Off The Ball: Funny as hell in places, and sad in others - don't miss best read of year
Something lovely often happens this time of year. Free sports books arrive on my desk and I get to read them. Clearly I'm in no position to complain, but much has been rightly said about the so-so quality on offer.
The sports autobiography genre has decided upon a fairly uninspiring formula for success. They mostly look the same, they mostly read the same and offer little in the way of details or revelation.
This approach works as a business model though. Generally the high profile of the retired superstar combines with some lazy Christmas shopping to make the venture worthwhile financially. Everyone is a winner, except the sucker who gets the book for Christmas, but life goes on.
This status quo isn't particularly new or worth getting overly exercised about. It's just the way things go.
The upside of course is that there are lots of good reads. Here are my top three books for 2015. I should say, for whatever reason, I started Roy Keane's book with Roddy Doyle and was enjoying it but just never got around to finishing it. It felt like I was re-reading everything I'd already seen in the papers. A lesson on overdoing the excerpts perhaps.
1) The most original, honest and memorable sports book of 2015 is John Leonard's Dub Sub Confidential. Compelling from the off. It's beautifully written too, with all the words carved out by Leonard rather than a ghost writer, which is a rare treat.
This book somehow covers sexual abuse, drug addiction, drinking, life with Pillar Caffrey's Dublin, family, wild travels abroad and ultimately, finding peace. Funny as hell in places, dreadfully sad in others; read it.
2) I'm halfway through Jim McGuinness' Until Victory Always; it's very strong, well worth your time.
It's a relief to see that McGuinness gives us proper access to his thinking during those surreal Donegal years.
3) Sport and Ireland; A History, Paul Rouse. This can be categorised as an academic book, but it's one which deserves to be read by the masses.
The level of research Rouse has done is eye-watering. The good news for the reader is that he's managed to weave together a layered narrative which is hugely entertaining and accessible.
It's wedged full of insights, which instantly feel essential upon reading. You can dip in and out of, pick the era's which interest you the most. I really, really recommend it.
Honourable mention too for Tom English's book on Irish rugby. The excerpts look superb. It'll do nicely on Christmas afternoon. Enjoy.