Many of you have asked for a reading list to prepare for the upcoming presentations and panel discussions, so we’ve put together some recommendations from this year’s planning committee, as well as a sample book from each author that “fits” with this year’s topic.
So Many Olympic Exertions by Anelise Chen
Anelise Chen’s first book is a slender meditation on sports and existentialism that manages to be darkly funny, profound, and gracefully written. It’s a blend of memoir and fiction, but any writing—especially writing dependent on memory—is a work of fiction, which is perhaps the purest form to fully realize the horrors and humor of being alive now. Chen’s remarkable novel does just that.
—Michael Nelson, Manager of the Key West Public Library / 2020 KWLS Planning Committe
The Circuit: A Tennis Odyssey by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Acclaimed poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips tracks the 2017 men’s tennis tour while meditating on the game’s intersections with the life of the mind. Who else would quote 17th-century metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell to describe the ball skipping across Wimbledon’s grass courts as a “green thought in a green shade”—and who but Phillips would summon Wallace Stevens to tell us that “the Australian Open has long been like an idea of order: arranging, deepening, enchanting from the other side of the world.” The Circuit shows the sublime potential of sportswriting.
—Arlo Haskell, KWLS Executive Director
Double Fault by Lionel Shriver
From the first paragraph, Shriver shows that she aspires to the company of Hemingway’s bullfighting series, Mark Harris’s baseball novels, or John Irving’s wrestling scenes, and that she understands style separates them from the also-rans. [In the book,] Shriver shows in a masterstroke why character is fate and how sport reveals it.
—Michael Mewshaw, 2020 KWLS Presenter / Planning Committee
The Big Fella by Jane Leavy
Simply the best sports biography I have ever read … convincingly makes the case that Ruth put down the template for modern celebrity … If you want to understand the Kardashians and their effect on our culture, you have to understand Babe Ruth.
Other Books of Note
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Daniel James Brown
Drawing on the boys’ own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement, and a chronicle of one extraordinary young man’s personal quest.
Friday Night Lights
New York Times bestseller about the impact of high school football on small-town life.
A thriller about high school girls cheerleading that gives a harrowing glimpse into the dark heart of the All-American girl.
Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football
John Urschel and Louisa Thomas
Urschel, mathematician and former offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, tells the story of a life balanced between two passions.
This powerful collection of poems speaks to the way personal experience is shaped by culture, while culture is forever affected by the personal. With poem titles such as “Dodgeball,” “Bleachers,” and “Warm Up,” you’re sure to find a sports connection and much more.
One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Together
Called “the perfect parable of our time” by the Wall Street Journal, Bass’s book tells the inspiring story of the soccer team in a town bristling with racial tension that united Somali refugees and multi-generation Mainers in their quest for state—and ultimately national—glory.
Ballpark: Baseball in the American City
An exhilarating, splendidly illustrated, entirely new look at the history of baseball: told through the stories of the vibrant and ever-changing ballparks where the game was and is staged, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic.
A collection of autobiographical sketches that explore the worlds of competitive and recreational swimming.
Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author brings the great baseball player brilliantly back to life in what Sports Illustrated called “the year’s best bio” in 2006.
Short Circuit: Six Months on the Men’s Professional Tennis Tour
The author calls on his experience as an investigative journalist to reveal a troubling pattern of corruption, match-fixing, and under-the-table payments in this account, which was called “one of the best books ever written about tennis and the most timely” by the New York Times.
Joyce Carol Oates
A classic collection of essays on boxing which shows a vivid and realistic picture of the most controversial sport on earth.
Jackie Robinson: A Biography
The extraordinary life of Jackie Robinson is illuminated as never before in this full-scale biography by Rampersad, who was chosen by Jack’s widow, Rachel, to tell her husband’s story, and was given unprecedented access to his private papers.
The Cactus League
Forthcoming in February 2020, an explosive, character-driven odyssey through the world of baseball from the editor of the Paris Review.
Forthcoming in February 2020, a dystopian novel and about baseball, family, and the future.
Additional Online Reading
“Tennis Lessons: The meaning of the game” by Geoff Dyer, Harper’s Magazine, September 2016
“Play up! Play up!” in the Guardian, July 9, 2010 — Leading poets celebrate sport from school playing fields to international stadiums, including “Night Golf” by Billy Collins
Ben McGrath‘s stories in the New Yorker
Kate Tuttle‘s portfolio
Our website has more information about this year’s confirmed speakers. Click on the author’s photo and you’ll be taken to a page devoted solely to that author, with biographical information, selected reading lists, and links to videos and other online resources. This is an essential destination if you want to learn more about the 2020 presenters.