Best books … chosen by Will Leitch

Will Leitch is editor of the Web site and author of God Save the Fan, which will be published next week. Here he recommends books about sports that even non-fans will enjoy.

Sunday Money, Jeff MacGregor (Harper Perennial, $15) I don’t quite understand NASCAR. Neither does MacGregor, which makes his fresh-eyed look at the culture of watching cars drive around in circles for three hours so riveting. I’m just as scared of NASCAR as I was before, but now I understand why.

To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever, Will Blythe (Harper, $15) Nineteenth-century essayist William Hazlitt wrote that, “Love turns, with a little indulgence, to indifference or disgust: Hatred alone is immortal.” Blythe’s target of hatred is Duke basketball; his obsession is so contagious that you’ll be able to insert your own.

Beyond the Game, by Gary Smith (Grove, $13.50) Sports Illustrated’s Smith might be the greatest living sportswriter. He recognizes that the true, throbbing pulse of sports is not found in its games but in its participants. The stories in this collection are a reminder that our athletes are human beings, even when they are surpassing the bounds of human achievement.

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Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, Warren St. John (Three Rivers, $13) An obsessed Alabama football fan conjures the terrifyingly intense world of Southeastern Conference college football in such detail, you’ll never hum “Rocky Top” the same way again. St. John has a light, humorous touch that makes sure the satire never slips into malice.

Semi-Tough, Dan Jenkins (Thunder’s Mouth Press, $16) Forget the

Burt Reynolds–Kris Kristofferson movie. The original 1977 book, by the guy who also wrote Dead Solid Perfect and Baja Oklahoma, tells a potty-mouthed story of a sex-drenched 1970s football team, and it’s hilarious even if you can’t tell the difference between a holding penalty and a body slam. If you have trouble getting past the football, just imagine that all the teammates are actually people who work in your office.

A Fan’s Notes, Frederick Exley (Vintage, $15) About as dark a sports book as one could imagine, this classic novel is about a troubled, disturbed man whose deep infatuation with Giants quarterback Frank Gifford would make even Kathie Lee step aside. I can only dream of writing something even half as gorgeous as this book.

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