I call Christmas a time of perspective. It's a great opportunity to step back and evaluate what's good in life. What does this have to do with sports and reading? I know nobody comes to Jockbrarian for a sermon, but they may come looking for a book that helps them gain perspective. While emotion may come from a sporting contest itself, there is a distinct kinship to the human experience that comes from watching high profile sports figures deal with adversity--especially when they do so with the beautiful grace in which they perform their craft. I guess I would like to offer you three newer titles that might make for thoughtful reading over the holiday break--or even make a nice last minute gift for someone who values introspective books.
Kelly Tough: Live Courageously Through Faith by Erin Kelly
Kelly Tough is a story of love and hope: a love between a father and a daughter—Buffalo Bill’s former quarterback, Jim Kelly, and his oldest daughter Erin. Erin shares a deeply personal account of the love a family can have for each other during the darkest times. Indeed, if ever there was a story of faith, hope, and love, this story would be it. Away from football, Kelly's life is a tale that will literally rip your heart out. I was on a vacation in Florida when Jim Kelly was being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. No amount of sunshine and beach could keep me from watching the emotional weekend unfold for him. It's a story I never really knew, but am a better man because I know it.
Every Day I Fight by Stuart Scott
If you want an honest look about what it is like to fight cancer, this book doesn't hold back. Scott, a former commentator for ESPN tells about his harrowing journey through the disease that eventually claims his life. Though he struggles through painful chemotherapy and surgeries, he maintains the focus to workout and fight for each day. His battle is motivated by his children and the desire to show them what courage determination look like. One of the best books of the year, without a doubt.
Running for My Life by Lopez Lomong
Lopez Lomong chronicles his inspiring ascent from a barefoot lost boy of the Sudanese Civil War to a Nike sponsored athlete on the US Olympic Team. As a child, staying alive seemed a hopeless cause for Lomong as he was ripped from his family to become a refugee boy soldier. Through faith and some incredible good fortune, he manages to escape and eventually end up with an American family, where his running talent is discovered. The first part of this book describing his time in the refugee camp are emotional, but there are bits of humor as he spends time adapting to the American culture. Despite his past, Lomong is inspiring to watch as a performer, and more inspiring as he takes on his mission to give back and help other refugee children.
I hope you have a very Happy Holiday! And remember, you are only as impressive to your inlaws as the book you are currently reading--so talk smart and carry a big book!!
It's tough to see such a class act ride off into the sunset. Pick up the book Bo Ryan: Another Hill To Climb and celebrate the career of a coach who did things the "right" way and earned every break he got. He is one of the best role models for players, coaches, fathers, and sons. Here's to you, Bo.
"To get to where I am today, it did seem like I was running uphill, at times, because of the route that I took. But life is like a road race: straight-aways, turns, climbs, and descents. In all cases, though, I knew that I wanted to teach and coach. It didn't necessarily have to be at this level, but that's how it has worked out, and I'm very fortunate." Bo Ryan from Another Hill to Climb
Being a father is my life. It basically consumes every drop of my existence, and has for the past 17 years. If you have kids, you know what I am talking about. If your kids are involved in sports or other activities, you are eternally caught in a constant merry-go-round of try-outs, practices, games, tournaments, etc. Meals are on the fly, conversations take place in minivans, and weekends are fueled by popcorn, soda, and whatever baked goods the concession stand is peddling. You celebrate the good plays, provide some gentle guidance at opportune times, and spend most time lending a comforting voice and shoulder to disappointment.
There have been a couple titles that have come out lately that explore this beautifully difficult time in life.
Benchwarmer: A Sports-Obsessed Memoir of Fatherhood by Josh Wilker is sort of an encyclopedia of sports failure that explores how hard fathers can be on themselves in the context of raising a kid. It's not really a matter of being negative--I would say it is a matter of being realistic about the job of fatherhood. Many new parents succumb to the struggle of the role; we are our toughest critic. Wilker tries to convey that there is hope in failure. There is courage, greatness, and resolve to be found in sports figures who have not succeeded. It's a great metaphor for a parent of kids in sports. The reality is that success is limited to a select number, and the rest are left to fend for finding positive motivation from the losses. Those who figure it out tend to make it to the other side and find themselves successful fathers.
Escape Points by Michele Weldon is a unique story about a single mom who spars with cancer, divorce, and her career, along with the task of raising her sons. The sports connection comes in the form of her sons' high school wrestling careers, which she uses as a sort of lens to tell the story. As a coach, I witness all types of parents and family situations. On a typical team, very few family dynamics are similar, and everyone seems to bring a unique personal struggle to the table. What attracts me to Weldon's story is how she fights and sacrifices for her kids. Through modeling her own bravery as a mom and parent, she is able to lead by example, and show her children that tough situations can be overcome with humility, perseverance, and a little kindness along the way.
Soccer Dad: A father, a son, and a magical season by W.D. Wetherell is a different kind of story that takes place almost at the end of the ride. In the book, Wetherell explores his son's fantastic prep soccer career, and begins to lament moving into the empty-nester phase of life. While in one hand living the dream of his son's soccer success, he ponders what it will be like when the games are over. There's a distinct beauty to the seasons in sports, and a certain drowning of the senses where environment and sport collide. As I enter this phase, I connect with Witherell and his hope that he has raised his son well as he heads off to college, and I begin feeling wistful when driving past the empty fields or gyms where life took on such a great meaning.
I highlighted these books for the holidays because they might really fit the need for a particular someone you know. And at a time like the holidays, when the expectation is "happy family," you may know a parent who is struggling with that role and needs to know that there is hope.
Or--maybe it's just something to keep them occupied the next time they are at an all day youth club wrestling tournament!!
Some kids would cry at the thought of getting a book under the tree. Not with these books! I can tell you from personal experience having a son that I(Santa) have given him these books for the past many years and they have been amazing. While the matchbox track sits in pieces in the closet, the remote control car is a shade of itself, and some of the other "must have" toys are now occupying shelf space at the local Goodwill store, these books have stood the test of time. Vacation car rides, school projects, friend sleep -overs, quiet time in the room--all have been in the company of these books.
I don't work for Sports Illustrated. Old St Nick has never granted that wish. I must say, though, that the kids books they produce are magnificent! All of the SI Kids books are hard cover and very durable. The photography, as you can imagine, is spectacular, and even if your child doesn't read, they would love the book. The text is very accessible, and SI has found a real winner in the "Top 10" format it utilizes. They also do a "Greatest" series for the major sports, and a very fun "Book of Who and Why" series. It's also a great way to introduce them to the history of sports and some of the greats and pioneers of the game.
I would recommend these books to any kid 3 to 99, but mostly for the elementary and tweeners! These books have been laying out at my house and I have had to drag MY friends away from them sometimes! So, if you don't want to see another expensive gift like the Wii die a lonely death in your basement, get some of these books. They will be the gift that keep on giving!
Here's what I suggest. Click on cover for more details.
I will admit I am not a hunter. I did spend a few years teaching in northern Wisconsin though, where I was immersed in the culture of hunting. I've run corn out to bait piles, shot guns, dipped a few poles in the water, and wrecked 2 cars hitting deer--so I'm not completely unqualified to speak. I once dragged a deer 1 mile out of the Chequamegon Forest on a dark November night to collect a buck that I was "convinced" to buy an illegal tag for. My boss, who did the "convincing," stood with me as we prepped the deer for dragging. When I commented how desolate and creepy it was this far out in the forest, he responded by saying, "I know. I could shoot you right now and nobody would ever find you."
Hunters/fishers are usually crazy to the point of being obsessive about their sport. Hunting/fishing books are make fantastic gifts for these true fans. In a sport built upon memories, tall tales, and love of nature, there is much passion. And when there is passion, there is a desire to read. I've had the toughest guys in high school who want nothing to do with books take home one of these and come back with a change of heart! Anyways, I've collected a few ideas for you that might make great gifts. I have tried to include some fishing and hunting, and a little of the funny and the meditative. I would say that anyone old enough to hunt is old enough to appreciate one of these titles.
If I were to really push 2 titles, it would be:
Blaze Orange: Whitetail Deer Hunting in Wisconsin by Travis Dewitz
A Hard-Water World: Ice Fishing and Why We Do It by Greg Breining
Both books are put out by local presses, and both really do a nice job of providing a visual and textual representation of the hunting/fishing experience. I could picture both becoming fixtures on a coffee table where anyone could grab it and enjoy. Hope this helps!
Gifting is tough, people are fickle, I get it. Historically, I've been a good draw for an in-law gift exchange. People want to pull my name out of a hat more than they want the 1st pick in their fantasy football draft. My extended family knows me very well on a vague basis, and has pegged my trademark personality quirks that take the worry out of any gifting. I get books because I read, I get running stuff because I run, and I get coffee because that's what I'm always drinking. Simple. Best yet, all these things can be accomplished via gift card! So while others putz with fancy bows, curious boxes, and handsome wrapping paper, I usually get the envelope with a Starbucks or Barnes and Noble gift card. On a good year, it may come cleverly wrapped in a pair of running socks or an "I Love Coffee" mug.
I want to save you from the same fate by looking at some good books to buy for that sports lover on your list. Sure, you can get a gift card, but why not invest in a real book! Nothing says "I actually know who you are" than gifting a hand selected book that in some way speaks to someone's personal interests and hobbies. In the next few weeks leading up to Christmas I will post some ideas of sports books, old and new, that you may want to consider when shopping for that "special" someone! I will try to select books that can span age groups and interests. I will offer some specific titles for various sports if you know your person extremely well or perhaps have serious fences to mend. As always, if you have a specific gift question, please feel free to ask me, and I will round up a few suggestions for you!
To get the ball rolling, I will start with what I got last year--for myself, that is. Usually I am able to(conveniently) order most of the stuff I like to read through the library, but everyone knows that Santa still likes to bring some goodies for under the tree! Here's what the elves scripted for me:
By the way-I was getting many requests for where to purchase, so I have now linked the covers up to Amazon in case you want to buy or read more about the book.
Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World's Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself
For some silly reason I'm interested in stories about middle aged men looking to reinvent their lives! I wonder why?
Jeremy Lin: The Reason for the Linsanity
I know Linsanity is a little dated, by I love this guy. He's a quality character and built his dream on faith and hard work. How the stars aligned for his rise to the NBA is a remarkable story. Great book for a high school kid as well.
Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association
I grew up with the ABA! I used to have a tent with all the teams on it, with those crazy names and fun logos. I wish I hadn't used it as a bed for our German Shepard when I was older. This book has all the great memories from this wild hoops league that produced legends like Dr J. A fun trip down memory lane.
Men of Granite
I am a sucker for small town basketball stories that feature a collection of misfit kids that produce a magical season. Towns unite, kids overachieve, and everyone is in a perfect world for a brief slice of time.
Who knows what will be on Jockbrarian's list this year! Only Santa, and he already has the letter!