Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Crick Lit 101

There are many wonderful books on cricket, covering a myriad of historical events, statistics and related subjects. In fact I think cricket may well have the best and perhaps deepest selection of writings touching on the sport’s history and social impact.
With thousands upon thousands of tomes from which to choose, I decided to limit myself when selecting my favorites to share: No Wisden Cricketers’ Almanacks (I love them though) and no athlete autobiographies. These are only to start with; more will be forthcoming, along with my favorite radio programs, blogs and more.
"More Than a Game: The Story of Cricket's Early Years" by John Major. Combine cricket and a former Tory Prime Minister and what do you get? I know your first answer may be "plenty of sleep," but this is a fascinating, warm and often (surprisingly) humorous look at the development of cricket. If you are at all interested in cricket, or in British history, then check this out! Major knows his subject and handles it gently and lovingly.
"Village Cricket" by Tim Heald. This is a lovely book. History buffs, Anglophiles and cricket lovers should definitely give this one a go ... but if you're none of those things you're better off giving it a pass. If you want to learn about cricket and how important it is to British life, though, start with John Major's book then read this one.
"Fatty Batter: How Cricket Saved My Life (Then Ruined It)" by Michael Simkins. Hilarious, sweet, nostalgic, elegiac ... Simkins has penned a real winner here. I laughed out loud several times, and felt the tears welling while reading the poignant and moving chapter entitled "Burpham." The icing on the cake was when he ended the book with a thought that has crossed my mind several times:  “Will England ... pick Monty Panesar ... ?" A must read for cricket fans. But then I may be biased. I’m a big fan of Monty’s.
"Penguins Stopped Play" by Harry Thompson. Hilarious (in much the same way an old Road Runner-Wile E. Coyote cartoon is hilarious) look at just why people who are obsessed with cricket are ... well, obsessed with cricket. Of course, there's no real answer to that, is there? As you follow this group of rag-tag wannabes around the globe in search of a match on every continent, you can't help but feel a certain camaraderie with them. Despite a sad afterword (the author passed away just before the book was published) which left me feeling like I’d been punched in the gut, this is a thoroughly enjoyable must for any cricketer--armchair or otherwise! (PS--yes, penguins DO stop play of an impromptu cricket match.)
“Rain Men" by Marcus Berkmann. The further in you get, the funnier this book becomes. I found myself literally laughing out loud at several points. A good companion read to "Penguins Stopped Play."
"Zimmer Men" by Marcus Berkmann. Another brilliant turn at the crease for Berkman. The trials and tribulations of aging cricketers are given a hilarious treatment in this sequel to Rain Men.  I personally found Rain Men to be slightly funnier, but maybe that's because I'm old and out of shape myself, so Berkman's jokes hit a little too close to home. This is a definite need to read for cricket fans, but if you aren't an avid cricket fan, it probably isn't your cup of tea.
"Beyond a Boundary" by CLR James. A beautiful book--perhaps the best book ever written about cricket. I know everyone says that, but this book lives up to it's reputation. It also provides some good political history about the West Indies. This book gets to the soul and heart of cricket and what it has meant to a nation and to people trying to break out of the colonial yoke. I wonder: Has a movie about James' liufe ever been made? This book would certainly be a good source of material for a movie!
"A Majestic Innings: Writings on Cricket" by CLR James. This collection of James' clear and artful shorter writings on cricket is excellent, but probably something only the die-hard cricket fan would enjoy.
 “A History of the Foster’s Oval” by Nick Yapp. This one is probably best for the most diehard cricket fan. OK, let’s just lose the probably. But it is a great book if you want a clear and complete history of what is now the Kia Oval, even going back before there was an oval, then this book is for you. Yapp has really done his research, and his eye for historical detail, combined with some cool photographs and illustrations, make this an extremely interesting and useful read. There are many historical points that go beyond Surrey and cricket, and give the reader an insight into the overall cultural changes and world events occurring, such as the impact of war and changing social mores on the Oval (and on the Surrey club).

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