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Wait 'Till Next Year Book Review

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by William Goldman and Mike Lupica

(August 10, 2005)

At least twice a day, a high school or college student sends me an e-mail asking for advice -- they want to write about sports some day, they don't know how to go about it, and they're wondering if I can help. And I never know what to write back. How can you answer a question like, "I want to write a sports column, tell me what to do?"

Last weekend, I thought of an answer.

Just a quick back story: I probably own 800-900 sports books that I've been reading and collecting ever since I was old enough to read. The lamer ones are at my dad's house and my mom's house. The best ones came to California with me. And when we moved a few months ago, five boxes of the best and most relevant sports books ever written were dumped in my new garage -- taped up, stacked on top of one another, sitting in the dark.

Well, I was working on a book, and we had a baby, and it took a few months just to settle into the house, and two weeks ago, everything calmed down enough that I could head into the garage, carry those boxes out and unstack them in two living room bookcases. But as I was unstacking them, I realized something. Here was my answer for those aforementioned e-mails. The main reason I became a sports columnist was because I loved these books, because I read them and kept reading them. For instance, you know David Halberstam's book about the 1980 Trail Blazers, "Breaks of the Game"? To me, it's the perfect non-fiction sports book -- he gets to know the players, delves into their psyches, and inadvertently takes a snapshot of a troubled league at its most critical point, the 1979-80 season, when the NBA was in danger of crumbling and Bird and Magic saved the day. Since I love the way it's written, I try to read it once every two years. It's like taking a grad school course: Here's how you write a sports book.

And there's a lesson here. You don't just start writing a sports column, just like you just don't start recording music or writing poetry. Different people affect you along the way, and they inspire you, and you try to emulate them, and eventually, if you know what you're doing, you absorb the best of different people and come up with a style of your own. I was fortunate enough to grow up reading Ray Fitzgerald and Leigh Montville in the Boston Globe -- two of the best sports columnists ever -- as well as Peter Gammons, Will McDonough and Bob Ryan. And those guys were living in my newspaper every day, writing about my favorite teams. Not to sound like Joe Theismann, but you think that didn't affect me? You think I would be doing this for a living without those five guys? No way.

The same goes for my favorite sports books. You can't learn how to write unless you're constantly reading, just like you can't learn how to play music unless you listen to hundreds of different albums, or you can't learn to speak a second language unless you actually go to a foreign country and practice it. For whatever reason, many aspiring sportswriters either don't understand this, or they dismiss it altogether. In fact, I've had conversations at bars with younger people who have approached me, asked me for advice, and when I ask them what their favorite sports books are, they give me the Peyton Manning Face. I'm always astonished by this. How can you aspire to become a sportswriter without reading as many different styles and perspectives as you can?

So I'm here to help. Every Tuesday, I'm recommending a classic sports book in this space. Sometimes I might just write a few sentences about the book. Other times, I might write an entire column about the book. But you're getting a new book every Tuesday. Each one will be worth your time, whether you're an aspiring sportswriter or you just enjoy sports and are always looking for something to read.

This week's book: "Wait Till Next Year," which was co-written by William Goldman (the acclaimed screenwriter) and Mike Lupica (a columnist for the New York Daily News) about everything that happened in the New York sports scene in 1987. Lupica takes the reporter's side, Goldman takes the fan's side, and they alternate writing chapters about the Mets, Knicks, Yankees, Giants and everything else.




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