Soccer season is officially here, and as fans know, there’s more to the sport than those ever GIF-able goals, players’ celebratory dances, stunning footwork, or the World Cup. Gwendolyn Oxenham’s Under the Lights and in the Dark and Sebastian Abbot’s The Away Game consider the “ethics and effectiveness” of how young soccer players are selected or discarded on the path toward professional careers, and how these experiences often differ between women’s and men’s teams. (Women’s soccer teams also must contend with pay inequity and, as a new lawsuit filed by the U.S. women’s national team claims, “institutionalized gender discrimination.”) Outside the game, Simon Doonan—the creative ambassador-at-large for Barneys—explores the sport’s deep ties with the fashion industry in Soccer Style.
In the world of professional baseball, which is in the midst of spring training, the pressure is on for the player atop the mound. The former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel brings you with him as he relives the one wild pitch that forever changed his life in The Phenomenon. But what is the perfect pitch? Terry McDermott’s Off Speed looks to the Seattle Mariners pitcher Félix Hernández’s perfect game, on August 15, 2012, for clues.
According to Rowan Ricardo Phillips’s The Circuit, the 2017 tennis season was one of unmet expectations. By mining the small, forgotten moments, Phillips reframes “yet another season defined by the Federer-Nadal rivalry through the health setbacks of their strongest challengers,” as Andrew Lawrence writes.
Unlike team sports, marathon running requires the mental and physical work of just one individual. In the memoir The Long Run, Catriona Menzies-Pike writes about how she turned to running after experiencing a tremendous loss, and pairs her reflections with historical and cultural analysis of women’s running as a sport.
Each week in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas, and ask you for recommendations of what our list left out.
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What We’re Reading
How not to scout for soccer talent
“Soccer is a place of possibility, where even those born into the most difficult of circumstances can become global icons, celebrated for playing a game that explodes with joy and creativity. Yet the men’s side of professional soccer has given rise to a merciless process of talent identification and development that operates on a global scale.”
📚 UNDER THE LIGHTS AND IN THE DARK: UNTOLD STORIES OF WOMEN’S SOCCER, by Gwendolyn Oxenham
📚 THE AWAY GAME: THE EPIC SEARCH FOR SOCCER’S NEXT SUPERSTARS, by Sebastian Abbot
Running through the pain
“In the midst of emotional pain that feels overwhelming, there’s something powerful about feeling physical pain instead—the kind that can be managed and identified and remedied.”
📚 THE LONG RUN: A MEMOIR OF LOSS AND LIFE IN MOTION, by Catriona Menzies-Pike
📚 WHAT I TALK ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT RUNNING, by Haruki Murakami
The secret life of pitchers
“A pitcher throwing to a batter is the most elemental event in baseball: Nothing can happen until the pitcher releases the ball. All the fielders, all the base runners—they’re just bystanders like the rest of us.”
📚 THE PHENOMENON: PRESSURE, THE YIPS, AND THE PITCH THAT CHANGED MY LIFE, by Rick Ankiel and Tim Brown
📚 OFF SPEED: BASEBALL, PITCHING & THE ART OF DECEPTION, by Terry McDermott
Honoring an underrated sport
“The Circuit is a welcome palate cleanser, a license to enjoy an underrated sport at its best. It’s a love letter that looks to inspire a new generation of fans to watch through the darkness, and to motivate the older zealots among us to keep spreading the gospel to all corners.”
📚 THE CIRCUIT: A TENNIS ODYSSEY, by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
📚 LEVELS OF THE GAME, by John McPhee
The glorious, bizarre history of soccer and fashion
“With George [Best] as their pied piper,” Simon Doonan writes, “a new generation of players discovered the delights of swag, diving into a world of sharkskin suits, polo necks, medallions, Cuban heels, Chelsea boots, hip-hugger pants, and E-types. Simply put, they went stark raving mod.”
📚 SOCCER STYLE: THE MAGIC AND MADNESS, by Simon Doonan
In our last newsletter, we asked you to recommend books about the movie industry. Mina Ikemoto, from the U.K., said Terry Pratchett’s Moving Pictures “manages to affectionately pay tribute to the cinema-going experience and classic movies” such as Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, and King Kong “whilst sending up the celebrity, production companies, and the whole mad [merry-go-round] of movie-making as business.” Peter Hillman, from Connecticut, wrote that Lee Grant’s memoir, I Said Yes to Everything, is “piercingly and refreshingly honest” about the star’s life and career.
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The Books Briefing is collaborating with The Masthead, The Atlantic’s premium membership program, to launch a books discussion group that—like each Books Briefing issue—is focused on a monthly theme, and driven by members’ reading tastes and recommendations. If you’re a Masthead member, you can join the discussion here. Not a member yet? Here’s how to sign up.
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