After reading a couple of disappointing books, I decided I needed to read something Highly Acclaimed. Highly Acclaimed books aren't necessarily a sure bet with me, as I can be a bit of a contrarian at times. But it worked out well in the case of Atonement, which I'd been meaning to read for a while and enjoyed quite a bit, and The Art of Fielding, which Jim recommended for me on the DGLM blog.
One of the selling points I hear most often for The Art of Fielding is that you don't have to be a baseball fan to enjoy it. I suppose there may not be a huge overlap between Baseball Fans and Literary Fiction Fans. I, however, do enjoy baseball. While I'm not a diehard fan, if I had to pick a favorite sport, baseball would be it. So the baseball theme was a plus, for me. And although I'm sure every reviewer out there is tempted to compare the book itself to a baseball game...I'll go ahead and jump on that bandwagon. The Art of Fielding drags out through extra innings (it's apparently over 500 pages long, though I read it on the Kindle where a book's length is not as apparent) with short, episodic chapters, some of which don't feel entirely necessary as not much happens. But you care about the team, and by the end of the game you're rewarded for staying on the bleachers through it all.
This scathing (and very spoilery!) review over at the Atlantic faults the book for being shallow, but I disagree. There were some tedious bits, but I found the characters to be interesting, whole, and easy to relate to. And yes, the fictional Westish College feels a bit...quaint. The jocks are well-read, sensitive souls, seemingly free of prejudice. Don't we wish!
Overall, I rooted for the Westish Harpooners through their triumphs and failures, and enjoyed some nail-biting bottom-of-the-ninth moments as well. This team has a lot of heart.