Books to avoid, books to buy

It’s that time of year when relatives are starting to buy all kinds of ill-advised presents for loved ones and books always feature fairly high on the list of such items.  Obviously, given the laws of supply and demand and all that, there are loads of new books hitting the shelves at the moment but, with an eye on the Pareto principle, one could be forgiven for concluding that most of them are worth avoiding.

In common with all other genres, GAA-related books tend to appear in numbers at this time of year.  In general, I find that these titles tend to be fairly hit-and-miss, with more emphasis on the latter compared to the former.  Partly I suppose it’s because, as is the case with every sports title (as well as The Day of the Jackal), you know how the book’s going to end but in many cases it’s because the material can often be dull, ghostwritten stuff.  It’s very rare, in other words, to find yourself with an unputdownable sports book, though I think Keith Duggan’s examination of our travails came pretty close.  (Sports-related novels are an even rarer bird but David Peace’s The Damned Utd is an absolute classic within this category).

I’ve read two GAA books over the past few weeks and I wouldn’t recommend giving either of them to your favourite uncle this festive season.  Both are ghostwritten and the ghouls that wrote them don’t seem to be the liveliest souls in town. (Incidentally, before I taking up these two books, I read Robert Harris’s Ghost, a lively thriller written from the standpoint of a ghostwriter and which proved far more entertaining than either of the ghostwritten titles I subsequently tackled).

Oisin McConville’s The Gambler isn’t even a new book – it was out in time for last Christmas – but it’s still on some bookshelves this year.  There’s some moderately interesting bits in it, like when he talks about Armagh’s mental demeanour in the run-up to their breakthrough All-Ireland success in 2002 but he then fails to give any kind of considered opinion as to why, having reached the summit, Armagh were unable to add at least one other All-Ireland to that solitary success.

When the book was initially published around this time last year, most of the attention (hardly surprising, given its title) concentrated on McConville’s travails with the bookies and his decision to tell the world about his problems seemed to make it some kind of cathartic addict-in-recovery exercise.  If it is, it’s a very leaden and one-dimensional recounting of an addiction case study and, like much else in the book, there’s very little in this that would make you warm to the Armagh man’s story.  You end up (well, I did) with the impression that he’s a bit of a dour, humourless and rather immature kind of individual, one who had the bad fortune to team up with a dull and unimaginative ghostwriter.

Paddy Russell’s Final Whistle is a bit better but, in truth, that wouldn’t be difficult.  Most of the real newsworthy bits of this one – especially his take on the Paul Galvin affair – have already been serialised in the media and so there’s little new to be learned from reading the book itself.  The stuff about the controversial 1995 All-Ireland final is interesting, although I thought the way he dwelt at length about how the fall-out from his handling of the game affected him personally was a tad overcooked.   His description of how he recognised that he’d handled the Battle of Omagh poorly and how, arising from this, he dealt very differently with the Donnycarney Donnybrook earlier this year is an illuminating insight into how a ref goes about doing his business.  Mayo readers will also be interested to know that Paddy concedes he should have sent off Ciaran Whelan for that disgraceful tackle on our Ronan in 2006.  He claims not to have seen the incident but my memory of the match was that he was perfectly positioned and just bottled the decision. His views on what needs to be done to ensure better reffing (a second ref positioned in the stands and giving umpires the right to draw the refs attention to all infractions on the field) are, given his long experience with the whistle, worthy of due consideration.

But the book itself is a frustrating and poorly assembled read. It’s very oddly written because, although ostensibly it’s Paddy’s own story, it’s peppered through with direct quotes from twenty or thirty other people, including his wife and kids, other refs, linesmen and umpires and anyone else who happens to stick his beak in.  The result is that there’s hardly any continuity to the narrative and Paddy’s story – which is betimes one worth listening to (and one which could give myself and others cause to think before launching into yet another tirade of ahforfuckssakerefyahfuckingbollixyah) – gets lost in this thicket of unnecessary other voices, whose addition detracts greatly from the core narrative.

So, don’t waste you hard-earned, credit-crunch imperilled euros on either of these.  Instead, for what it’s worth, here’s my (non-GAA) shortlist for the best books I’ve read so far this year.  All but one are non-fiction and in this category there’s Peter Godwin’s Mukiwa, Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song (an oldie, I know, and a very long one too but a totally riveting read), Simon Sebag Montefiore’s two Stalin books (Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar and Young Stalin), Nicholas Rankin’s Telegram from Guernica and (another oldie this, but republished earlier this year as a Penguin Modern Classic) the searing The Grass Arena by John Healy (not that John Healy, this one).  Topping the lot, however, is Joseph O’Neill’s majestic, lyrical novel Netherland which, as well as being a wonderfully written deliberation about a man adrift in post-9/11 America, even has a sporting theme, albeit that it’s cricket played by a Dutchman in New York.  O’Neill should have run away with this year’s Booker but in the event he only made the longlist.  Crap refereeing isn’t confined to GAA pitches, it would seem.

16 thoughts on “Books to avoid, books to buy

  1. A book just published and has slipped under the radar is Dan O Neills “Divided Loyalties”.Dan a Mayo man won a National league medal with Mayo in 1954 and a Connacht medal in 55. However he fell out with the county board soon after. His consolation was an All Ireland winners medal with Louth in 57. Another Mayo man Seamus O Donnell partnered him at midfield that day. O Donnell also won league and cship with Mayo. The book is very good and gives an insight to the then co board. Liam Horan helped write it and its a grand read.Its published by Low ball against the wind publishing. Cool title.

  2. Thanks for that, ontheroad, that’s one I hadn’t heard of at all and it sounds like it’s one worth reading. I’ll look out for it the next time I’m on a Hodges Figgis binge!

  3. Hodges Figgis is the spot Willie.

    This has been a middling enough year for GAA books but last year produced two crackers, if I may make so bold.

    The first one is Jack O’Connor’s. I had a few cracks at it on the blog when it came out because of the controversy that was about at the time of its publication, but once I actually read it I found it fascinating. A fascinating insight, finally, into what makes them tick. Thin gruel for Mayomen of course, but you can see why they’d have trouble taking us seriously, and that will go on until we soften their coughs.

    The other book I’d recommend from last year is Lá an Phaoraigh, by Seán Óg de Paor. It’s written in Irish but if you fancy learning the language you could do a lot worse than have de Paor’s book as a primer. He talks up the GPA at the end which I didn’t care for myself, but everyone’s entitled to their opinion I suppose.

  4. Talking about GAA books I still think one of the best I’ve read is Denis Walsh’s “The Revolution Years”. It may be a hurling book but it’s a fascinating insight into the post 1992 hurling era when counties like Clare under Loughnane and Wexford under Liam Griffin made big breakthroughs to win All irealnd honours. What really strikes home is how much passion and effort went into winning an All Ireland for these counties, dealing with inferiority complexes, the history of losing to the big teams, not performing on the big day, so called bad luck and so on…. does it sound familiar ? !! Their success was a result of unbelievable hard work and absolute dedication with a highly motivating manager at the helm – total focus. There’s more in the book than just that and it is a riveting read in it’s own right but the sheer detail of the lenghts these counties went to for success is a lesson for many others.
    Maybe a copy in the stocking for all our own county players and managers this Christmas might be considered. !

  5. Thanks for those tips, lads. I should get hold of Jack’s book alright, Spailpin, even if it does mean giving some royalties to Tom Humphries! Now that Jack’s back where he belongs, it’s even more relevant than it was this time last year. Hmmm, not sure about tackling a book in The First Language – I think Buntus Cainte might be a more appropriate starting point … I like the sound of that Denis Walsh one too, Ma-Yoman, and I think it should still be easily available. I have to head into town tomorrow so I can feel another Hodges Figgis blow-out coming on.

  6. Thanks for that, John, that’s another one I hadn’t come across. I’ve just had a look at what’s in it on Amazon (that feature where you can look inside books is just great) and it certainly looks worthy of a read.

  7. I second Ma-Yoman about Hurling: The Revolution Years. Denis Walsh talked to a huge amount of people to write that book, more than these fellas normally bother with, and more than normally volunteer to go on the record either. It’s fantastic that such a great decade now has such a great document to remember it by.

    I’m not gone on spoiling the Fat Man with gold either Willie but O’Connor gives away much more in that book than you’d expect. Half the fun is reading between the lines.

  8. Are there any more details on Dan O Neills “Divided Loyalties” book? Can’t seem to find it on net. Thanks

  9. I can’t find anything else on that one either, John, but I’ll keep digging and post a comment here if I find anything. Where did you get it, ontheroad?

    BTW John, I got the “Best of the West” today and it looks like it’s going to make for a few enjoyable evenings by the fire. Thanks again for the tip about that one.

  10. I am after finding out that Easons are selling it as well. nice bit of history and that the old board was a pain back then as well.

  11. Thanks for that, ontheroad, I’ll get to Easons at some point within the coming week and see if it’s there.

  12. Couldn’t agree more about ‘Hurling: The Revolution Years’, fantastic insight into how those teams came to prominence.

    As we’re talking older books, one of the best I’ve read is ‘The Road To Croker’ by Eamonn Sweeney, it’s certainly the most humorous anyway. God knows we need a bit of cheering up following Mayo!

  13. Hurling the Revolution years is worthy of the high praise it has rec’d- one of the best I’ve read. It even managed not to tone down Liam Griffin’s preaching… something that is not easy done I can tell you.
    Re Connaught GAA Greats, why is Alan Kerins on the back cover?…. Esp as a FOOTBALLER? and Liam Sammon is nowhere to be seen, despite having lined out in every positon for Galway. Charity work, while laudable, has nothing to do with a book on GAA.

  14. If anyone is interested in Horse Racing, a book I would recommend is “Add a Zero” by the irish Times Racing Correspondent, Brian O’Connor…

    He starts out at the beginning of the Irish Flat Racing season with I think, €5,000 and attempts to “add a zero” to it (€50,000)…very interesting read and gets behind a lot of the stories of the 2007 Flat Season….

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