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'The Art of Fielding': a Novel About Baseball, and Much More


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Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English. I’m Doug Johnson.

Today, we play music by the new country western group Pistol Annies. We also answer a question about the director Steven Spielberg. But first we report on a popular new book about baseball.

This week marks the release of writer Chad Harbach’s first book, “The Art of Fielding.” The thirty-five year old writer spent about ten years developing this novel about the game of baseball. But “The Art of Fielding” is about much more than just baseball. It is also a story about love, loss, friendship, family and growing up. Some critics have praised the book as one of the best “first novels” to be published in years. Bob Doughty has more.

Chad Harbach started his book in two thousand. He worked many jobs over the years, often accepting positions that gave him time to write. During this time, he also earned a master’s degree and helped create a literary magazine called “n +1.”

His financial sacrifice and years of hard work paid off. Last year, several publishing companies competed for the right to buy “The Art of Fielding.” Reports say Chad Harbach received over six hundred thousand dollars for the book. Not bad for a first time novelist.

“The Art of Fielding” takes place at a small college in Wisconsin, the state where the writer grew up. Henry Skrimshander is starting his first year at Westish College and quickly becomes its star baseball player. Henry is so good that he soon captures the attention of professional baseball teams.

But early in the book, he suffers a mental crisis. Henry becomes filled with self doubt and starts to make serious mistakes during games.

The other main characters in the book face their own problems. Catcher Mike Schwartz realizes that all the time he spent helping Henry become a star has threatened his plans for the future. College president Guert Affenlight falls in love with another student on the baseball team. Guert’s daughter Pella has returned to Westish College after a failed marriage. These characters have close ties to each other and the team. And they become very involved in Henry’s growing crisis.

Chad Harbach says that when he began writing the book, he was interested in this kind of mental crisis, which has affected some professional baseball players. He says most people have periods where they question their own skills or are filled with fear, but experience this privately.

For baseball players, he says, this mental crisis is very public and difficult for others to watch. He wanted to explore this idea in his book.

He also chose baseball as a subject for his book because it is unlike any other sport.

CHAD HARBACH: “Baseball is unique in the way in which it is both a team sport and a profoundly individual sport.”

Mr. Harbach grew up in a culture of sports, so the realities of being on a team were familiar to him.

CHAD HARBACH: “I grew up in Wisconsin in a place where really, sports are king. And if you are a young man growing up in a place like that you most likely devote an enormous amount of your time and attention to playing sports.”

Mr. Harbach says a book he read after college had a big influence on him. The book was “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace.

CHAD HARBACH: “Although in some sense I’d always wanted to be a writer, there was a way that that book made me realize that it was still possible to do that.”

Chad Harbach says that in school, literary studies often involved books from the distant past. But reading “Infinite Jest” made him realize that it is possible to recognize the past, while also writing something very fresh and modern.

Our question this week comes from Shandong in China. Guo Chungyu wants to know about moviemaker Steven Spielberg.

It would be hard to argue that there is anyone more powerful in Hollywood today than Steven Spielberg. Since his first major success “Jaws” in nineteen seventy-five, he has directed one hit movie after another. These include the wildly popular series “Indiana Jones,” “Back to the Future” and “Men in Black.”

Those films are fun and lighthearted. But Steven Spielberg has also made serious films that were well received by critics and movie audiences alike. The nineteen ninety-six movie “Saving Private Ryan” is a good example. It was an American war movie in the traditional sense. But, the director’s close attention to detail and historical facts also increased public interest in America’s efforts during World War Two.

The nineteen ninety-three film “Schindler’s List” also took place during World War Two. It told the powerful story of a German businessman who worked to save Jews from Nazi Germany.

Steven Spielberg was born in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio in nineteen forty-six. His mother owned a restaurant and was also a musician. His father was an electrical engineer. Steven started making movies while he was growing up. He has said he required his family and friends to pay twenty-five cents to see his films when they were completed.

Steven Spielberg told a reporter that this experience led him to produce the film “Super Eight,” which came out in June. It tells about a group of teenagers who join together to make a movie and uncover a mystery in the process. Later this year, many theaters will be showing “The Adventures of Tin Tin,” which he directed. And, the third “Men in Black” film is set to be released next year.

Pistol Annies is a new three woman country music group. Its first album, “Hell on Heels,” entered Billboard Magazine’s country albums chart at number one. The fact that one Pistol Annies member is already hugely successful might be partly responsible.  Shirley Griffith tells us more.

Country music star Miranda Lambert would seem to be busy enough with her career. But she recently formed a new band with singer/songwriters, Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe. The Pistol Annies recorded their just released album “Hell on Heels” in less than six months. The women write hard, edgy songs but the mix of their voices creates an almost holy beauty. A good example is the song “Housewife’s Prayer.”

The Pistol Annies do not seem to agree about how they came together as a music group. Miranda Lambert said it was respect for each other’s skills. Angaleena Presley said it was honest music. But Ashley Monroe jokingly told a reporter it was alcohol that brought the musicians together. The Pistol Annies’ song “Takin’ Pills” humorously says it all.

All three of the “Annies” are true country. Miranda Lambert grew up in Texas. Angaleena Presley is from the mountains of Kentucky. And, Ashley Monroe was raised in Tennessee. She has lived in Nashville, the country music capital, since she was thirteen.

We leave you with the Pistol Annies performing music from their first album.

(MUSIC: “Hell on Heels”)

I’m Doug Johnson. Our program was written by Caty Weaver and Dana Demange, who was also our producer.

If you have a question about American life, send it to mosaic@voanews.com or click on the Contact Us link at voaspecialenglish.com. You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English.

Join us again next week for music and more on AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


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