The Bookworm Critique
By Eoin Young;
Patrick Stephens Limited.
by Mark Glendenning,

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The great writer Georges Perec once wrote a cool little piece entitled 'Things I Really Must Do Before I Die'. Only three or four pages long, the work was exactly as the title suggested - a list of things that Perec wanted to achieve or experience before his time was up. Sadly, the Frenchman succumbed to lung cancer a year after the piece was published; so most of his wishes were probably left unfulfilled.

While I've never sat down as Perec did and written a list like that, I know that if I did I would probably include something about wanting to have a beer with Eoin Young. Unfortunately, my chances of this happening seems rather remote at present, so I'll have to settle for the next best thing - a pint of Boddingtons down at the local pub, and a copy of this book.

As far as substitutes for a real conversation with a real person go, this book actually succeeds extremely well. Eoin Young has what must be one of the most enjoyable, accessible writing styles anywhere in Formula One at the moment. It's narrative to the extreme, written almost exactly as you imagine Young would say it if he were sitting next to you at the bar. Young's involvement with the premier category of motorsport extends back almost forty years - more than long enough to accumulate some good stories. This volume stands as a collection of the best anecdotes and after-dinner tales that Young has been privy to during his career, and it should come as little surprise that the end result is some of the best Formula One writing to be released in the past ten years.

I wonder whether the importance of writers such as Young, along with the likes of Nigel Roebuck, Maurice Hamilton, and Alan Henry, is somewhat underestimated. All were weaned on the scribblings of the legendary racing observer Denis Jenkinson, and they collectively carry the torch for Formula One reporting that has its wellspring in enthusiasm and passion for the sport; rather than the clinical, 'serious-journalist' style that seems rife amongst many of those privileged with press passes.

The opinions that these writers express in their various books and columns may not always meet universal agreement; but then again, this is Formula One, so controversy is virtually inevitable irrespective of the specific subject being addressed. Nevertheless, this group has a massive global readership, and represents a major filter through which information regarding Formula One reaches supporters. Subsequently, they play a major part in shaping the way that the fans interpret Formula One and all its associated intrigues.

Anyhow, I'm digressing a bit here...back to the book. This title will no doubt be familiar to many readers, for it was released back in 1996, and was met with considerable acclaim, not the least of which was the awarding of the Timo Makinen Trophy for outstanding motorsport coverage. It's one of those books that can potentially appeal to anyone - the stories span the whole era of racing between the early 1960s and the mid 1990s, so irrespective of what era of racing you're interested in you can probably find something you'll like. Having said that, the balance of the anecdotes does tip a little toward the earlier era. This is neither a surprise nor a problem, though.

Firstly, it's natural that events in the earlier years of Young's career will have made a greater impression upon him, for the whole business would been newer to him then. Other books that I have read, coupled with occasional visits to the Atlas F1 Nostalgia Forum have also given me the impression that Formula One in general was perhaps a little more anecdote-worthy back then. Nevertheless, it shouldn't really be much of an issue - a good story is a good story, irrespective of when it was set. And as far as stories go, these have to rate amongst the best. Picking out highlights is tricky, because several moments in the book saw me laughing out loud - not too cool when you're on public transport. This little excerpt probably gives a good indication of the flavour of the book though:

"One memorable party at The Castle was after the Guards Trophy sports car race at Brands Hatch in 1964, and all the Americans came along - A.J. Foyt, Roger penske, Walt Hansgen and John Mecom - as well as the top 'home' drivers. To give an authentic period atmosphere to the party we produced invitations in Olde Worlde English and bought dummy fibreglass suits of armour as decoration to go with old swords we had picked up cheaply in antique shops.

"There was a stately sweeping staircase from the hallway to the first floor landing, and as the party reached its cruising altitude Jimmy Clark donned one of the fibreglass armour breastplates and a plastic helmet, grabbed a (real) sword and challenged Graham Hill to a duel. The pair of them lunged and parried and Graham leapt to the stairs, all Errol Flynn with his dashing moustache, and leaned over the banister to deliver a mighty thwack across Jimmy's helmet. The clash of real broadsword against the thin plastic helmet had a dramatic effect and Jimmy slumped to the floor, concussed!" (p.71).

The photos are also worthy of mention, largely because many of them relate directly to particular passages in the book. All are good, though I especially liked the shot of Nigel Roebuck and Maurice Hamilton encountering Nigel Mansell in the paddock in Milwaukee. Roebuck is particularly known for his ability to, as he would put it, 'keep his enthusiasm in check' where Mansell is concerned, and his distinct displeasure at the chance encounter is etched quite clearly on his face. Some of the other shots have some historical significance, particularly the early snaps of Bruce McLaren and Jim Clark.

Quite simply, 'It Beats Working' is fantastic. It's the sort of book that requires you to allow plenty of time to read it, because you're quite likely to have problems trying to put it down. I can't recommend strongly enough that you reach for a bit of paper right now and write the words: 'Memo to self - must order Eoin Young's book'. Somehow I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Mark Glendenning© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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