crio’s Q: Worthy of the written word

I guess the market dictates if a book is worthwhile or not. Certainly I support any author’s right to have a tale printed.
When Tom and I go to TiAmo in Lygon St for lunch, a stop at Readings is a non-negotiable. Seeking common ground we invariably meet at the small sports section.
Last week we were struck by certain biogs….a book on Miss Andretti, the Rafa story, even Jorge Lorenzo – the racehorse, he suggested, would be better placed in an Anthology; Nadal, we mused, has just turned 26 and, though a champion, his tennis record is self-evident and the rest of his life is barely underway; the motorcyclist, we thought, might have a larger profile in Europe…
What are your considerations on when a biography becomes worthwhile?


  1. Great topic, Crio. I am not as much of a book reader these days. The web and magazines occupy my time and my attention span. But here are a few principles that I reckon apply to all biographies of public figures – sportspeople, politicians, business people, entertainers. Its all the same.
    1) No autobiography by a current participant is ever worth reading. They are always self serving. Who is going to tell people you work with or depend upon for living, anything that is substantially critical of yourself or others??? Memoirs can be insightful – because they can just ignore the hurtful bits. Paul Kelly’s (the muso) memoir skirts around the relationship breakdowns (understandably) but is a wonderful read. Ric Charlesworth and Wayne Bennett have written good books on coaching because they can be selective about excluding hurtful episodes, and both have the track record and strength not to care too much about other people’s opinions.
    2)Autobiography can occasionally be good when recently retired people decide to give a true ‘inside story’ to shed light on their actions and motivations. Agassi is a great example. In politics the Diaries of UK Cabinet Ministers Richard Crossman (Labour) and Alan Clark (Conservative) were wonderful because they kept faithful daily records, and published them largely unedited once they were beyond ambition. My old boss Neal Blewett kept a marvellous private diary, and published a Cabinet Diary of a year in the Keating Government. It was turgid and banal (unlike the real diaries) because he was still a jobbing pollie, so still needed to curry favour.
    3)Biographies from a person close to the action with access to the inside story, but no direct interest, are always the best. Paul Kelly (the Australian journo) and Christine Wallace are good on Australian politicians and public figures. Peter Lalor’s bio of Ron Barassi and Ben Collins bio of Norm Smith are both masterful and un-putdownable. The best accolade is wanting to keep turning the pages to find out what happened next and why.
    4)In line with my magazine/short story preference the collections of Les Carlyon, Red Smith (US) and Gideon Haigh (and the late great Peter Roebuck) articles are my all time faves. Incisive, opinionated and to the point. The journalistic discipline.
    5)We all know there are countless ghost written drivel-fest stocking fillers by current ‘stars’ (you know who you are). But to highlight the pitfalls, I’ll mention a bio that greatly disappointed me. I bought Ted Hopkins’ autobio “The Stats Revolution” last year intending to review it for the Almanac. A seemingly interesting man with an interesting life managed to produce a turgid and boring read. I think a good editor/external biographer might have shaped a great story. Ted seemed too concerned with being thorough and fair to all the significant people and episodes in his life even if they were boring and meaningless to the reader. He also had the statistician’s gift for language. I decided not to review it because the interesting parts could have been reduced to a long feature piece in a magazine. Thats the risk of reading. You invest the time before you know the result.

  2. How many did the book on Archie Thompson from the Victory sell?

  3. Rick Kane says

    In line with Mr PB’s principles I would like to add to point 1. I agree. I could hardly get through Barry Jones’ very deep and turgid tome/tomb. I accept my previous sentence was not that witty a turn of phrase but still it’s sparkly compared to the title of Jones’ autobiography, A Thinking Reed. I’m a huge fan and wanted to devour the book but was stopped too many times by long, long passages of unnecessary detail.

    Yet I read Timmy Zoehrer’s little book, The Gloves Are Off, in the blink of an eye. He was well and truly out of the system when he went chasing the bucks through book sales, as well as being bitter and twisted about events that led to his downfall. So, with little regard for facts and the law he wrote in such a way as to confirm why he may have been dropped in the first place.

    I am holding on for the biography of boy band sensation, One Direction. The official bio, obviously.


  4. Rick, I’d heard about Zoehrer’s book but have never been able to find it.

    Continuing the tangent: the benchmark bad effort belongs to Hayden Haitana, a trait he seems to have brought across from his broader experiences in to Literature. Unlike many others, he actually had a distinct experience of a notorious event – the Fine Cotton affair – that gave some semblance of cred to the task. This book is worth reading only for its jaw-droppingly dreadful writing and incredible/fantastical version of events. Like those awful movies that achieve cult status, this must be archived!
    “Fine Cotton & me : the confessions of Hayden Haitana as told to Graham Bauer” (try fiction section!)

  5. Andrew Fithall says

    At the other (that is – the upper) end of the intellectual spectrum of sports biographies, I give you:

    Pants – The Darren Millane Story
    by Eddie McGuire (with Jim Main)

  6. Rick Kane says

    Crio, I still have me copy. I’ll pass it on to you at an Almanac get together.


    AF, thanks for the reminder of that heavyweight. The book and the man. It reminded me of one of the Sunday Age Sports section’s better front pages (and they do that front page well): Last Sunday, with a picture of Sewell dacking Swan as he tries to get away and the headline, Pantsed accompanying it. Thanks for reminding me.


  7. I’ve always chuckled at the term pants man. Was Darren one of those?

    That reminds me of something that made me laugh the other day. I was in a chiropractor’s waiting room (shagger’s back, obviously). An old bloke shuffled out after his treatment and the friendly receptionist asked how he was going. “Not too bad, battling on,” he said and then paused for exactly the right amount of time before adding, “Might have a bit of trouble reaching the wallet but.”

    Rick I read the Timmy Z book in one sitting too.

    In 2010 I bought a brand new hardcover copy of Shane Crawford’s “That’s What I’m Talking About” for $5 in a secondhand bookshop in Fremantle. Haven’t sat with it yet.

    There are two Fevola books in Dymocks in Freo… I didn’t know which one to buy.

  8. haha…I’m loathe to bag anyone who has achieved something noteworthy and/or been published, but I just reckon time brings perspective. Maybe, perversely, those “Captain’s Diary” exercises were the way to go – they did not pretend to be anything other than a recount and insight from a time and place (not that I read them!).
    Of course, other stories need top be recorded before it gets too late – I reckon they should document “World of Sport” while some of the founders are still around.

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