I'm still fairly new to reading ESPN's Bill Simmons (and despite his relentless Boston boosterism, I get a kick out of his columns). One reason is that he has some interests beyond the ballfield, quite rare for folks who make a living in sports punditry, and contained within his columns, you'll sometimes find gems like the list of "best sports pieces ever written" that he dropped into his "Mailbag" this week.The list is really terrific, and, as much because I want to remember it as I do share it with you, I decided to try to find links to some of these pieces online (or at least to the books that contain them).Simmons put the list together after a fan asked him whether his recent footnote-adorned column on Manny Ramirez was in tribute to David Foster Wallace. Simmons said no, but that it was a meaningful coincidence. The reader mentioned Wallace's famous "Federer as Religious Experience" as an exemplary piece of sports writing. Simmons agreed, but said that it is in fact superseded by Wallace's "Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm for Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness," (from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again) which Simmons calls "one of the single best sports pieces ever written." He then shares his list of the rest of the best (with the first seven joining "Joyce" as the best ever):"Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" (about Ted Williams) by John Updike"Gone for Good" (about Steve Blass) by Roger Angell (appears in Five Seasons and Once More around the Park)"What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?" by Richard Ben Cramer (also in book form)"Lawdy, Lawdy, He's Great" (about the "Thrilla in Manila") by Mark Kram"The Silent Season of a Hero (about Joe DiMaggio) by Gay Talese (appears in The Gay Talese Reader)"Ego" (about Muhammad Ali) by Norman Mailer (appears in The Best American Sports Writing of the Century)"Pure Heart" by William Nack (appears in My Turf: Horses, Boxers, Blood Money, And The Sporting Life, Secretariat: The Making of a Champion, and The Greatest Horse Stories Ever Told: Thirty Unforgettable Horse Tales."The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved" by Hunter S. Thompson (appears in The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time)"Medora Goes to a Game" by George Plimpton (appears in George Plimpton on Sports)"Agincourt and After" by Roger Angell appears in Five Seasons)"Distance" (about Bob Gibson) by Roger Angell (appears in Once More around the Park and Game Time: A Baseball Companion"Magic Act" (about Magic Johnson) by Charles P. Pierce (appears in Sports Guy: In Search of Corkball, Warroad Hockey, Hooters Golf, Tiger Woods, and the Big, Big Game)"Holy Ground" by Wright Thompson"Centre Court" (about Wimbledon) by John McPhee (appears in Pieces of the Frame)"Raised By Women To Conquer Men" (about Jimmy Connors) by Frank Deford"The Loser" (about Floyd Patterson) by Gay Talese (appears in The Gay Talese Reader)"A Voice Crying In The Wilderness" by Tony Kornheiser (about Rick Barry)Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made by David Halberstam (excerpt)"The Mourning Anchor" (about Bryant Gumbel) by Rick Reilly"Ali and His Entourage" and "As Time Runs Out" (about Jim Valvano) by Garry Smith (both appear in Beyond the Game)So, literary sports fans, do you have any you want to add to this list? Share in the comments below.See Also: The New New Journalists, Football Books: A Best Sports Writing Addendum
I recently reorganized my bookshelves. I straightened and categorized the books, and I separated out all of the books that I haven't read and that I hope to read sooner rather than later. These are books that I've bought at the store, received as gifts, and unearthed on bookfinding expeditions. There are 31 of them. For a while now, I've had a quite large "to read" pile, and I add titles almost every week, it seems. The problem is that stacks of books are constantly getting pushed aside while I read whatever book I'm most excited about at the moment. There's not really anything wrong with this except that there are books that I really would like to read, but never seem to get around to it. So, since I obviously am not to be trusted, I have decided to take some of the decision making out of my hands: I have set aside a special shelf to hold my new "Reading Queue." On it are all of the books that I own and would like to read but haven't yet. From this shelf full of books, I will randomly select the next one to read. Before I get into that though, here's my reading queue, some of the books that will keep me occupied during the coming year:Without Feathers by Woody AllenThe Summer Game by Roger AngellOnce More Around the Park: A Baseball Reader by Roger AngellGame Time: A Baseball Companion by Roger AngellAn Army at Dawn by Rick AtkinsonThe Sheltering Sky by Paul BowlesThe Hole in the Flag by Andrei CodrescuDon Quixote by Miguel De CervantesParis Trout by Pete DexterThe Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre DumasThe Last Amateurs by John FeinsteinA Season on the Brink by John FeinsteinLiving to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia MarquezLast Train to Memphis by Peter GuralnickThe Great Fire by Shirley HazzardRound Rock by Michelle HunevenThe Known World by Edward P. JonesBalkan Ghosts by Robert D. KaplanShah of Shahs by Ryszard KapuscinskiThe Price of Admiralty by John KeeganEverything's Eventual by Stephen KingLiar's Poker by Michael LewisThe Coming of Rain by Richard MariusThe Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullersLooking for a Ship by John McPheeMoviegoer by Walker PercyFraud by David RakoffThe Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat by Oliver SacksEast of Eden by John SteinbeckQuicksilver by Neal StephensonMr. Jefferson's University by Garry WillsOnce I had a full shelf to pick from, the only question was how to pick randomly. I thought about writing down names and picking out of hat, but that seemed like a pain, and I would have had to go look for a hat, so instead I located a random number generator to help me make my choice. I'm going back east tomorrow for two weeks, so I picked three books to take with me: Everything's Eventual, Paris Trout, and Don Quixote. I'm guessing most folks will be pretty busy over the next couple of weeks, and so will I, so I'll probably only post a couple of times while I'm gone. They should be good, though. Look for "My Year in Books" and a post about the books I gave as gifts. Happy Holidays, all.