Staff Picks: Chad Harbach, The Mets, Masters of the Sob


This Week’s Reading

Last Sunday I stayed in bed till one P.M.—then stayed up till two A.M.—reading the galleys of Chad Harbach’s first novel, The Art of Fielding. To say it’s the best novel I’ve read about a college shortstop would be true, as far as it went, but it’s about more than that: “For Schwartz this formed the paradox at the heart of baseball, or football, or any other sport. You loved it because you considered it an art: an apparently pointless affair, undertaken by people with a special aptitude, which sidestepped attempts to paraphrase its value yet somehow seemed to communicate something true or even crucial about The Human Condition. The Human Condition being, basically, that we’re alive and have access to beauty, can even erratically create it, but will someday be dead and will not.” —Lorin Stein

I’ve been reading Jeffrey Toobin’s New Yorker article about New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon with mixed feelings. What Wilpon says about his players makes one wonder if he’s trying to sabotage his own team (which is also mine). Carlos Beltran is overpaid, David Wright is overpraised, José Reyes is always injured. These are opinions an owner should keep to himself. But when Wilpon says, “We’re snakebitten, baby,” he sounds like a true Mets fan to me. —Robyn Creswell

If you haven’t read any of Diana Athill’s work, I highly recommend Midsummer Night in the Workhouse, a collection of her short fiction recently released by Persephone. Funny, engaging, and unexpected. —Sadie Stein

I very much enjoyed Francine Prose’s short essay “Other Women” in the new feminist-themed Granta. Prose was secretly writing her first novel as a graduate student. She joined a feminist consciousness-raising group, and, after selling the book, she left her husband and moved to San Francisco. Somehow, she says, she became a feminist. But was it before or after she discovered her husband had slept with nearly every single woman in the group? —Thessaly La Force

Alexis Madrigal’s piece on the Metaphor Program provides a fascinating glimpse at a project a research arm of the government has recently undertaken to develop software that can understand “how a people’s language reveals their mindset.” With the end goal described as a “machine that can convert a language into underlying truths about a culture,” it sounds like it will be Heidegger’s ultimate technological fear realized: reducing poetry to a resource to be calculated. But is this really possible? It could yield amazing insights and ideas on how different cultures use language; but to control, master, and manipulate those structures is eerie. Aren’t the mysteries of language what help to bring about metaphors in the first place? —Natalie Jacoby

Our Southern editor alerted me to this poem, translated by Lady Augusta Gregory, and now I can’t get it out of my head. (Sullivan: “We Irish are the masters of the sob. I give the others everything else, but we get the sob.”) —L. S.

Every single sentence of this article—about how Hitler attempted to create an army of talking dogs—blew my mind. —N. J.