The Art of Fielding
Before the weekend, I grabbed a copy of The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach as I was leaving work. I’ve been hearing kind of an insane amount of buzz about this debut novel (actually, since BEA in May, and I wasn’t even there) & I thought I’d give it a look-see on my day off. Before I could start it, however, I read an article in the October issue of Vanity Fair entitled, “The Book on Publishing” written by Keith Gessen – yes, I occasionally read VF for the articles. After that, I dropped the other books I was reading & started Harbach’s novel.
This is as much an endorsement for Gessen’s article as it is for Harbach’s novel – of which I am only 50 pages deep, so who knows how its really going to go. Gessen, an old friend of Harbach’s and fellow co-founder of the lit journal n+1, chronicles the entire process of getting The Art of Fielding published – which is completely fascinating, to say the least. From the decade Harbach spent crafting his novel and the endless rejections & pitches to agents, to the eventual, breathless acceptance and the headline-grabbing $665,000 bidding war between publishers. Then to the exhaustive editing process (at the hands of the great Michael Pietsch, multi-talented editor of David Foster Wallace and James Patterson), to the cover design, galley printings, and a full-on analysis of the economic state of the industry – this is the first time I have seen the whole deal so eloquently laid out before.
As if that weren’t enough, there’s this other bit: Gessen has no reason, really, to pad the egos of independent booksellers in his article. We often feel like the red-headed stepchildren of the book industry, living in the shadow of giants like B&N and Amazon, complaining endlessly about how no one’s got our backs, customers are heading for the hills, pubs are ignoring us, Amazon is trampling us, yadda yadda. The following bit from this article, however, renewed my faith in the indie’s place in all this:
I was surprised to hear from Heather Fain, the head of marketing at Little, Brown, about just how much energy goes into wooing the independent booksellers. They are visited by salesmen and sent galleys; at BookExpo there is a dinner for them. All this, because they, more than anyone else, can put a book into someone’s hands and urge them to read it. Would Fain, if she could, trade the affection of these booksellers for any single item of publicity? A positive review in the Times would not be enough, but how about the cover of the Times Book Review? It would depend on the review, said Fain. “If it is a rave review, if Jonathan Franzen wrote it and said, ‘This is the new me,’ or Don DeLillo wrote it and said, ‘I will never write a book again because this man has written anything I could ever do'” – well, in that case, maybe, but only because the booksellers would really enjoy a review like that.
Oh, one last thing – this review quote appears on the back of the book:
“Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding is one of those rare books – like Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh or John Irving’s The World According to Garp – that seem to appear out of nowhere, and then dazzle and bewitch and inspire until you nearly lose your breath from the enjoyment and satisfaction as well as the unexpected news blast that the novel is very much alive and well.” -James Patterson