I was flipping through The Art of Fielding the other day (which is super-great, and just out in paperback). It’s about a few seasons in the life of a small-college baseball team and its unlikely star, Henry Skrimshander.
I was struck by how accurately and beautifully author Chad Harbach depicts the way a person grows their skills: the mix of obsession and focus and crazy love, the immeasurable power of deep repetition, how people really think and act as they work together to develop their talents.
Baseball was an art, but to excel at it you had to become a machine. It didn’t matter how beautifully you performed SOMETIMES, what you did on your best day, how many spectacular plays you made. You weren’t a painter or a writer–you didn’t work in private and discard your mistakes, and it wasn’t just your masterpieces that counted.
He already knew he could coach. All you had to do was look at each of your players and ask yourself: What story does this guy wish someone would tell him about himself? And then you told the guy that story.
You get the idea. The point is that The Art of Fielding takes us deep inside the process of growing talent in the same way that Moby Dick takes us deep inside the process of 19th-century whaling.
The other point is that, a lot of other books do the same. I think it’d be interesting, and maybe useful, to see if we could compile a running list — call it the “Talent Code Book Club.” The books could be fiction or nonfiction, about music or business or chess or painting; they could be written from a coach or teacher’s point of view or that of a kid — it doesn’t matter, so long as it takes us inside and leaves us with some fresh insights about what it means to try to get better.
A few that come to mind:
- Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin
- The Game, by Ken Dryden
- On Writing, by Stephen King
- Practicing, by Glenn Kurtz
- Life, by Keith Richards
- Among Schoolchildren, by Tracy Kidder
What other books — or even movies — should be on this list? I’d love to hear your suggestions.