Former New York Times sports columnist George Vescey made a career of covering people and places off the beaten path. As national correspondent for the New York Times, he spent weeks in Appalachia in the 1970s talking with coal miners and their families. As a religion reporter, he interviewed the Dalai Lama. And when he first started covering the World Cup, beginning at the 1982 tournament in Spain (at which Italy took down Germany in the final match), it was still out of the ordinary for an American sports writer to take interest in the international game.
World Cup soccer brought him some unforgettable experiences: "When you see lightly clad Brazilian women dancing down the Rambla in Barcelona to a Samba beat, you tend to remember," Vescey says. Now, as he turns 75 just before this year's knock-out stage begins, his book Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer, traces his timeline through the sport, beginning as a teenager in Queens through the Klinsmann era with the U.S. national team.
On a Saturday morning phone call from his home office in New York, Vescey listed off 10 great soccer books anyone who finds themselves falling in love with the Beautiful Game should investigate. So if you're off to the beach between matches, away from radio, TV, or cell service, bring along Fever Pitch, Among the Thugs, or Soccer in Sun and Shadow, or any of the others on this list to maintain your soccer high.
Fever Pitch, by Nick Hornby
If all you know of Hornby is the version of his coming-of-age memoir that was turned into a Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore vehicle with the Boston Red Sox replacing Arsenal as the angst-creating team, this is a must-read. It's not a love story, per se, but it's a touching recollection of a divorce-divided youth in London where the common thread between a boy and his father becomes 1970s soccer. As Hornby's life progresses, his interest in Arsenal is the connective tissue in his timeline. Of note for this year's World Cup is Hornby's memory of the first game he ever watched, featuring Brazil's Pele as the protagonist: "It was the way [Brazil] regarded ingenious and outrageous embellishment as though it were as functional and necessary as a corner kick or a throw-in," he writes.