By the Book: Abby Wambach
The soccer star, whose new book is “Wolfpack,” began the sport because of a how-to guide from the library. “I scored 27 goals in my first three games. I guess I do owe it all to books.”
What was the last truly great book you read?
“Love Warrior,” by Glennon Doyle. It helped me get sober and love myself again. I’ve never read writing so honest and raw. I loved that book so much I married the author.
What’s your favorite thing to read? And what do you avoid reading?
Favorite thing to read: nonfiction. Avoid reading: anything with dragons or wizards.
What books are on your nightstand?
An advance copy of “Mary Magdalene Revealed: The First Apostle, Her Feminist Gospel & the Christianity We Haven’t Tried Yet,” by Meggan Watterson. It’s about the Gospel left out of the Bible — and buried in the Egyptian desert after a fourth-century command that all copies of it be destroyed — significant because it is written from a woman’s point of view, emphasizes that all humans are divine and insists that there is no need for middlemen between people and God. Since I’m still trying to detox from the homophobia, misogyny and mind control I internalized from growing up in the Catholic Church, I’m excited to dive into this one.
Are there books that inspire you as an athlete? Any sportswriters you especially respect?
When I read Andre Agassi’s “Open,” it was the first time I witnessed an athlete admitting to humanity and mistakes. After I retired, I was struggling hard with addiction. I wanted to write about it honestly but I was afraid that it might ruin my legacy as a sports hero or stain the reputation of the National Team. The first time I met my wife, I told her about my conflict and she said: I don’t know anything about the sports world, but here in the real world, we like real people. If you’re honest and you learn from your struggle — the world will love you more, not less. She and Agassi inspired me to write honestly in “Forward.” I’m glad I did, because it freed me to begin to live one life instead of two. Shamelessness freed me.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned from a book lately?
“Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger,” by Rebecca Traister, brought context to feelings I’ve had for a long time. During my soccer career, the difference between how the men’s team and women’s team were treated and paid was egregious. Even in years that the women brought in more revenue and bigger championships, the men were paid dramatically more. Because we are women, we were conditioned to just be grateful for the crumbs we were handed instead of demand what we deserved. When I read “Good and Mad,” it made me fully understand that neither my experience nor my anger was unique. I was just taking my place in a long legacy of women fed up with unequal treatment. It made me consider that my anger about injustice is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s something to be harnessed to make change — just as the brave women of the National Team are doing right now with their gender discrimination lawsuit.
What’s the last book that made you laugh?
“I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual,” by Luvvie Ajayi. I’ve known Luvvie for a few years now and it’s important that we understand how unbelievably funny she is. She has the ability to write words that many of us think, but never say.
The last book that made you furious?
“Educated,” by Tara Westover. What a beautifully written book. Westover is a genius. Maybe we all are until we get it indoctrinated out of us like Westover did. “Educated” made me think about how dangerous it is to tell a child who she is and what the world is instead of giving her space to discover both on her own.
What kind of reader were you as a child?
I never read as a child. I was confident on the field, but I was lost in the classroom. I avoided reading for much of my life because it brings back that insecurity. I watch my kids now and how they voraciously and joyfully inhale books and it makes me jealous. Although, it is true that I found my way to soccer because of a book. My sister Beth told my mom she wanted to learn to play soccer so my mom went to the library and checked out a book called “How to Play Soccer.” Our family read it, signed us all up for teams, and I scored 27 goals in my first three games. I guess I do owe it all to books.
Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?
Katniss from “Hunger Games,” because she was free and she listened to herself and saved the world. I want to save the world, too. My wife calls me Captain America.
If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
Viktor E. Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” The Holocaust didn’t start with gas chambers, it started with dehumanizing language and divisive rhetoric similar to what the administration uses now. I wish the sitting president would read and understand this book.
You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?
Liz Gilbert is one of my wife’s closest friends and one of the most fun and interesting people I’ve ever met. (Because of this, we got an early copy of her new novel, “City of Girls,” and it’s amazing — sexy, scandalous and liberating.) She was over for the weekend recently and she led us in a kitchen dance party each morning, followed by planks, followed by a long walk and discussion about the mysteries of love and pain and the world. She’s one person I’d want to be at every dinner party I go to. I’d add Jesus because I just really want to find out if all that is true or not. And Michelle Obama because there is no cooler human. Also, my wife, Glennon Doyle, is automatically included right? Maybe the rule can be that we each get to bring our partners? Yes, I like that rule. (Also, because I’m super-curious about Jesus’ partner.)
Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
What book did I feel like I was supposed to like, but didn’t? Every single book I was made to read in high school except “Lord of the Flies.” When I read that one, I thought about how culture is not fixed — it’s created by the people in it. That book made me understand that I could have an effect on the culture around me. It gave me more agency, and a feeling like even my solitary self could have an impact.
What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?
“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values,” by Robert M. Pirsig. My sister Laura gave it to me and it was the first time I learned about a way to discuss and analyze and understand the world outside of religion.
What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
“The Catcher in the Rye.” That’s a classic that all cool people claim to love.
What do you plan to read next?
Hopefully a hell of a lot of letters from women telling me that they just read “Wolfpack,” that my story is their story, and that “Wolfpack” brought them so much hope that they’re passing it onto their daughters and sons.
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