The perfect book for group discussion is one that’s challenging but not impenetrable. It transports you to a different time and place, but is smooth enough to avoid motion sickness. It’s a book that feels like there’s a lot at stake.With those guidelines in mind, Printers Row Book of the Month aims to choose stimulating reading selections that provoke discussion and illuminate corners of the world in new and different ways.
For our first selection, “The Art of Fielding,” Chad Harbach’s debut novel, was the perfect choice. It’s a college baseball novel that will appeal not only to the reader who dislikes sports, but also to the reader who thinks there hasn’t been a good baseball novel since Ring Lardner’s “You Know Me Al” or maybe Bernard Malamud’s “The Natural.”
Chad Harbach, who worked on this novel for more than a decade, is no minor leaguer. “The Art of Fielding” centers on Henry Skrimshander, a promising shortstop who’s recruited to play baseball for the slyly named Westish College, a fictional liberal arts college on Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. There’s a college president with a clandestine relationship with another player on the team. Henry’s mentor and teammate, Mike Schwartz, may be the ultimate team player, and at significant cost. Pella Affenlight — the outsider in this boys’ club and the daughter of the college president — punctuates the drama with her own insight.
There’s an abundance of literature related to our national pastime, but it’s hard to imagine a novel more knowing about the intricacies of baseball yet unencumbered by its details than “The Art of Fielding.” It’s a great book for discussion and can sustain multiple lines of inquiry, from the big questions (What does this novel say about self-reliance?) to small inquiries (Why did Harbach name his hero Skrimshander?).
And sometimes, what seem to be small details — like a character’s name — will lead the way to the big stuff. We hope you’ll read along with us and join in the discussion.
Visit chicagotribune.com/printersrow to participate online or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to attend a small group discussion at Tribune Tower at 11:30 a.m. on April 19. We’ll select participants at random.