Now wait non-sports fans – don’t leave yet! There are some amazing books on this list and you don’t have to be a fan of competition to appreciate and enjoy them. In fact, in many of these books, sports are in the background, lending color and atmosphere but are not crucial to the story. As for other, more sports-focused titles, you’ll still find that the most important part of the story is the people.
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown. I recommend this book to everyone, it’s that good. It will appeal to anyone, no matter what your interests. It’s impossible to not get caught up in the stories of the young men who became team that set out to earn the right to represent the United States in the 1936 Olympics. It’s about struggling against impossible odds brought about by the Great Depression, about creating a family when you no longer have your own, about working together for a common cause. There’s a lot of history woven into the story, a chilling glimpse of what the world would be up against with the Nazi’s and just enough dramatic description of the rowing to help you appreciate this elegant and demanding sport. A winner on many levels. Read it.
Seabiscuit: an American Legend by Lauren Hillenbrand. Hands down, one of my favorite books ever. Beautifully written, rich in atmosphere and history, this is not only the story of the scrappy little horse that won the hearts of the nation, it’s about the people surrounding and touched by this horse – his hard scrabble jockey, the taciturn trainer, the owners that took a chance. Against the backdrop of the grim struggles of the Great Depression, this underdog up against the rich and privileged is a classic American success story. Don’t miss it – for the history, for the colorful characters, for the charming little horse that took everything thrown at him and just kept going.
Mysteries by Dick Francis. The late Dick Francis wrote dozens of mysteries, all set at least on the fringes of horse racing. He was a master of succinct, economical writing, creating action and tension with understated elegance. Sometimes the racing is nearly irrelevant, sometimes it is more central and it is usually English steeplechase (racing over jumps). Francis, who was himself an award-winning jockey, brings authenticity to the books. I’ve read most of these mysteries; the earliest titles are grimmer and more violent while the later ones emphasize atmosphere (although they are no less suspenseful). My favorites are Break In and Bolt which follow the same main character (unusual for Francis) who, like Francis once was, rides for the Queen Mother. I love the English racing scene he describes, the strategy of the racing and the skill of the jockeys and horses as well as the nearly unbearable tension as the mystery ratchets up. I’d recommend any of Francis’ mysteries for quick, enjoyable reads.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. This harrowing story of an attempt to summit Mt Everest explores a wide variety of issues and emotions – is pursuing this nearly impossible task irresponsible and selfish? What is it doing to the ecosystem of the mountain? How is it affecting the lives of the natives, the often unsung heroes of the expeditions? Is the risk worth the price many have paid? I read the original article that appeared in Outside magazine and could barely make it through those few pages – this is an intense, unforgettable adventure, if you’re up for it.
Some other titles worth looking at include A Good Walk Spoiled (golf) and A Season on the Brink (college basketball) both by John Feinstein, Friday Night Lights (high school football) by Buzz Bissinger and A River Runs Through It (fly fishing) by Norman MacLean. And if you didn’t read it for Magical Realism month, I highly recommend The Art of Racing in the Rain (auto racing) by Garth Stein.
This is a nice mix of fiction and non-fiction, interesting historical settings and lots of suspense. One of the characteristics of these books is the dedication and enthusiasm individuals bring to their chosen field and, no matter how you feel about sports, these are traits that are always interesting and engaging.
My choice for this month is The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, which follows a promising college baseball player and what happens when a routine throw goes wrong. The reviews are good and I’m looking forward to reading it!
Now, what about you? What are you going to read this August? Let us know in the comments!
Books mentioned in this post include: