Tuesday, March 13, 2012
212. the ART of FIELDING
The Book Blurb:
At Westish college, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big-league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.
Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners' team captain and Henry's best friend, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.
As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment -- to oneself and to others.
What Hooked Me:
With very few exceptions, I do not read detailed reviews of a book until I am done reading it. I just want to know if people love it. And if enough people do, I read it regardless of the subject matter, even if, in this novel's case, the story is about baseball. For I feel about baseball what the quote from page 64 states, and yet I love this book. And it is quite ironic that I knew I would love it precisely after I read that particular passage, the moment when I was torn between reading it super fast or savouring it super slow. I read it slowly but persistently. I enjoyed that the zen-like book (the Art of Fielding) within the book about baseball can itself be easily applied as anyone's words to live by. I appreciated all the five main characters' distinct stories, personalities and idiosyncrasies that collectively matched the unified (albeit polarizing?) ending. I am also pleased that the book blurb, for once, is just perfect.
'Schwartz didn't notice the kid during the game. Or rather, he noticed only what everyone else did -- that he was the smallest player on the field, a scrawny novelty of a shortstop, quick of foot but weak with the bat. Only after the game ended, when the kid returned to the sun-scorched diamond to take extra grounders, did Scwartz see the grace that shaped Henry's every move.'(opening lines)
'What he could do was field. He'd spent his life studying the way the ball came off the bat, the angles and the spin, so that he knew in advance whether he should break right or left, whether the ball that came to him would bound up high or skid low to the dirt. He caught the ball cleanly, always, and made, always, a perfect throw.'(9)
'By his point in his life, reading Aparicio no longer really qualified as reading, because he had the book more or less memorized. He could flip to a chapter, any chapter, and the shapes of the short, numbered paragraphs were enough to trigger his memory. His lips murmured the words as his eyes, unfocused, scanned the page:
26. The shortstop is a source of stillness at the center of the defense. He projects this stillness and his teammates respond.
59. To field a ground ball must be considered a generous act and an act of comprehension. One moves not against the ball like an enemy. This is antagonism. The true fielder lets the path of the ball become his own path, thereby comprehending the ball and dissipating the self, which is the source of all suffering and poor defense.'(16)
'It was easy enough to write a sentence, but if you were going to create a work of art, the way Melville had, each sentence needed to fit perfectly with the one that preceded it, and the unwritten one that would follow. And each of these sentences needed to square with the ones on either side, so that three became five and five became seven, seven became nine, and whichever sentence he was writing became the slender fulcrum on which the the whole precarious edifice depended. That sentence could contain anything, anything, and so it promised the kind of absolute freedom that, to Affenlight's mind, belonged to the artist and the artist alone.'(54)
'Baseball -- what a boring game! One player threw the ball, another caught it, a third held a bat. Everyone else stood around.'(64)
'That was what made the story so epic: the player, the hero, had to suffer mightily en route to his final triumph. Schwartz knew that people loved to suffer, as long as the suffering made sense. Everybody suffered. The key was to choose the form of your suffering. Most people couldn't do this alone; they needed a coach. A good coach made you suffer in a way that suited you. A bad coach made everyone suffer in the same way, and so was more like a torturer.'(149)
'He wanted Owen to comprehend everything he lacked the courage or clarity of mind to say outright now, to read it in his eyes without being told, to comprehend it without getting mad, but that was too much to ask anyone, even Owen.'(227)
'This was the dreamy, paradisiacal side of domestic ritual: when all the days were possessed of the same minutiae precisely because you wanted them to be.'(229)
'Baseball was an art, but to excel at it you had to become a machine. It didn't matter how beautifully you performed sometimes, what you did on your best day, how many spectacular plays you made. You weren't a painter or a writer -- you didn't work in private and discard your mistakes, and it wasn't just your masterpieces that counted. What mattered, as for any machine, was repeatability. Moments of inspiration were nothing compared to elimination of error.'(257)
'Whatever remained of the Harpooners' nervousness burned away like gas when the pilot's lit. "We've done the work. We ran and lifted and puked our guts out. We built the program out of nothing. We made ourselves proud to put on this uniform. We don't have a single goddamn thing left to prove to anyone. We've proven. Today we play."'(313)
'Ever since adolescence Pella had been gathering experience in the role of the younger person, the clung-to one, the beloved. That was the idiot hopefulness of humans, always to love what was unformed. Really it made no sense. What were the old hoping the young would become? Something other than old? It hadn't happened yet. But the old kept trying.'(363)
'Henry too, as he sat two steps behind his antsy teammates inches from Owen's elbow, tried to find a pose that would help. Deep down, he thought, we all believe in God. We secretly believe that the outcome of the game depends on us, even when we're only watching -- on the way we breathe in, the way we breathe out, the T-shirt we wear, whether we close our eyes as the pitch leaves the pitcher's hand and heads toward Schwartz.
Swing and a miss, strike one.
Each of us deep down, believes that the whole world issues from his own precious body, like images projected from a tiny slide onto an earth-sized screen. And then, deeper down, each of us knows he's wrong.
Swing and a miss, strike two.'(467)
'Men were such odd creatures. They didn't duel anymore, even fistfights had come to seem barbaric, the old casual violence all channeled through institutions now, but still they love to uphold their ancient codes. And what they loved even more was to forgive each other.'(496)
'You told me once that a soul isn't something a person is born with but something that must be built, by effort and error, study and love. And you did that with more dedication than most, the work of building a soul -- not for your own benefit but for the benefit of those who knew you.'(503)
Little Brown and Company First Hardcover Edition
Book borrowed from the library