New Books – An Overview for July 2013Martin Chandler |
This is the ninth time of asking for this preview and, in my view, the most interesting yet. It is also confirmation of just how diverse the range of subject matter available now is, thanks to the comparative ease with which self-publication can now be achieved. There have been times in the recent past when I have felt real concerns for the future of the printed word in the wake of the rise of the tablet and the ereader, but my confidence in the long term viability of traditional publication is more buoyant than it has been for some time.
At the end of last year I was particularly disappointed by the fairly insubstantial list of biographies and autobiographies, particularly by UK publishers. Of course I missed a few, and that has swollen the numbers this time around, but I am pleased to see even without that factor I have a much more interesting set of books to preview six months later.
Starting at the top the inevitable bestseller and, its author freed from the shackles of his central contract potentially an excellent book, is Andrew Strauss’ autobiography. It is due in October and will doubtless find its way on to many a Christmas list. It also has a clever title, Driving Ambition, a play on words that I am a little surprised has not been used before. A predecessor of Strauss, David Gower, got close with the title of his 1986 effort, A Right Ambition, an older book I feel able to mention because Gower is also looking to catch the Christmas market with Endangered Species. It is an unusual title, and some may wonder whether it refers to the status of former elegant left-handed English batsmen turned commentators who accuse the Australian nation of lacking culture, but in fact it is a reference to Gower’s work with a wildlife charity. This new autobiography is Gower’s fourth such, having given his name to similar volumes in 1980 and 1992 as well, but if anyone can justify such apparent profligacy I suspect it will be “Lubo”.
On the subject of repeat offenders the new releases list contains the name of Geoffrey Boycott. Yorkshire’s finest has lent his name to a number of books in the past, but just one, in 1987, that was avowedly autobiographical although he has been the subject of a number of biographies, most recently the excellent Boycs – The True Story that Leo McKinstrey published in 2000, so I for one certainly wouldn’t begrudge the now 72 year old Boycott an opportunity to have another bite at the cherry. I do however hope that the title changes a little – two different books called My Autobiography is not helpful.
It wouldn’t be a proper summer without at least one of England’s current side producing an autobiography and this year is no exception with Matt Prior’s The Gloves are off; My Life in Cricket. These books are never the most eagerly awaited by reviewers, although Prior’s story of a transformation from much maligned to much acclaimed within a couple of seasons will be rather more interesting than most. We will, no doubt, get a watered down and anodyne version of most recent controversies, but Strauss will doubtless deal at length with those, so the usual feeling of frustration will not be present. There will also be an interesting slant on recent events in a new and updated edition of Marcus Stead’s biography of KP, Kevin Pietersen – Portrait of a Rebel which is also due for release.
That is just about it for contemporary(ish) players and former players, so on to offerings about men from previous generations. Then Came Massacre: The Extraordinary Story of England’s Maurice Tate is likely to be the most popular. The author is a new name to add to the game’s bibliography, Justin Parkinson. A history graduate, political reporter at the BBC, and former cricket correspondent of a Brighton newspaper Parkinson would seem to be ideally qualified to write the life story of a true great. He isn’t the first, John Arlott having done so in 1951 and Gerald Brodribb in 1976, but the passage of more than 30 years will doubtless have brought a new perspective to the story.
Next is The Real Jeeves: The Cricketer Who Gave His Life for His Country and His Name to a Legend. Percy Jeeves enjoyed two outstanding seasons for Warwickshire before the Great War ended his career, and then his life. He never played representative cricket and would have been consigned to the ranks of the game’s forgotten worthies had not PG Wodehouse chosen to give his name immortality. The publishers say “The Real Jeeves traces Percy’s life from idyllic childhood via county cricket into the nightmare of war. Excerpts from battalion diaries detail the horrors of the Western Front, and ultimately his demise on the Somme.”, and on that basis I am expecting something well worth reading.
And those that slipped under my radar? Quite a few to my shame, and some interesting books as well. First for a mention is Two Huddersfield Cricketers by Robert Owen. This not a weighty volume, but Owen and his publisher, Write Good Books, are known to me as a result of the excellent A Geordie All-Rounder, the autobiography of Malcolm Scott. Owen’s latest work is better described as a memoir than a double biography. The link with Scott is South Shields, his birthplace and the area where the two Yorkshireman who are referred to in the title of this book played professionally for a number of years. The two are Alec Coxon, a fast bowler whose 3 for 172 in his only Test is, given the quality of the opposition; Bradman’s Invincibles, no disgrace at all. The other subject is Ron Aspinall who later became a First Class umpire after a short and injury plagued Yorkshire career, although his quality is evident from the 20 runs each that he paid for his wickets.
A title which is very tricky to track down is the home produced Ronald Thomas Stanyforth by Martin Howe. Again this is not really a biography, 29 pages of A4 is better described as a monograph, but Howe’s research fills a gap in the game’s literature. Stanyforth was an amateur wicketkeeper who played three County Championship matches for Yorkshire but, more importantly, captained England in four Tests in South Africa in 1927/28.
There are always a few that slip my net due to being published overseas. One that I did at least hear a whisper about is Yuvraj Singh’s autobiography, The Test of my Life, an appropriate title for a man who must have an interesting tale to tell. Also from the sub-continent is an updated edition of Gulu Ezekiel’s biography of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Captain Cool and two books about Mansur Ali Khan, better known as the Nawab of Pataudi Junior, which are entitled The Nawab and Pataudi: Nawab of Cricket. The books are credited to the long established Indian writer KR Wadhwaney and the much younger Suresh Menon respectively. Menon has edited a collection of writings about Pataudi, whereas Wadhwaney has penned a more traditional biography, which extends to his son, the current Nawab as well as the patriarch; Pataudi Senior, who was also a Test player, captaining India in 1946, after playing three Tests for England in the early 1930s, which included a century on debut in the first Test of the “Bodyline” series.
From New Zealand 2013 has seen the release of Greatness Denied, a biography of Tom Pritchard. A young Pritchard, together with Jack Cowie, would have made New Zealand a force to be reckoned with had the Second World War not closed the international game down for seven years during what should have been their best years. Pritchard had real speed and Cowie, a little slower, but with terrific pace of the pitch and a fearsome breakback, wouldsurely have been a lethal combination. When peace returned Pritchard threw in his lot with Warwickshire, so he never won a Test cap. He later returned to New Zealand, where he became involved in the Horse Racing industry and, in a land where longevity amongst former cricketers seems not to be unusual, is still with us aged 96. The same publisher, Trio Books, has just published an autobiography that will probably sell rather more copies. Raw is the story of Martin Crowe’s eventful post-cricket career.
I also missed a couple of limited edition booklets make for desirable collector’s items. The first is Reminiscences of Plum Warner, which consists of an essay written by Philip Snow, and one by Gerry Wolstenholme. The booklet is just 18 pages long and can be obtained via its publisher, book dealer John McKenzie. The second limited edition, this one signed by teammates John Snow, John Barclay, Peter Graves, John Spencer and Tony Buss, is a tribute to Tony Greig published by the Sussex Cricket Museum, which I reviewed here.
Next up is a curious one; Punchy Through the Covers: The Early Years 1928-1949, the autobiography of Alan ‘Punchy’ Rayment, who played for Hampshire in the 1950s. He was a modest batsman, with a career average of little more than 20, but he must have been quite a character, as this 384 page book only takes the reader up to the year when he made his first Championship appearance for his county. The book has been in the offing since I began writing these previews in 2009, but has only recently appeared as a self-published work – I suspect that the author and the publisher who was originally going to handle a single volume of autobiography could not reach agreement over the project’s length.
Another recent release is A Handful of Confetti, the autobiography of David Green who played for Oxford University, Lancashire and Gloucestershire in the 1960s, in 1965 recording the unusual achievement of scoring more than 2,000 runs with a highest score of just 85. As a Lancastrian I will be particularly interested to read Green’s views on the turbulent period over which he played for the county, but the story of a man who went on to enjoy a long career writing about the game will be of interest well beyond the borders of the two counties for whom he played.
I mentioned in January that Henry Blofeld’s second volume of autobiography was expected, and it will be released in September. The title, Squeezing the Orange is as individual as “Blowers” himself. Another writer who is publishing something that will doubtless have a strong autobiographical element is Brian Scovell. Our Beloved Cricket tells the story of games of cricket which Scovell has arranged, many enlivened by his ability to get the great and the good from the international game to turn out for him.
It may seem, that by mentioning it here at the end of this part of this article, that I regard the ACS Lives in Cricket series as being the least important part of my biographical remit. Well let me correct any misapprehensions immediately by saying that the ACS are so important that I now regard their corner of this article as a section in itself, so impressed am I by their many and varied contributions. So I intend to deal with the entirety of their output, but will begin with that splendid series of biographies and confirm the rest of the year’s schedule comprises:-
i) A book on South African Eric Rowan, written by a Tasmanian, Rick Smith, which is due in September.
ii) In December Chris Overson’s book about his childhood Middlesex heroes Syd Brown and Jack Robertson.
iii) Also in time for Christmas Antony Littlewood’s life of the old Leicestershire stalwart, Ewart Astill.
I will return to the 2014 schedule in more detail in January but at this stage subjects seem likely to be the former Derbyshire and England batsman Donald Carr (currently aged 87), William Clarke (hugely successful underarm bowler and founder of the All England XI, who died in 1856) and Frank Mitchell (a Yorkshireman who played two Tests for England in 1899 before captaining South Africa in three more in 1912).
A little further in the future is a book about the cricketing life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (he played 10 First Class matches for the MCC) and one about Lionel Robinson, a wealthy man who brought Country House cricket to Norfolk in much the same way the better remembered Julien Cahn did in Leicestershire. I will not mention specifically the more statistical publications that the ACS have planned but will mention two other publications. The first is the newly released Double Headers by Keith Walmsley, the man responsible for the rather splendid Brief Candles. If it wasn’t for the fact I have met Keith, more than once, and can therefore confirm that he is a wholly normal human being, I would now be convinced of his eccentricity. Brief Candles began with Walmsley’s fascination with Frederick Hyland which mushroomed into the study of other one match First Class cricketers. Double Headers has similar roots, in curiosity about the two First Class matches played simultaneously by Surrey in 1909, which led to this impressively researched study of such occurrences.
The other ACS publication I wish to mention follows on from membership of that admirable organisation, and is its quarterly journal, the most recent copy of which contains an article by our very own Dave Wilson; albeit one that all CWers will have seen before.
Moving away from the biographical genre, although not completely, brings us a welcome return to the fray for Stephen Chalke’s Fairfield Books. Just released is the collection of pen portraits by former Sussex skipper John Barclay that I mentioned in January. If it is as good as his last book, the whimsical Life Beyond the Airing Cupboard it will be one of the summer’s real pleasures. Entirely dissimilar in content, but also in the nature of collected biography, is Mick Pope’s splendid Headingley Ghosts, which I have already reviewed here.
Whilst on the subject of Fairfield Books next month will see the release of Mr Chalke’s first book for a while. Co-written with Anthony Gibson Gentlemen, Gypsies and Jesters is a little off the beaten track. It looks at famous wandering clubs such as I Zingari, Free Foresters, The Arabs as well as many others. No real attempt has been made before to draw together the stories of these quintessentially English cricketing institutions, and whilst club cricket is not an area of the game’s literature I tend to delve into very often, my order for this one went in some time ago. Also pencilled in for Stephen is The Summer Cricket Changed – The Story of 1963, a book that he is surely the ideal man to write.
And 1963 will also form the setting for the next offering of the Sussex Cricket Museum, which is due in September. The booklet will appear to commemorate and celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Ted Dexter lifting the Gillette Cup at Lord’s, the first ever limited overs tournament, and the start of something so far-reaching that I suspect that even the forward thinking Dexter would not have foreseen all that has followed.
For those who have an interest in both cricket and the Great War there are two books on their way to us, although at this stage I am not aware of a release date for either. The first to reach the market will, I suspect, be a book from Philip Paine of Innings Complete fame. A lifelong Surrey supporter Phil’s book is inspired by the 48 names on the war memorial in the Long Room at the Oval, all of which he has researched and the book will contain biographical and other details relating to their cricketing achievements. On a not dissimilar tack Andrew Renshaw is working on the Wisden Book of the Great War. Some of these Wisden titles need to be approached with a little caution as in fact they amount to no more than anthologies drawn from the almanack’s 150 editions. This is not one of those, and while the book does have its origins in the long, long obituary lists in the 1915 to 1919 editions a vast amount of new research has been done and much additional information unearthed, as well as a few errors and misconceptions in the original material.
Tour books are as thin on the ground as ever, but we do have From Dust to Dust: Australia’s Tour of India 2013 (Diary of the 17th Man), although it seems to be much more in the nature of humour than a traditional tour account. But it is an Ashes year, so that will bring forth the usual bevy of pre and post tour publications. I don’t intend to go through them all, and there are a few new editions of old books about, but will make mention of what appear to be a couple of the more interesting looking offerings. First is Ken Piesse’s 48th cricket book, Great Ashes Moments which is a collection of writings and photographs from a variety of sources covering the history of the game’s greatest contest.
Sam Pilger’s Ashes Match of My Life, Fourteen Ashes Stars Relive Their Greatest Game is certainly self-explanatory, but potentially interesting. Geoffrey Boycott and Jeff Thomson are two of those involved – I wonder if they express their views on each other?
Another tour account that we can expect comes from Ashes pre-history, John Lazenby’s The Strangers Who Came Home: The First Australian Cricket Tour of England which deals with the 1878 tour of England. The publishers describe the book as a “compelling social history which brings that momentous summer to life”. If that is true then the book will be well worth buying, as was Lazenby’s last book, Test of Time.
There was a rather better remembered tour seventy years later, when “The Invincibles” crushed everything in their path with, save briefly against Yorkshire, barely a hiccup along the way. Malcolm Knox’ Bradman’s War is the story of the 1948 Australians. The book promises to examine a rift that developed between some of the tourists as a result of, on the one hand the ruthlessness of the non-combatant Bradman, and on the other the likes of Keith Miller, who had seen at first hand the devastation that the Second World War had wreaked on the mother country. Such claims do give me a feeling of unease, but potentially the book is an interesting one, and I will certainly be looking forward to reading it.
In this year of back to back Ashes series it somehow seems appropriate to finish with something related to that theme. This time round we have a new venue, the Riverside Ground at Chester-le-Street County Durham. To celebrate Keith Gregson, a man not averse to writing about the more obscure cricketing byways (the only other contribution to the game’s literature he has made to my knowledge was about the cricket tournament at the 1900 Olympic Games) has published Australia in Sunderland, an account of past Australian teams visits to the North East.
Before finishing with, some might argue, the most important preview of this article, a few miscellaneous titles should be mentioned. First is the reassuring Talking Cricket – The Game?s Greats in Conversation with ESPN Cricinfo which is a collection of 24 interviews that have appeared on the site. I describe it as reassuring by virtue of the fact that content from the game’s leading website has been published in a print version.
The Art of Losing : Why The Proteas Choke at the World Cup has been published in South Africa. The publishers say that the answers in Luke Alfred’s book will ruffle a few feathers. Very different is The Authors XI = A season of English Cricket. The original authors side, for which the aforementioned Arthur Conan Doyle used to turn out, folded in 1912. This is an account of the experiences of the re-formed side’s 2012 season.
A very different book is The Psychology of Cricket : Developing Mental Toughness. Not quite an instructional book, it is nonetheless aimed at those who want to improve their own games, by psychological rather than physical means. I have also been made aware of A Century of Cricket Tests by Liam Hauser, a bulky book which contains the stories of the author’s choice of the 100 best Test matches, and A Year in the Life of Somerset CCC by Andy Nash, Chairman of Somerset, and his perspective on the club’s 2012 season.
A limited edition (of 80 copies) from Australia is Parsons at Play by Christopher Gray, which comprises the stories of 65 cricketing clergymen. I do have a book already by Mr Gray, called The Willow and the Cloth, that was published in 1999 on a similar theme, so the research for the book has clearly been going on for some considerable time.
Saving the best until last I can reveal the books that should be on the Christmas list of every self-respecting cricket fan; The first is Masterly Batting – 100 Great Test Centuries. It is hoped that Patrick Ferriday’s imprint, Von Krumm Publishing, will release the book in October. The premise is simple – every Test century ever made is judged against the same criteria, and a list of the top 100 emerges. Those ranked 100-50 are the subject of 500 word essays, the next 25 are dealt with in 1,000 words, and then there are full length chapters on the top 25. Those who write on the major innings are an eclectic bunch. They include two of my favourite writers, David Frith and Stephen Chalke, as well as several other noted scribes in Derek Pringle, Ric Sissons, Neil Manthorp, Telford Vice, Ken Piesse and Rob Smyth in addition to Ferriday himself. But there are other names as well, which won’t be known to the general readership, but will be familiar to those who read CW’s reviews and features.
And finally, a reminder for all, that the collection of some of the best threads from our forums, Finding Seams on Apples, is in the shops now and, in time for Santa’s deliveries, it will be available as an ebook as well. If you can’t find it in your local Waterstones it is certainly available on Amazon or via the publishers, Country Books Direct
Twice a year CW looks forward to those cricket books due in the months ahead. Inevitably in this sort of exercise books will be overlooked. If any publisher or author reading this has a book we have missed please let us know and if you would like CW to review your books and/or announce your future plans at the end of December 2013 then please contact us at email@example.com, which email address can also be used by any prospective purchaser seeking further information.