two teams they played for—Washington
and Strode for the L.A. Rams, Motley and
Willis for the Cleveland Browns)—noting
that, like Robinson, the four endured death
threats and other forms of racism throughout their careers. Atwood attempts to place
her account of the integration of professional
football into the larger context of civil rights
in the 1940s, and while this approach makes
sense, the broader focus leads her in too
many directions (housing covenants, legal
battles, the role of civil-right activist Pauli
Murray), somewhat diluting the main story
line. Still, there is plenty of valuable material here about the early days of professional
football and the game’s role in fostering integration. —Mark Levine
YA/C: Solid curriculum support for high-school classes on civil rights. ML.
Lucky Bastard: My Life, My Dad, and the
Things I’m Not Allowed to Say on TV.
By Joe Buck.
Nov. 2016. 304p. illus. Dutton, $28 (9781101984567).
Joe Buck broadcast his first major-league
game when he was 20 years old. In a little
more than five years, he had become the
lead announcer on Fox broadcasts of both
big-league baseball and NFL football. He’s
a capable, pleasant voice in the broadcast
booth whose personality never outshines the
game he’s describing. This autobiography
is much the same, with one exception: in
print, he unleashes his inner stand-up comic,
sprinkling the text with surprisingly funny
and often self-deprecating wit. He also discusses his father, the late Jack Buck, who is in
the broadcast wing of both the baseball and
football Halls of Fame, and acknowledges
Dad’s help in getting him started. Naturally,
there is a lot of behind-the-scenes broadcast
trivia here, as well as wonderful anecdotes
about star players and big games. Buck is
well known, and this is very pleasant autobiography that will generate considerable
interest among those who watch MLB and
the NFL on TV. — Wes Lukowsky
The Murder of Sonny Liston: Las Vegas,
Heroin & Heavyweights.
By Shaun Assael.
Oct. 2016. 320p. Penguin/Blue Rider, $27
Assael, an ESPN reporter, isn’t the first
to raise the specter of foul play in the mysterious 1970 death of former heavyweight
boxing champion Sonny Liston; nor is he
the first to explore the seamy, Mob-driven
underside of Las Vegas in which Liston circulated. Nick Tosches did both of those things
in his celebrated The Devil and Sonny Liston
(2000), but Assael is the first to assert unambiguously that Liston was murdered. He
shows us Liston (when he was still ostensibly a boxer) accompanying the son of heroin
dealer Robert Chudnick (better known as
jazz trumpeter Red Rodney ) on a collection
call. He discourses authoritatively on Vegas
It was a very good year for sports fiction—and a very diverse one, too, encompassing a quintessential guy novel about a fishing contest, a Faulknerian epic about horse racing, and the noirish
coming-of-age of a teen gymnast. The titles below were reviewed
between September 1, 2015, and August 2016. —Bill Ott
The Annual Big Arsenic Fishing Contest. By John Nichols. 2016.
Univ. of New Mexico, $24.95 (9780826357205).
Yes, it’s a book about fishing, but it’s really about three writers
who gather each year to bond over books and trout. A delightfully
digressive tale of camaraderie, nature, and aging machismo.
Bucky F*cking Dent. By David Duchovny. 2016. Farrar, $26
Actor Duchovny’s debut novel is a charming, fable-like tale, set
in 1978, about a peanut vendor at Yankee Stadium and his dying
father, a passionate Red Sox fan. An appealing mix of baseball,
humor, and lovable losers.
Champion of the World. By Chad Dundas. 2016. Putnam, $27
In this debut novel set in the world of early twentieth-century
professional wrestling, Dundas tells the rambunctious tale of a
disgraced, former lightweight champion of the world attempting to
finagle his way back to the big time.
Chicago. By Brian Doyle. 2016. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, $25.96
A young college graduate moves to Chicago and explores the city,
bonding with others in his neighborhood over the White Sox as they
drive toward a pennant. An entertaining coming-of-age tale wrapped in a love letter to
Don’t Tell Me You’re Afraid. By Giuseppe Catozella. Tr. by Anne Milano Appel. 2016. Penguin, $27 (9781594206412).
Based on a true story, this gripping first-person narrative tells how, in the face of poverty and repression, a young Somali woman follows her dream of becoming an Olympic
Home Field. By Hannah Gersen. 2016. Morrow, $14.95 (9780062413741).
An acclaimed high-school football coach deals with his wife’s suicide in this powerful
story of one man’s effort to find a new kind of strength—the emotional depth to support
his grieving children.
Legend of Jesse Smoke. By Robert Bausch. 2016. Bloomsbury, $26 (9781632863973).
A female quarterback in the NFL? Around this surprising premise, Bausch spins a tale
probing the way America’s most popular and most violent sport defines—but could dramatically change—gender attitudes.
The Sport of Kings. By C. E. Morgan. 2016. Farrar, $27 (9780374281083).
Don’t give this sprawling, multigenerational Faulknerian epic about a Kentucky horse-racing family to just any punter—it’s long and dense, but it’s also audacious, intelligent,
and undeniably powerful.
The Throwback Special. By Chris Bachelder. 2016. Norton, $25.95 (9780393249460).
This is a book about men, 22 of them, who gather every year to reenact the grotesque
football injury suffered when Redskins’ quarterback Joe Theismann was tackled by Giants’
linebacker Lawrence Taylor. An unlikely premise produces a surprisingly enjoyable, even
You Will Know Me. By Megan Abbott. 2016. Little, Brown, $26 (9780316231084).
This dazzling story of a gymnastics prodigy dissects the dark, beating heart behind a
teen’s coming-of-age. Vivid, troubling, and powerful—and Abbott totally sticks the landing.
TOP 10 SPORTS FICTION