Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Art of Fielding Swallowed Me Alive

The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach's much heralded first novel, has swallowed me alive. I read it the way that reading is supposed to be, the way that great novels are supposed to be read. I missed sleep and meals to read it, missed a stop on the train while reading, nearly walked into a pole with my nose in the book after leaving that same train, and then finished the book with great longing for it already blooming as I hurtled through the last fifty pages in a long and messy good-bye, tempted to start again immediately when I was done.

Now I have rested this big hardcover book on my desk to be looked at and remembered for a week, maybe several weeks, as if this will keep the spector of the gang of characters inhabiting its pages lingering nearby, chatting through some extension of a scene from within as I struggle to keep them fed and vivid before accepting their need to return to the water, that place where they all live, fading away from immediate view. They will all become ancestors like that. Then I will place this book on a shelf where it will carry on in quiet conversation with the rest of the books that have preceded it there.

Fortunately, I know this kind of reading and this kind of book from way back. There were years that reading such books for massive chunks of hours and listening to and playing music in various states of being and locales for equal chunks of time were the core elements of my full-time job in construction of self -- supplemented, of course, by a job dishwashing or waiting tables which provided free food, a handy and easily adaptable swirl of colorful friends, and a bit of money with which to stay afloat.

Forgive me, but these books of those days were written by John Irving and Tom Robbins alongside the Roths and the Morrisons and the Bellows and the Doctorows. Guilty pleasures, but it's true. They rocked me. Yeah, they rocked me. This was an age of paperbacks for a few bucks from used book stores in pursuit of an unending spiral of a reading list that grew and changed -- book to book, conversation to conversation, like filling the contours of a whole life grain by grain of sand (or word by word).

I have a theory that all great books have an even greater book -- or at least a book greatly admired -- at their core. This one probably has Moby Dick as its massive looming ghost, though one could make a case for others in parts as well. Most definitely, the 19th century American masters stalk throughout, and this is good. Moby Dick fits for me with its whale swallowing men, culture, and imagination whole. And this takes me to thoughts of skinny, knock-kneed Jonah swallowed by a whale.

I love what Paul Simon says about Jonah and quote it often -- that he was swallowed by a whale. But I say, says Simon, there's no truth to that tale. I know Jonah, he was swallowed by a song.

That's what songs and books are for.

1 comment:

Robbie Gringras said...

Okay, so I'm already on ch 6. It's all your fault. So tell me - what's this game baseball all about???