What does the NCAA National Basketball Tournament mean to the world of literature? I’ve been wondering about this today as I finish up filling out my brackets.
Do I watch basketball? Only during this particular tournament and when the Cavaliers were in the NBA championship series.
Do you care?
I don’t know. Do you?
But, since I care a little bit and I think there are other readers who may also, I thought I’d go there today.
In what ways are basketball and literature connected?
One of the very first authors I met during my foray into bookselling was Kareem Abdul Jabar. He was hawking his book at the NCIBA conference in Oakland a few years ago and my business partner and I got our photos taken with him. He was so tall and so skinny, and his fingers were as long as my forearm. Quiet, soft-spoken, older than I thought he was, he’s incredibly thoughtful, highly intelligent, and observant and penned Writings On the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White, a contemplative book on how he believes gender inequality, racism, and other societal ills can be changed for the betterment of all citizens.
But what about basketball novels? I read through an article on The Millions about the plethora of novels centered around baseball and football (even hockey) but very few to be found on the topic of basketball.
Why is that?
The author of the article suggests: “big literary sports novels are typically about a character looking back at former greatness and lost innocence — either personally or culturally, or both...And this type of literary sentimentality, in turn, pervades the cultures of football and baseball, which are forever backward-looking, enshrining and nostalgizing moments, sometimes as they still happen.” The author also says, “There aren’t really similarly fetishized moments in basketball.” He presumes the fluid play doesn’t invite nostalgia and retrospection and even goes so far as to say that basketball is unsentimental about its history (which apparently enrages some of the former greats).
Well, whether or not I agree with any of what the author says as to why there’s a lack of basketball-related novels is slightly irrelevant I guess because he lays out the fact of the matter and that is: there aren’t a lot of novels written around basketball. Hmmm…methinks there’s a market somewhere in there for would- be basketball novelists (just sayin’).
So, novels? Basketball? Basketball novels? Here are a few recommendations from others…
Rabbit, Run by John Updike – A mildly basketbally book. Rabbit Angstrom was a star basketball player in high school so a thread of basketball sort of runs throughout the novel. This is the first in a series of books about the same character (Rabbit).
Under the Frog: A Novel by Tibor Fischer – Covers a period of Hungarian history from the end of World War II up until the 1956 revolution as told by a group of basketball players. “Ferociously funny, bitterly sad, and perfectly paced.” ―A.S. Byatt
The Crossover, Rebound, and Booked series by Kwame Alexander – The Crossover won a bunch of awards including a Newbery Medal. All three involve stories of family, brotherhood, and basketball. These are YA novels but have received praise from kids and adults alike.
Justin (#1 in Blacktop series) by LJ Alonge – Another YA series about basketball and teenage life.
Inside Moves by Todd Walton – Oldie but goodie. Published back in 1978 to wide acclaim.
White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty – A black surfer boy from Santa Monica must relocate with his mom to urban L.A. where he transforms into a basketball superstar. There’s much more to the story than just this, but basketball plays a pretty viable theme.
Other Basketball Literature…
Is your mind venturing to the classic, The Basketball Diaries? If so, then yes, The Basketball Diaries is a little bit about basketball but it’s mainly the memoir of poet/punk rocker Jim Carroll who grew up on the streets of New York in the 1960s and was a star basketball player but eventually became so addicted to heroin that he couldn’t play basketball anymore. The story is more about his addiction and youth than about basketball. Good memoir, though if you have a hankering for such a topic.
Of course, there is a slew of excellent histories, biographies, etc. on basketball players. You just need to do a quick search to find what you’re looking for there.
But, yep, it’s basketball time. And because my dad brought me up to play and watch a lot of ball sports (football, baseball, basketball) I’ll be one of those silly fools you’ll see hollering at and cheering on young college athletes later this month.
And as of today, I am still unsure who I have winning the thing. Duke? They’re all saying Duke is unstoppable. That said, I probably won’t be selecting Duke to win.;)