Join the books-of-the-summer club to avoid softness

June 16, 2005|by ANDY MASON

Air conditioning, potato chips and television.

My high school cross country coach used to warn his athletes about that trio of summer pleasures at the end of every school year. In his opinion, those were the key ingredients for autumn softness. Come the first week of practice in mid-August, he always knew who had indulged and who hadn't.

I thought about Coach the other day, as I sat sweltering in my living room, reading a book and snacking on baked, whole-wheat crackers. I wasn't exactly working out, but I still was avoiding the Sinister Three.

In an effort to stay strong and keep your edge this summer, I recommend a large, three-speed fan, low-fat Triscuits and the following sports books:

  • "Friday Night Lights" by H.G. Bissinger. If you think high school football is big in this area, this true story about the 1988 Permian Panthers in Odessa, Texas, will blow your mind. The movie was good. The book, as often is the case, is much better.

  • "The Perfect Mile" by Neal Bascomb. Three men from three continents share one goal in the early 1950s: Become the first to break 4 minutes for the mile. They make worldwide, front-page headlines along the way. An extremely well-written and well-researched piece of history.

  • "It's Not About the Bike" and "Every Second Counts" both by Lance Armstrong and Sally Jenkins. Read both. Armstrong overcomes cancer and wins cycling's biggest race - again and again. You know the story. Let Lance tell it to you. You'll be fascinated and inspired.

  • "Bleachers" by John Grisham. A former high school football star returns home to bury his coach and dig up the past, which continuously haunts him. I read this novel in two days.

  • "The Yellow Jersey" by Ralph Hurne. Sports fiction at its best, if you like a little quirkiness. A washed-up, womanizing cyclist gives the Tour de France a final spin. Can he finish? Can he possibly even win? I couldn't put the book down.

  • "Bo Knows Bo" by Bo Jackson and Dick Schaap. At one time, this was the best-selling sports autobiography ever. I read it many, many years ago and am still left with this impression: Bo Jackson is the greatest athlete of all time.

  • "Running with the Buffaloes" by Chris Lear. Author chronicles the day-to-day life of the 1998 University of Colorado men's cross country team as it prepares for a run at the NCAA title while coping with tragedy. A cult classic.

  • "A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole. I just finished this book, one of the very best I've ever read. It's not a sports story, not even close. But if you have a particularly keen appreciation for air conditioning, potato chips and television, you just might appreciate the plight of this story's hero. At worst, you'll laugh - a lot.

Andy Mason is assistant sports editor of The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2334, or by e-mail at

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