I chose not to read this book for a long time because of its title and subject matter, even though I knew it had glowing reviews and had been chosen as one of the best books of 2011 by numerous publications, including the New York Times. I am not a sports fan and have never watched even one full game of baseball. I guess I was inoculated against being a sports fan early in elementary school when it became apparent that I could not make physical contact with any kind of ball, no matter how hard I tried. I blame this now on undiagnosed astigmatism.
I kept reading that one did not have to be a fan of baseball to enjoy this novel, so I gave in. And it is true that I enjoyed the book, but I think my lack of knowledge of the sport kept me from understanding the book. How baseball can be a metaphor for life is a mystery to me still.
The Art of Fielding is interesting because it is good storytelling, not just of one story but of five. We have Henry Skrimshander, the perfect shortstop until one error leads to a loss of confidence; Mike Schwartz, the mentor and teammate who guides Henry to potential greatness; Owen Dunne, Henry's gay college roommate whose love affair impacts all the other characters; Guert Affenlight, the college president who falls unexpectedly in love for the first time; and Pella Affenlight, his daughter, who is seeking for a purpose for her life. All these unfolding stories make the novel compulsively readable.
And now for the criticisms: The writing is often very clunky. Some plot developments are not very logical, seemingly entirely divorced from any normal human behavior (in my experience, at least). Character development is minimal. And, as I said, the baseball as a metaphor for life aspect escaped me, but that is perhaps my fault. The ending was trite, reminiscent of several sports movie treatments. I fully expect a movie to be made from this novel.
One small thing that annoyed me excessively: The term "freshman" is substituted by "freshperson." "Freshmen" are called "freshpersons." Since this is a college setting, these terms occur with great frequency. Do people actually talk this way now? Has sexual and political correctness gone so far? Should a school principal or college administrator say, "All freshpersons should do such-and such"? That sounds so ridiculous to my old-fashioned mind.
All-in-all, an interesting read.