This morning, Rick Bozich weighed in with his annual list of top sports books published this year, so I’ll play a little off that and share a list of five of my favorite sports books published any year (though it’s by no means exhaustive or definitive) . . .
1. Cobb: A Biography, by Al Stump. Quite possibly the best sports biography ever written. A disturbing look at an athlete that would put many of today’s sports bad boys to shame.
2. A Season on the Brink, by John Feinstein. Still breathtaking, even 22 years later. I read it on the eve of taking my first full-time reporting job, which included covering Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers, and was amazed at not only the intensity of the coach, but of the writing in this fantastic book.
3. Sports Illustrated: Fifty Years of Great Writing. I have to include one sportswriting compilation in here, and this is my favorite. I particularly enjoy the great Kentucky Derby writing included here — pieces from John Steinbeck, William Faulkner and Bill Nack’s marvelous piece on the death of Secretariat.
4. Paper Lion, by George Plimpton. He goes to training camp and tries out as a quarterback for the Detroit Lions. And writes about it excruciatingly well. This one is a classic.
5. Pafko at the Wall, by Don DeLillo. This novella was first published by Harper’s Magazine in 1992, then as a novella in 2001. In between, it was incorporated, with some changes to the origianl, as the Prologue to DeLillo’s novel Underworld, which I’d call one of the five best of my lifetime. It’s a fictionalized account of Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heard Round the World” home run in 1951. It collects all of the prominent personalities that were present and is, despite its brevity, perhaps my favorite piece of sports writing. It’s a true example of the ability of fiction to transcend the limits of real life and actually leave you more enlightened about an event than, possibly, if you’d even been there.
These aren’t your average sports books. They’d probably fall into the category of more “serious” reads. A few Bozich mentioned, or didn’t, with local ties that are worth the time as well (not necessarily published this year) . . .
— “Rebound Rules,” Rick Pitino with Pat Forde: The subject matter is what is so timely here. With so many people in tough economic or job situations, I think this one might have a great deal to say to many people in their current situations, from a coach who certainly is qualified to write the book on battling back from adversity.
— “Sound and Fury,” Dave Kindred: This is a fantastic look at the strange and historic confluence of two titanic personalitites — Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell.
— “The Thin Thirty,” Shannon Ragland: A fascinating book published last year on a somewhat forgotten but dark period of the University of Kentucky football past.
Feel free to add your own favorites to the comments section . . .