In 2014 I was set the challenge of reading 100 books – fiction, non-fiction didn’t matter, as long as I finished the equivalent of at least 2 a week. It was inevitable that a number of these would be sport books in some way. In fact on review there were surprisingly only 13 I would place in the ‘sports’ category (I have become somewhat of an aficionado of the very short novel!). 6 of these are unsurprisingly about cycling, and 1 by Alex Rotas I have reviewed here previously:
- Left for Dead: 30 Years On – The Race is Finally Over – Nick Ward & Sinead O’Brien
- Yachtmaster: Advanced navigation theory, safety and seamanship
- Project Rainbow: How British Cycling reached the top of the world – Rod Ellingworth
- Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong – David Walsh
- Growing Old Competitively – Alex Rotas
- Mud, Sweat & Gears – Ellie Bennett
- Bikenomics: How bicycling can save the economy – Elly Blue
- Mindset – Dr Carol S. Dweck
- Saddled at Sea – Josie Dew
- The Breakaway – Nicole Cooke
- Sport for Development: What Game are we Playing – Fred Coalter
- Desert Snow: one girl’s take on Africa by bike – Helen Lloyd
- Touching the Void – Joe Simpson
However while possibly small in number, these did include some of my more notable reads of the year. Certainly Nicole Cooke’s autobiography, documenting her struggles (and amazing triumphs) as a woman cyclist and position as an ‘outsider’ made me the angriest of any book in 2015. More angry, in the context of understanding the lengths, energy and resources that went in to not dealing with Armstrong’s, Seven Deadly Sins, so frustratingly recounted by David Walsh. Left for Dead was the most inspiring tale of survival over the apparently impossible I encountered in either fact or fiction, and that’s saying something when you also finally get round to reading Touching the Void. Mindset is great for personal inspiration, and my most purchased book of the year as at least 3 additional copies were bought for others who ‘had to read it’ – as my colleague Nicola has already recounted on this blog, you can do it, if you have a growth approach.
Sports books though are a very particular style and category of book, something recognised with their own annual awards, sponsored by William Hill. This covers biography/ autobiography and other non-fiction about sport. There is obviously a whole other genre of the ‘instructional’ sport book (I included only the one I read cover to cover, not the many more that I dipped into) and there is an increasing convergence of the instructional and psychology/ self-help genre.
Sports autobiography in particular, let’s be honest though are not often the most literary of works, in fact sometimes that autobiography (ghost written no doubt) documenting the rise, possible fall, potential re-rise of your favourite sporting idol can be almost painful to read. Yet still I, and many others spend hours reading such books. Because they give us an insight into the joy and the pain of the professional athlete, an indication of what makes them tick, the obstacles they overcame and let’s be honest some gossip hopefully that we didn’t know. And even though most of us will never compete at an elite level they give us inspiration and hope that we can all achieve great things, whatever the level or field we take part on.
So I’ll certainly be reading, and intending on reviewing more sports books in 2015, so perhaps you fancy it too? The longlist for the 2014 Sports Book of the Year below may provide some helpful starters. It may well also provide food for future analysis – 6 of 15 are about football (men’s variety) and only 3 are written by women, that’s not so different from the rest of the sporting world then!
- Former Wales and British Lions captainGareth Thomas‘ autobiography Proud
- Autobiography from Mike Tyson,Undisputed Truth.
- Cyclist Nicole Cooke‘s The Breakaway;
- Endurance athlete Kilian Jornet‘s Run or Die;
- Alone, Bill Jones‘ biography of game-changing figure skater John Curry.
- Floodlights and Touchlines– Rob Steen‘s history of spectator sports
- Anna Krien‘s exposé of the rape trial of an Aussie Rules footballer,Night Games (Winner)
- Simon Inglis‘ Played in London, which looks at the capital’s love affair with sport throughout the ages;
- LoveGame, Elizabeth Wilson‘s history of the rise of tennis’ popularity;
- An American Caddie in St. Andrews,Oliver Horovitz‘s comic confessions from life on and off the fairways of Scotland’s famous course.
- Bobby Moore: The Man in Full,Matt Dickinson
- In Search of Duncan Ferguson: The Life and Crimes of a Footballing Enigma, byAlan Pattullo
- The Three Degrees:The Men Who Changed British Football Forever, Paul Rees
- Stuck in a Moment: The Ballad of Paul Vaessen, Stewart Taylor
- The Incredible Adventures of the Unstoppable Keeper, Lutz Pfannenstiel