Albert Camus not only wrote about soccer, he played the beautiful game. (Albert Camus,1956)
A couple of Wednesdays ago, I had a dilemma. Because I really love soccer—but I also really love James Joyce.
See, it was June 16th—Bloomsday, the day in which all of the action in Joyce’s Ulysses transpires. Would I stay at the pub watching soccer all day—or would I, in keeping with tradition, venture out to catch the annual Bloomsday reading and celebration organized and emceed by author Colum McCann, whose latest novel, Let The Great World Spin, won last year’s National Book Award?
Recalling that McCann, too, is a serious soccer fan—a Stoke City supporter at that—I figured he’d be sharing a bit of my sense of conflict, so I headed to the Bloomsday event, and I don’t regret it one bit. Held outside a pub on a cobbled street in Lower Manhattan, it was wonderful, though I confess I occasionally snuck inside the bar to catch a glimpse of the South Africa/Uruguay match. (And McCann announced the final score).
In an earlier post, I sang the praises of Brilliant Orange, David Winner’s fascinating and entertaining analysis of Dutch soccer. Both during—and in the lead-up to—the World Cup, opinionated roundups of books about the beautiful game have popped up, including one by this blog’s own Cord Jefferson. But soccer may not conjure up a literary pedigree on par with, say, boxing or baseball, even though many celebrated international writers have written about it.
Albert Camus not only wrote about the game—he played it, as goalkeeper for Racing Universitaire Algerois’ junior team. Vladimir Nabokov also tended goal, at Cambridge, and recounted the experience in Speak, Memory. (The Faber Book of Soccer includes both the Camus and Nabokov pieces; The Global Game, edited by John Turnbull, Thom Satterlee, and Alon Raab, is another good literary anthology). Austrian playwright and novelist Peter Handke’s novella, Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick), was made into a film by Wim Wenders. An excellent recent post on the blog Arabic Literature (In English) provides a survey of books by Arabic writers that feature soccer.
Poets haven’t ignored the game, either, as I discovered when researching this story for the Poetry Foundation, in which I discuss works by Diane Ackerman, Simon Armitage, and Don Paterson, and a terrific website to which you can submit your own poems about soccer—in case the World Cup has inspired you to put pen to paper, too.
Rosie Schaap has been a bartender, a fortuneteller, a librarian at a paranormal society, an English teacher, an editor, a preacher, a community organizer, a manager of homeless shelters, and a ghostwriter for an inspirational magazine. Her work has been broadcast on This American Life, and her book, Drinking With Men, a collection of true stories set in bars she's known and loved, will be published next year by Riverhead. She supports Tottenham Hotspur FC and the Dutch National Football Team.