With the Tour de France in full swing, I’ve been considering, between mass crashes and team buses getting stuck underneath the finishing line, the paucity of novels about cycling, particularly road racing.
Perhaps sport doesn’t really attract novelists as there are so many non-fiction books about sporting heroics. But baseball, of course, has a massive number of novels, including, via Joe Shuster for River Front Times, The Natural by Bernard Malamud, Shoeless Joe by W P Kinsella (filmed as Field of Dreams), The Southpaw by Mark Harris, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, The Celebrant by Eric Rolfe Greenberg, The Great American Novel by Philip Roth, The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J Henry Waugh, Prop by Robert Coover, You Know Me Al by Ring Lardner and Summerland by Michael Chabon, to mention but a small selection of great baseball books.
Baseball is obviously much bigger than cycling in the USA but cycling is massive in Europe, so why hasn’t cycling inspired even a fraction of the great literature that baseball has brought forth?
The one bona fide cycling masterpiece is The Rider by Tim Krabbe. It is a fairly slim volume by a Dutch writer that reads like a wry Albert Camus, it really is that good. Amazingly, it’s not available as an ebook.
Other cycling novels include The Wheels of Chance by H G Wells. Now Wells wrote some good stuff about time travel and alien invasion but The Wheels of Chance is not among that pantheon.
Cat by Freya North features a journalist covering the Tour de France, which sounds promising, but it’s probably unfair to include it as a cycling novel as it’s more chick-lit and fairly light on the sport and I’m sorry to say I abandoned the book.
The Yellow Jersey by Ralph Hurne is very sexist but does have some kind of narrative and a resonance with the realities of race cycling as Hurne was an amateur racing cyclist.
I haven’t read The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills by William Saroyan and it’s not a novel but is a book I’m hoping to find some time (it’s not available as an ebook) as Saroyan was a great writer. There’s a short extract at Cyclorama via Bicycling magazine.
Gold by Chris Cleave was published last year and is an entertaining but ultimately bit disappointing novel about track cycling, featuring a quartet of characters who could easily be mistaken for some very well known British cyclists.
However, the cycling novel situation could be improving and Dave Schlabowske on The Bicycle Blog of Wisconsin website has brought to my attention some recent cycling novels, including Chain Reaction, by Ross E Goldstein and The Legend of Rosalind – a cycling story by Dan Hammack.
Both novels in the blurbs on their respective websites refer to the “cut-throat world of professional cycling” and both the protagonists face sporting and personal challenges. They might not be The Rider but I’ve bought the ebooks and am looking forward to some summer bike reading.
Mr Schlabowske also mentions 48 and Counting, A Story of Money, Love and Bicycling by Jonathan Clements and I’ll be taking a look at this one as well.