BY ROZALIND DINEEN
The TLS Books of the Year issue goes to press today. Seventy-two TLS contributors have chosen their titles of the year (nearly) gone by: even as they did so, of course, the publishing houses were in gear for 2012, and had been for months.
High hopes ride on The Art of Fielding. Chad Harbach’s debut novel, we are promised, will be a contender for next year’s Books of the Year feature. It’s a novel about baseball that both Sports Illustrated and Jay McInerney (who professes to dislike his national sport) love. Fourth Estate’s press release is the apotheosis of press releases. “You keep waiting for the errors, but there are no errors”, says the author of The Corrections, and Freedom, Jonathan Franzen. It is “[a]s if the other Fielding had a hand in it”, John Irving proclaims, “as if Tom Jones were about baseball and college life". McInerney, we are told, “scarcely paused for meals” when he read it (it's 450 pages long).
You can add to that the recent feature in Vanity Fair charting the novel’s creation, written by Harbach’s friend (and n+1 co-founder) Keith Gessen (which has itself been expanded into a 12,000 word e-book). Some will also be impressed by the $650,000 advance for this, Harbach’s first novel, in these slender times.
$650,000 is small change in the real world of baseball, as audiences of the new film Moneyball will know. The film is based on a work of non-fiction, its namesake, written by the financial journalist Michael Lewis and published in 2004. Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) is the general manager of the Oakland As, a baseball team with no money – in baseball terms – whose best players are regularly poached by the New York Yankees. Beane poaches, too – not an athlete, but a portly young economist, fresh from Yale, who has a theory. Using statistics, sabermetrics, on-base percentages, and while ignoring the advice of baseball scouts with decades of experience, Beane builds a team of seemingly useless players for just $41 million, who are able to compete seriously with the Yankees, and their $125 million payroll.