If you clicked on this link and have not moved on by this point, it’s safe to say you’ll read anything I write. I mean, “Books”??? How boring is that?
The inspiration for this post actually came from the biggest sports news of the week. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck abruptly retired from the NFL. I was reading a story about Luck, and it quoted an NFL executive who said that during the pre-draft process before Luck was chosen as the #1 overall pick, teams interviewing him asked for his favorite hobby. His answer was reading books, and the executive in the story said that was the first and last time in his three decades in the business that a player had given that as his answer.
Books certainly wouldn’t be at the very top of my list of hobbies, but it would be pretty darn close. I’d probably list pickup basketball number one, followed by bridge. The bronze medal would go to watching baseball but books would be a top-five finisher for sure.
Mom says I was constantly wanting books read to me as a child. I seem to have passed that trait onto my own kids, particularly Maddux. As far as reading them myself, the first type I latched onto was the kids’ mystery novels. Like Nancy Drew and such.
By the time I got into junior high, my sports fandom was starting to seep into my book choices. I would go to Southern Oaks library off Walker in South Oklahoma City and head straight for the nonfiction sports section. Once there, I almost exclusively read baseball autobiographies. I still remember factoids from Rickey Henderson’s, Kirby Puckett’s (hasn’t aged as well), Dave Dravecky’s, Orel Hershiser’s and of course Ryne Sandberg’s. In 2019 I now find these to be the lowest form of sports nonfiction, since the athletes themselves do none of the writing and the stories are all whitewashed to make them look infallible. But 13-year-old me didn’t know that and found these books very informative and entertaining. I also have to say that, based on Spike Seals’ recommendation, I read Andre Agassi’s autobiography a few years back and was very impressed. It’s probably the best sports autobiography I’ve ever read despite the fact that he pretends he only did meth three times. Nobody does meth three times. The only three options are never, once, or too many to count. But despite that flaw it’s a great book and one I would definitely recommend.
In college, most of my reading was forced upon me by professors. I still got my Sports Illustrated and went through that every week but that was the extent of my leisure reading. Perhaps because of being flooded with non-fiction books during the school year, I went through a phase during summers in college where I read almost exclusively fiction. This was back when John Grisham was on top of the world, and I gobbled up several of his books until figuring out that they’re all essentially the same. I also read many James Patterson thrillers until figuring out that they’re all essentially the same. In hindsight, that’s probably the reason I’ve mostly stayed away from fiction in the 16 years since then.
Once I moved to Lawton, I got back into the nonfiction universe, but still stuck mostly to sports. My favorite book of that era by far was Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. In Lawton, these were the types of books I gravitated toward. Still in the realm of sports but not autobiographies. I reviewed a few books for the Constitution and enjoyed doing that. I also picked up my poker habit down there and read several poker strategy books, most of which I would now laugh at. I definitely learned a lot from Doyle Brunson’s Super System 2, which somebody bought me. I believe it was my lovely bride-to-be Missy.
In general, I’m opposed to owning books. I can’t explain it any better than Jerry Seinfeld, so I’ll let his bit stand for me on this topic. In the case of Super System it actually helped to have the copy around so I could review the sections each time I tried a new form of poker (like Omaha hi/low). Every form of poker not named Texas hold em was new to me at that time it so actually made sense to keep that one handy.
But other than that, I prefer to just check them out at the library and return them when I’m finished. It’s free and I don’t have a worthless object on my hands that I’ll never read again once I’m finished. I’ve tried reading a few books on Kindle or on my phone but it doesn’t take long before my eyes start hurting. I also just like the feel of a book in my hands better than an electronic device.
Now that we are back in Oklahoma City, I usually go to the very same library I grew up in, Southern Oaks. Sometimes I’ll go to the Pioneer Library, which is equidistant to that from our house but has a smaller selection. My tastes have evolved somewhat over the last several years. Sports books only make up about one-third of my catalog now. The two best ones I’ve recently read in that category are Jane Leavy’s biography of Sandy Koufax and Jay Jaffe’s breakdown of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Usually, however, I gravitate toward history books. Missy makes fun of just about every book I bring home. I’ve recently read about the War of the Roses (in England several centuries ago), the Osage murders in the Tulsa area about 100 years ago, and the United States’ miscommunication with and mishandling of both Native Americans and Mexicans when we were expanding westward.
A new (to me) genre that I’ve been more and more into lately is the memoir. I try to find memoirs not of famous people but of seemingly normal folks. In a sense that’s what I’ve tried to write with this blog, a memoir written in one chapter per week, bouncing all over the place. I’m too intimidated by the thought of putting it all together into one huge thing that actually makes sense, so this is my compromise.
Currently I’m reading a book that combines three things I enjoy: memoirs, history and journalism.
My next book will also be a memoir, and from my all-time favorite author.
Back when I first subscribed to Sports Illustrated as a teenager, Rick Reilly was the king of the sportswriting universe. He got the back page of the magazine every week to write whatever he wanted, and he was brilliant. I loved him (and have read a couple of his fiction books) but I was especially impressed by the wordplay of Steve Rushin. He’s a genius when it comes to puns, plays on words, alliteration, palindromes, and all that jazz.
He’s written several books since leaving the magazine and they are all amazing. After a great fiction book and a couple of nonfiction books he dove into the memoir game with Sting Ray Afternoons. I loved it despite the fact that it covers the 1970s, of which I lived a through a mere 50 days. His follow up to that covers the 80s, which I most definitely lived through. Nights in White Castle just came out and I’m very much looking forward to it.
If you made it to the end of this post, I love you. I’d also love to hear any book recommendations you might have, either through the comments section here or on Facebook. Thanks in advance!