Saturday, October 20, 2012

Review: Phar Lap: How a Horse Became a Hero of His Time and an Icon of His Nation – Geoff Armstrong & Peter Thompson

Writing on a topic or piece of history so well known, and revered, places any author on a hiding to nothing. Everyone (at least everyone in Australia) has some degree of familiarity with the story therefore despite how fantastic the story is, and Phar Lap's is fantastic, an author stands more chance of taking away from rather than adding to it. The second difficulty lies in knowing the readers inherent knowledge level, while everyone knows of Phar Lap, just how much they know is up for debate.

Take for example your reviewer here who has seen, being Melbourne born and bred, multiple times Phar Lap's hide on display at the Melbourne Museum however has to admit that before reading this book had the horses Melbourne Cup win registered in his brain as 1929 (it was actually 1930). Clearly I was coming from a low base of knowledge and needed more of the background. But your experienced follower of track history would be the opposite and desperately seeking new insights into the events.

The story of this horse is accurately reflected in the byline of this book, he was a hero and an icon to an Australian community ravaged by the Great Depression. But though the horse was likely blissfully unaware of it throughout his life the relationships around him were racked with greed, envy and angst. Interestingly Armstrong and Thompson chose to include the tragic story of one of the horses earliest track riders, an apprentice jockey Heaton Cashell 'Cash' Martin, who was unable to follow the horse to Melbourne and later died in a race fall just after Phar Lap had won the Victoria Derby in 1929.

Measurements of weight and odds are integral parts to the sport of kings, however they do not make easy reading. Rather than let the story flow the authors include significant amounts of data on the weights carried and the relative prices available from bookies. If Phar Lap was a hero to people and an icon then his story must be carried beyond the menial, and the authors are unable to do so.

In addition as a very recent and low level follower of horse racing (who is not interested in gambling) the attraction is the majesty and power of these beasts charging away at close to 60 km/h. That despite there being many memorable shots of Phar Lap throughout his lifetime none are included means that the publishers and authors have missed another method of bringing the magic home to the reader.

The story holds its own regardless and to understand better the love of the sport in Australia you need familiarity with it. While it could have been done better this book is ranked Tennis Balls.

Cover image thanks to Allen and Unwin

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Review: A Clash of Kings - George R. R. Martin

In the second book of the now-iconic Games of Thrones series ... nothing happens.

The book begins with four claimants to the throne of Westeros; it finishes with the same amount.  All the major political figures of the first two books start and end in the same place with only one major incident at the book's climax, but without much actually being accomplished.  A major inclusion is House Greyjoy, whose power was hinted at in the previous book, A Game of Thrones, but even they - point-of-view character Theon aside - are firmly sidelined.

A case in point: one of the would-be Kings dies.  It's intimated how, but never described.  On one page is a parlay, the next sees one of the delegates back home with scant reason.  The claimant is dismissed quickly and without the care taken in describing his encampment, feasting tendencies or plans for a new Kingsguard.  Martin obvioulsy felt he needed to spend those words elsewhere. Given the book's length, it was a a merciful - if odd - decision.

That's not to say that Clash isn't a remarkable book.  Martin must be special if he's drawn in millions of readers with a series that evolves slower than we did from the fish.  He writes interesting characters - the Onion Knight, Davos Sukar, took my fancy - some of which are added to an already teeming cast of third-person narrators.  This multi-party narrative device expands the saga to involve much of the general public rather than the isolated groups which dominate other civil war recounts (eg. Star Wars - where every single important person in the galaxy is linked in somehow.  The prequels can go to hell).

Unfortunately, this also means that the reader feels as if they are marking time until getting back to a storyline in which the plot actually advances.  It makes for a disjointed read that isn't nearly as gripping as the first installment.

In  many ways, the remarkable world Martin has created - like Tolkien before him - is his greatest achievement and a rod for his own back.  While we learn more of the Seven Kingdoms, this is not matched by the activities of the major protagonists.  Each POV character seems to have one task to accomplish - to meet parlay, to journey to the Outlands, to prepare for battle or to escape.  Once this task is performed, they slide into obscurity.

War is made up of myriad finite, intricate moments which combine to form a much larger picture.  This makes for some interesting times and some ... quieter ones.  A Clash of Kings is certainly the latter.

Tennis balls.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Peter Temple versus Peter Corris – Melbourne versus Sydney

Peter Temple – 'Jack Irish' series – Bad Debts, Black Tide, Dead Point and White Dog; The Broken Shore; In The Evil Day.

Peter Corris – 'Cliff Hardy' series – Taking Care of Business, Saving Billie, The Undertow, Appeal Denied, The Big Score, Deep Water and Torn Apart; Wishart's Quest.

Something different for the readers of Books with Balls. Have decided after having read a sizeable portfolio of writings by two Australian crime writers I will weigh them off against each other. The parallels between the writers are there allowing for comparison – both are Australian, both have a series based around a central character, both have won the Ned Kelly award and therefore inherit the title as being a 'Godfather of Australian Crime Fiction' and both write their work with an undoubted sense of place.

Let's begin with the works of each that do not fall into the single character based series they are known for. From Temple I have read two stand alone works – The Broken Shore and In the Evil Day. Both are thoroughly engaging pieces of writing; detailed, gritty, and leaving you as the reader desperate for more. Both works are very different, In the Evil Day an espionage thriller in the mould of Robert Ludlum set in Europe and The Broken Shore a dramatic tale of a divided small coastal town police officer in Victoria unravelling a chilling back story to the towns life. The latter being my undoubted preference, but both are great reads.

Wishart's Quest by Corris is a story of a former orphan, who became an esteemed academic, investigating the history of who his biological parents were. The quest takes him through racially divided communities in the NSW north coast and further into the deep underworld of Asia that was promulgated through the Vietnam war. The book is a good read however at times the story felt too far fetched to allow the reader to elevate it in their esteem above being 'a good read'.

Onto the more well known works, those around a central character and immediately comes a divergence. Whereas Corris has written prolifically (over 30 publications) on the adventures of his Sydney based private investigator Cliff Hardy, Temple has thus far elected to limit his use of Melbourne lawyer Jack Irish to just four novels.

At this point I the reviewer must admit to being of Melbourne, born and bred. Therefore anyone born north of the Murray will easily identify my bias, but I believe that the superior quality of Temple's books over Corris's (who incidentally was born in rural Victoria) is a metaphor for why I believe Melbourne is superior to Sydney.

Where Corris describes tales that have brash crash and bash episodes more often, Temple chooses a more subtle route. Corris's Cliff Hardy is a man's man who's passion is for the boxing ring in the inner city or the southern beaches of Maroubra or Bondi. Temple's Jack Irish is more thoughtful and cultured and chooses his leisure to examine horse flesh for his latest plunge or listening to Italian opera. Both appear well versed in the mysteries of females, Irish tends toward brooding good looks to attract them, Hardy makes his moves less subtly with a cocktail of booze and pick up lines.

In all seriousness both writers are worth reading if you are entertained by crime fiction. Temple is my preference however being less prolific than Corris in his writing (potentially a metaphor that those from Melbourne seek quality rather than the Sydney pursuit of quantity) I will be reading more of Cliff than of Jack.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review - Tip Off - Filip Bondy

Tip Off isn't a bad book, but it's hard to get excited about.  In fact, a one-word review would simply be "meh".  Filip Bondy presents us with the equivalent of watching a player take a 17' jump shot when he could have dunked on three guys - it's just as effective and may even be the right play, but leaves the audience slightly underwhelmed.

This is a shame, because Bondy chose a fascinating topic: the 1984 NBA draft, which saw Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Sam Perkins, Charles Barkley and John Stockton arrive in professional basketball.  It also provided the backdrop for the most high-profile draft blunder in history, when Portland selected Kentucky center Sam Bowie instead of Jordan with the second overall pick.

It's a succinct read which touches on the leadup to the draft, what each team was thinking when making their selections and also a brief look at how each player fared.  There's little coming together of the players - of every player drafted, the book may as well be about the six guys listed above.  Nobody - well, nobody except the most hardened basketball-philes - wants to know Chicago's thinking behind taking NBL legend Butch Hays with a seventh-round pick, or the reasons that Indiana chose Charlotte legend Stuart Gray.

Bondy writes to get the facts out rather than to entertain.  It is well-researched and the author has obviously researched and interviewed broadly, which all serves a purpose but at times upsets the book's flow.  Each chapter focuses on one aspect of the draft process, be it Chicago or Houston allegedly tanking (leading to the institution of the draft lottery in 1985), the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics or Sam Perkins' background in upstate New York.  The result is that there are minimal shared experiences which takes away from the Draft's inherent maturation storyline.

The information is all there, but given the storied nature of that draft, the reader is left feeling as if they're in some way short changed and that perhaps a writer with a greater sense of the event may have made Tip Off  more enjoyable.  As it is, it's intriguing at times (did you know that Philadelphia offered Dr. J or Andrew Toney and the no. 5 pick for the no. 3 pick so they could take Jordan?) but labours with an invasive flatness.

A perfectly average read - making it tennis balls.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Review: Instruments of Darkness - Gary Russell

Gary Russell made me think!  No, really, he did a good thing!  279 pages weren't wasted!  It's a miracle!

During his time writing Past Doctor Adventures, Russell made it a personal crusade to redeem the then-pilloried Sixth incarnation of the Time Lord, fleshing out the lurid continuity of the Colin Baker era.  First came Mel's official introductory story, Business Unusual - which I enjoyed - and eventually a real regeneration for Doc 6 in the form of the immortal Spiral Scratch.

It's campaigns like these that, despite the best of intentions, have earned Russell his reputation as a purveyor of the highest order of fanwank.

That said, however, despite myriad failings, Instruments of Darkness is a reasonable sequel to Business Unusual.

Irritations include a marginalised and relatively-poorly-characterised Doctor, reliance on continuity (although it's much better than some of the author's previous work), stylistic inconsistencies, dialogue peeled straight from the Star Wars prequels and Russell indulging his  Bond fetish.  Naming a pair of female assassins Ms de Menour and Ms (Mal) Feasance?  Inserting a piece about the Doctor introducing Fleming to the ornithologist on whom Bond was based?  The cult-series mix is simply too much for an admittedly-pulpy premise to bear.

But in spite of these elements, Russell deftly portrays a series of interconnected characters whose reliance upon each other is notable.  Throughout the text, couplets emerge where each member is completely dependent on the other - for existence, validation, love.  Even the Doctor is not immune as he encounters the companion that wasn't, Evelyn Smythe; and in fact only Mel appears immune.

This symbiosis is woven unobtrusively throughout and only it hits the reader with real force when it becomes apparent at the novel's conclusion.  It's sweetly juxtaposed with the climactic fireworks brought about by some old-school Doctor trickery reminiscent of Pyramids of Mars.

Tennis balls.

Discontinuity Guide's review of Instruments of Darkness

Saturday, August 11, 2012

An Omnibus of Horse Racing

Throughout my life, the sport of kings has been relatively disinteresting to me. Despite growing up on a full diet of sport obsession, for some reason horse racing never took my fancy. My perception of it has been skeptical, fueled by one question: Is there a point to it beyond being a vehicle for gambling? Can you have a passion for it without needing to risk your hard earned, or being loaded to the hilt and able to own one of the creatures?

Despite being proud of the fact I had managed to avoid watching the last eight or nine Melbourne Cups, I fell into the Black Caviar phenomenon upon its closure at Royal Ascot. I became desperate to understand what attracts people to the sport, why it is so ingrained in our Australian culture, why was Vo Rogue a cult hero, and to finally understand the theory behind weight for age. I present to you five titles that have taken me on this journey.

  1. A Year on the Punt – John Ellicott

My journey got off to a poor start, when I managed to learn less than nothing and in fact digress in my opinion of the sport thanks to this title. A journalist and petty gambler takes his long service leave and ventures far and wide across Australia to visit regional racing carnivals, learn more of the history of racing, and pick up some tips for being an effective picker of winners.

Maybe that is what Ellicott planned to do however what he presented pretty much summed up my long held reasons for prejudice against the sport. Every club he visited was struggling to survive save for the turnover of gambling through the TAB (although they do not like having to conform to the rules of the TAB). In addition the greatest stories nine times out of ten were the debaucherous antics of racegoers (and club committeemen) no mention of any equine heroes. Into the bargain the author annoys the heck out of you as a reader trying to behave as a stereotypical 'Aussie' and clearly even his own writing indicates he was more often than not annoying those at the races as well. No Balls.

  1. True Grit – Les Carlyon

After the terrible start I went into my further reading without much hope, but I was reinvigorated and identified that what Gideon Haigh is for Australian Cricket, Les Carlyon is to Australian racing. If he has not touched it, do not either. Out of all the books read this was the one that really answered my questions and allowed me to more easily comprehend the passion one could have for horse racing.

Carlyon is a long time Melbourne journalist and True Grit is a compilation of some of his best work on his great love. Given its nature the book does not seek to systematically educate you however you pick up enough along the way. You learn of the champions (Vo Rogue included) and the lesser lights in sport, coming away with a rounded view that yes I may grow to like it. If you can only read one book on horse racing, this is it – Basketballs.

  1. The Track – Mike Hayes

Transforming a television series into a book is difficult, you go from having had images and body language plus words into text and the track although full of information suffers for hit. This was ABC televisions program on the history of Australian racing, presented by topic rather than chronologically. There are many interview subjects (Les Carlyon included) that give their opinions on all subjects however it can feel repetitive with the same incidents often being discussed under multiple topics.

You do learn a lot about the history, what drew and still draws people in, therefore functionally it has served its purpose – Tennis Balls.

  1. The Master – Les Carlyon

What makes a book about someone’s life a portrait and not a biography? Broad brush strokes with an eye for detail where required, and Les Carlyon succeeds with this portrait of Bart Cummings. Despite knowing little of horse racing one fact you do know as an Australian is that Bart Cummings has trained the most Melbourne Cup winners, by a long way and is a legend in racing circles.

The book is not only a great read but a beautiful presentation of horse racing images throughout the years and could serve well on a coffee table as well as in a library. Carlyon perfects just the amount of information to give about Cummings as you journey through his life, learning the great successes and the tragedies (which there are less). You leave with no deified image of Cummings except that he is a good horseman, his people skills appearing to leave something to be desired, and that the Australian racing industry is very much built on individuals like him. Basketballs.

  1. They're Racing – Gary Hutchinson (Editor); Foreward by Les Carlyon

None of the books read have the sheer volume of information brought by this volume. Chronologically from the first white settlement up until the end of the 20th century every key moment, person, race and of course horse is profiled. The book is set up for reference and is easy reading dipping in and out. Further there is much enjoyment of the hundred's of images provided. Because you are not reading the same work consistently it is difficult to draw a consistent line through the sport in this presentation, one piece may not relate to another and repetition is again in this work as in The Track. But for the number of facts per hour reading this is the choice. Tennis Balls.

Cover Images Available thanks to and

Monday, August 6, 2012

Review: Sixty years on the back foot - Clyde Walcott

The Caribbean has produced several of the greatest batsmen of all time. However, many of these players seem to rail against faceless figures of authority. Currently, talisman Chris Gayle swats boundaries at whim – more often for lucrative T20 sides than for the West Indies. The chain which leads back through the likes of Brian Lara and Sir Vivian Richards – who was rather partisanly profiled in the acclaimed documentary Fire in Babylon – to George Headley.

Sixty years on the back foot
The second (or third, or fourth depending on how you look at it) of these superstars was Sir Clyde Walcott, a forerunner of devastating West Indian batsmanry and later president of the International Cricket Council. His autobiography, Sixty years on the back foot, was published at the conclusion of his ICC tenure in 1997.

His memoir is lightweight – entire tours are glossed over, especially those in which the West Indies struggled – and Walcott writes with the style of a man who finishes lengthy believable anecdotes with “Can you believe it?”. However, the parallels between West Indian cricket in 1952 and in 2012 are too plain to ignore.

Along with Sir Everton Weeks and Sir Frank Worrell, Walcott was one of the famed “Three Ws”, three Bajan players raised within a mile of each other and who helped West Indian cricket attain relevance in the 1950s. The significance of the three friends and their relationship is underscored throughout Walcott's writings as he attempts to characterise Caribbean cricket through their free-hitting exploits.

He does this for a simple reason: Walcott unquestionably thought that West Indian cricket, when played hard but for fun, is superior to any other. (Ed: he may be right) Time and again, his tacit disdain the orthodoxy inherent in 1950s English cricket is obvious; simultaneously he rejoices in the laid-back joie de vivre that formerly typified West Indian cricket.

Although Fire in Babylon incorrectly suggested that calypso cricket was provided only a team of loveable freewheelers (ie. losers), you can't escape the feeling while Walcott revelled in victories, he wouldn't countenance sacrificing style to achieve more success. His transition from money-chasing maverick pro to WICB ambassador adds another intriguing dynamic. However, like most politicians, his autobiography is an exercise in using many words to avoid saying much at all.

Although Walcott's memoir hearkens to different times, where pacemen were named Esmond Kentish and Foffie Edwards, there are still familiar cricket themes. Race relations, though downplayed, provided undercurrents of discontent. The same could be said for matters of money, as cricketers were still strictly classified as “professional” or “amateur”. That Worrell, Weekes and Walcott were forced to choose between making a living playing English league cricket rather than representing the West Indies provides a fifty-year prophecy of the WICB's current struggles with player free-agency.

The same issues have plagued West Indian cricket now for sixty years. The islands' success from 1975 to 1995 and more widespread cricketing professionalism only masked the difficulties of West Indian players and administrators. That the situation is unchanged over so long, coupled with difficult economic factors leaves the reader feeling that this situation is now intractable in West Indian cricket and the game is so much the poorer.

However disappointing the state of West Indian cricket, it's perhaps more disappointing that such an eminent figure in the game stuck true to his political, rather than returning to his maverick roots and challenging major failings in Caribbean cricket politics. Marbles.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review: In the Hornets' Nest - Joe Drape

The sheer sweaty bodyweight of beat writers attached to American sports teams makes books which chronicle one team's journey over an entire season relatively commonplace. It's not an original concept, and basketball teams lend themselves to these diaries more than most. The Jordan Rules, A Season on the Brink (by John Feinstein) and The Breaks of the Game are required reading for hoops fans.

In 1988-89, two season chronicles emerged simultaneously about compelling storylines at opposite ends of the NBA. The Franchise examined Jack McCloskey, the General Manager of the Championship-winning Detroit Pistons; the other, by Atlanta Journal-Constitution journalist Joe Drape, detailed the Charlotte Hornets' first NBA season. The result is In the Hornets' Nest.

Expansion is a gripping hook. There aren't many stories written about lousy teams, especially smaller-market ones. How often do you get a dynamic and in-depth record of building a franchise from the ground up?  In the Hornets' Nest should be a work of historical significance simply by existing; unfortunately it becomes a collection of beat-writer standards which don't do full justice to a fascinating period in the NBA's history.

New teams inherently offer plenty of angles, partly because the cast of characters is hungry and disparate, but also because – by design – they stink. Each member of an expansion team, administrator or player, has one goal: to do well enough to make money. When twenty characters all attempting to secure their individual futures are combined, an intriguing and rare set of pressures evolve; cataloguing individual and collective responses makes for fascinating reading.

This human element sells sports books.  Unfortunately, apart from boardroom machinations early and late, the personal element rarely comes through in Drape's book; this makes it feel insubstantial and perfunctory.  Watching an expansion team for the results is nonsensical; what matters are the foundations put in place for future success.  Perhaps because Charlotte's player base was so obviously transient it became difficult to see any individual improvement coming from any of their established players.

Photo courtesy:
When a nascent organisation develops, a maturity story can be attached both to individual elements and the structure as a whole – there's always interest (and a market) for coming of age tales. This aspect is also disappointingly downplayed; the only figure to be treated to three full dimensions is George Shinn, the man least acquainted with pro basketball and also the man with the most to learn.

When executed poorly, attempts at documenting eight months of human interaction can become a series of individual portraits rather than a slow crystallisation of overall character. Unfortunately, rather than opting to "grow" the Hornets' staff over the course of the season, Drape inserted WYSIWYG potted character studies which are rarely referred to later. Despite their fascinating roles, GM Carl Scheer and coach Dick Harter are treated to the same three page allottment as backup point guard Muggsy Bogues.

While lightweight, the book rams home a few crucial differences between The Leagues of then and now. The typical late-80s pursuit of size – any size – is highlighted, resulting in career third-stringer Stuart Gray being written about more than even his Mum thinks he deserves. Also, there is an obvious lack of process and method about both coaching and personnel decisions. Harter's coaching philosophy often suggested that improvement couldn't come from within but from outside; oddly, but understandably, Drape's writing reflects the same tenor when it comes to individual and collective maturity.

There are frequent gaps. Three quarters of the book has passed before Drape mentions who the team's starting point guard was (it was the immortal Michael Holton) and what should have been the most interesting sections of all – the 1988 expansion draft and the 1988 NBA draft – barely rate a mention.

There's a beat-writer's style to Drape's writing. He is even-handed so much so that it could be mistaken for a lack of joy; the same could be said of the players and administrators: the only people to see the season as an experience rather than something to be endured before they could draft again. It's easy fodder for basketball fans.  Tennis Balls.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review: Elisabeth Sladen - An autobiography

When Elisabeth Sladen passed away in April 2011, I was shocked and upset than at the death of any other of my childhood fiction stalwarts.  She consistent, intriguing and still on TV, but her death shook me up more so than even that of her co-star (and my then-hero) Jon Pertwee in 1996, despite that occurring in the midst of my teen-angsty-crying-at-the-drop-of-a-hat phase.

Her most notable role by far was as Doctor Who's best ever companion, Sarah Jane Smith, a role she played, on-and-off for nearly forty years. Her autobiography, released posthumously, is an interesting work which speaks volumes - in hushed tones - about the woman who would have preferred to be known as Elisabeth Miller.  Of course due to the vagaries of Equity, the UK actor's guild, that wasn't ever a possibility but contributes to the defining theme of her memoir, of someone utterly at home in family settings.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: The Twelve Caesars - Michael Grant
Michael Grant was a noted twentieth century historian who focused predominantly upon the early Roman empire.  He published several well-regarded works on that culture in that period, including perhaps his seminal piece The Twelve Caesars.

This narrative, which leans heavily upon the usual suspects (Suetonius, Pliny and Tacitus) is a conversational textbook - a popular version of a book of learning, much like I, Claudius - very much in vogue throughout the latter half of last century.  It delivers a potted biography of Julius Caesar and his eleven direct replacements - from Augustus to Domitian.

As a work, it delivers simply what it suggests on the packet: small bios, pieced together from influential - but hardly neutral - sources.  Grant time and again points out that Suetonius tended to highlight the sexual depravities of his subjects, while Tactitus' words showed contempt for each of the three Caesars who rose to their position via civil war (Galba, Otho and Vitellius).  

He delivers simple, effective portraits of highly complex men - figures simplified by period literature through rumour and suggestions being made out as fact.  He is even-handed and resists editorialising, except for during the last chapter where he tries unsuccessfully to "sum up" and only manages to confuse himself and his readers.

Unfortunately, there really is very little else to say.  Grant writes as an academic, with economy of emotion, as if just putting words down on paper for future generations.  If you're interested in the period or a history buff, then it's certainly worth a look - otherwise the source material may prove a little dry.  Tennis balls.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: Over Time - Frank Deford

courtesy: livetalksla.or
Frank Deford talks of his work Over Time not as a memoir but a we-moir, a collation of transient connections with figures more famous than himself. When asked to write a piece for alma mater Sports Illustrated about his early days at the United States' foremost sports magazine, he initially resisted; but as it became obvious there was a desire for a Mad Men style homage to the golden age of US magazines, no-one was in a better position to detail those salad days of the sixties.

Were you to boil down Deford's style to a single adjective, it would be wry. He is observant yet economical, distilling major events and people into their vital alchemy and transmitting what he absorbs with a pleasant mix of good humour and gravitas. He has used the same affable style for fifty years, through books, editorials and myriad essays; the result is four-hundred-odd pages of brilliant simple statements. In fact, Deford writes with vision and simplicity that makes readers often think “Why didn't I see it that way before?”

This geniality is only magnfied by an attitude of supreme moderation. Deford is a sporting centreist – as he proves with his weekly NPR commentaries – well aware of the unique position sport occupies in our cultural landscape. At a recent speech at the Seattle Public Library, he suggested both the import and triviality of sport by announcing the only two unnecessary cultural phenomena developed individually by every people have been sport and religion.

Acutely aware of his position as an observer rather than newsmaker, he presents his life journey quite superficially and bases his experiences around those in public life who were attracting the same attention. Where he writes about personal matters, it is almost entirely in regard to his artisanship, or concerning the athletes were the root source of his material and observations. A perfect example comes from one of the work's final chapters where he talks with shark Jimmy the Greek about their shared loss – children lost to Cystic Fibrosis.

This isn't your typical me-me-me book, detailing “my struggle against the odds” or a list of accomplishments made more impressive when taken out of context. Deford freely admits to benefiting from luck and the era in which he got his start. His writing is about his profession, rather than himself and as such you find yourself knowing less of the man than you would choose; no doubt Deford prefers this way. He revels in what he has seen throughout his career, being able to witness the triumph and despair that's inherent at any sport; at the same time however the career is obviously only part of the man.

However, because his scope spans five decades, he really does no more than touch upon so many of the topics that could conceivably sell Over Time: these are anecdotes of his time observing sport, rather than his opinions. The stories are personal and not hearsay; a particular example being when he caught a train with a young Muhammad Ali and found him searching for spiritual and emotional understanding, exploring that which would make him controversial. In this manner, his writing on Arthur Ashe is sad but upbeat and the reader absorbs Deford's patent respect for the great tennis player.

As a text for aspiring sportswriters it has no definite teaching points, or at least very few. Deford's lack of personal conceit contributes to this somewhat; his belief is that writing is something you can or can't do, something rarely learned well. This seems partially a cover for such a humble man about whom his craft agrees that he is the patrician.

While there are few absolute commandments, the aspiring blogosphere would do well to heed his obvious breadth of vision. The value of a broad intake of news and views is tacitly suggested, as being well-rounded provides writers with the ability to place sport and the context from which stories emerge into a more global spectrum.

It's a wonderful piece of writing. But from Frank Deford, would you expect anything else?


Suggested other reviews:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Review: Death of Kings - Bernard Cornwell

Death of Kings is the sixth book in Cornwell's Saxon Tales, which chronicle the birth of England as a united land around the turn of the tenth century.  It is very much a case of "more of the same" by the author, who delivers one of his more workmanlike novels of his twenty-plus year career.

It goes without saying that Cornwell's research and ability to insert his characters into key points in history are excellent: it is what he does.  Steve Martin makes jokes, water is wet, sickness is not nice and Cornwell will compile immaculate situations, described well and totally contextual.  In fact, Death of Kings is so heavy in a major historical event that the storytelling actually suffers a little.

That event, the death of Alfred the Great and subsequent scrabble for the throne, sees the focus rest with the family of the only Saxon/English monarch to have the title "the Great".  That means that three so-far background characters - Alfred's sons Osferth and Edward as well as his nephew Aethelwold - occupy much of the foreground.

As the two sons play a role in the notional correct inheritance, they are afforded character development which really isn't present for many of the other characters.  Aethelflaed, obviously one of Cornwell's muses, has her role somewhat minimised, while the book's major protagonist Uhtred drives the plot as usual.  With the throne's occupancy somewhat unsettled, the storyline feels similarly transitory - a placemarker until the Saxons move forward into regaining territory lost to the Danish invasions.

The book does thaw of relations between Uhtred and Alfred while the latter lies upon his deathbed.  Despite five earlier episodes and both men over 40 (the middle-ages equivalent of 60 or more) their relationship of respect without liking each other had, as the characters, grown old.
Perhaps as a result of the rise in characters like Osferth in combination with the brutal and violent nature of military battles of the era, sees more of Uhtred's inner circle of warriors dying than for many years.  In the tenth century, warriors wouldn't live to their forties unless they were excellent/smart/lucky, so for Uhtred's cohort of men to make it through the past two books relatively unscathed is something of an anomaly.

While still engaging, Death of Kings lacks some of the easy congruency of the past three Saxon Tales, earning it a rating of tennis balls.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Review: Stardust - Neil Gaiman

Don't try and take a purposeful walk with Neil Gaiman.  It'll take forever, you'll stop and smell myriad roses and probably end up never getting where you want.  In short, you'll meander, often simply for the sake of it, and he'll keep your attention for a while, but often be left feeling that the whole exercise was pointless.

The journey can be the reward ... but sometimes that reward is unsatisfying and annoying.

I've tried, wanted, to like Gaiman now - two times - and failed.

Stardust is one of my all-time favourite movies.  It's certainly got to be right up there - it features a predictably callow youth coming of age story, plenty of imaginative fight scenes, a strong - climactic - ending, wonderful sense of humour and  features all of Dexter Fletcher, De Niro, Ricky Gervais, Jason Flemyng, Mark Strong, Michelle Pfeiffer, a chick from Coupling and Claire Danes. 

Yes, Fletcher is listed first because he was in one of my kiddie favourites (Press Gang) and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.  Perhaps that's where the disconnect occurs: the producer of that seminal modern East-end gangster film was Matthew Vaughn, who directs the feature version of Stardust.  He obtained its rights at no cost from Gaiman, who thought he could do a good job in bringing it to life.  It turns out I like Matthew Vaughn's work a lot more than Neil Gaiman's.  This is one of those rare movies where it exceeds the work from which it grew.
Gaiman's version reads much the same as the first two thirds of the movie, but with the author's typical homespun feel.  While, alongside his delicate, graceful prose, this ability to create believable, real-world fantasies stands as (in my opinion) his greatest skill, this realism doesn't translate through to a big-screen fantasy.  Celluloid, for obvious reasons, plays up popular emotions like love, romance, intrigue and adventure.  Gaiman's style is to do quite the opposite, creating an interesting world with complex, engaging characters motivated by "real" human emotions.

The result is that the novel enchants you for the first sixty pages, then continues and finally peters out with about thirty pages remaining.  There isn't so much a climax, as a slow recession into nothingness like an old man trying to vocalise lost thoughts.  It's not bad, and quite enjoyable, but leaves the reader somewhat disappointed at the lack of climax.  It doesn't feel like it's missing a sword fight, or a great happy ending; just that the final pages see a bunch of interminable meandering, as life would generally provide.

Unfortunately, Gaiman is writing (mostly, up to this point, very well) a fantasy.  We don't want real-world finishes, or at least, I don't.  I want an inventive solution which isn't a deux ex machina.  Gaiman creates wonderful starts, beautiful situations, yet Stardust only strengthened a burgeoning belief that this is his forte, rather than pursuing a narrative.  Tennis balls.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Review: Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters - Johnny Warren

This is my second foray into Australian soccer literature, the first having been less than impressive. The good news is that the now 10 year old 'Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters' by the late Johnny Warren is far better, the bad news is that Warren fell into the standard traps of all passionate Australian soccer figures.

Warren had an amazing playing career for someone growing up in Australian during the 1950's where soccer was third or fourth on the list of priorities for most young men (particularly Anglo ones such as Warren). As is fairly portrayed by Warren's title, a fair amount of tasteless stigma was also labelled at those playing the game.

Given the options available to Warren he managed to forge a club and international career that deserves celebration. Representing the St George (Budapest) club with great distinction Warren no doubt had to prove himself able to transcend ethnic boundaries; 40 odd matches for Australia (including the 1974 World Cup) showed much dedication at a time when it was hardly a glamourous lifestyle.

The matches the Australian team of the late 1960's and early 1970's deserve legendary status, not just for the achievements of the team but for the scenarios in which they played. The Friendly Nations cup played as an olive branch to the Vietnamese people by the Western anti-communist forces is an amazing tale for the conditions (warfare) that the tournament was played within. As well Warren eulogises on some of his contemporaries who should receive more credit for their skills by those who believe that legendary status in Australian soccer began with Viduka and Kewell et al.

For the non devoted supporter of soccer in Australia there are two general criticisms that can be labelled at the sport in this country. Number one is that it is constantly racked with in fighting and controversy. Number two is that the sport needs to learn to stand on its own two feet and fight for its place in the landscape; rather it constantly complains about the level of media coverage afforded Australian Football or Rugby League over itself. Warren in the last third of the book spirals violently into into these two criticisms and never recovers. If those in charge of the sport believe it is the best sport then they need to rise above arguing internally or complaining about the competition and simply produce a product that attracts the masses.

Recommend this book for a read and a good summary history of the sport in Australia and an interesting life story that is at the same time stereotypically Australian, but also very different from your usual sporting heroes. Tennis Balls.

Cover image thanks to

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review: Game for anything - Gideon Haigh

If Bill Simmons is the everyman sportswriter full of pop culture, in-jokes and homer-isms, then Gideon Haigh is his antithesis. You read Simmons as he thinks aloud, a man down at the bar with his mates. However, he's just self-aware enough to know that because he monopolises the conversation he should fling jokes about to keep his audience engaged. There's obvious research, but done on the sly; he's no stat-geek, but muses on feel and zeitgeist.

Haigh, deliberately and with culture incomparable, compiles cricketing words that evokes a history professor's magnum opus. Immaculate research, mirrored by thoughtful prose. Simmons' raison d'etre is entertaining learning. For Haigh, it is the reverse. And they're both brilliant.

Cover image courtesy:
Haigh's 2004 compendium “Game for Anything” released in Australia his collected writings for publications such as Wisden Asia and the now-defunct periodicals The Bulletin and Wisden Cricket Monthly. It features several learned insights into periods of the game about which I, a studious and informed cricket fan, knew very little. Each essay is structured magnificently, being economical yet descriptive; each word is steeped in context. That he quotes an assortment of historical figures from Jardine Machiavelli to Mark Waugh exemplifies his remarkable reading range.

In fact the stand-out point of Haigh's work is just that – his research. Articles are based not around his palpable love of the game, it's correct spirit and statutes; his writing is revolves around a prescient “angle” and why it emerges as such a story from a multi-textured background.

There are elements of whimsy as well: he defines his favourite cricketer as the English batsman Chris Tavare, decries the rise of park cricket sledging and, most beautifully of all, develops delicate snapshots of cricket history. These short trips are, unlike the footage that comprises most of our memories, full-colour and high-definition – he makes Bradman more than ridiculous numbers and grainy footage of a fourth-ball duck.

Perhaps what's most remarkable about his text is how easily he makes just the right words fit together on paper. Despite obvious labour over books, newspapers, journals and microfiche, Haigh's words appear with economic precision – as if he has the most severe of editors. When writing for a mass audience using such a scholarly approach, Haigh is to be praised and respected for balancing intellect with ease of reading. Characters like Lawrence Rowe, Richard Wardill and characteristics such as gambling are all treated with the same laconic, precise respect.

If you learn about politics from a book by a political master, you learn about cricket from Haigh – far more than from any other writer today. His words lack Roebuck's flair but also his occasional florid tones. He analyses the game from a removed, scholarly position; writing not because he loves the game (although he does) but because he feels it has stories to tell. In the prologue, he encourages young writers to do likewise. A memorable example was my favourite essay from Game for Anything, concerning the late-19th century Australian captain Harry Trott and his commitment to Kew Asylum.

Highly recommended, scoring footballs.

For a different perspective, the SMH also reviewed this work.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Review: And God Created Cricket – Simon Hughes

Former veteran county cricketer now cricket journalist Simon Hughes posits this work as being something of an antithesis to the efforts provided by most cricketing historians. Hughes even goes as far to mention that those works developed by ex-Prime Ministers are too serious. 'And God Created Cricket' is a light hearted romp through centuries of cricket (not to mention debauchery, skulduggery, and downright bad manners).

Hughes has researched others works to provide the flow of events from which he latches onto the more obscure notes of players and matches and embellishes the stories to their full extent. One must credit Hughes for sticking to the historical script well, providing those with less desire for details, a work of ease to get a picture of the history of cricket. But there are flaws.

Firstly, as a tabloid journalist one should not be surprised, Hughes seems incapable of allowing a chapter to pass without finding need to mention or compare cricket to Premiership Football. Really if you had never heard of Hughes the cricketer (and likely given his mediocre career you would not have) you would think that he is a Football journalist trying his hand at something new. Some of the references are just a waste of words. Cricket has a history longer and with far greater depth than any football code, to feel it necessary to attract readership this way is missing the point.

Secondly, there are a number of errors throughout the book, the sort of errors that should never get through good proof reading and editing, but they did. These are not errors of judgement in interpreting history but errors of name. The 1930's Australian batsman was Vic Richardson, not Viv; and the bowler Fleetwood-Smith's Christian name was not Laurie, but Leslie and in fact he was better known as 'Chuck'. Simple things that with some care would have been avoided and may have helped the more educated readership enjoy the book more.

Fair is fair, as a cricketing purist I was unlikely to rate this book above Tennis Balls when I seek so much from cricketing literature, but it does not even make this.  Marbles.

Image thanks to

Monday, April 16, 2012

Review: Wishful Drinking - Carrie Fisher

My Mum and Dad were two thirds of the Brad, Jen and Angelina of the '50s.  I love them both despite their flaws.  I did Star Wars.  I married, then dated Paul Simon.  A lot of his (depressing) lyrics are about me.  I have a sense of humour, which is a really good thing.  I was addicted to a whole bunch of drugs and alcohol.  I wrote a novel about it, and my famously dysfunctional family.  A gay friend of mine once died in my bed which gave me PTSD.  My second husband left me for another man, which messed with me even more.  Through all this, I was bipolar, but didn't know it.  When I did, I received electroshock therapy, meaning I can't remember much.  I'm now under treatment and living a more centred, normal life than ever before.

This may as well be Carrie Fisher's book Wishful Drinking, a text adaptation of her successful one-woman stage show.  Really, without much exaggeration, the paragraph above could well represent the entire lightweight 150+ pages.  It's patently a cash-in from the stage show, which was was designed to be a humorous recollection of what led her from famous parents, through Star Wars to Simon, addiction and commitment to various asylums.  Unfortunately this sight-gag-reliant, disjointed and vague approach is acceptable (even desirable) in a spoken word performance, it falls flat as a text.

Image courtesy:
The other reason for this eclectic authorship is a result of Fisher undergoing electroshock therapy for mental illness.  This means she simply doesn't remember much of her life, as the treatment rendered whole chunks of her past are a virtual nonevent.  Being unable to recall much of one's life has the capacity to make a memoir either oddly ethereal or painfully shallow.  Fortunately, Fisher stays mainly with the former and the book accurately represents what she remembers of her life - a series of unconnected events with their nascence stemming from a naive showbiz upbringing, early fame and drugs. 

She gets more serious - but not much, given her stated aim of finding humour in the blackness - when writing of her issues with mental health.  The book ends with a moving one-page tribute to those similarly afflicted, pleading for their everyday battle needs to be respected rather than shunned.  Fittingly and redeemingly, it is the most coherent and lucid page of the entire book.  The narrative style means Fisher's constant struggle with mental illness is danced around, but is the gravitas keeping the book from being not so much light as vaporous.

There is every chance my answer to the archetypal profile question "Who would you most like to have dinner with?" would include Carrie Fisher.  This would be for reasons of then and now.  (The second clip actually boasts many/most of the book's best gags.)  While the botox-free 1982 version would be welcome for re-living my childhood and teen years, the 2012 edition would provide a completely different perspective on almost every conversation.  As much as my teen self hates my 2012 version for writing it, this year's Carrie Fisher would take a seat at my table.  However, this still can't make me recommend her book too highly - marbles - it loses something in translation.  See the show instead.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: Fragile Things - Neil Gaiman

I'd heard so much about Neil Gaiman.

He's probably the most followed auteur author on Twitter, he wrote a quality episode of my favourite TV programme (Doctor Who - The Doctor's Wife), I loved the movie Stardust and he's become a sort-of geek Elvis.  Inspired, I reserved a copy of a short story collection from my local library, my first Gaiman.

I hope I chose poorly.

Fragile Things is a collection of short stories and poetry that Gaiman was commissioned to write for various collations.  It begins with a twenty-odd page exploration into the roots of each tale, during which he writes about a time where he began to collaborate with master of the genre Harlan Ellison.  He says that Ellison had to finish one of his own works, and told Gaiman to begin work on their short story and he'd catch up.  When he returned, he told Gaiman "No, not doing it - it reads like Neil Gaiman".  This could perhaps sum up the book better than any of my observations: Gaiman has his own recognisable style which he pairs with a varying tone from story to story.

Which is fine, of course, expected even - except when the stories aren't grabbing the reader.  The title, Fragile Things, is perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the work, for it perfectly describes Gaiman's writing.  He uses each word precisely, delicately and lightly, giving the reader the feeling that should they close the book too quickly, the words of the text will dislodge and flutter into disorder.  He writes like one assembles a jigsaw - there is no alternative but to be precise.

Courtesy: Jar of Juice
He is an artisan, respectful of the written word and it's propensity misuse and so writes with paramount agility.  Unfortunately for my preferences though, his deftness with sentence construction is paired with a minimalist approach to storyline; this collection comprises mainly beautifully constructed scenes which rarely tell the end of the tale.

The stories within are immaculate games of "What If...", leading to a number of unusual situations, but often lack resolution.  In many ways, this book is like a lighter collection of Coen Brothers short films - stuff happens and then the movie ends.  Given my past reviews, it should come as no surprise  that resolution forms a key part of my literary enjoyment.  Gaiman, like the Coens, aren't strong on this and prefer to present interesting scenes that leave the reader where the artist started - with a "What about..."

In Volume One of his prison diaries, Jeffrey Archer wrote about creating short fictions.  When doing so, he said, it was imperative to have the end in mind.  A novel could be plotted logically and, although needing to collect tension properly and avoid any Deus ex machinae, didn't need a hard ending in mind when writing began.  Archer is obviously from a completely different school of writing from Gaiman, but there is reason to his statements.  Gaiman can ignore them simply because these short fictions rarely led anywhere, much less a conclusion.

I'm looking forward to my next tryst with Neil Gaiman, if only because I'm positive (or at least hoping) that I'll enjoy it more than this load of marbles.

Related review: Stardust - Neil Gaiman

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Review: More Than a Game - John Major

I really do need to admit that although being a born and bred Australian I am spending more and more time putting my head above the neighbouring fence and enjoying the delights of sport as enjoyed by the English. This is quite the admission, and flies in the face of everything I learned from the likes of Dean Jones, Allan Border, and Steve Waugh. English cricket to them was defined by failure and therefore very much the lesser when compared to Australia's ruthless winning culture (even when losing), but I am no longer of the same opinion and not just because Australia has lost the past two Ashes series.

The real sticking point that for my mind that Australian cricket falls short of is its cultural impact. While we cannot deny that cricket remains a strong part of Australian culture, for the English over the past 250 years it is clear that cricket has has gone beyond merely being a part of and driven culture. Australian cricket has not shifted society as English cricket did. While Australians often pointed to the archaic distinction between amateurs and professionals (upper and lower classes) as being disgraceful, the reality is that such distinctions were well established in English society at large. While cricket did indeed choose to accept and incorporate them into it's play, it became a microcosm for the observation of social distinctions highlighting their hypocritical nature and ultimately doing away with them.

Without becoming a screaming Anglophile let us not forget that there are plenty of parts of Australian cricketing history that one may choose to let lie when all is said and done. Cricket historians may eventually afford the words 'mental disintegration' the same level of disgust and horror as has already been attributed 'bodyline'.

Cricket became for England a pastime upon which a nations leisure revolved, as John Major title's his book it is 'More Than a Game' with many famous cricketing names being non-players. How many sports or leisure activities honour journalists and administrators to the same degree as cricket does? Not to mention those who were patrons of the game. How many sports have entire wings of literature (fiction and non-fiction) devoted to them, not to mention certain religious understandings being exemplified as was 'Muscular Christianity' – although a nod must go to Rugby for its theological input as well.

Major brings all of this together in a tremendous work of historical review. His purpose is to describe what he believes are the lost centuries of cricket. Crickets actual beginnings likely will never be known but positive evidence for it existing in 17th century England exists. Major takes the reader on a journey to understand these earliest moments of the game he loves, and how the gradual shift in English society was mirrored by the growth that became an empires favourite pastime.

This is not a book for the casual cricket lover so be wary. It is as full of detail as any book I have ever read. Major profiles at length the characters and teams that made up the game in each moment through history. It would be hard pressed to accept this as a good read based on that description but honestly I could not put this book down and wished it would never end.

Cricket tradition is not what it is often made out to be in 21st century Australia. Modified versions of the game did not originate with 50 over cricket or receive an injection of charisma upon the 'revolution' that is T20. Afford yourself a peruse at the very least of Wikipedia and you will find men of the like of Billy Beldham entering into one on one contests of gladiatorial nature in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, or the entrepreneurial William Clarke leading his 'All-England XI' around for invitational games often against the odds. You see cricket has always evolved, tradition did not originate with Chappell brothers or even Sir Donald Bradman, cricket history runs much, much deeper.

The flow of the work is exceptional by Major. For chapter upon chapter he builds a chronologically based picture of the games history. But just at the right moment when the reader needs a rest he pauses to reflect on specific persons or positions in the game of cricket. Although counter to the rhetoric of most latter day Australian players, cricket is not limited to those privileged enough to be blessed with the skill to play. Major honours with specific chapters the patrons and administrators, scorers and journalists who do not play but their involvement requires no less admiration. They like Major, loved it unconditionally even though they may not have been able to bowl with the fire of Fred Spofforth.

Of course Major is a former British Prime Minister, and a small litter of political gibing can be found in this books pages. But we will forgive him this as politics has been his life. (Major may still wake every night trying to explain to the long gone British public that 'New Labour' is not what you think it was, before cuddling up to his soft Mrs Thatcher doll and going back to sleep).

English cricket is a cultural phenomenon, not just a sport. Cricketers all over the world today are treading well worn paths and carrying a beacon for a culture that has a long history. They are by far not the first, nor will be the last to enjoy this great game. Basketballs.

Cover image thanks to

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review: The World Game, The Story of How Football went Global - Les Murray

A book covered in infamy upon its release. Murray initially chose to state Socceroo captain Lucas Neill as the leading mercenary against coach Pim Verbeek, then upon threat of legal action, grievous bodily harm and stigmata elects to withdraw the statements. The book really did not get much better than the confusing episode that preceded it in my attention.

Lets begin with the accusatory statements that the copy I read retained. Just the quick way the incident is skimmed over, one paragraph enough apparently for one of the most dramatic stories to come of the 2010 World Cup campaign, left me amazed. Surely such an incident was worthy a chapter, some attempt at corroboration? In reality we do not know what is truth and what is not – if there was not some truth to it why did Murray put it in in the first place? If there was why did he retract the statement so willingly and declare he had falsified them? Absolutely ridiculous yet pretty standard for a book that has no idea where it is going or what its purpose is.

There is a positive, and to not afford Murray his due for this would be wrong. Murray has chosen to highlight footballers and teams that he believes are the best ever. His choices open the mind of the casual observer such as myself up to learning of names such as Di Stefano and Garrincha who were greats of the game yet escape mainstream notoriety such as Maradona and Pele. Maradona and Pele are indeed profiled, and worthy praise is afforded them, however Murray steers clear of players such as David Beckham or Wayne Rooney. To him these latter day notables are notable for more than simply being great footballers, but also a product of the English style of play that he regularly turns his nose up at through the book.

As a footballing purist it is absolutely with an educated eye that Murray passes judgement on the English game, while also holding up that which has been played in Eastern Europe and South America. Murray though labours the point and many others over and over again, so much so that the reader spirals in and out of deja vu. The tragedy that was the Hungarian national teams failure to win the final of the 1954 World Cup must be explained in agonising detail multiple times according to Murray. Psychologists at the ready, Murray (born László Ürge in Hungary) has still not reached 'closure' on this boyhood heartbreak 57 years later. This is not the only repetition.

Diego Maradona is Murray's choice as the greatest footballer of all. Murray waxes lyrical about his stardom back in Argentina, his struggles at Barcelona, his adoption as a Neapolitan, and of course his heroic leadership of Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986. But Murray admits to the star of Maradona being tarnished with his drug abuse and of course the 'Hand of God' goal on his way to lifting the 1986 World Cup. Murray provides a well balanced and thoughtful analysis of the latter incident. Next chapter however has Murray running through an explanation of every World Cup ever held, the highlights and star players. Come 1986 what do we read? A well balanced and thoughtful analysis of the 'Hand of God' incident, again.

There are also contradictions from one chapter to the next further confusing the reader and making it clearer again the book was written in a patchwork format and without central purpose. One chapter Murray criticises heavily the moves in 2003 and 2004 to remove the ethnically tied clubs from being part of a national league, as to him this was a slap to those who kept the game going all the years. Yet in the next chapter Murray is singing the praises of Frank Lowy for his leadership in bringing about the A-League – hang on Les you cannot have it both ways?

Except that you will derive enjoyment from learning sporting history otherwise unknown as a sporting nerd the book serves little purpose and receives Marbles - just.

Cover image thanks to