My impression of the Olympics has always been that even if you’re not particularly interested in sports on a normal basis, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of the Games. Likewise, I have also found that if “extra innings” or “playoffs” isn’t music to your ears . . . sports-related stories still make for great reading.
Case in point: our July cover story on Gold by Chris Cleave, the author of Little Bee. In this gripping novel, two female friends—world-class cyclists—both want a gold medal at the Olympics in London. Though this is a story about competition, it’s also about what people will sacrifice to succeed. Gold, published by Simon & Schuster, is on sale now for $27.
Here are a selection of other books that feature a sports-related plot—exciting, emotional reads. Read them while you count down to the opening ceremony, or even while you’re sitting on the bleachers watching a Little League game. (Just make sure you ask someone else to watch out for foul balls!)
Book: Tumbleweeds by Leila Meacham
Sport: Friday night football games in small-town Texas
Reviewer’s verdict: “Thoughtfully written, Tumbleweeds follows its characters through struggles and growing pains, all born from their family misfortunes and adolescent mistakes. When all is said and done, each person understands the truth of the adage, “timing is everything.” Meacham’s second novel is a juicy page-turner that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the final page.” —Meg Bowden, July 2012
Book: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Sport: Baseball at a small Midwestern college
Reviewer’s verdict: “You don’t have to like baseball to savor Chad Harbach’s sumptuous debut novel, a wise and tender story of love and friendship, ambition and the cruelty of dashed dreams, featuring an appealing cast of characters.” —Harvey Freedenberg, September 2011
Book: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Sport: Pro football à la the Dallas Cowboys, as observed by a group of soldiers home from Iraq
Reviewer’s verdict: “The fawning civilians (still recovering from the shock of “nina leven” and committed to the war on “terrRr”) are mesmerized by the soldiers’ courage, and yet somehow detached from their experience. Fountain perfectly captures the bewilderment of Billy and his cohorts at this phenomenon, made more poignant by the knowledge that the white Hummer limousine that will transport them from Texas Stadium at game’s end is the first step in their redeployment to Iraq.” —Harvey Freedenberg, August 2012
Book: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Sport: Car racing, as told by an exceptionally articulate lab-terrier mix!
Reviewer’s verdict: When Denny invests his savings in an attempt to launch his racing career, Enzo takes to watching videotapes of his old races and longs for the power of speech so he can advise his master. Providing humorous and sympathetic commentary on his owner’s misadventures, Enzo is an unforgettable narrator. This is a spirited story of friendship and love—a book with heart.” —Julie Hale, June 2009
Book: Playing for Pizza by John Grisham
Sport: American football, Italian-style
Reviewer’s verdict: “John Grisham has already tried his hand at legal thrillers, autobiographical Southern fiction, Christmas angst and serious nonfiction, so why not add something funny to the mix? In Playing for Pizza, the master of courtroom tension aims for laughs with the story of an American football player transplanted to a country where fourth down is definitely a foreign expression.” —Beth Williams, October 2007
Book: Calico Joe by John Grisham
Sport: Baseball as played in the 1970s—until an accident derails a rookie’s career
Reviewer’s Verdict: “Beneath all the baseball lore and Grisham’s obvious affection for the game, Calico Joe offers a sad but real tale about fathers and sons and the difficulties family members can experience when attempting to re-establish severed bonds. As with all Grisham novels, it is a smart, smooth read—and it’s guaranteed to entice thoughtful fans of the summer game.” —Martin Brady, April 2012
What sports-related novels did you enjoy? Though not as explicitly sports-related as the others, I loved the perspective on women’s college basketball depicted on Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. If you want to learn about snooker—a cue game like pool—read The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver.