Study Guide

The Art of Fielding Literature and Writing

By Chad Harbach

Literature and Writing

At the end of that dismal '69 season—the Sugar Maples won just one game—Affenlight turned in his helmet. Football had been a diversion; he had a purpose now, and the purpose was to read. (6.10)

Affenlight and Owen have something in common: a love for sports and for reading. But although Affenlight puts sports aside in favor of reading, Owen decides to combine the two… to disastrous results.

He wrote his dissertation in the kind of white heat in which he'd always imagined writing a novel—the kind of white heat in which his hero Melville, over six torrid months in a barn in Western Massachusetts, had written the greatest novel the world had ever seen. (6.18)

Not only does Guert idolize Herman Melville, he fancies himself to be a bit like Melville too. But why doesn't he continue writing? Melville didn't write just one book, but that's all Guert penned.

"Him and his goddamn books." (9.23)

The coach blames Owen and his reading for Owen getting hit in the face by a baseball, and we have to agree with him. We love reading as much as the next person, but couldn't he put the book down during the games he's supposed to be playing?

"Was I reading?"

Affenlight nodded. "I warned you. It's a dangerous pastime." (15.16-15.17)

We're not sure when Affenlight warned Owen that reading was a "dangerous pastime" or what the context was, but here it's a joke about how Owen's divided attention ended up getting him injured.

"You're talking to a man who's writing a two-hundred-page paper about Marcus Aurelius." (18.64)

We're not sure when Mike finds the time to do all this with all the baseball training, but it seems that he's able to fit his  academic writing into his schedule somehow.

But Whitman! What was he thinking? Reading aloud was already borderline intimate, one voice, two pairs of ears, well-shaped words—you didn't need to press your luck. (22.9)

For Guert, reading aloud to Owen is a big step in their budding relationship, and he's not excited about sharing this intimacy in front of Owen's mother. He wouldn't kiss her son in front of her, and he doesn't want to read to him either.

Pella could cruise through James or Austen or Pynchon at seventy pages an hour and remember everything, like she'd been born to the task. (34.107)

Pella's magic speed-reading ability must be genetic. She didn't learn it in college, because she dropped out of high school.

And they smooched awhile and read aloud a bit from Lear, and Owen left. (38.26)

After learning how intimate Guert finds reading aloud, it's not surprising to discover that he and Owen squeeze a little bit of reading time into their afternoon delight ritual.

A copy of the new Murakami novel, its cover an opulent yellow, poked out of her jacket pocket, bought at the campus bookstore to commemorate her first-ever paycheck. (47.2)

Earlier, Pella stressed about leaving her underpants at Mike's apartment and dreamed of buying more with her first paycheck. (Were they her only pair?) But while we never see her buy more undies, she does buy a book. The moral: go commando, read instead.

Literature could turn you into an asshole. […] It could teach you to treat real people the way you did characters, as instruments of your own intellectual pleasure, cadavers on which to practice your critical faculties. (50.25)

Affenlight disapproves of Aparicio analyzing Henry as though he's a literary character, but doesn't Affenlight do the same thing to Owen, or to himself? And Pella definitely uses her dad as a literal "cadaver on which to practice [her] critical faculties" at the end of the novel.

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