The best novels about sports (but not really about sports)

Fred Venturini Author Of The Escape of Light
By Fred Venturini

The Books I Picked & Why

All the Castles Burned

By Michael Nye

All the Castles Burned

Why this book?

This criminally overlooked gem of a novel follows Owen Webb, a troubled young man with trouble at home. And the boy he befriends (or more accurately befriends him). Even more trouble. Basketball is Owen's obsession and outlet, and while it simmers in the background of this novel, it's one of the most accurate and lovingly depicted hoops books you'll ever read.


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Stephen Florida

By Gabe Habash

Stephen Florida

Why this book?

This first-person tale of a North Dakota wrestler chasing glory in his senior season isn't what you think it is as you spend a couple of hundred pages in the mind of a kid who is obsessive, hilarious, and above all, lonely. I know jack about wrestling but the sports sequences are engrossing because it's less about what's happening and more about Stephen's reaction to what's happening. Also criminally underrated.


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Infinite Jest

By David Foster Wallace

Infinite Jest

Why this book?

DFW turned tennis into math and art throughout his essays and this, his magnum opus, a massive and funny and challenging novel that everyone says they've read, but didn't really. Not underrated, not overlooked, but a sure-to-be timeless work where philosophy, comedy, and literary genius intersect at a tennis academy. 


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You Will Know Me

By Megan Abbott

You Will Know Me

Why this book?

I know less about gymnastics (which is apparently very hard and very cutthroat) than I do about wrestling, but this rollicking bestseller, destined at some point to be a buzzy streaming series, has it all: mean girls, murder, dreams dashed, and gutting emotional twists and turns, and maybe some backflips for good measure. 


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The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance

By W. Timothy Gallwey

The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance

Why this book?

This "coaching" book is a quick read, but it's secretly the key to self-confidence and high performance across almost all high-pressure sports and disciplines. I have played tennis exactly zero times in my life, but I've read this book multiple times and continue to recommend it as it teaches you how to let go and perform at your best no matter what court or stage you're standing on. 


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