We can’t move for books here in Fellicionado Heights. The wife’s doing her nut and wants them gone. I steadfastly refuse and so until she comes round to my way of thinking she’ll be in the garden getting her head down under the tree, or the shed if the weather takes a turn. I eat the best books to gain every last ounce of their knowledge and wipe my arse with the crap ones….pun very much intended.
When I wasn’t out running or cycling or climbing last year I was stuck inside having a good old read. I read many, many books. I know………….cool! Listed below are ‘five of the best’. I urge you to buy them or borrow them off a mate:
1. Vague Direction: Dave Gill
Yes I know him (name check!) and yes that does make me biased and yes, since you ask, I DID write the foreword to it (guilty!) BUT as sure as Joss Naylor is the greatest living athlete, this is a bloody good book! It’s not a slog, it’s not some egotistical nonsense (unlike this blog) and it’s certainly not been written to get rich quick (I’m pretty sure the only place you’ll find this is Amazon or some obscure book-worms retreat on Kendal High Street – or www.vaguedirection.com).
What this book does, and does really, really well, is cut away all the hype and crap and focus purely and simply on the process. It’s just a simple metaphor for life. The old adage that “it’s not about the destination, but all about the journey”……..are you all sitting cross-legged in the yurt you erected in your garden to the sound of mating whales? Take another sip of your Fairtrade iced-decaf-soy-ristretto-sugar free-skinny latte and I’ll go on. It’s not hippy-ish in the slightest, nor is it hipster-ish – though Dave does now work for a charity in London (make of that what you will – good bloke, I say). The book is very life-affirming. It’s witty, funny (genuinely laugh-out-loud) and reflective. You’re going to have lots of time by yourself to reflect on a solo around America bike journey I guess! At no point is the book patronising or self-righteous. At no point was I skipping forward pages to see when the end of the chapter was.
In short, buy it. It’s a story that has been told before in similar guises sure, but it’s more genuine than any that I’ve ever read and that, to me, is it’s charm.
If you liked this, you’ll like…………Cycling Home from Siberia (Rob Lilwall)
2. Hunger: Sean Kelly
The second of the cycling books to make it on my shortlist of ‘best books of the year’. If you’ve cycled on a bike before or watched the Tour de France on the telly, you’ll know who Sean Kelly is. He was, and still is, the boss. Your classic ‘hard-as-all-bastards’ hard bastard. What was a quote of his? Ah yeah…..(I paraphrase here – apologies) “I check the weather, I put on my gear, I go out and do my spin, then when I’m back I decide if it’s too wet or not.” The only person to look The Man with the Hammer in the eye and live to tell the tale. He’s got to be my ultimate cycling hero (sorry Wiggo).
To the book then. It’s good. Very good. Yeah it follows the classic format of all sporting biographies – early life, making it as a nero-pro, being accepted as a pro, signing for a big team, winning races, retirement…..all of which is the point of a biography after all! It’s written with the same honesty and humility that was evident in his riding style. I’m happy to rub it in that he, as a rider, was way before my time but you get a sense of belonging to that era that I haven’t really got from other such books (sit down Sean Yates, your one sucks). I’m really into the training side of things as much as the racing side of things and I like people that make themselves suffer (in the nicest possible sense). Sean Kelly is that man.
If you liked this, you’ll like…………The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling’s Greatest One-Day Races (Peter Cossins) – bit of a drag this one but historically poff!
3. The World of Cycling According to G: Geraint Thomas
Not so much a biography as how-to guide/observation comedy rolled into pages with words printed on them bound by card – or book, if you will. What a great one of those this is. People who know more than me about these things having been bemoaning the fact that there’s so few ‘characters’ in cycling anymore. Define a ‘character’? Anyway, in my eyes ‘G’ is definitely one of them, picking up the mantle from Sir Wiggo in the flamboyance stakes.
What’s refreshing about the book (all elite sportsmen take note) is that it’s very matter-of-fact and down to earth, covering worries that I never knew professional cyclists shared with us punters i.e. boredom and his own, semi-unique take on the ‘rules’ of cycling. He brings cycling down to my level, your level and our level. Where some elitist website (sorry Velominati – I still love you) tells you only idiots wear team colours when they’re not part of the team, good ol’G says “bollocks, if you support them, wear them” – or words to that effect. At the end of the day I’m reading that book cos I’m a fan. I support Aston Villa FFS! If, for some totally inexplicable and drug-addled reason, I want to wear their team shirt then I will……I’ve vowed not to take it off until they next win (it smells a bit).
So yeah, this book is just plain good fun and good sense. It’s another humble and honest account that does away with the usual ‘I rode this bike at this race’ or ‘I was not happy with the way the team sidelined me for the Tour’ stuff and instead makes that all important connection between the ‘fan’ and the ‘pro’.
If you liked this, you’ll like…………the one above or The Racer (David Millar)
4. The Illustrated Herdwick Shepherd: John Rebanks
Well, well ,well what can I say about this beauty? It’s his second book – the first one (The Shepherd’s Life) I thought was a tiny bit pretentious but had a solid core message to it. This one? Well, well, well. It’s a bit good. As a bit of background reading I’d recommend The Shepherd’s Life and Counting Sheep – they outta keep you in check. By the way Counting Sheep is literally about sheep….just so you’re warned.
My family on my mother’s side are farmers up on the west coast of Scotland and I used to ‘earn’ my holidays up there as a younger lad but that’s pretty much where my experience ends. It never was, or will be, a vocation as it is for my uncle and grandpa before him, nor indeed as it is for men like John Rebanks. I dabbled in the toughness that it requires (as in, I got wet and muddy a bit for a couple of weeks at a time) but was never immersed in the culture that farming, and in particular hill-farming, generates. Frankly I’d feel like a right twat if I started asking my uncle how ‘hard’ farming was, or why, if they get all these government/EU subsidies, does he still have to work 3 jobs as well as farm?? The truth is, as this book shows, there is more, much more, to it than that. It’s about as hard a ‘living’ as you can make.
I worked for my uncle on his farm for a summer or so and expressed an interest, my only interest, in taking up farming. “The only reason I do it,” he said “is for the views”. That’s why this book strikes more of a chord with me than John Rebanks’ first one….there’s pictures! The words deal with practical matters, like judging sheep at shows (with anecdotes that go along with it), and leave the pictures to fill in the blanks of our imagination. Now don’t get me wrong this isn’t a Colin Prior photography workbook, they’re all taken with an iPhone, and I could DEFINITELY take better ones in places but then I’m not up there, on the fells with the camera.
I’m losing myself here and not making much sense. It’s a great book and it’s a real book. That work?
If you liked this, you’ll like…………The Contrary Farmer (Gene Lodgson) or any of the ones I mentioned above
5. A Brief History of Seven Killings: Marlon James
This one just snuck in before the New Years day deadline on account of it being a right bastard to get through. It’s a good story and fully sucks you in but it’s all written in dialect and can be a bit of a chore at times. By the end of it though you’ll be fluent in Jamaican slum patois……..’every cloud’ etc.
It won the Man Booker Prize (swoon) and deservedly so, I mean who am I to say it wasn’t a worthy winner right? It’s a sweeping, rangy story that spans decades split into separate parts but always with a unifying link in terms of a well-placed character. There’s a strong Bob Marley-vibe throughout (it is about him after all) and one of the official reviewers was totally on point when they talked of the reggae soundtrack underpinning the storyline. Get yourself through the first slower chapters and you’ll thank me and your new found brain-endurance (you’re more than welcome). It’s a book that rewards patience with a little bit of everything…….drugs, guns, love, sex, homosexuality, music, politics and global (well, American) travel.
The plot in a nutshell……..bunch of folk run some gangs in a couple of ghettos in Kingston, Jamaica; CIA get involved as they’re wont to do; political upheaval coming (or is it??) and gangs align themselves; Bob comes jigging along; nasty gang folk want to kill him; seven of the key players in the attempt on his life (I’m not giving anything away by saying he doesn’t get popped) start getting knocked off in turn; New York stuff; the end.
If you liked this, you’ll like…………ummmmm? The Life of Pi (Yann Martel) – that also won the Man Booker thingy?