Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Art of Fielding - Chad Harbach -------------- 4 Stars

Thanks to my kind brother-in-law, I recently had the chance to read the enthralling book, The Art of Fielding. While I had not heard of before, I did realize that it was a highly anticipated recent release from a young author, Chad Harbach. As a whole, it did not disappoint.

Quick premise - small, D3 college near the Great Lakes (or was it Northeast... not critical) with a small cast of interesting and very well described characters; most of which are on the baseball team along with the school President and his daughter. The story is about their dreams, hopes, loves, etc.

The book starts with a bang and made me intrigued and care immediately. It was about baseball and, more specifically, the beauty of a perfectly fielded ball and the work and effort that goes into perfectly fielding a ball. From there, the author spends even more time going into the intricacies that go into being a great fielder. As the book goes on, it continued to captivate me. The characters were slowly introduced and the author did a fantastic job of describing each of them deeply; their looks, personality, and motivations were quickly apparent. I found the more I read, the more I wanted to continue reading.

But, like many books that check in over 500 pages, it did lull in some places. Not many though, perhaps a few times I looked at the book and chose a TV show instead; but more often than not, I wanted to pick up the book and keep reading it and not put it down. The story kept me intrigued due to it's multifaceted plots. While baseball and the objective of winning was underlying much of the book, the main characters seeking to find their own ways of winning were just as captivating.

As the first novel from Harbach, I eagerly look forward to his next release (though I read that it took him 9 years to complete this book; so it may be a bit of a wait). This book really was a fun read and one that I was a bit sad when it ended; I wanted it to keep going! Always a revealing sign about the entertainment value of a book.  I highly recommend.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Unwinding - George Packer ---------------------- 3.5 Stars

I recently came across this book as I was perusing a list of the best non-fiction of the past 20 years. While I have read more than a few of them, the summary for George Packer's The Unwinding was intriguing. Well, did it live up to its ranking of a top non-fiction story? Read on....

Well, sort of. While I think it was an excellently told story; I do feel like I have been more thoroughly entertained by many other non-fiction books I've read in the past couple of decades. However, I can also understand why this book did make the list. I believe it's primarily about the themes that Packer outlines.

So, basically, Packer takes a few characters and cities (Tampa, Silicon Valley) and tells very specific stories, that cover the past 15-20 years, about these people (about 4 or 5) and places. While the very specific and individual stories are  interesting to follow and well told, they are also emblematic of many Americans stories. And, more deliberately, how this country continues to change in monumental, and life altering ways. Interspersed throughout are also about a dozen short biographies of important and timely people in American history (Oprah, Newt Gingrich, etc.).

As a whole, the book is pretty engaging read. He does a great job of making the reader really connect with each character and keep interest to learn how they lives change every few years (when he makes typical jumps). Of course, the real genius of the book is helping the reader see the marco changes of our country through these specific stories. They do seem to go on a bit too long sometimes and there were a couple of times I thought a good editor may have helped the flow, but it's a small complaint. Overall, it's a strong read, and other than a few dragging parts, does a nice job telling an interesting story - both small and big.