Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Coming back to me – A review by Mimitig

As we creep closer to the Sports Book of the Year Award – trying not to care, but as happens every year, caring a bit too much, I find that I’m checking on what I’ve read.

The Long List – announced a few weeks ago - is below.

How many have you read? How many have I read?

Well, I did get started some time ago with Ed Smith’s book: What Sport Tells Us about Life – a very good read – though I would debate if it is truly a sports book. Then there was Jackie Stewart’s Winning is not Enough. A good way of passing time for a motorsport enthusiast, but not much new, to be honest. Jackie has spent so much time talking to the media that there’s little else to say.

I haven’t read the ones about the historic Olympics and I’m waiting on Moray Council to deliver Richard Moore’s cycling book. There are some football stories in the long list, and I can’t pretend that I wouldn’t be very very happy to see Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid winning, but that’s not because I enjoyed it most.

JW’s book, wonderful as it is, left me pretty unmoved because I don’t have an engagement with football. It’s a clever book, he’s a clever man, but as I am unengaged with his subject matter, I am prepared to throw my support behind “Coming Back to Me”.

This is Marcus Trescothick’s memoir of his career and mental breakdown.

It’s not the best-written of books – to be quite honest I wonder how much the vaunted cricket journalist, co-writer Peter Hayter, has had to do with the finished product.

The editing is pretty poor and the construction of the book is not what you would expect from a professional journalist. This leads me to suspect that this is very much Marcus’s own book – warts and all.

It opens with some rather dire early chapters about the young West Countryman’s early years – no editorial control there, I would suggest. But then when we get to Tresco’s international career, it becomes riveting.

There are insights into other players – Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe are drawn brilliantly and we feel their pains. But the real stuff is about Marcus and his need to withdraw from international cricket to save his mind.

I was one of many England fans who just couldn’t understand why “Banger”, the great opener, had to pull out of tours – as I, and many others thought, letting down his country.

In this book, one understands just what happened and I have had difficulty reading because his openness just makes me cry.

He writes with great detail of the horrors that descended upon him in the darkest phases of his illness. His descriptions of breaking down, on the field, in the dressing-room and most movingly at Heathrow, are harrowing. The agonies of worrying how public to go with his illness are written with no punches held. The unhelpfulness of the press is documented but excused as Marcus makes it so plain that he colluded in obfuscation.

It’s not hard to understand why he did this.

Cricket – any sport – is the home of macho maleness. For someone to write so candidly about mental illness is a sporting first – as far as I know.

All sorts of people – many may be friends of yours – suffer from one form or another of mental illness.

When I was given a diagnosis of depression I was so ashamed. It must be my fault. My sister, not a very sympathetic soul most of the time, surprised me. She said, well if you broke your leg I’d know how to help. You’ve broken your head and it’s a bit tougher to help.

Reading Marcus’s book, I realise how lucky I was to have that gal fighting my corner. Marcus has had people fighting his corner too – and he has, with support, felt able to not just win over the Black Dog, but write his story. It’s a damn good read and anyone interested in sport of any sort, let alone the cricks, should read and for those who have the wobbles sometimes, say thank you.

I’ve read a few sports books that make me wince over the stress and strain that is put upon our premier sportsmen and women but this is the first time that I have felt moved to tears by an account of someone who seemed to have it all.

With the conclusion of the book, I think it is a fact that Trescothick will never play for England again. But it seems that within the family of Somerset, he can have some fine years left at County level, and continue being a loyal servant for the county that has stood by him through his troubles.

I’m wishing him a fine season in 2009 and I’d be very surprised if “Coming Back to me” didn’t make it to the shortlist. And for utter honesty, and being prepared to blow a whistle or two, it should be in with a shout of winning.

From pure bias, of course I want Wilson to win – he’s a mate. But for opening cans of worms and doing his bit to try and help remove the stigma of mental illness, Marcus gets it.

I look forward to seeing how it all pans out.

The Sports Book of the Year Award longlist
Paul Canoville - Black and Blue (Headline)
John Carlin - Playing the Enemy (Atlantic)
Janie Hampton - The Austerity Olympics [London 1948] (Aurum)
Rebecca Jenkins - The First London Olympics 1908 (Piatkus)
Richard Moore - Heroes, Villains and Velodromes (Harper)
Haruki Murakami - What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Harvill Secker)
Musa Okwonga - A Cultured Left Foot (Duckworth)
Rowan Simons - Bamboo Goalposts (Macmillan)
Ed Smith - What Sport Tells Us About Life (Penguin)
Jackie Stewart - Winning is not enough (Headline)
Marcus Trescothick - Coming back to me: The Autobiography (Harper)
Jeremy Whittle - Bad Blood (Yellow Jersey)
Jonathan Wilson - Inverting the Pyramid (Orion)


andrewm said...

I read the serialisation of Ed Smith's book in the Times, and I wasn't impressed. I don't read sports books very often, but when I do, I look to them to give me some insight that I can't get from the average journalist, and I didn't feel Smith managed that at all - in fact he compared quite badly to the best writing in the Times.

I wish I'd read one that I could be positive about. I did finally read The Fight by Norman Mailer, which if you ignore his ramblings about African culture is pretty outstanding.

mimi said...

Read Tresco's book, Andrew, it is worth it, and whatever happened to the little kitten??

Mouth of the Mersey said...

I haven't read it, but I'm pretty certain Graeme Obree's book dealt with depression.

I suspect that depression strikes as many sports people as any other group (although cycling and cricket, with its individual / team support do seem particularly prone to it).

Not having read the book, I can't comment on Tresco's (although you know Mimi, that I have misgivings about some of Tresco's marketing of it).

I did review Jonathan's book on this site and Ed Smith's here -

Thanks for this Mimi.

mimi said...

You're right. Obree's book dealt with depression. and worse. I should re-read and comment - unless someone else can.

duncan23 said...

Nice one M.

I imagine more sportspeople suffer depression after they finish playing, racing, jumping or whatever. Must be a real downer for some. Which of us would trade lives with Gazza?

It's not an autobiography but I've read the boxing novel "Fat City" by Leonard Gardner several times and it's pretty unglamorous.

andrewm said...

A fine review of Ed Smith, Mouth, even if I mostly disagree based on the extracts I read. There's no doubt he's intelligent, but I instinctively felt he was wrong on most of the big points he made. The Zidane analysis I thought was fundamentally wrong. Anyway, perhaps I should read the whole thing before being so critical.

Mimi, the kitten is now a monster of a cat. I can't do justice to just how massive he is.

bluedaddy said...

Funnily enough mimi, when I was diagnosed with depression, the sun burst through the thick fog I'd been enduring. Although it's a serious illness and I needed a lot more attention and treatment, it felt like a much better place to be than the undiagnosed nightmare I'd been in for several months in the run up to that short and fruitful doctor's appointment.

munni said...

Gosh. I've never even heard of most of these. But I just read the Smith extract on Zidane (via Mouth's links, thanks)and I must agree with Andrew: fundamentally not quite right.

I believe Paul McGrath's autobiog was also quite frank on the subject of depression (combined with alcoholism in his case), though I've only read excerpts.

BD, knowing is always better than not knowing, yes?

mimi said...

Finger on the spot munni - better to know. And bluedad - I know exactly what you mean by the fog.

So glad small kitten has grown up nicely andrew - does he have outrageously big paws and take a worryingly keen interest in Big Cat Diary?

bluedaddy said...

munni, mimi, definitely better to know. The fog was so thick I could practically see, touch and taste it.

Now I practically feel blessed to have experienced it. Now I can feel the fog thickening, and I know to do something about it. It's a fine thing to know what the bottom looks like.

Kicking a ball, and the odd unpleasant opponent, is wonderful therapy. As is a good book.

offsideintahiti said...

May I suggest the latest Paul Auster, then? "Man in the dark". A bit short, but absolutely gripping. Nowt to do with sport(unless you consider civil war to be a form of it), but plenty of depression and introspection... Great stuff, as always.

zeph said...

Dog, haven't read any of these, what a failure I am. I planned to read Trescothick's and then haven't got round to it. Thanks for the review, Mimi.

MotM, authors have very little say in how their books are publicised and marketed, it's a contractual obligation nowadays to participate in whatever the publishers have set up for you whether you like it or not. One can't blame Tresco for some of the silly stuff in the tabloids about sweets etc.

Sadly, you still see comments from time to time that suggest Trescothick was making a fuss about nothing or could have pulled himself together if he'd tried. Perhaps gradually the message in the book will get through.

byebyebadman said...

I've only read the Wilson book, if that wins I have to say it would make me shudder at the quality of the rest as I didn't think it was very good at all.

As for the award itself it's really only a useful tool for the marketing team behind the book, and I guess twenty grand of paid bills for the author. As it's only judged by a handful of sports writers I can't see how it would have any more prestige than if the list was read and voted upon by the current GU podcast team.

mimi said...

Byebye: each to their own, but that's a very cynical view of the award.

As far as I can see, the whole idea is to try and get the general public interested in books they might not otherwise read.

While many sports books are not well-written (and apropos not well-edited vis Wiggins book which has a typo in line one page one, not even the text but the Acknowledgements - wouldn't have happened in MY day when we employed proof-readers and copy-editors fnarr, snarl, falling standards etc), but many do convey emotions that are worth reading and often detail some history of a game that we enjoy to read.

mimi said...

One that didn't make the list is Wiggo's - perhaps published too late. I've just got my copy and the pictures are pretty phwoar wow! Will read and post a review, but, chances are I'll be favourable towards it. Not only do I love my track and velodrome, but anyone who starts with a chapter "It's Four in the Morning" is OK by me. Shame about the typo on page one, but reffing Faron Young is COOOL.

DoctorShoot said...

not sure if it qualifies by publication date but:

Sweet Fighting Man Volume II
Inside Stories from British Boxers
by Melanie Lloyd
for some resonating insights.

Tweet it, digg it