You attend game-watching parties solely for the pizza and beer, feel queasy when colleagues try to recruit you for their after-work ZogSports league, and consider Space Jam and Ben & Jerry the dream team. Well, you’re in the right place.
Below we’ve put together a list of reads that, yes, play with sporty themes, but you don’t have to be the Michael Jordan of sports statistics to fully enjoy them. With inspiring narratives and strong character arcs rife with all the essential drama, this sports reading list will get you excited about the summer outdoors—without keeping score.
Oh, and Space Jam is streaming on Netflix right now, you’re welcome. Play ball. Or whatever.
City Game: Basketball from the Garden to the Playgrounds, by Pete Axthelm
Starting off at Madison Square Garden, where the New York Knicks won the 1969-70 championship, Pete Axthelm traces the basketball journey back to where it truly thrived—the pavement of city courts in Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant. In the crowded playgrounds, Axthelm digs deep into the lives of street ball legends, in particular, the tragic story of Earl “The Goat” Manigault known for his acrobatic moves and pioneer of the “double dunk.”
Solo Faces, by James Salter
The Washington Post described Solo Faces as a “beautifully composed book that will remind readers of Camus and Saint-Exupery.” The novel follows the journey of Gary, a church roofer, who feeling the constraints of life, embarks on a trip to Southern France in order to climb the daring slopes of the Alps. Gary’s search for happiness leads him to not only the adventure of his lifetime, but a meditation on the meaning of life.
Five Strides on the Banked Track, by Frank Deford and Walter Iooss
For outsiders of the culture, Roller Derby immediately conjures up images of strong women with rockabilly sensibilities skating around in a frenzy and not much more. Five Strides on the Banked Track will open up readers to an entire world surrounding this lesser-known sport. From its origin during the Great Depression to the intimate lives of its celebrity players, the book is told in the same electrifying energy that attracts many to this subculture of broads and skates.
Summer Game, by Roger Angell
Acclaimed New Yorker writer Roger Angell’s first book on baseball is inarguably one the most beautifully written sports pieces. Just revel in this opening sentence: “The view from my city window still yields only frozen tundras of trash, but now spring is guaranteed, and one of my favorite urban flowers, the baseball box score, will burgeon and flourish through the warm, languid, information-packed weeks and months just ahead.”
Ghost Runner: The Epic Journey of the Man They Couldn’t Stop, by Bill Jones
This is the remarkable true story of John Tarrant, an impoverished teen from England, who became known in the British sporting world as the “ghost runner” in the 1950s to 70s. Before getting into long-distance running, Tarrant accepted £17 in expense money at a boxing match—the decision leads to a lifetime ban from joining any amateur races by a sporting committee that’s tightly controlled by British aristocracy. Undeterred, Tarrant fights back by gate-crashing races all over the country, and in turn, proves to be one of the greatest long-distance runners the world has ever seen.
His Enemy, His Friend, by John R. Tunis
Sergeant Hans von Kleinschrodt was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor following the demise of the Third Reich. After serving time, he quickly rises to become a star player for the German champion soccer team. His infamous reputation is well publicized in France, and when the team has to play a championship in Rouen, the city where Hans was convicted, they soon find out that the match is one staged for revenge.