MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: What makes a good Irish sports book?

Already they fall through letterboxes and pile up on desks; see them fill out brown paper bags and bulk out briefcases; here they are in the million hordes (thanks, David Bowie).

I refer to the eruption of sports books which is now beginning around the country.

Interesting sidebar: a publisher once told me that 80% of the books sold in a year are sold the month running into Christmas, and that 80% of those are bought by women.

Furthermore, the same man pointed to the lack of subtlety in sports book marketing.

There was a hilarious piece on Slate recently about the generic yellowy-reddy cover and accompanying Joshua Tree-type pattern which mark the cover of literally any novel about Africa, they assembled a staggering list of middle-brow fictions about the dark continent, all of them with that same type of cover, but that is as nothing to the plainness of the signifiers when it comes to sports books.

Rugby? A rugby ball on the front. Hurling? A hurley or a helmet is a must. Horse-racing? A saddle. That’s a joke, but the obviousness goes on and on.

As for what’s between the covers... a (reasonably) frequent question this columnist hears is a genuine query about the preponderance of Irish sports books which are biographies rather than books dealing with particular issues, eras and so forth.

There’s a clear lesson in economics here.

The fall-back position for people who enjoy sports books is to compare the variety of American ‘concept’ sports books to their Irish counterparts, and not to the advantage of the latter, but it’s a clear case of apples and oranges.

For instance, in recent weeks I’ve been looking forward to the new David Maraniss book about the crucial years in the decline of Detroit.

It’s hard to imagine a similar book being published in Ireland, and the simple reason is that there are almost 700,000 people living in the Detroit metropolitan area, not counting those in associated towns; in the state of Michigan there are almost 10m people.

Compare those markets to what’s on offer here and it’s easy to see why publishers are a little nervous about going out on a limb with concept books, and feel a lot better about recognisable sportspeople who are polished media performers.

Which is not to say that those books aren’t good, because many of them are; in fact, I know well that one of them coming out this autumn is excellent, but that’s a story for another day.

Schull link to Gore Vidal’s fab punchline

Much thanks to the good people at Little, Brown for forwarding on a copy of Jay Parini’s biography of American writer Gore Vidal.

It lived up to all expectations — bravo, Mr Parini — and it also proved that a long-ago discovery wasn’t some kind of imagined experience.

In another life, yours truly worked for the planning department of Cork County Council, and in flicking through the files came across an application in the name of ‘Gore Vidal, Schull’. Now, I am sure the town in West Cork is a cosmopolitan place, but I’d guess there wasn’t another Gore Vidal buying a comfy pile there, surely.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I referred to a party at which Norman Mailer threw a punch or two at Vidal. I’d heard of that, but I hadn’t heard Vidal’s airy dismissal of the event. In later years he referred to it as ‘The Night Of The Small Fists’.

Hurling gets the Disney treatment

So: Friday evening in this house and the Rugby World Cup is not on the tellybox, nor Seo Spoirt; Thank GAA It’s Friday is not on screen either. No, the show hogging everyone’s attention is The Descendants - not the character study set in Hawaii with George Clooney running along a road in slip-on shoes, but a Disney confection in which the descendants of the evil characters meet each other in a kind of high-school situation where magic and spells were common currency.

Anyway. I was just drifting into sleep when I noticed that the big set-piece athletic contest in which good and evil tangled was not American football, or baseball, but a kind of lacrosse with players using . . . hang on a minute, I thought, eyelids opening reasonably quickly. Are those guys hurling?

Granted, it was an unusual version of the game, with people shooting cannons from the wings into the play. The helmets looked non-regulation too, but there were any number of third-man tackles, which reassured me, and those were definitely hurleys. Definitely. This will be revisited, and further information found for you, dear readers.

O’Reilly’s touch of class

I spoke last week to Matt Cooper of The Last Word about his new book, The Maximalist. It’s a life of Tony O’Reilly, and one which pays appropriate attention to a dazzling rugby career which saw O’Reilly go from a teenage appearance in a Leinster schools final to appearing for the Lions in front of 100,000 spectators in South Africa.

Those two games took place within 15 months of each other. It reminded me of a story about O’Reilly’s time in Cork in the 60s.

A work outing to Ardmore for employees of a city centre shop wasn’t going too well, due to incessant rain and a bus that wasn’t due back to collect them for quite some time. The damp, cheesed-off employees were moping around under some trees when Mr O’Reilly strolled by.

Hearing the Cork accent, he asked what they were doing in Waterford and wished them the best with the weather. Then off with him to a nearby hotel, whence he emerged minutes later driving an Aston Martin-type motor. He was no sooner out of sight when the hotel manager approached: a gentleman who’d just checked out had paid for tea and sandwiches for them, if they’d care to come in?

O’Reilly’s class wasn’t confined to Lansdowne Road.


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