What would he say to her, if he was going to speak truly? He didn't know. Talking was like throwing a baseball. You couldn't plan it out beforehand. You just had to let go and see what happened. You had to throw out words without knowing whether anyone would catch them — you had to throw out words you knew no one would catch. You had to send your words out where they weren't yours anymore. It felt better to talk with a ball in your hand, it felt better to let the ball do the talking. But the world, the nonbaseball world, the world of love and sex and jobs and friends, was made of words. - The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Fifty pages into The Art of Fielding, I was already feeling sad that the book would end. Fortunately, at that point I still had 450 pages left to read. The size of the book, and its readability despite that size, are fitting for a book that is both about the narrow topic of baseball and the wider themes of friendship, perfection, and what it means to grow up.
There are books that I love for their settings: the way the author constructs a world either familiar or brand new through imagery so vivid that it becomes hard to recall whether my memories of place are real or imagined. For other favorite books, it is the plot that keeps my turning pages late into the night. The Art of Fielding, though, was all about the characters.
It is the story of Henry Scrimshander, shortstop extraordinaire for the Westish Harpooners, a Division III team from rural Wisconsin. It is also the story of his friend and mentor, Mike Schwartz and his roommate Owen Dunne. The president of the college and the president's daughter also play significant roles. Although I have yet to dabble in fiction writing, I imagine that the most difficult part for me would be crafting believable characters that were something more than a thinly disguised iteration of myself. In this book, each character is fully formed with a voice that is immediately recognizable. I finished the book feeling like I knew these people, despite the fact that they existed only on the page.
This was the perfect book to kick off a summer of reading, despite its hefty size. By the five-hundredth page, my arms may have been a little tired from holding the book aloft, but I was still sad to say goodbye to the memorable cast of characters that made The Art of Fielding great.