JC / Railbird

Readings Archive

Rider’s Eye View

The late John Oaksey’s bittersweet account of the 1963 Grand National:

It was, I think, setting out on the second circuit that the thought of victory first entered my head. Carrickbeg had long since made the fences look and feel like hurdles and, after jumping the water well behind, he moved up outside his field turning away from the stands with a surge of power that warmed my heart.

At Becher’s second time round he made one of the few mistakes I remember, and for an awful moment his big brave head seemed to rest on the quarters of another horse stumbling in front of us. But then, somehow, we were clear, and at the Canal Turn, as Ayala blundered badly, Carrickbeg nipped inside him like a polo pony.

Now there were only a handful ahead, and as the fences flicked by we pulled them back, one by one, until four from home, when for the first and only time in this hectic, wonderful race, fate took a hand against us.

He was denied the win. “I know who you are,” a man said to him on the street years later, “you’re the b—– who got tired before his ‘oss“.

Such Different Books

TD Thornton on why he wrote “Not by a Long Shot”:

I read a lot of great books about the sport’s champions and iconic figures, but after awhile, it started to dawn on me that very few of those books spoke of the racetrack as I knew it — minimum-wage stable hands busting ice out of frozen water buckets, jockeys who starve themselves to make riding weight, fragile, beautiful horses with immeasurable tenacity. All of these elements keep the industry humming along in unheralded fashion so the highest echelon of the game can bask in the spotlight, yet these people and horses never seem to have a voice. I wanted to give them one.

Jaimy Gordon on her motivation for “Lord of Misrule”:

Of course, I read “Horse Heaven,’’ Jane Smiley’s novel. But the owners in “Horse Heaven’’ are respectable, upper-middle-class people, not like people I used to know on the racetrack.

I hoped I might write a book like Leonard Gardner’s “Fat City.” To me, that’s the best novel about American boxing, and yet it’s about boxing at its absolute bottom end, around Stockton, Calif. That’s what I wanted to do — write a book about horse racing at its low end, in an era considerably before the present moment, and see if there wasn’t an open niche for that.

Such similar urges to storytelling.

More Misrule

John Williams reviews Jaimy Gordon’s racetrack novel:

Lord of Misrule isn’t a chore. It’s more accurate to say that it alternately charms and befuddles. It’s possible to move from deep admiration to deep suspicion of it in the space between paragraphs. It’s wise and flaky. It’s funny intentionally and unintentionally. It begins with a bit of overworked imagery and ends with a great plainspoken sentence.

Odds on the NBA winner collects the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award?

“Lord of Misrule” is also among the 16 works competing for the Rooster in the Morning News’ annual Tournament of Books, which begins March 7. Tough competition there; “Super Sad True Love Story” is a solid favorite for the title.

Uneven Form

Janet Maslin in today’s New York Times:

“Lord of Misrule” edges toward some drastic final twists without ever escaping the impression that it is more of a short-story cycle than a full-fledged novel. And its texture is thick even when Ms. Gordon is at her most lighthearted. But this book is best remembered for flashes of startling beauty, despite a racetrack milieu of “la crème da la crud.”

That sums up my impression of the novel, after I finished reading it last week. Amid the dense and often lumbering prose, a scene will open up, gorgeous and true in its rococo lushness. It’s best read for those stunning bits.

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