Dog Eared

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Summer Reading: Sports Literature

Wait, "sports" and "literature?" You bet your seventh inning stretch. As sports journalist Robinson Holloway explains, "Sport in general attracts superior writers, and great sporting events, with athletes achieving levels of excellence beyond expectation, have for many years provided the fodder for thrilling and poignant works of literature." Robison should know: She's been the ESPN/ABC Sports Editorial Advisor for golf telecasts for the past decade and before that a freelance sportswriter with 3,000 stories under her cleats. Here are her recommendations for great sports lit:

Best sports book (non-fiction)
A.J. Leibling -- The Sweet Science

I am scarcely the first to call this boxing classic the best sports book ever written (Sports Illustrated so anointed it a few years ago), but no one today puts a sentence together as stylishly as New Yorker writer Leibling did. Even non-boxing fans will find themselves persuaded that the purest impulse man can have is to punch another man on the nose. For many years the hopeful search for a copy of "The Sweet Science" was the no.1 reason for a sports writer to walk into a used book shop.

Honorable mention: The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn and Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger

Best sports book (fiction)
P.G. Wodehouse -- The Golf Omnibus

Just as Leibling can make a reader with a previous distaste for boxing feel the enchantment of the ring, Wodehouse will banish any notion that golf is a boring game. Golf here is a game of intense passion and elemental humanity, all conveyed with prose that provides a master class in humor writing. Having grown up on an island without golf courses (Manhattan) and in a family that disdained golf, I credit/blame Wodehouse for guiding me to a life spent on the PGA Tour.

Honorable mention: North Dallas Forty by Peter Gent and "You Gotta Play Hurt" by Dan Jenkins (or anything by Jenkins)

Best sports commentary
Jim Murray -- The Great Ones or "The Jim Murray Collection" (out of print, but not hard to find)

The late L.A. Times columnist is one of just four sports writers to receive a Pulitzer Prize (along with New York Times scribes Arthur Daley, Red Smith and Dave Anderson), and his columns were always insightful, original, witty and warm hearted. Murray also managed the remarkable feat of being a better human being than he was a writer, and he was universally respected by athletes, coaches and owners as well as by his fellow journalists. I might never have become a sportswriter had I grown up in LA, because reading Murray's gems every week would have made the job seem impossibly daunting.

Honorable mention: Beyond the Game by Gary Smith and Life of Reilly by Rick Reilly

Best sports biography
Laura Hillenbrand -- "Louis Zamperini" (soon to be published)

Even though this book has not yet been published, I anticipate that Laura Hillenbrand's follow up to her excellent "Seabiscuit" will be a fantastic read. Zamperini was a juvenile delinquent, Olympic runner and Japanese POW who cheated death numerous times in remarkable fashion, and has a truly incredible life story to tell. If you can't wait for Hillenbrand to bring her insight and skills to his tale, Zamperini has an autobiography currently available -- Devil at My Heels.

Honorable mention -- The Greatest Game Ever Played by Mark Frost and Ball Four by Jim Bouton

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Comments from our users:

Monday June 11th 2007, 9:55 AM
Comment by: Magda Pecsenye
Great list, Robinson. If I read these books will I become a sports fan?
Monday June 11th 2007, 10:59 AM
Comment by: Monica G.
The list is great. I personally recommend Friday Night Lights. But as a baseball fan, particularly of the (2006 American League Champions) Detroit Tigers, I couldn't help but notice the error in the first sentence: there is no ninth inning stretch, unless you count leaving at the end of the game! The "stretch" comes in the seventh inning--don't ask me why! My years of proofreading wouldn't let me allow that mistake to stand. Go Tigers!
Monday June 11th 2007, 11:05 AM
Comment by: anna S. (South Africa)Top 10 Commenter
Thanks, Monica! Of course you're right. See what happens when a hoops fans tries to write about baseball? :) Innings fixed... Thanks again, Harris/ VT editor

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