WORDS ON BOOKS and A FEW OTHER THINGS FROM TIME TO TIME
by Tony Miksak for KZYX&Z-FM, 90.7 Philo CA
Airs September 4, 2011 at 10:55 am & Wednesday, Sept 7 at 1 pm
Title: The Art of Fielding
(MUSIC UP) This is Tony Miksak with a few Words on Books...
In 509 magnificently crafted pages, first-time author Chad Harbach this month will introduce himself, his characters, and a wonderful new novel to the world.
I don’t really have to review this book, and I don’t have to describe it to you. All I need to say is when it appears in hardcover this month, go get yourself a copy and be prepared to stay up late reading and enjoying.
The novel is titled The Art of Fielding. It will be available at your local bookstore, your non-local bookstore, in large print, in regular print, as an audio book, and no doubt pretty soon an e-book, too.
However, we have more time, and that allows me to share some of the things that make this book so intriguing. Start with the phrase The Art of Fielding. That is the title of the novel and it also is the title of a fictional baseball instruction book titled The Art of Fielding – got it? – revered by several of the ball players in the novel. The way they hug it to their chests, read it on the team bus, recite passages by heart, it’s like another character in itself. This doubly-fictional manual was supposedly written by the greatest shortstop ever, a made-up player named Aparicio Rodriguez. Confused yet?
Aparicio’s fielding manual reads like a Zen meditation:
Paragraph 26. The shortstop is a source of stillness at the center of the defense. He projects this stillness and his teammates respond.
The name Aparicio Rodriguez transparently was no doubt created by Harbach from the first and last names of two very real major league baseball players: Shortstop Luis Aparicio, who was an All Star 13 times, and is in the Hall of Fame; and third baseman Alex Rodriguez, A-Rod, Yankee’s 3rd baseman, who has hit more than 500 home runs, been an All Star 12 times, and admits he used steroids for three years due to "an enormous amount of pressure" to perform.
The pressure to perform is one of the main themes of the novel, and by bringing A-Rod obliquely into the novel, Harbach references the real-life stress of performing.
From the novel: “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.”
And again: “But baseball was different... You stood and waited and tried to still your mind. When your moment came, you had to be ready, because if you f****d up, everyone would know whose fault it was. What other sport not only kept a stat as cruel as the error, but posted it on the scoreboard for everyone to see? ... You could only try so hard not to try too hard before you were right back around to trying too hard. And trying hard, as everyone told him, was wrong, all wrong.”
The Art of Fielding is about ball players, but also college presidents and their daughters, misplaced French chefs, and the craft of writing itself. Take this passage, for example:
“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 non-baseball world, the world of love and sex and jobs and friends was made of words.”
Your job now, no pressure, is to go out there on the field in your own uniform. Ignore the cheers, ignore the boos, don’t let the opposing fans get to you. Walk out and find yourself a copy of The Art of Fielding. Pay for it. Bring it home. Focus. Enjoy. Stay up late. You will not be sorry.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. Little, Brown & Co. hardcover $25.99. ISBN 0316126691.
Chad Harback is all over the place online. His magazine and blog writing and his publisher’s website and an interesting Bloomberg article about his finding a publisher and the $650,000 lottery for the right to publish it.
The real Luis Aparicio ...
And the also very real Alex Rodriguez...
another quote from the made-up Art of Fielding manual:
59. To field a groundball must be considered a generous act and an act of comprehension. One moves not against the ball but with it. Bad fielders stab at 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.