Courtesy of the Financial Times, a very thoughtful essay on American fiction and its relationship with sport. While he eventually focuses on Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding—a debut we received well—Jason Cowley covers a bevy of recent American classics, from Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest to John Updike’s Rabbit series.
The Art of Fielding is once again in the media focus, getting its UK pub this week. If you’re wondering how British outlets would receive a book about baseball—which I was and kind of still am—the Financial Times’ review is an indication that it’s a bit puzzling, the FT turning to former Major League Baseball shortstop Ron Darling for a test-of-authenticity sort of review, a write-up that seems focused on how much Harbach nails the baseball experience; artfulness not being Darling’s concern, naturally.
As Affenlight jokes to Owen, reading is “a dangerous pastime”, inimical at some level to the cognitive blank of true sporting genius. At its best, when its pattern-making responds more organically to the characters’ realities, The Art of Fielding is very good indeed. In an early, game, we learn that the Harpooners’ “aged scoreboard” is missing a letter: “WESTISH 6 VI ITOR 2”. Four hundred pages later, when the Harpooners are competing against swanky Amherst in the nationals, it’s noted that one of the opposing team’s cheerleaders has failed to show up, so that their “oversize purple T-shirts… spelled out A-M-H-E-R-T in white letters.” Again, the missing S, for Skrimshander, the Harpooners’ absent hero: it’s a lovely, subtle, moving touch.
Another batch of Art of Fielding reviews means more opportunities for newspapers to run clumsy baseball metaphors in the subheads, The Telegraph calling it a “home run” and the FT referring to it as “pitch perfect.” Well done, chaps.
In other news, we’ll be posting a review of Katherine Stewart’s forthcoming The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children on Tuesday. Don’t worry, we’re not getting too political.