Every sports fan knows that in the heart of every sport, there are two things — emotion and spirit. That is why books written that are centered around the life of an athlete or around a sporting team tend to be a rollercoaster that makes you fall in love with the human condition all over again.
For me, books about sports always breed hope. They’re the sort of stories that can make you believe everything is possible, that being human is a kind of a privilege we should cherish, that at the end of the day, no matter how hopeless a situation is — it’s worth the effort to get out of it and see the brighter day.
Seeing as nowadays we are all in need of some hope and motivation, I’ve decided to share with you my recommendations for books about sports that everyone (not just sports fans) should read.
Open by Andre Agassi
I consider Andre Agassi’s autobiography to be one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. It has everything you would ever want from a story: an interesting main character, loads of twists and turns, heartbreaks, triumphs, stupid decisions, and hilarious moments. And when you think that it’s all a real-life story, it becomes that much better.
Before reading this book, I considered myself to be a Pete Sampras fan of the Agassi/Sampras debate. After finishing the last pages of this novel, I had already switched alliances, and I’m never going back. Agassi’s tennis career is an adventure of a lifetime, and Andre himself is a great character — one full of inner conflicts and battles, a person who was able to overcome himself and his issues, time and time again, and above all, a person who owns up to his mistakes, reconsiders them and tries to do better.
“Open” isn’t a story about sport. Or about the life of an athlete. It’s a story about what it feels like to be human and, above all, what it takes to overcome yourself, time after time.
“Remember this. Hold on to this. This is the only perfection there is the perfection of helping others. This is the only thing we can do that has any lasting meaning. This is why we’re here. To make each other feel safe.”
Beartown by Fredrick Backman
Honestly, everything Backman writes makes me feel understood in an incredibly human way. I feel like he is the type of writer that just knows what all of us feel at one point or another in our lives and manages to accurately describe it, in a way that feels so personal, almost like you’re the one talking in his stories.
I consider “Beartown” and the other two books in the trilogy to be his best work. In these novels, we get to see every aspect of our lives through the stories about two small towns, a hockey rivalry, and all that’s in-between. Backman manages to explain how much sports can mean to a community without being cheesy or overdramatic, in a way that’s incredibly true to life and real. Along with that, he explores all the aspects of the human condition— from all the nuances of loving someone to the hardships of overcoming trauma and re-learning how to live.
“The only thing the sport gives us are moments. But what the hell is life, Peter, apart from moments?”
Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
If someone you love is an avid sports fan and you’re in no way capable of understanding them and the crazy love they feel, then this book is a must-read both for them and for you. It will give you an explanation of the kind of love that can only exist between a person and their favorite team/athlete. And if you’re not one of those people already, you will at least be able to get an insight into what it feels like to be a sports fan — through the triumphs and the tough times.
“Fever Pitch” by Nick Hornby felt like an autobiography for me at times because all of the feelings that the main character felt and considered have crossed my mind many times over the last few years, especially as I’ve thought about this unusual love for sports.
“…So please, be tolerant of those who describe a sporting moment as their best ever. We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller, and contains less potential for unexpected delirium.”
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
If you have read anything by Murakami, don’t expect this book to be in any way similar to his other stories. It’s not. However, it gives an incredible insight into the mind of almost every runner and perfectly describes what it takes to be good at the sport, even when you’re not a professional.
In “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running,” Murakami shares his journey with running, from the time he could barely run 5 miles to him running ultramarathon and competing in tough terrains. It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to start running and who finds it draining and difficult at the start. For me, reading this book inspired me to go on my personal running journey and to start appreciating this form of exercise more than ever before.
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running, and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself.”
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
What do you think about when I say Nike? I think about winning, “Just Do It”, Michael flying through the air, that incredible Colin Kaepernick commercial, the shoes I wanted as a kid. Nike is a symbol of modern sport — I don’t know one athlete that didn’t want to be sponsored by them as a kid. And behind Nike stands one man — Phil Knight.
This is his memoir. A book about finding your calling, sticking to your beliefs, and fighting through ups and down. And, of course, a book about winning. I recommend that everyone reads this story, regardless of whether you care about sports, Nike, or Phil Knight.
“I’d tell men and women in their mid-twenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear; the disappointments will be fuel, and the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.”