Sports books worthy of your summertime

Dan Wetzel

I'm a month late for my annual summer vacation reading list, the reason being I'm finally going on vacation. So while summer is mostly gone, the point of the column is unchanged – this remains a particularly good time to try to actually expand your reading horizon beyond 140 characters.

You know your brain can handle it. And sometimes old school is the best school. All you need is the impetus to buy (gasp) a book.

Fortunately, I'm here to help with a slew of sports-related reads that you can't go wrong with (Rick Pitino's "Success Is a Choice" just missed the list).

"Fading Echoes: A True Story of Rivalry and Brotherhood from the Football Field to the Fields of Honor" by Mike Sielski

Doylestown, Pa., is served by two high schools, Central Bucks West and Central Bucks East. As you might expect in a football-mad state, the crosstown rivalry is intense. In 1998, each team was led by a remarkable young man, who competed against each other, but were never friends. Eventually both wound up in Iraq, one as a Marine, one an Army Ranger. Only one returned.

If that isn't enough for you to read it, just know that Sielski does a memorable job telling this American story of small-town values and sacrifice, heroes and heartache. It's about how high school football can change people, but people can also change high school football. This is simply a great book, extremely moving, memorable and personal.

"Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen" by Joe Drape

Another terrific effort out of the high school genre. Drape is a New York Times writer who packed up the family and moved from Manhattan to the geographical center of the United States, rural Smith Center, Kan. The small-town team was seeking a fifth consecutive state championship and defending a long win streak – a testament more to the character of the kids, their parents and coach Roger Barta than any natural athletic gifts.

It's an uplifting story, pure Americana, and while the idea of following a high school team isn't original, these stories rarely fail to deliver.

"The Sure Thing: The Making and Unmaking of Golf Phenom Michelle Wie" by Eric Adelson

The reason there are so many sports movies is because the competition lends itself to Hollywood-style endings. In the real world, things aren't always so neat, which can actually make them more fascinating.

Adelson first met Michelle Wie while he was in Hawaii on assignment for a different story for ESPN the Magazine. He heard the legend of this long-hitting preteen, called her up and listened to her cheerily say she would one day beat Tiger Woods. From then to now, it's been a roller coaster for Wie and Adelson has covered it all. Here, he deftly details the successes and mistakes of a fascinating story of fame, fortune and human frailty.

"The Beckham Experiment: How the World's Most Famous Athlete Tried to Conquer America" by Grant Wahl

I read this because I'm a fan of the author far more than the subject. The Beckham Experiment always seemed forced to me because soccer in the States wasn't going to turn on his arrival. Wahl does a terrific job weaving the entire story together, acting as a journalist – not a cheerleader or apologist – and smartly delving into the business side of sports.

You don't need to be a soccer fan to enjoy the story. As with everything Beckham, there is a lot more there than just the game.

"The Comprehensive Guide to Careers in Sports" by Glenn M. Wong

Even before the recession hit, I received a steady stream of emails from people seeking advice on how to crack into the business of sports – journalism or not. There is no simple answer, of course, so I offer this book by a highly regarded professor and former dean of the sports management graduate program at the University of Massachusetts.

It's more of a text or reference book than narrative story, but it is heavily researched and contains pages on anecdotal information gleaned from Wong's interviews. It will serve anyone seeking information on just about any and all careers in sports or the paths (even unorthodox ones) to get there.

"Cooperstown Confidential: Heroes, Rogues, and the Inside Story of the Baseball Hall of Fame" by Zev Chafets

I'm not sure I buy all of Chafets' opinions on Cooperstown (and it's worth noting that Hall of Fames don't interest me anyway), but I certainly appreciate that this book is out there.

It pulls the lid off the various hypocrisies involved in the baseball shrine and its selection process. He shows how lopsided and biased the voting can be and how many scoundrels occupy the museum. If nothing else, it's an opposing view to the often saccharine missives concerning the Hall. With the steroid-era stars just beginning to become eligible for enshrinement (Chafets thinks it shouldn't preclude anyone), it seems like a must read for those who care about the Baseball Hall of Fame.