Arts and Culture

When people think Derby day reading, Hunter S. Thompson’s infamous “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” probably comes to mind. And, let’s be honest, it may be the only thing that comes to mind.

Let’s just say with the national focus on bourbon and betting, books are probably coming in with a third-place (at best) finish on the weekend priority list.

But just in case — here are a three other Derby-themed suggestions to round out your reading list.

‘How to Triumph Like a Girl’ by Ada Limón

I like the lady horses best,
how they make it all look easy,
like running 40 miles per hour
is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.

So begins Kentucky poet Ada Limón’s poem, “How to Triumph Like a Girl,” which is part of her 2015 collection “Bright Dead Things.”

Inspired by Oaks Day where — as she says — all the “lady horses” run, the poem is an empowering meditation on the connection Limón, and perhaps other female readers, have with the determined fillies on the track.

‘The Sport of Kings’ by C.E. Morgan

Another book to add to your Derby reading list is “The Sport of Kings,” a 2016 novel by C.E. Morgan. It’s the story of a wealthy, dynastic Kentucky family who are guided by one obsession: to breed the next superhorse.

But this story isn’t just about racing.

Set before Barack Obama’s first term, it’s about race in America as well, and how — as the narratives of black and white characters become intertwined — history affects our daily lives more than we realize.

‘Kentucky: May: Saturday’ by William Faulkner

Finally, if you’re going to pull out one archived article about the Derby this year, make it William Faulkner’s “Kentucky: May: Saturday,” which he wrote for Sports Illustrated in 1955. It was his second assignment for the magazine, was written in 300-word installments, and his first drafts contained no capitalization or punctuation.

On the surface, it was — well, an unorthodox choice for the magazine.
But it survives as one of the most rich, literary descriptions of the race itself. For example:

Even from just passing the stables, you carry with you the smell of liniment and ammonia and straw — the strong quiet aroma of horses. And even before we reach the track we can hear horses — the light hard rapid thud of hooves mounting into crescendo and already fading rapidly on. And now in the gray early light we can see them…

The piece was so memorable that singer Bing Crosby — who was an avid racing fan — read it aloud for a recording.

Ashlie Stevens is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.