When we started looking for summer sports reading recommendations, we went straight to Juliet Macur, New York Times sports journalist and author of the searing portrayal of Lance Armstrong, Cycle of Lies. Since we’re such fans of her work, we asked for a reading list as well as some insights into what she thinks makes truly great sports journalism.
Scribd: What drew you to the field of sports journalism?
Macur: I’d say my father had a lot to do with it, whether he likes that or not. He was a great athlete when he was younger, and his love of sports is in my blood. He played semi-pro soccer when he came to the United States from Poland, after surviving the World War II Nazi labor camps. Every weekend in my house, when we weren’t watching sports on TV, we were playing them. Basketball. Volleyball. Hurdles. Whatever.
In college, I walked onto the crew team and after graduation was a full-time rower at the New York Athletic Club for several years, trying to make the national team. When that didn’t work out, I went to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to see if I could write for a living and fulfill that lifelong goal. Sandy Padwe, the acting dean, suggested that I try sports writing because I could relate with elite athletes after being one, and I also could travel the world on someone else’s money. I thought, what’s not to like? Seventeen years later, I feel so lucky to tell people’s stories for a living. It’s an honor I never take for granted.
Scribd: How did you get your start?
Macur: Straight out of journalism school in 1997, I was hired at the Orlando Sentinel to cover NASCAR and the Jacksonville Jaguars. A very interesting combination of a beat for someone who didn’t grow up watching either sport. Luckily, my father was a mechanic, so I knew my way around cars. Covering the NFL was harder. I ended up traveling six days a week, though, to places like Talladega, Alabama, and Tokyo. I thought nothing could ever match that adventure.
Scribd: What writers (sports and other) have inspired you & why?
Macur: The sports writers I’ve admired the most actually haven’t been strictly sports writers at all. They’re people like John McPhee and David Halberstam, who’ve written wonderful stories and books about sports, but who intertwine detailed personal profiles inside those sports stories. Those writers are not only about Xs and Os – their tales run deeper and require much reporting — and that’s always been the type of writer I’ve tried to be. Dave Kindred, the former Washington Post sports columnist, taught me early on that being a good sports writer is just about being a good storyteller. He was so very right.
Otherwise, I read a lot of short stories. Joseph Mitchell is one of my all-time favorites because of the way he wove his reporting into his tales. Many of those stories are just about regular people who are brought to life by his brilliant descriptions. I’ve also treasured Truman Capote, whose In Cold Blood should be required reading in every journalism school for how he took his reporting and turned it into a compelling, detail-driven narrative. So appealing.
Scribd: Now, for your reading recommendations.
Macur: One of the hardest things to do as a writer is tell the story of two main subjects within the same story, but Dave Kindred nails it in Sound and Fury: Two Powerful Lives, One Fateful Friendship. The story is about Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell, two opposites thrown together during boxing’s heyday. It’s an amazingly interesting story that only Kindred – who know both men very well – could tell. And he tells it so very well.
In Bottom of the 33rd, Dan Barry writes about the longest baseball game in history, but, of course, his story isn’t really about that. It’s about the people affected by the game, and Barry is masterful at telling the stories-within-the-story. Don’t be scared if you’re not a baseball nut. This book can appeal to everyone.
Harvey Araton’s When the Garden Was Eden: Clyde, the Captain, Dollar Bill, and the Glory Days of the New York Knicks is a great reminder of what the Knicks once were – and what they could be again, with Phil Jackson in charge now. It’s for every Knick fan who has lost hope in the team that once electrified New York City.
And a few more…
Want to hear more from Juliet Macur? We invite you to attend our Q&A event with the author on July 10th in San Francisco. Details and RSVP here.