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

Fred Venturini Author Of The Escape of Light
By Fred Venturini

Who am I?

As the author of a novel where basketball plays a huge role in the main character's life, I've come to delight in and respect when an author can expertly take what is surely a passion in their own lives and turn it into a colorful and important background for the characters they've created.


I wrote...

The Escape of Light

By Fred Venturini,

Book cover of The Escape of Light

What is my book about?

Teenage burn survivor Wilder Tate begins high school ashamed of his disfigurement. He finds an outlet tapping into his one-dimensional basketball talent as a shutdown defender and courts his cheerleader dream girl, only to endure heartbreak and setbacks that drive him to have a tissue-expander operation to rid himself of his scar tissue for good, but at what price?

The operation costs him his basketball career and puts a wedge between him and his best friend, his mother, and his classmates. The only girl who understands him is Lane Makansi, an ostracized and bullied cutter who sees the truth of Wilder's self-loathing. Their unlikely friendship begins to salve their deep internal wounds until tragedy strikes - and Lane is the culprit.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

All the Castles Burned

By Michael Nye,

Book cover of 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.

Stephen Florida

By Gabe Habash,

Book cover of 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.

Infinite Jest

By David Foster Wallace,

Book cover of 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. 


You Will Know Me

By Megan Abbott,

Book cover of 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. 


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

By W. Timothy Gallwey,

Book cover of 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. 


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in tennis, gymnastics, and New York City?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about tennis, gymnastics, and New York City.

Tennis Explore 19 books about tennis
Gymnastics Explore 3 books about gymnastics
New York City Explore 528 books about New York City

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Rhyme & Rhythm: Poems for Student Athletes, Extraordinary Golf: The Art of the Possible, and String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis: A Library of America Special Publication if you like this list.