Looking for some sports books to pick up for your friends or family (or yourself) this holiday season? Here are some of our favorites, from 2016 and earlier, for the fan in your life. Happy reading.
Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, Box Brown (:01 First Second, 2014). The graphic novel is the only medium that could adequately contain all of the myths, legends, and purported facts that made Andre the Giant a star. From the back of Samuel Beckett’s flatbed truck to a paneled dissection of his Wrestlemania III bout with Hulk Hogan, Brown’s art honors the Eighth Wonder of the World at every level.
The Oval World: A Global History of Rugby, Tony Collins (Bloomsbury, 2016). As soccer continues its growth in America, England’s other football game struggles to find the same crossover appeal. Enter Collins’ 500-page history, a breezy but comprehensive chronicle of the sport’s beginnings and modern evolution that will inspire readers to tune into 2017’s Rugby League World Cup.
A Fan’s Notes, Frederick Exley (Vintage, 1968). Regularly cited among the answers to the fourth of our 7 Questions, Exley’s fictional memoir accurately captures the illogical fantasy of sports fandom, particularly the narrator’s misguided obsession with the New York Giants and their star running back, Frank Gifford. And, as in reality, sports are but fleeting concerns in this mad life.
The Utility of Boredom: Baseball Essays, Andrew Forbes (Invisible Publishing, 2016). Baseball, with its leisurely pace and unrelenting schedule, lends itself to the introspective writer willing to unpack the countless balls and strikes for something more. Andrew Forbes is one of the very best at this, and his essay collection is essential reading around the hot stove.
The Unknown Kerouac: Rare, Unpublished & Newly Translated Writings, Jack Kerouac (Library of America, 2016). This rich and illuminating collection of previously unpublished writings from the king of the Beats is speckled with some great sports surprises. Kerouac breaks down the elaborate horse racing and baseball games he invented as a child, offers impressionistic meditations on boxing and bowling, and more.
The Last Innocents: The Collision of the Turbulent Sixties and the Los Angeles Dodgers, Michael Leahy (Harper, 2016). The Los Angeles Dodgers rose to prominence in a climate of profound social and political change; this exhilarating work of literary journalism takes readers on a deep dive into the struggles and triumphs of key members of the team during the 1960s. It’s a stirring portrait of America.
The Selling of the Babe: The Deal that Changed Baseball and Created a Legend, Glenn Stout (Dunne/St. Martin’s, 2016). Stout vividly excavates the 1920 trade of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees — a gripping business story that gives readers a newfound appreciation for the power of the Babe’s homers.
Back from the Dead: Searching for the Sound, Shining the Light, and Throwing it Down, Bill Walton (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Walton’s infectious zest for life will have you tearing through the basketball and broadcasting great’s autobiography with passion and joy. It’ll also make you want to go on a Grateful Dead binge.
Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Soccer Tactics, Jonathan Wilson (Nation Books, 2013). An advanced-level treatise from the University of Football, Wilson’s history of soccer tactics is a must-read for all serious fans of the beautiful game. No sport has evolved from style to style as much as this one, and few other guides could show us the way from each to the next.