The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

Summer reading list: an Olympic selection of books

Welcome to our summer list of reading suggestions. With only four days to go until the first official day of the 2012 London Olympics, we offer no prizes for guessing the theme of this list! What we have tried to do, however, is find you some books that are a little outside the usual “History of the Olympics” mold.

2012 London Olympics: Some fun facts and figures

8,000 torchbearers
26 sports
8.8 million tickets
10,490 athletes
350 miles of cabling
5,000 anti-doping samples
10,000 temporary toilets
356 pairs of boxing gloves
4 skeletons removed from prehistoric settlement on site

A spectator’s eye view:

The Olympics Beat: A Spectator’s Memoir of Beijing
by Shannon Young

Published May 2012

About the author:
An American writer living in Hong Kong, Shannon Young writes a blog called A Kindle in Hong Kong, featuring her walking tours, book reviews, and bookspotting adventures.

Cyber coordinates:
Blog: A Kindle in Hong Kong
Twitter: @ShannonYoungHK
Facebook:  A Kindle in Hong Kong

Overview of book:
The drama, the variety, the spectacle – Shannon can’t get enough of it. She is an American student who has always been fascinated by the Olympic Games; her father has a lifelong love affair with China. They team up for the Beijing games and the adventure of a lifetime. Without the filter of a small screen, Shannon and her father are hypnotized by the passion of a great nation unveiling itself to the world. This mini travel memoir is a picture of a new China and the experiences that would change one American girl’s life forever.
(Amazon product description)

Displaced Nation review:
A search for “Olympics” on Amazon will bring up many hits: history of the Olympics, Olympics in ancient times, autobiographies of famous Olympic competitors, lots of picture books for children about the Olympics, and so on. Unique on this list, however, is Shannon Young’s autobiographical account of what it is like to be a spectator at the Games.

As a young university student, Shannon received a fellowship to go to the Beijing Olympics and study the effects the Games had on the city. The resultant academic paper, she felt, was dry and earnest and did nothing to capture the  excitement of the sights and atmosphere, so, three years later, she decided to write a memoir of her personal experience there. Although the book is mainly travelogue, there is also a touching glimpse into the relationship between Shannon and her father, with whom she traveled, and who wants to impart his love of China to his daughter.

At only 60 pages, this is a very short and easy read — quite manageable before the Games start in four days’ time. While Shannon traveled to Beijing for academic purposes, this memoir is not a commentary on the political situation in China in 2008. It is simply the honest observations of a twenty-year-old at the world’s most important sporting event, in a country that is trying to show its best, Botoxed, surgically enhanced face to the rest of that world. The final paragraph of the book sums this up so well:

We returned to the US TV coverage of the remaining events, and it focused on China’s problems: air quality, protesters confined to limited spaces, rumours of human rights violations and trouble. But that wasn’t the Olympics we witnessed. We saw a city full of people who were proud of their accomplishments… The athletes, volunteers, and spectators had poured their souls into welcoming people to their city, and they wanted the world to know how great China was. We knew it — because we were there.

A survivor’s eye view:

Running for My Life: One Lost Boy’s Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games
by Lopez Lomong, Mark Tabb

Published July 2012

About the author:
Lopez Lomong was born in southern Sudan in 1985. After his village was attacked by rebel soldiers when he was 6 years old, he spent ten years in Kenyan refugee camp before moving to the United States, where he was fostered by a family in New York. He became a professional runner in 2007, and a US citizen in 2008, the year he also represented the US at the Beijing Olympics.

Cyber coordinates:
Twitter: @LopezLomong

Overview of book:
Lopez Lomong chronicles his inspiring ascent from a barefoot lost boy of the Sudanese Civil War to a Nike sponsored athlete on the US Olympic Team. Though most of us fall somewhere between the catastrophic lows and dizzying highs of Lomong’s incredible life, every reader will find in his story the human spark to pursue dreams that might seem unthinkable, even from circumstances that might appear hopeless. (Barnes and Noble product overview)

One reader’s review:
“Lopez Lomong’s story is certainly one of pain, suffering and hardship but all that is overshadowed by his tremendous drive, hope and selfless endeavors for the people of South Sudan.” (Review at “Reflecting from here”)

A stranger-than-fiction eye view:

The Olympics’ Strangest Moments: Extraordinary but True Stories from the History of the Olympic Games
by Geoff Tibballs

Published July 2008

About the author:
Geoff Tibballs is a former sports journalist who has written nearly 100 books. He is “an accomplished armchair sportsman, [who] believes his life-long devotion to Millwall Football Club has enabled him to appreciate the ridiculous.” (Random House author bio)

Cyber coordinates:
Author’s page on publisher’s website: Random House/ Geoff Tibballs

Overview of book:
The Olympics’ Strangest Moments recounts the bizarre, controversial, inept, heroic and plain unlucky from the first modern games in 1896 to the return of the games to their birthplace in Athens in 2004 and up to the Beijing 2008 games. (Amazon book description)

One reader’s review:
“The early episodes offer a glimpse into a very different world than the one we know today… The 1900 Paris Olympics featured a cricket competition with only two teams entered…The swimming events were staged in the River Seine…This book is sometimes funny, occasionally tragic, but always entertaining. You don’t have to be fanatical about the Olympics to enjoy this book.” ( review)

An insider’s eye view:

Chalked Up: Inside Elite Gymnastics’ Merciless Coaching, Overzealous Parents, Eating Disorders, and Elusive Olympic Dreams
by Jennifer Sey

Published October 2009

About the author:
Jennifer Sey is an American writer, producer and former gymnast. She began competing in the sport of gymnastics at the age of six and went on to become 1986 National Gymnastics Champion and seven-time national team member.  She lives with her husband and two sons in San Francisco. (Amazon/Wikipedia bio)

Cyber coordinates:
Author’s page on publisher’s website: Harper Collins/Jennifer Sey

Overview of book:
“Chalked Up” presents the story of the 1986 US National Gymnastics champion whose life long dream was to compete in the 1988 Olympics – until anorexia, injuries, coaching abuses, and parental hopes and neglect nearly destroyed her. ( book description)

One reader’s review:
“Jennifer Sey is telling her story. She is not preaching nor is she telling you to remove your child from the sport of gymnastics. Although a painful side of gymnastics, which so many of us are scared to acknowledge, it is a reality in the elite world of gymnastics. Twenty two years after winning the national title, a crown that all elite gymnasts dream of, Sey still struggles with a love/hate gymnastics relationship.” ( review)


Img: Olympic Torch with laurel wreath by nirots/

STAY TUNED for another Displaced Q!

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One response to “Summer reading list: an Olympic selection of books

  1. Kathy July 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Thanks for including me and introducing me to your site.

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