Capsule review of ‘The Best Australian Racing Stories’ by Jim Haynes [ed] (2010)

The sport of kings, and a refuge for dreamers and desperadoes – few passions grip this nation like horse racing. This collection includes iconic poems from the likes of C.J Dennis and Banjo Patterson, loosely-spun yarns on champions like Sunline, Phar Lap and Peter Pan and pen portraits of the great trainers. Not everything here is carefully written, but the best stuff sits comfortably with the best sports writing this country has produced. Particularly masterful is Les Carlyon’s homage to the Melbourne cup, which skilfully blends beautifully lyrical descriptions of the action with bluntly humorous reportage on the assemblage of drunken human beings dotted around the track.

Originally appeared in: The Sun-Herald

Capsule review of ‘Sphere of Influence’ by Gideon Haigh (2010)

Haigh started as a business writer, began to write mainly about cricket and now finds he has come full circle as the line between the two becomes ever thinner. This is perhaps his most subdued collection, the one with the least focus on on-field action. The rise and rise of India dominates, though there’s typically thoughtful material on Shane Warne’s IPL resurgence, the ICC’s rejection of John Howard as vice-president, the game’s inept governance and its cynical efforts to produce cricket for non-cricket fans through T20. Nobody writes as elegantly or perceptively about cricket as Haigh; precious few authors write about anything this well.

Book review – ‘The True Story of Butterfish’ by Nick Earls (2009)

If ‘Butterfish’ was a record, it would be Pulp’s ‘This is Hardcore’ : low-key, sad, lovely, funny and kind of dark. It’s classic Earls, starring faded rock star Curtis, who’s back in Brisbane, pottering around in semi-obscurity, producing an album in his granny flat. But then schoolgirl Annaliese shows up at his door and he becomes involved in her life, also becoming friendly with her down-to-earth mother, Kate and misfit brother Mark. Cue memorable riffs on love lost and (maybe) found, the hypnotic power of pop music, growing old, and why nobody throws TVs out of hotel windows any more.