorium, far too many lengthy disquisitions by something called “Herr Settembrini,” and far too much anguish on my part. I sweat, I wept silently, I forwent the viewing of important bowl games. And for what? A sense of completeness and academic calm that could’ve been mine after mere and stolen moments with that bumble-beed miracle known as “Cliffs Notes.”

After this experience, I took a monastic vow never to complete a work of fiction that, according to my own dubious and capricious standards, did not merit completion. Since then, I’ve been accordingly preoccupied with the exact moment at which a novel crosses the threshold that separates, for me, Magic Mountain-ness from “A Book I am Willing to and Perhaps Delighted to Finish”-ness.

In the curious case of The Art of Fielding, this moment occurred for me, your current interlocutor, probably when I first cracked the spine. (Fair enough: I’m reading it on the iPad, so I cracked no literal spines. But you know what I’m saying. Don’t you?) Specifically and honestly, though, I was taken at the closing words of Chapter 15, when Affenlight “truly was a fool,” and then, seconds later, “was renewed.” There was something ineffably real and endearing about the set-up and sequence. I knew what I already suspected, which is that I was in.

So, my question: At what moment did you determine, from on high, that The Art of Fielding had secured and earned your readerly attentions for good and all?

Also, Skrimshander = Scrimshaw!”

P&P Reading Club: Navin Vaswani on The Art of Fielding Chapters 1 -17

he art of fielding by chad harbachNavin Vaswani is a writer extroardinaire at NotGraphs and the lone Canadian participating in Reading Club.

I’ve got a couple of confessions: One: I don’t recall having read any baseball fiction; if I have, I don’t remember the book(s). And, two: I like most everything that I read. What can I say, I’d never make it as a critic. I’ve found the first 135 pages of The Art of Fielding to be enjoyable, to be readable, even though I find much of the book not believable. No matter how hard I try, I can’t imagine Owen Dunne a member of the Westish Harpooners, the “Buddha” the absolute furthest from a baseball player. I also wasn’t expecting Westish President Guert Affenlight to be gay, and to be falling in love with Owen, the improbable baseball player and easily the book’s most eccentric character so far. Again, just not very believable. But that’s why it’s fiction, I suppose.

I am pleased with the array of characters we’ve so far been introduced to. At first, through the book’s initial chapters, I couldn’t help but think of John McDonald when reading about Henry Skrimshander. A wizard, a savant, in the field, and nothing more. Until he was taken under his wing by Mike Schwartz, the thinking man’s baseball player. By now, we know where we stand with each of our protagonists: Will Henry’s errant throw be the first of many? It has to be. What will become of Schwartz? It is Henry’s turn to return the favour, and take care of him? Will Guert Affenlight pursue a relationship with Owen, a student at the college he presides over? I can’t see it happening, which means it probably will. I don’t really know what to make of Pella, who might be the one to save Schwartz, instead of Henry.

I’m not sure how much of the book I was expecting to be about baseball, but think Harbach has a struck a decent balance, so far. He’s a strong writer, as the depth of the characters proves. My question, what I’m interested to find out as we read further, is: How much of an impact will the happenings on the diamond, on the field, have on the lives of The Art of Fielding’s main characters? It seems as though baseball, the game, is secondary. Both to the plot, and to the characters. Life happens, and baseball is the escape. While I’m finding certain parts of the book a bit of a stretch, that’s one that certainly rings true.

P&P Reading Club: Pete Beatty on The Art of Fielding Chapters 1 -17

he art of fielding by chad harbach Pete Beatty is a future boss at The Classical and P&P’s resident Jim Thome scholar.

Some people will demur but “Guert Affenlight” is a truly excellent ridiculous name for a fictional character. “Guert Affenlight” is exactly the kind of name that college presidents/the over-accomplished sometimes are burdened with. I actually have a theory that the book publishing world (where I work), being a demimonde with a lot of unreconstructed WASPs and other old-line elites, has a disproportionate share of ridiculous names. I actually keep an Evernote file of “NARP” (Not A Real Person) names, which Guert Affenlight would be right at home in.

But beyond his pitch-perfect fake name, I’m not sure what to make of President Affenlight, who just strolled in and gayed (I mean that in a judgment-free way) everything up (and anyway, this novel is homoerotic from the copyright page onward– Mike Schwartz angrily whispers the word “pussy” at Henry, who ignores it! Symbolism! I solved literature!). I was just getting comfortable with this novel turning into a male gay-supremacist version of I Am Charlotte Simmons (fuck you guys for making fun of me, I liked that book) about the lower-middle-class souls-in-crisis of Schwartz and Skrimshander, and now I have to deal with Guert, who is a real adult with problems more complex than a rare throwing error or law school admissions. I’m rambling, but so far so good, right? I blazed through pages 1 through 117 in what felt like an hour. Good job everyone, especially the author.

P&P Reading Club: Megan Wells on The Art of Fielding Chapters 1 -17

he art of fielding by chad harbachFind more of Megan Wells at Around the Horn from Aerys Sports.

Despite finding the initial pacing a little strange, I’m enjoying The Art of Fielding. My biggest difficulty, though, has been finding a character to identify with. Schwartz, who strikes me as the most complex and engaging character, hovers around the periphery like a deus ex machina. Affenlight seems deliberately reserved; Pella has only just been introduced.

And then there’s Henry.

I went into the book wanting to identify with Henry and, if I’m honest, to live vicariously through him a bit. But so far, there’s no hook. On the field, he’s a wizard: inhumanly perfect, unrelatable (in spite of the oh-so-scrappy Eckstein parallels I couldn’t help drawing). Off the field, he’s as close to a blank slate as a human being can get. His strongest relationship is with Schwartz, but even then, the catcher serves–from Henry’s perspective, anyway–more as the human avatar of baseball’s influence on Henry’s life than as a foil to draw out his personality. In much the same way Aparicio Rodriguez does via his book, Schwartz tells Henry who Henry is.

I think the book knows this, though. At the very end of chapter 11, we get “Without Schwartz, come to think of it, there was hardly even any Henry Skrimshander.” My hope is that we’re being set up for Henry to find himself a little when baseball leaves him. Whether that will require the absence of Schwartz or a shift in Henry’s understanding of him will be interesting to see.

On an unrelated note, I wanted to give props to Pella’s feminist aside in chapter 14. “She hated the namelessness of women in stories, as if they lived and died so that men could have metaphysical insights.” It was a pleasant surprise in a novel that could have easily stayed in boys’-club territory, and I think it deserves pointing out.

P&P Reading Club: Patrick Dubuque on The Art of Fielding Chapters 1 -17

he art of fielding by chad harbachFind Patrick right here, and at Notgraphs.

In my opinion, one of the most interesting aspects of the novel thus far is the excerpt from The Art of Fielding within the actual novel. The rules read as though they pertain to a certain one-legged batting stance, rather than the mechanics of playing shortstop. Meanwhile, the book pulls its own literary weight, serving as the connection, always necessary, between the game and life. Every baseball novel must, in some way, defend the game of baseball, just as every novelist must attach his or her characters to the human condition in order to make them matter. The book within a book is an interesting way of making that promise.

I particularly love how Harbach is able to use this passage to toy with the reader through the means of irony. Rule 3 (There are three stages: Thoughtless being. Thought. Return to thoughtless being) is one of the most blatant, all-encompassing uses of foreshadowing I can recall, a dead giveaway of the book’s entire theme. Having done this, Harbach then tosses in a final rule, 213 (Death is the sanction of all that the athlete does) without explanation, almost mischievously.

My question posed to the readership: why (thus far) is Omar Vizquel the only ballplayer referred to by his real name in the novel? Harbach isn’t concerned with disguising identities, since Aparicio Rodriguez (a dual-shortstop name in itself) is such an obvious pseudonym for Ozzie Smith. I’m told by those in the know (Eric) that the namedropping is no coincidence, but Vizquel’s name may as well have been blinking on the page. That Harbach chose to do this on page 97, with no other explanation, is an interesting choice to me.

P&P Reading Club: Carson Cistulli on The Art of Fielding Chapters 1 -17

he art of fielding by chad harbachFind Carson at Fangraphs and Notgraphs.

The achievement, for me, of the first 100 pages is two of its characters — both (a) the mythical shortstop (and hero of protagonist Henry Skrimshander) Aparicio Rodriguez, whose (fake) book The Art of Fielding gives Harbach’s own book its title and (b) Henry’s “gay mulatto roomate” and member of the Westish College baseball team, Owen Dunne.

The fictional Rodriguez is basically, so far as I can tell, Ozzie Smith as written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Of him we know that he played for the Cardinals, that he’s the best defensive shortstop in baseball history, and that he played during Henry’s lifetime. Beyond that, though, there’s his book on fielding, which appears to be a sort of collection of aphorisms on same — some of which get all Lao Tzu up in this figurative piece. Like this pair, for example:

3. There are three stages: Thoughtless being. Thought. Return to thoughtless being.

33. Do not confuse the first and third stages. Thoughtless being is attained by everyone, the return to thoughtless being by a very few.

If the reader is familiar with Eduardo Galeano’s Football in Sun and Shadow, that appears to be reasonable analog for Rodriguez’ prose style — what has never been referred to as “South American Nice.”

Owen Dunne bears a resemblance to characters from the campus novels of David Lodge in that he’s literate without being insufferable. The difference is that he’s an undergraduate — and usually Lodge’s characters are professors or, at the very least, graduate students. He tries out for, and makes, the Westish baseball team as a freshman, despite the fact that he doesn’t care whether he plays or not, spending most of his time reading on the bench. I believe — although I’m not sure — that one might describe him as insouciant. This exchange is a favorite of mine:

“Owen,” Hendry said excitingly, “I think Coach wants you to hit for Meccini.”

Owen closed The Voyage of the Beagle, on which he had recently embarked. “Really?”

“Runners on first and second,” Rick said. “I bet he wants you to bunt.”

“What’s the bunt sign?”

“Two tugs on the left earlobe,” Henry told him. “But first he has to give the indicator, which is squeeze the belt. But if he goes to his cap with either hand or says your first name, that’s the wipe-off, and then you have to wait and see whether –”

“Forget it,” Owen said. I’ll just bunt.

P&P Reading Club: Adam Webb on The Art of Fielding Chapters 1 -17

he art of fielding by chad harbachFind more of Adam at Everyday Footnotes.

Mea culpa guys! I mistakenly purchased The Art of Fiedler, an 81-chapter critical biography of the famed Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler, so if I lapse into commentary about his early training at the Hochschule für Musik Berlin or the tutelage of Karl Muck instead of Westish Colllege and Mike Schwartz, please forgive me.

Since I began reading the correct TAF, I have recommended it to many people. The book is exceeding my high hopes, and the fielding-as-metaphor hasn’t shown up yet. (Have I missed it?) I think it’s natural in assessing the book in chunks of ~100 pages, that I might nitpick (when something is going so well, the slight missteps are fascinating) so I want to be on the record: I am very excited to start chapter 18 as soon as I finish writing this.

The introduction of a few of the characters reminded me of the fabular qualities of some Fitzgerald (especially when he writes about the Midwest). Schwartz seems like an exaggeration of a real person but maybe that means he will stick in my mind forever like what’s-her-name in “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz.” Along the same lines, Owen Dunne is somehow unrealistically real, more real than any person I have met. Pella Affenflight might fall too easily into that grand cliche of the promiscuous private school girl — but her whale tattoo cancels out my doubts about her character and the possible overkill of the Melville references.

The book was getting started well, thoroughly enjoyable, when my expectations were upended. At the end of the fifth chapter, Harbach moves us forward two years in the space of three pages and he does this in the least writerly way possible. A few chapters later, he pays off the heavy, obvious foreshadowing on page nine (“He caught the ball cleanly, always, and made, always, a perfect throw.”) by killing Owen. Except, as we learn two pages later, Owen is not dead. This sequence blew me away: I was shocked but felt the death had been earned, then I felt manipulated, then I was thrilled to have been manipulated so well and excited to learn what’s in store for Owen that required Harbach to hold onto him.

Last week I made two passing references to Michael Chabon. When I found Sal Phlox on the team in TAF, I figured Harbach was paying homage (a woman named Phlox is part of the love triangle in Chabon’s Mysteries of Pittsburgh). Because I haven’t found a Chabon link to Aparicio Rodriguez, I have to ask, is there any way an author puts an A. Rod. in a baseball novel if he doesn’t want the readers to think — even if only for irony’s sake — of A-Rod?

P&P Reading Club: Ted Walker on The Art of Fielding Chapters 1 -17

he art of fielding by chad harbachThe characters who trawl the idyllic college campus of The Art of Fielding include a virtuosic young shortstop from the sticks who, though away from his small-time hometown for the first time, eschews romance and booze in favor of stadium stairs and skull crushers, a renowned college president whose road to achievement was defined by his desire to read every book in the known universe, and a magnetic and Machiavellian catcher who shacks up in a room in the athletic center to be closer to the epicenter of his sweat equity empire. In other words, these are hard-working folks, plying tedious, almost superhuman trades in a setting engineered to exude a sense of academic leisure.

This tension between the halls of pleasure and the thankless underpinnings of success, defines the first seventeen chapters of The Art of Fielding. Mr. Skrimshander, free from any earthly desire save the urge to field perfectly, plods across a landscape where statues gaze meditatively out over peaceful bodies of water without ever lifting his own, and as readers, we barely register that we’re in college at all. Skrimmers’ experience is defined by the complementary tutelages of Schwartz and O., and at this “college in a movie,” as Skrimmer thinks of it, he who was miraculously delivered from the grimness of South Dakota community college to the glory of the small liberal arts college by a hairy guardian angel, thinks that it is “that sameness, that repetition, that gave life meaning.”

Schwartz, for all of his charisma and his unquestioned love for Westish, stays but a half pace ahead of his own self-hatred, and drives on only to stay out of that dark maw. He knows the nooks and crannies of Westish too well, and threatens to destroy mystery altogether. El presidente, on the other hand, having conquered academia, finds the fires of mystery in the forbidden.

Pella, our resident lady, is the only character thus far who seems free to track the path that her passions carve. I, for one, hope that she isn’t punished for it. Already the determined and driven Schwartz has jumped the track on the cusp of graduation, and Henry can see the weird Siren call of money and success from where he stands. Indecision looms. The real world–enemy of the college campus–threatens to force these folks into critical decision-making, off the four-year track that’s laid in front of them.

P&P Reading Club: Great Expectations?

he art of fielding by chad harbachAway we go with preliminary expectations from some of our contributors before hitting the pages. Please feel free to share your own hopes, dreams, fears about the Art of Fielding in the comment section below.

Also: this goes without saying, but if you read ahead, please don’t spoil it for the group as a whole. Reading ahead is only natural, but we’ll be keeping the discussion to the prescribed pages. And remember: read through chapter 17 by Wednesday.

Ted Walker

I went to a college about the size and shape of the one featured in The Art of Fielding. I played baseball at this college. I was a catcher. The goal of the reader should not be to find those novels that emulate one’s own experience as closely as possible, but the small college catcher is not exactly literature’s most recurrent motif, so I think I’m off the hook for getting excited about this book. It’s been years, honestly, since a baseball book has stirred me to action the way that this one has. It could be the positive reviews that form a warm nest for the book in my mind like a pile of freshly laundered game jerseys.

I suppose it’s also the expectation that a baseball book will hum with contemporary life: a baseball book that matters. As much as it’s touted as the literary sport, it’s been awhile since the modern literary experience has intersected with the modern baseball experience. I am excited about this baseball book because I hope that it, and this reading club, will be a reward for those of us who hang loosely around the lettered edges of this game, hoping to witness the elusive linked stitch that binds together art and sport.

Patrick Dubuque

The Art of Fielding is a departure for me in terms of genres, being written by someone who is still alive, and I’m heading into the novel with a healthy respect if also some slight trepidation.  Even the plot description on the dust jacket reads so conspicuously modern: a series of character studies, centering around mankind’s search for meaning in an uncaring, nihilistic society.  I’m guessing that we’ll see something of Steve Sax, or at least his dreaded disease, as Henry comes of age through the novel.   But perhaps it is not this gloomy!  I should disclose that throwing off my measurements will be Brideshead Revisited, which I finished recently and which appears to have at least something in common with this novel, although hopefully not the endings.

My question, since I’m obviously in this bleak mood: whither the baseball novel?  There’s not much agreement on the best baseball novels of all-time, but the majority of the big classics date back fifty or sixty years, and even the most modern of the greats (Kinsella) are nearing thirty.  If it’s the All-American sport, why can’t it seem to serve as the foundation of the Great American Novel?  (Except in the case of The Great American Novel, of course).

Megan Wells

I try to start a new book with as few expectations as possible. That said, I can tell already that this book is going to make me uncomfortable. People doing stupid things at colleges hits close to home for a lot of us, I’d imagine, even if we turned out alright – or at least avoided a criminal record – regardless. But more importantly, these people engaging in college-age chicanery are ballplayers. Baseball fans are a perverse lot – we love our players to be human and fawn over the details parceled out by beat writers and Twitter feeds. But we get disturbed when they don’t match the black-and-white heroism between the lines. We’re forced to find a balance between personal flaws and the on-field narratives we build in our heads. I expect to both love and hate a lot of these characters, and to find myself facing a certain amount of cognitive dissonance. What about the book do you think will challenge you?

Adam Webb

Thank you for inviting me to take part in your conversation about The Art of Fielding and providing me with the opportunity this week to judge a book by its cover. (I saw Paul Bacon‘s designs in TAF’s enigmatic white brush script on blue.)

Without having cracked the spine and with every effort to not learn any more about the book than I already do (Wisconsin college baseball, Franzen blurb), my thoughts about TAF are dominated by one triviality: How much of the book will occupy itself with metaphorical “fielding”? Will this theoretical metaphor (which I fear infects every chapter of the book) ruin the whole thing for me?

Despite this concern, I have high hopes because TAF is a campus novel, a label that gets applied to some of my favorite wildly different books (Brideshead Revisisted, As She Climbed Across the Table, The Name of the World). But the book isn’t being hyped as a campus novel; it’s a baseball novel. What was the last ‘important’ baseball novel? Chabon’s Summerland?

Peter Beatty

I have no idea what to expect with this book. Well, that’s not true. I read the jacket copy and the blurbs. I can expect prose that will (insert fulsome adjectives from many many prominent writers, and some writers who I think are hacks and some I have never heard of). My natural instincts as a Northeast Ohioan are to resent anything successful or even anything that’s supposed to be nice. But I took a pill to shut down my bile generators for the duration of this book club. I honestly can’t think of a first novel that’s gotten reviews like A of F is getting–actually I’m hard pressed to think of many novels period that are ever praised to such a universal extent. In a age when people seem to relish being the first to issue forth a takedown of anything successful (I recall reading blog posts hating on Freedom’s cover art months before the book pubbed)–there’s been a surprising lack of critical pushback for The Art of Fielding. That makes me suspect it might be a book does something rare: straight-up entertains people and makes them stop complaining for a few hours/days.

That said, I’m not crazy about the cover. I think the A and F have a subliminal association with terrible Abercrombie and Fitch clothing. I like the colors and the warmth of the hand-drawn (painted?) text but in my heart I accuse this jacket design of aspiring to neoliberal Vampire-Weekend-listening corporate hipsterdom. Dammit the pill isn’t working yet.

Eric Nusbaum

I expect this book to be much less about baseball than everybody is saying it will be. There just seems to be no way a novel that gets deep into the nitty-gritty of the game could garner so much New York hype. But that isn’t to say I’m not excited. Writing about sports well in a novel is a hard thing to do. There’s too much cliche, too much nostalgia, too much explaining for a serious fan to get past. The last sporty novel I read was Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland. I couldn’t finish it, but not because of the sports: I thought O’Neill’s cricket scenes and cricket subplot were more beautifully rendered than anything else the protagonist was involved with. I worry that the Art of Fielding will have the opposite problem: baseball will loom as a device, a background, a template for some easy symbolism. Also: I’m skeptical about the title and not totally in love with the cover.

This has been a far more negative paragraph than I was expecting it to be. I guess my question is what makes a book a baseball novel, as opposed to a regular novel? I suppose we’ll be answering together for