Last week I did something I should do more often. On Thursday afternoon I attended the Adult Reading Round Table Nonfiction Genre Study. Twenty-five librarians from around the Chicago area and Wisconsin met at the Downers Grove Public Library and spent nearly two hours talking about narrative sports books.
The homework assignment was to read one sports title by David Halberstam and two other sports books either from a recommended list or from one's own library. The idea was that there could be some common ground to begin the discussion and many directions it could go. And it did go in many directions, as we discovered a great variety of subjects, styles, and appeal factors in sports books.
Someone took minutes, which I will get in my email as a member, so I did not write much down. After three days, this is what sticks in my memory.
You don't have to like sports to like good sports books because they are about much more than games. They are always about overcoming some type of difficulty if not downright adversity. They may also be coming of age stories, friendship stories, tributes, memoirs, exposes, history, or even how-to-do-it. If they are stories about women, they may be women's rights stories. If they feature African Americans, they may be civil rights stories.
Being a fan does help some sports books. We had librarians totally disagree on whether Lance Armstrong was an inspiration or a jerk. What the reader brought to the book guided how she/he perceived the author's voice. Being a fan also helps if the book focuses on the action of a game, which a non-fan may find tedious if not written well. Fans are more likely to like the less narrative books on statistics or sports equipment or stadiums.
Some sports fans read books on their favorite athletes or teams to relive their lives. Lots of memories are mixed up with the days that their teams did well.
It is not enough to put out a selection of area sports team books and expect them all to move. Hand selling may help. They still need to be attractive for most readers to select them.
We probably talked more about Friday Night Lights by H. G. Bissinger than about any other title. I am going to have to move it up my reading list. I heard other titles that sound as though I might like them, including Can I Keep My Jersey? by Paul Shirley and Your Brain on Cubs edited by Dan Gordon.
The next ARRT Nonfiction Genre Study will meet at the Des Plaines Public Library on June 3, 2008. The title of the discussion is "Mining the 800s," and we will all try to identify those great books that get lost in the Dewey graveyard. You can become a member and get the announcements and minutes. The details are on the ARRT website.