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In America, fall ’tis the season for sports—baseball playoffs and the World Series, weekends packed with college football and the NFL, hockey getting under way, and basketball, too, if labor issues are worked out. The intensity keeps up till February, when your average fan takes a break till the NCAA basketball tournament and the return of baseball. Publishing-wise, of course, the gift-giving season, roughly Thanksgiving through Christmas, makes this all an opportunity for publishers and booksellers to offer ideal items for the millions of sports-crazy citizens. And this season has a stocked lineup.

Good Reads

David Hirshey, executive editor at HarperCollins, had a big hit last fall with Jane Leavy’s The Last Boy, her biography of the haunted Mickey Mantle. This fall, the book appears in paperback, backed by a media tour as large or larger than what Harper mounted for the hardcover. But Hirshey has a new entry with a good chance to surprise (and charm) readers who might think they know what The Whore of Akron, Scott Raab’s chronicle of two years following LeBron James, is about. At first glance, one expects a diatribe from an embittered Cleveland native against the prodigal son who abandoned the rust-belt town and its faithful. But Raab instead has produced, according to Hirshey, “a consideration of life and death and the meaning of fanhood,” a book that Buzz Bissinger has called “funny, heartfelt, and wincingly honest,” and which has been compared to Frederick Exley’s classic A Fan’s Notes.

Twelve—perhaps trade publishing’s most careful and selective imprint— also has a surprise title. And it’s not a current events title or a biography or belles lettres, Twelve’s usual staples, but about a book about auto racing. Specifically, Michael Cannell’s The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit—an epic battle between American Phil Hill, a former mechanic, and a German count, Wolfgang von Trips. The book has drawn comparisons to a title about another great racing machine—Seabiscuit.

For basketball fans, The Shaq Show continues despite his retirement from the game last year. Shaq Uncut by Shaquille O’Neal with Jackie MacMullen comes from Grand Central. Given Shaq’s reputation as a great jokester as well as straight-shooter (except from the free-throw line), fans looking for insight and entertainment about life in the spotlight need look no further.

For basketball fans of a certain age, the clutch and steely play of Jerry West, the great L.A. Laker, remains an indelible memory. In West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life, West, who went on to become one of the great front-office executives of the game, details the high price of perfectionism, on and off the court. Little, Brown publishes this month.

For basketball fans whose sorry lot it is to also be Knicks fans, Harvey Araton, longtime sports columnist for the New York Times, scrolls back to paradise in When the Garden Was Eden: Clyde, the Captain, Dollar Bill, and the Glory Days of the New York Knicks, from HarperCollins. It might help some fans forget the Dolan era.

Great sports books are often centered on off-beat figures or topics, like an Oakland general manager (Moneyball); a short, awkward horse (the aforementioned Seabiscuit); a diary from a pitcher on a bad team (Ball Four). Out this month from Taylor Trade is Super Bowl Monday, in which Adam Lazarus, a veteran sportswriter, returns us to the 1991 Super Bowl between the New York Giants and the Buffalo Bills, but brings us also to the Persian Gulf, where, 10 days before the game, American troops had been deployed.

Although stories of triumph often dominate sports book publishing, there sometime comes a book about failure, and the entry from small Crimson Oak Publishing is, in its way, audacious: 596 Switch: The Improbable Journey from the Palouse to Pasadena is by Ryan Leaf, known by all pro football fans as a kind of poster boy of flameout. Leaf, the second pick in the 1998 draft (behind Peyton Manning), played poorly, behaved boorishly, blamed others, and was out of the game in four years. But apparently, he has rebuilt his life, and his character, and 596 Switch (the title refers to his last intended play call at the Rose Bowl before time ran out) tells of his sparkling college career at Washington State, which culminated in a tough loss to Michigan in Pasadena. Crimson Oak will follow with a second book by Leaf next spring, titled Third and Long, in which Leaf will reportedly take himself to task for his failures as a football player and a man. A third volume will follow. A confessional about personal failure and dealing with widespread scorn might not be for everyone, but someone might think to send LeBron a copy.

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