Photo of Book Club Claire on a background of bookshelves. Keep the Flame Alive podcast logo is in the lower right corner.

Book Club Claire’s Top 5 Book Club Books

Release Date: August 2, 2023

Category: Blog | Book Club

Keep the Flame Alive’s Book Club’s bookshelves have filled up over the last five years! They haven’t all been winners though. Book Club Claire compiles her faves.

Can you believe that the Keep the Flame Alive Book Club has been going for five years now? I can almost remember the sheer fear and nerves I had before I logged in to record my first podcast with Alison and Jill. And they ended up being the nicest people ever!

I actually had emailed them first to see if I could be of use to their podcast. I believe in their first year they had put out an APB that they were looking for contributors, and I was interested in helping. They responded and said they were looking to start a book club, and wanted to see if I would run it. My answer was easy: “Of course!”

Finding solid Olympic and Paralympic material is not easy. A lot of books about historical Olympic and Paralympic Games are out of print and hard to find. Newer books range from the super in-depth tomes to the almost-fictional narrative style and everything in between!

This book club gig also allowed me to be on the call with the ladies while they interviewed several authors, including Andrew Maraniss, Ben Ryan, and Abdi Abdirahman!

And I’ll be honest: not every book we’ve picked has been a winner. But I know that every book we’ve (and maybe you’ve) read has provided new context, new perspectives, and new insights into two of the greatest sporting events in the world.

I must say that it has been very difficult to find Paralympic books, even nowadays! I’m hoping that with the Paralympics’ growing popularity, that more books will be written not just about individual athletes, but historical games as well.

So what are my top five? Let’s turn on the Wayback Machine and find out!

Honorable Mention: Running for My Life by Lopez Lomong

This was our first autobiography that we read, and my favorite of the lot. Lomong’s amazing journey out of South Sudan to the United States is captivating, and he does an incredible job putting you right there as he is literally running for his life. The book doesn’t drop off after he gets to the U.S., either; it provides us with insight into competitive running in the United States, and also gives us a chance to see how he qualified for the Olympics. It’s a book of drama and triumph, and I loved it.

Listen to our episode featuring this book!

5. Inaugural Ballers by Andrew Maraniss

It’s insane to think that women’s basketball didn’t become an Olympic sport until 1976, but look how far we’ve come! Maraniss looks back at the formation of the first U.S. women’s team, which ended up taking gold at the Montreal 1976 Games. Since I have knowledge of women’s basketball from college and the WNBA from the 90s and 2000s, it was fun recognizing some incredibly valuable players to women’s sport, including Pat Summitt. This is a great book for all ages!

Listen to our episode about this book!

4. The Second Mark by Joy Goodwin

My favorite part of this book was that it didn’t focus on just one set of pairs figure skaters that were in the throes of the giant Salt Lake City 2002 judging scandal. Instead, it provides information on the three teams that were all affected: Canada’s Jamie Salé and David Pelletier, Russia’s Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, and China’s Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo. You learn more about all of these skaters, how they came together, and how the scandal affected them after 2002. Unlike the Kerrigan-Harding craziness of 1994 (which was slightly before I got obsessed with the Olympics), I followed the 2002 scandal as it was happening, and it was neat to go back and learn more about this event that changed the course of figure skating.

Listen to our episode about this book!

3. Sevens Heaven by Ben Ryan

My knowledge of Fiji was 0, and my knowledge of rugby…was also 0. Going into this book with no background knowledge of the topic allowed me to come in with fresh eyes and see everything from Ryan’s perspective. What an epic tale this was, and this book is the reason I made sure to buy rugby tickets for the Paris 2028 Olympics!

You’ll notice this is my only autobiography in the top 5. Many of those books were hit-and-miss, but Ryan managed to keep my interest all the way through, from his personal life from England to Fiji to his coaching of amazing rugby athletes in the Pacific.

Listen to our episode about this book!

2. The Suspect by Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen

You may have watched the movie, but I read the book first. The Atlanta 1996 Olympics were the first Games I followed intensely (and now you know why I have a deep love for Izzy the mascot, natch), and it was really cool to learn more about this event now that I’m an adult. The frenzy over Richard Jewell was insane in 1996, and to see it all with hindsight (and find out who the real terrorist was) was incredibly eye-opening.

Listen to our episode about this book!

1. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

When I was dubbed “Book Club Claire” I knew I had a daunting task to try and find some amazing books for us to read. To my surprise, the first book I chose continues to top the list! When people think of the Berlin 1936 Olympics, they probably aren’t going to think of rowing first. They’ll think of Hitler and his movie documentary or Jesse Owens and his gold medal triumphs in athletics. But Brown’s narrative of the University of Washington men’s rowing team and how they found themselves in Hitler’s Olympics is absolutely captivating. Every person we meet, every event that is highlighted, every step of this years-long journey is told with a style that puts you in the boat right alongside the team. And you’re pulling for them every step of the way.

Listen to our episode featuring this book!

Do you have a favorite book club book from the past five years? Let us know in our Facebook group, or contact the show!

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