The Art of Fielding is a long, unabashed ode to baseball, to writing, to the reward of work itself, and to family, particularly the families we choose for ourselves.
Chad Harbach gets so much right in this novel, his 2011 debut. He perfectly describes Major League scouts as “leisurely CIA agents on their off-day,” with their laptops and laptop cases, team branded polo-shirts, radar guns, and clipboards, their business-casual slacks and wrap-around Oakley sunglasses—always Oakley’s. Descriptions like these are sure to leave you buzzing with nostalgia.
The book seems to say, come to be reminded of your beleaguered pot-bellied coaches, with their asinine aphorisms, or their soft-spoken poignancies; enjoy the spit puddles, sunflower-seed piles, all the elaborate routines and handshakes, the ticks of superstition, and the nicknames. But stay for the heart-rending explorations of human life—how one forms an individual identity independent of their self-appointed life coach, independent of their parents, or the game they’ve given their life to, independent even of their past mistakes.
The book follows five characters—Guert Affenlight, his daughter Pella Affenlight, Owen Dunne, Mike Schwartz, and Henry Skrimschander—through their intertwined journeys on the campus of Westish College, a small, fictional liberal arts college in Northern Wisconsin on the shore of Lake Michigan.
As is apt for a baseball tale, the story spins into high gear after an errant throw. When Henry’s first error in three years hits his roommate Owen Dunne in the head, sending him to the hospital, the lives of all five characters come colliding together in unexpected ways.
I won’t spoil the conclusion, but this is a great listen if you’re longing for sports, or just a consuming distraction.
Looking for a way to entertain yourself during isolation? Then you may be on the hunt for some good escapist fiction to help keep your mind and imagination busy! The following authors can help do just that. They are established authors with solid series to keep you immersed for hours of reading pleasure.
The first is Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series. The sleuth/heroine Phryne is introduced in Cocaine Blues. Her first case leads her to Australia at the height of the roaring twenties. The scenery is lush, the dialogue is witty and there is plenty of action. Phryne is not the typical young woman of the time: she’s been in the war and is a skilled pilot as well as a race car driver. She is very wealthy but grew up poor and appreciates all the good things her money can buy. Phryne doesn’t have the usual detective sidekick; rather she has an entourage composed of her lady’s maid, her two drivers, and a dour police inspector. They all pull together to solve mysteries in a most delightful fashion. There are currently 20 books in the series.
The next author is J. D. Robb and the In Death series featuring Lt. Eve Dallas in a futuristic world circa 2058. There are currently 50 books in the series, with the first being Naked In Death and the last, Golden in Death. If it’s hard to picture what life will be like post-pandemic, this series takes a leap into a very colorful, gritty, and tech-driven future which is one possibility. Lt. Dallas has a troubled past which could have led her into a life of crime but instead led her to be in charge of a homicide unit and do her best to speak for the dead by relentlessly hunting down murderers. She is helped in her endeavors by her sidekick Delia Peabody and the series love interest, Roark. There is definitely character development throughout the series so starting at the beginning with the first book is probably a good idea. The books are fun, fast paced, and gripping with a little bit of romance and sexiness without being graphic or gross.
The third series is the brainchild of Louise Penny and features Chief Inspector Armand Gamache as the main character. The series begins with Still Life and so far is up to 16 books. The novels take place in Canada, primarily, Quebec, although various cases take Gamache and his sidekick and son-in-law, Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir, to many locales. This series is probably the most literary of the three mentioned here. The author’s language is rich and the characters complex all the while weaving together complicated plots and surprising twists in remarkably good mystery writing. There is a little village described in the books called Three Pines which can’t be found on any map but which is definitely a place one ends up wanting to visit for the bookshop, the local restaurant, and the scenery.
These book series and many more are available to you via the Enoch Pratt Free Library ‘s digital collection. Happy reading!
Are you thinking of a light-hearted mystery, with people you would like to be your neighbors? Are you thinking it might be fun to make a new recipe for snacks or dinner? You can have your book and recipes too. These books are available for e-books in Maryland’s Overdrive.
Diane Mott Davidson brings us a series featuring Goldy Bear, a caterer who always seems to be involved in solving homicides. In Killer Pancakes, Goldy is catering a cosmetic company’s company banquet when a murder occurs. Goldy juggles the banquet and sleuthing for some fun moments. The mystery is solved, as are all of Davidson’s mysteries. Included in this book are low-fat recipes for Fettuccine Alfredo with Asparagus and a decadent Fudge Souffle. Yum.
InDying for Chocolate, Goldy leaves her abusive husband and works as a caterer at a country club. A handsome psychiatrist, that Goldy has been dating, crashes his car into an oncoming car and dies. Convinced this was not accidental, she shifts into detective mode to solve this crime. This book has many high calorie recipes including one for Scouts Brownies. The recipe is found below.
Having met Goldy and visited her world you will be hungry for more books and Davidson is kind enough to serve them up. If you need more recipes try Goldy’s Kitchen Cookbook.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter 3 ½ ounces best-quality unsweetened chocolate (recommended brands: Callebaut or Valrhona – available at Williams-Sonoma) 3 tablespoons dark European-style unsweetened cocoa (recommended brand: Hershey’s Premium European-Style) 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour ½ teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 4 eggs 2 cups sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extrac 1 cup chocolate chips (recommended brand: Mrs. Field’s)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter with unsweetened chocolate in top of double boiler, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool. Sift together cocoa, flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat eggs until creamy, then gradually add sugar, beating constantly. Add vanilla and cooled chocolate-butter mixture. Stir in dry ingredients just until combined. Spread batter in buttered 9 by 13 inch pan. Sprinkle chips over surface. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until center no longer jiggles when shaken. Cool, then cut into 32 pieces. Makes 32 brownies
The movie’s three distinct sections are a really interesting exploration of the human condition, focusing on our fascination with entertainment and distraction.
The movie opens in the recognizable present. Robin Wright (playing a version of herself), is offered a final contract by the head of Miramount Studios. Under economic pressure, and looking ahead to the end of movie-making with actors in-person, the studio is digitizing the images of stars so that they can be cast in any movie without needing to be physically present. Robin is their next target.
This fictional Robin is vulnerable to the manipulations of the studio. She has an obligation to her teenage children, and has made some poor career choices. Although well known for Princess Bride and Forrest Gump, this Robin has not been particularly successful since. The studio makes an offer. They want to pay Wright one final time to completely digitize her image, after which she will not be permitted to act again. Wright’s performance, faced with this life-altering and potentially career-ending decision, is nuanced and emotional and captivating. The men around her are craven and manipulative. Studio head Danny Huston gives a pep-talk that veers subtly but sharply into a list of all Wright’s character flaws and mistakes, and we watch her as he says this to her face. In a remarkable monologue, Agent Harvey Keitel tells the exact story he needs to tell to help his client make the decision he favors, and again confronts Robin with her weaknesses in confessing his reasons for selecting her as a client. This is a confrontational take on fame, celebrity, and the entertainment economy, made all the more pointed by the fact that Robin Wright is “playing herself” and not a different character.
In section two, we fast-forward twenty years to see Wright arriving at The Miramount Congress. In these twenty years, the technology of experience has moved beyond 3-D scanning, and is now entirely chemical. Wright attends The Congress by inhaling a chemical that she’s handed by a doorman. The transition into this alternate reality is represented by the movie’s switch to an animated format. As Robin checks in to The Congress she is greeted as “the fourth one today.” In this neurochemical reality, anyone in possession of the correct chemical compounds can be anyone, or experience anything that they want to, and the “real” Robin Wright can’t necessarily be distinguished from imposters or pretenders. As the image of her previously-digitized self, Rebel Robot Robin, Street Fighter, whirls in the air above the animated attendees, Wright arrives to provide the keynote at the Congress. Can she be relied upon to continue to represent the interests of Miramount?
The third section of the movie moves us on another twenty years, and begins (like The Matrix, Ready Player One, and even WALL-E) with the proposition that alternate reality or constant distraction is superficially preferable to actual reality. The animated world of the Congress is now, somehow, not simply a neuro-chemical conference. It’s a full lived experience. Is there any way out? What happens when you move between reality and neuro-reality? Can you move in both directions? What does this version of Robin Wright want from her life, and how will she navigate between these worlds to be able to find it?
The movie is partially inspired by The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem, a Polish science-fiction novel first published in 1971. The novel is also available on Hoopla. Usually I’m a “book before the movie” person, but in this case, part of the fun of reading the book comes from finding the pieces that were adapted and placed in the movie, and revisiting some of the scenes that make a direct reference back to the book. The stories are different enough that the movie doesn’t spoil the book, but rather enhances it.
As you’re looking through Hoopla to see what’s in the collection to watch, read, and listen to, or you want to look at some items side-by-side, take a look at the mind and reality-bending The Congress, and the book that inspired it.