Let's get physical (in fiction)
July 28, 2014 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Recommend me novels that have a strong component of sport, physical training, or exercise.

The activity doesn't need to be the center, nor does it need to be a traditional "sport". What I'm really interested in is the description of practice, training, and progress. I just read Dare Me by Meg Abbott, which centers around high school cheerleaders, and goes into detail about the practice, routine, strength, and psychology involved. I loved it.

I am not at all interested in any books which center on weight loss.

I strongly prefer contemporary novels with female protagonists. Young adult is okay. I'm not a big fan of what might be called "genre" (romance/sci-fi/fantasy/mystery).
posted by quadrilaterals to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A lot of early John Irving features wrestling practice or running or weight training. Hotel New Hampshire is my favorite. They're not central to the plot as you describe in the cheerleader book but do touch on ongoing skill building.
posted by latkes at 7:35 AM on July 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: YA recommendations - Chris Crutcher's novels are almost all about sports and describe detailed practice routines (though you may want to steer clear of his novel Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, where weight loss is central, though I don't remember what kind of framing it's presented in).

You could also check out Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson, about a long-distance runner (but the running isn't central to the plot).
posted by rebooter at 7:42 AM on July 28, 2014

Best answer: One of the protagonists of Infinite Jest is a tennis playing prodigy at an elite tennis academy. Long sections of this long book focus on the psychology and daily ins and outs of training to be a professional tennis player. I loved it! YMMV, this is a mammoth tome and tennis is by no means the primary focus of the story.
posted by Ziggy500 at 7:53 AM on July 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Not a novel, but Sam Fussell's memoir Muscle is a great read. Child of famous academics graduates from Oxford and goes to work in publishing in New York, then quits to become a full-time amateur bodybuilder in LA.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:53 AM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Going In Circles by Pamela Ribon is a fiction book about roller derby.
posted by lemonwheel at 7:55 AM on July 28, 2014

Best answer: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach centers on a character who is great at baseball fielding. There is a lot of talk about fielding and the thoughts that go through the character's head during practice and games.
posted by barnoley at 7:57 AM on July 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also, it's not a novel, but Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running has some great detail about training for marathons, and the routine and psychology involved.
posted by barnoley at 8:00 AM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm back! I just remembered another great book, Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka, about a sports-writer who becomes obsessed with a Sri Lankan spin bowler considered the greatest cricketer ever to have walked the earth. Really wonderful, and I don't even fully get cricket, but you don't need to to enjoy the book.
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:01 AM on July 28, 2014

Best answer: "Liar" by Justine Larbalestier has an avid teenage runner as a central character, and running is a central theme in the book.

It'll be a much, much more enjoyable read if you don't learn anything else about it before picking it up.
posted by Gorgik at 8:16 AM on July 28, 2014

Best answer: Once a Runner, though the protagonist is a male.
posted by akk2014 at 8:26 AM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Barracuda also has a male protagonist, sorry. Deals with a swimmer in training and some intense feels.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 8:32 AM on July 28, 2014

I enjoyed the training content in: http://angryrobotbooks.com/books/the-lives-of-tao-by-wesley-chu/

But it's a male protagonist and "genre" so not a great match for your requirements.
posted by curious_yellow at 8:45 AM on July 28, 2014

Best answer: I loved Dare Me!

If you would consider ballet, try Bunheads by Sophie Flack and Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey.
posted by BibiRose at 9:06 AM on July 28, 2014

Oh, yeah, The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen.
posted by BibiRose at 9:07 AM on July 28, 2014

As a kid, I really enjoyed a book called Zanbanger, written by R. R. Knudson. The author was really good about capturing the desire of a high school girl to play sports (in this case, basketball, in other books it's running and football) and the determination and training needed to play. I remember clearly Zan practicing her shots over and over again, counting the percentages as she improved.
posted by PussKillian at 9:11 AM on July 28, 2014

Seconding The Art of Fielding - as well as filling most of your requirements aside from the female protagonist (more of an ensemble cast, but mainly male), it is a really, really good book.
posted by ominous_paws at 9:47 AM on July 28, 2014

Best answer: All of the books in Barry Eisler's John Rain Series, about a Japanese-American assassin, contain judo-/strength-training scenes.
posted by pjenks at 3:33 PM on July 28, 2014

Best answer: Perhaps John Irving's, The World According to Garp? Heavy wrestling book (and also awesome for other reasons.)
posted by EtTuHealy at 8:36 PM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might enjoy Chris Cleave's Gold, which is about two female cyclists. I seem to remember there's a bit about training, their relationship with their coach etc. It was a pretty good read, too.
posted by Decani at 5:37 AM on July 29, 2014

Divergent - the YA novel - has a lot of detailed physical training and combat scenes.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 10:34 AM on July 29, 2014

"The Power of One" has great scenes about boxing training. I didn't appreciate the skill involved in boxing until I read it.
posted by LauraJ at 7:25 PM on July 29, 2014

Best answer: James Salter's Solo Faces is mostly about men, but uses elite mountaineering to open up and describe a couple of human lives beautifully. Great little novel.
posted by mediareport at 8:27 PM on July 30, 2014

(Someone at Slate called it "The best novel ever written about the outdoor life.")
posted by mediareport at 8:32 PM on July 30, 2014

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