GO­ING UN­DER COVER

Paul Kim­mage is in search of some in­sight­ful read­ing

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - PAUL KIM­MAGE

Part 1: To Be Read Be­fore Pur­chase There are a cou­ple of things you need to know about this ver­sion of The Stand right away, even be­fore you leave the book store. For that rea­son I hope I’ve caught you early — hope­fully stand­ing un­der the K sec­tion of new fic­tion, with your other pur­chases tucked un­der your arm and the book open in front of you. In other words, I hope I’ve caught you while your wal­let is still safely in your pocket. — Stephen King, The Stand

THE Sports sec­tion at Hodges Fig­gis is the per­fect set­ting for a Stephen King novel. It’s in the base­ment, ob­vi­ously, and is ac­cessed via an old wooden stair­way with a creaky bot­tom step. There are no win­dows, nat­u­rally, and its stained dark car­pet lends a slightly musty smell. And while the at­ten­dant, Ross, is no ‘Ran­dall Flagg’ it would be easy to imag­ine one lurk­ing be­hind the scratched black door — ‘Staff Only’ — in the cor­ner.

Someone who watches!

The base­ment is al­most empty when she comes down the stairs — 30ish, fair-skinned, run­ners, jeans, back­pack. She starts at Amer­i­can football and moves pur­pose­fully through the shelves past ‘Boxing’ and ‘Cy­cling’ and ‘Football’ to ‘Ten­nis’, ‘Triathlon’ and ‘Sports Psy­chol­ogy’ where a book on sports nu­tri­tion catches her eye.

She tucks it un­der her arm, flicks briefly through the pages of Ac­ci­den­tal Iron­man by Mar­tyn Brunt and reaches for a copy of Chrissie Welling­ton’s To the Fin­ish Line. Anna Kes­sel’s

Eat, Sweat, Play is sit­ting on a ta­ble with some rec­om­mended reads. She pe­ruses it briefly, puts it down and I gaze, open-mouthed, as she heads for the stairs. Four books con­sid­ered, none pur­chased. See? That’s how to do it! But it’s not how I do it. I spent a

small for­tune on books last week: Mu­nich, the new Robert Har­ris thriller;

I Found My Tribe, a mem­oir by Ruth Fitz­mau­rice and three sports books — Cen­taur by Ami Rao, Boy Won­der by Dave Han­ni­gan and The As­cent by Barry Ryan. It’s enough to sate my habit for a month and I should fol­low the woman up the stairs but the just-pub­lished Colm Cooper is beck­on­ing from ‘Gaelic Games’. Come on, sucker! Open your wal­let boy!

There’s a gauge I use with a new book in my hands. I ig­nore the cover — a por­trait of a cu­ri­ously va­cant Cooper — and the non­sense on the back:

Tomás Ó Sé: “No one that I’ve seen could lace his boots.”

Alan Bro­gan: “The Dubs couldn’t stop Colm Cooper . . . top class.”

Pat Spil­lane: “The great­est Gaelic foot­baller of all time.”

And go straight to the first page. Sur­prise me, Colm. Get me on board.

Be­gin­nings have al­ways fas­ci­nated me — it’s a Stephen King thing. Con­sider the ab­so­lute ge­nius of the open­ing para­graph in Mis­ery:

“um­ber whunnnn yer­rrnnn um­ber whunnnn fayunnnn

These sounds: even in the haze.” Or the first line of It — the 1,166page novel that cap­ti­vated my son (whose nor­mal range is 140 char­ac­ters) for the sum­mer:

“The ter­ror, which would not end for an­other twenty-eight years — if it ever did end — be­gan, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of news­pa­per float­ing down a gut­ter swollen with rain.”

Sports books are more re­stric­tive and tend to fol­low fa­mil­iar pat­terns. What do An­dre Agassi, Tony Cas­carino and Brian O’Driscoll have in com­mon? Their sto­ries all be­gin in bed. Paul McGrath, Pat Spil­lane and Paul O’Con­nell? They are play­ing mem­o­rable games. But the books that en­dure are those that sur­prise and push the bound­aries.

Con­sider the open­ing lines of Out

of Con­trol, the Cathal McCar­ron story, and how eas­ily his ghost­writer, Christy O’Con­nor, gets us on board:

“Ping. It was af­ter 11pm when a tweet landed in my phone. I was ly­ing in bed in a small apart­ment in south Lon­don. Ping. Ping. Any phone alerts drop­ping that late nor­mally just melted into the back­ground noise out­side as I drifted off to sleep, but this time the reg­u­lar­ity pricked my senses. Ping. Ping. Ping. I sat up in the bed. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. The Twit­ter feed was re­lent­less, like a jammed door­bell that wouldn’t stop ring­ing.

“What the hell was go­ing on? Had some­thing hap­pened at home? I glanced at the phone in trep­i­da­tion. The first three or four tweets went over my head un­til I spot­ted one from Owen Mul­li­gan. ‘Holy fuck, what am I see­ing here, lad?’ said Mugsy. ‘What have you gone and done now?’

Com­pare the open­ing lines of two prize-win­ning writ­ers at the top of their game:

Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air): “Strad­dling the top of the world, one foot in China and the other in Nepal, I cleared the ice from my oxy­gen mask, hunched a shoul­der against the wind, and stared ab­sently down at the vast­ness of Ti­bet. I un­der­stood on some dim, de­tached level that the sweep of earth be­neath my feet was a spec­tac­u­lar sight. I’d been fan­ta­siz­ing about this mo­ment, and the re­lease of emo­tion that would ac­com­pany it, for many months. But now that I was fi­nally here, ac­tu­ally stand­ing on the sum­mit of Mount Ever­est, I just couldn’t sum­mon the en­ergy to care.”

Thomas Hauser (Muham­mad Ali: His Life and Times): “Each day at 5am, a forty-nine-year-old man rises from bed on a small farm in Ber­rien Springs, Michi­gan. Qui­etly, as man­dated by the Qur’an, he washes him­self with clear run­ning wa­ter. Then he puts on clean clothes, faces Makkah with his hands at his sides, and says to him­self, ‘I In­tend to per­form the morn­ing prayer as or­dered by Al­lah, the Lord of all the worlds.’ Out­side, it is dark. The only sounds are the wind in win­ter and the blend­ing of birds and in­sects when the weather is warm . . . The man in Muham­mad Ali, the most rec­og­niz­able per­son on earth.”

Con­sider how Ami Rao — a writer you’ve never heard of — com­pels you to buy a book (Cen­taur) you don’t want to read, about a jockey (De­clan Mur­phy) you had for­got­ten about: “There is sym­phony in the move­ment of a horse. The gal­lop, for ex­am­ple, is a four-beat rhythm: hind leg, hind leg, fore leg, fore leg. You just have to lis­ten for it, to hear it as I hear it, and you will re­alise how mu­si­cal it is: how beau­ti­fully poetic.

“This is the gait of the race­horse; it strikes off with its non-lead­ing hind leg, then the in­side hind foot hits the ground be­fore the out­side fore, but just by a split sec­ond. The move­ment con­cludes with the strik­ing off of the lead­ing leg, fol­lowed by a mo­ment of sus­pen­sion when — in glo­ri­ous majesty — all four hooves are off the ground. Even at 35 or 40 mph, when the an­i­mal ap­pears to be fly­ing, it fol­lows this clas­sic, con­trolled ca­dence. In truth, it is not fly­ing at all; it is danc­ing.

“Hind leg, hind leg, fore leg, fore leg. I can hum it in my head.

“I have al­ways fol­lowed this beat when I ride, mould­ing my body to the rhythm of my horse’s stride pat­tern. And in this way, we have un­der­stood each other, my horse and I, our bod­ies in per­fect sync, the en­ergy be­tween us re­ver­ber­at­ing like the si­lent echoes of an un­spo­ken voice. This is how I have al­ways rid­den. By an in­stinct, deep and won­der­ful.

“It never failed me. Un­til the day it did.”

Con­sider stand­ing in Hodges Fig­gis with a just-printed copy of Gooch .Do you squeeze or take him home? Is he worth your hard-earned coin? And what of the raft of new books com­ing down the line: Any Given Satur­day — Shay Given Jayo: My Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy — Ja­son Sher­lock Form: My Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy — Kieran Fal­lon First Hand: My Life and Ir­ish Football — Eoin Hand

The Choice — Philly McMa­hon Is there a prize win­ner here? Will they stand the test of time? (To be con­tin­ued)

Be­gin­nings have al­ways fas­ci­nated me — it’s a Stephen King thing

‘A just-printed copy of ‘Gooch’. Is he worth your hard-earned coin?’ Photo: David Conachy

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