Since most live sports are on hold this year, it’s book lovers’ time to shine. Whether you need something to fill the gaping hole left by cheering stadiums or just a fun read to go with your Sunday afternoon buffalo dip, these books are all winners.
We Ride Upon Sticks
Campy and surreal, Quan Barry’s second novel follows a high school field hockey team that’s desperate for a winning season—desperate enough to make a deal with the devil. All 11 Lady Falcons solemnly pledge their oath to the forces of darkness, signing a notebook emblazoned with an image of Emilio Estevez (did I mention this book takes place in 1989?). Of course, it’s not the first time such a deal has been struck in Danvers, Massachusetts, which is just a stone’s throw away from Salem, of witch trial fame. But as the devil’s demands increase along with the powers of the team, things begin to get complicated. Barry uses the first-person plural “we” to narrate the book, a choice that emphasizes the unity and collective force of the team. Full of dark humor and pitch-perfect 1980s details, We Ride Upon Sticks will appeal to anyone who’s ever put it all on the line to win.
The Bromance Book Club
If you’d prefer your books to be light on the sports and heavy on the romance, then Lyssa Kay Adams’ hilarious debut, The Bromance Book Club, is the book for you. When Major League Baseball player Gavin Scott’s marriage to Thea seems on the verge of collapse, his friends introduce him to their secret book club—which reads romance novels and only romance novels. What follows is an absolute joy of a romantic comedy as the club’s members try to convert Gavin to their love of the genre, pointing out all the ways in which reading romance can not only help him save his marriage but also help men empathize more fully with women. The zany goings-on (just wait until you meet “The Russian”) never overshadow the poignancy of Gavin’s devotion to doing the hard work to save his relationship.
—Savanna, Associate Editor
I’m not sure if a more bizarre sports novel exists, but I’ve always wanted a reason to recommend Álvaro Enrigue’s bawdy tennis novel, so here we go. What begins as a 16th-century tennis match between Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo and Italian painter Caravaggio fractures into a far-flung historical stream of consciousness, bouncing from scenes with Hernán Cortés or Galileo to emails with the book’s editor and then back to the court, where Quevedo and Caravaggio, both hungover, are volleying a ball made of Anne Boleyn’s hair. In between points, Enrigue’s metafictive tale (brilliantly translated by Natasha Wimmer) lampoons the Spanish conquest of Mexico, treats not one historical figure with anything resembling preciousness and positively revels in violence, beheadings and the like. It’s a postmodern riot; advantage, Enrigue.
—Cat, Deputy Editor
The Throwback Special
Chris Bachelder’s The Throwback Special is the only football novel I could ever love. Though it’s technically about a group of men who convene once a year to reenact the November 1985 “Monday Night Football” game in which Joe Theismann’s leg was brutally snapped in two, it’s not really about that at all. (Believe me—if it were, I wouldn’t read it.) Bachelder takes readers into the minds of 22 adult men and dissects their fears, failures, grievances and qualms with exacting humor. Fatherhood, marriage, middle age and masculinity—things with which I have no firsthand experience—are explored with such bizarre compassion that I absolutely could not look away. Don’t let a lack of football fanaticism keep you away from this gem of a book. Dare to peek into the male psyche, and have a good-natured laugh at what you find.
—Christy, Associate Editor
Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer
I’m going to make what feels like a bold claim: Warren St. John’s Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer is a book you’ll love whether you relish screaming at your television for three hours each weekend or you can’t explain the difference between a third down and a third inning. Football knowledge isn’t a prerequisite to enjoying this story of how St. John embedded himself in an RV-driving stampede of Alabama Crimson Tide fans for a season, because he didn’t write a book about football. What he wrote is a love story about a group of people, brought together by a common purpose and shared devotion to one of the winningest teams in college football history. It’s an affectionate and often erudite glimpse into the ways love can drive us all to madness. Speaking of: Roll Tide.
—Stephanie, Associate Editor