It’s July, but Winnipeg is still in the grip of hockey fever following the announcement that a new NHL team called the Jets will be playing here — a testament to the power these supposedly trivial pursuits can wield. Even those of us who don’t play them can be drawn in by their emotion on the field or on the page.
If you’d like to brush up on your hockey history, The Rebel League by Ed Willes (a former sportswriter for the Winnipeg Sun) is an anecdotal chronicle of the World Hockey Association where the Jets started out. It’s all here: Bobby Hull’s million-dollar contract, colourful hockey franchises, lawsuits, and innovations which would have a widespread effect on pro hockey, like the 18-year-old draft and the talent hunt for European players .
If you’ve ever doubted that sports can have a profound impact on society, I Had a Hammer proves otherwise. Much more than just a collection of baseball memories, this is Hank Aaron’s first-hand account of the prejudice he and his contemporaries who followed Jackie Robinson into major league baseball faced – including death threats when Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record.
Nick Hornby’s memoir Fever Pitch is the definitive portrayal of the otherwise normal guy with a full-blown sports obsession, in this case the English soccer team Arsenal. You’ll remember that the word “fan” is short for fanatic as Hornby asks himself “the only true question there is: Which comes first, Football or Life?”
Team dynamics play a huge role in sports. In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle by Madeleine Blais follows one season in the lives of a high school girls’ basketball team, from tryouts to the state championship. Her in-depth portraits of the players provide insight into how important athletic skill and competition can be for young women.
Non-fiction is not the only choice for sports fans, either. Baseball may have the edge on literary fiction with titles such as Shoeless Joe and The Natural, but Paul Quarrington’s King Leary has a claim to the title of Great Canadian Hockey Novel.
And genre fiction with a sports backdrop is always popular. It Had to Be You and other books in the best-selling Chicago Stars series by Suzan Elizabeth Phillips follow the romantic entanglements of professional football players. Harlan Coben’s engaging Myron Bolitar mystery series (starting with Deal Breaker) features a former basketball player, now star sports agent. In fact, there’s a mystery series for every sport from boxing to horse racing to golf.
Sports books are a sure thing for readers. If you don’t see a title that interests you here, check with the rabid book fans at your local library!