Scads of books about sport have been published during 1974, and choosing among them for holiday gift-giving is no easy task. Here, in hopes of making things a bit less difficult, is a list of those of particular merit.
Babe, by Robert Creamer (Simon and Schuster, $9.95). The sports book of the year, and no doubt about it—one of those all too rare sports books that belong in the library of anyone interested in American life. Creamer's biography of Babe Ruth is meticulous yet economical, elegantly and humorously written, a fully rounded portrait of an American legend. This is "popular" biography, and one can only wish that most "scholarly" biographies were so handsomely turned out.
Alive, by Piers Paul Read (Lippincott, $10). This account of how several members of a Uruguayan rugby team survived after their plane crashed in the Andes is another rarity—a best-seller that genuinely deserves its success. Read, a British novelist, tells the story (which involves, among other things, cannibalism) with candor and quiet force. What emerges is a testament of human courage, forbearance and faith.
About Three Bricks Shy of a Load, by Roy Blount Jr. (Little, Brown, $8.95). Probably the best pro football book since Paper Lion. The author spent the 1973 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, a season that turned out badly for the team but beautifully for the writer. Blount is a funny, perceptive journalist, but he does not intrude gratuitously on his story. His sympathies, incidentally, are far more with the players than the coaches.
The Good Old Boys, by Paul Hemphill (Simon and Schuster, $7.95). About a third of the pieces in this collection deal directly with sports; all deal, in one way or another, with the gradual disappearance of the Southern "Good Old Boy." Hemphill does not wax sentimental about the breed—he readily acknowledges the good old boys' many and considerable faults—but he describes its decline with affection and a sense of loss.
Hangin' Out: City Kids, City Games, by James Wagenvoord (Lippincott, $5.95). This is a lovely book, a depiction in the author's words and photographs of the games city children play. Most of the kids photographed live in the New York slums; one comes away from the book with a powerful appreciation of the resources with which children make the best of a tough situation.
Henry and Other Heroes, by Ezra Bowen (Little, Brown, $6.95). Bowen's childhood was another matter altogether; he grew up within Philadelphia's formidable Drinker family. This is his memoir, devoted in large measure to his long struggle to be an athlete though he was not fated to be one. But it is more than that: it is also a funny and poignant account of his disenchantment upon reaching the exalted status of adulthood.
A Long Way, Baby, by Grace Lichtenstein (Morrow, $6.95). This is a chatty, gossipy and thoroughly entertaining look at life on the women's pro tennis tour. Lichtenstein, a skillful reporter, provides cameos of almost every woman tennis player around, and she also sketches in the story of how the women's tour struggled to its present high status. There is more candor here than some players will like, but readers will delight in it.
Mountain Spirits, by Joseph Earl Dabney (Scribner's, $8.95). The subtitle would fill this whole paragraph; suffice it to say that the book is an engaging history of corn whiskey. The moonshiners eventually gave birth to today's stock-car racers, and fans of that sport are sure to enjoy Dabney's lively story. So, too, will readers whose favorite sport is elbow bending.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard (Harper's Magazine Press, $7.95). If you like nature writing that is cuddly and cute, you will not like Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. If, on the other hand, you admire writing that views nature with both awe and honesty, this is for you. Dillard is no mean stylist, and she brings all of her substantial gifts to bear on what she sees in and around the creek near her Virginia mountain home.
Birding from a Tractor Seat, by Charles T. Flugum (Order from the author at Box 30038, St. Paul, Minn. 55175; $8.95). This privately published collection of essays by a lifelong bird watcher is an unexpected gem and a fine complement to the Dillard book. Flugum misses nothing as he works his farm, and he writes about everything with love and understanding.
Ansel Adams: Images 1923-1974, by Ansel Adams (New York Graphic Society, $65 until Dec. 31, $75 thereafter). The only "gift book" on this list, but an extraordinary book by any reckoning. Adams is generally recognized as our leading nature photographer; this is the record of his half-century's work. The mountain photograph spread across the endpapers took my breath away, and so did the others inside. Through his lens, Adams possesses the world he photographs.
For the book industry, incidentally, the next three weeks are the busiest and most critical of the year. Books are a major item in last-minute pre-Christmas buying, and how many titles are sold goes a long way toward determining the industry's annual profit and loss figures. If impulse leads you to any of the titles on this list, you won't go wrong, and no doubt an industry in serious financial straits will be grateful.