Reading lists

The best writing and books inspired by sport

With Wimbledon in full swing, what better time to unfold the deck chair, tear open the strawberries and bask in the sun with some of the best writing about sport? After all, from George Orwell to David Foster Wallace, sport has inspired some of the greatest writers of the English language. Matt Blake suggests the perfect selection to kick it off...

What is it about sport that has inspired great writing? You could say it's about the inherent drama, but that misses the point. Because, really, there is nothing inherent about drama in sport. There would be no drama if it weren't for the storytellers who bring their sports to life.

Sport, after all, is itself a fiction. In order to enjoy watching it you have to forget it's just a human invention and suspend disbelief, just as you do to enjoy a great novel. Otherwise, you would think it very silly for 22 people to chase a leather ball around a field; or for two of them to hammer a furry one back and forth over a net. Sport without stories is like a limerick that doesn't rhyme: confusing and meaningless.

So we fluff it up with imagined allegiances, rivalries, underdogs, fallen heroes, giant-killings and other metaphors for life until we care enough about its made-up rules to spend small fortunes on tickets, TV subscriptions and foam fingers, or fight each other in bars.

That is exactly why sport is so kick-you-in-the-guts fantastic, and why it has inspired so many of the greatest writers in history. The sportswriter's challenge is to find profundity in simplicity and make the unimportant feel absolutely urgent.

That, when done well, can change the way we feel not just about sport, but about life. That in mind, here is a selection of some of the world's greatest writers who have done their bit to make sport matter.

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