Reading Speed


Posted in Technology by readingspeed on March 18, 2009

Neil Spalding

J H Haynes & Co Ltd ISBN 1-84-425310-4

Despite its pervasive influence on our contemporary culture it’s remarkable to reflect that almost everything we know about the details of everyday life in the Roman Republic comes from the writing of one man – Publius Cornelius Tacitus. No other significant and informative bodies of work from that period have survived intact and the only view we have of life in the Roman Republic is the one chronicled and interpreted by Tacitus.

The formative seasons of MotoGP after the 2 strokes had been cast beyond the city wall also have one definitive and authoritative work of record in this book. Even viewed from a the distance of a few years the 990cc era of MotoGP, as recorded by Spalding, seems to be a long distant era of innovation and fecund diversity. From the barren uplands of the 2009 season the days of 9 different manufacturers and private teams seem like a distant fertile valley.

Spalding records all of the technical challenges faced by the team with precise prose and opulent photography. This book easily justifies its ambitious price tag with outstanding production values. He seems to have had access to the team’s designers and engineers of an unusually candid nature and presents and supplements this information with perceptive and expert analysis. For this book’s intended audience, the MotoGP maven, the technical details will be eagerly seized upon and digested. However no matter what level of detail is served up on the evolution of the Yamaha M1 crankshaft or the Kawasaki ZX-RR swingarm it never seems enough. Also, a second volume covering the transition to the 800cc era is badly needed. Like guests at a Roman cena, we are engorged yet crave more.

RS Rating: 9/10

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Posted in Biography by readingspeed on March 1, 2009

Carl Fogarty with Neil Bramwell

HarperCollinsWillow ISBN 0-00-218961-5

Explosive is an adjective normally associated with roadside bombs or dysentery not biographies. To come close to being explosive this book would either have to give the reader amoebic diarrhea, cripple them with an improvised munition or perhaps tell us shocking things about Carl Fogarty that we didn’t already know. Anybody with even a passing interest in motorcycle racing already has a fully formed and probably unfavourable opinion about Carl.

Foggy – TEA initially does very little to improve Fogarty’s brand equity with the reader. In the first few pages we only have to read about his proclivity for burning the long suffering Mrs Fogarty with a hot spoon and tales of pubescent animal cruelty to realise we are in the presence of A Very Special Person. If Fogarty has a charm it is that he is utterly unencumbered by any concern about other people’s opinion of him. This happens to be a valuable trait for an autobiographer as it naturally leads to less self-censorship and restraint.

Thus we are treated to an unvarnished and authentic account of the career that led Fogarty to four World Superbike titles. Of course, honesty comes easily when one is being consistently successful. It would have been fascinating to see if the searing light of Fogarty’s introspection would have remain undimmed when he contemplated his less successful post-riding career as a team owner and manager. Unfortunately, that question remains, for the moment, unanswered as Foggy – TEA ends with the 2000 season.

The book’s other major flaw is that Fogarty does succumb to the universal autobiographer’s temptation of settling old scores. On occasion this can be entertaining and interesting when the feud is with another notable personality. But do we really need to know the details of Fogarty’s long running fight with his Uncle Brian? Does it add any heft to the story to know that the Fogarty – Uncle Brian casus belli were Foggy branded ceramic plates? No and no.

RS Rating: 3/10

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Posted in Biography by readingspeed on February 24, 2009

Chris Walker with Neil Bramwell

HarperSport, ISBN 978-0-00-725986-1

When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote his searing indictment of Soviet totalitarianism, The Gulag Archipelago, he didn’t feel the need to further embellish the title of his Nobel prize winning epic with a terminal exclamation mark and call it The Gulag Archipelago! Quite why Walker thought it necessary to do so with his biography is not readily apparent.

The book gets off to an unpromising start with a detailed description of his wedding. Why? As an attempt to illuminate the man rather than the racer it utterly fails by concentrating on prosaic and declasse details of no possible interest to the reader – Jamie Witham was ‘pissed’ by 3:00pm – fascinating. Of course, it could be that the initial focus on the wedding was intended to start the book on a high note and Walker has had relatively few of those on the track so we are left with the Bildungsroman of Walker dancing to Don’t Stop Me Now at his wedding reception.

Walker is one of the multitude of British riders who have oscillated between the British Superbike Series, some of the less well funded World Superbike teams and the very lowest strata of Grand Prix racing. This is a very familiar story that has been retold by different riders on numerous occasions. Initially, Walker brings very little fresh insight to this well worn narrative. We have the customary juvenile delinquency, educational underachievement and progress through the ranks of club racing. As is usual this is garnished with tales of financial and contractual treachery and the eternal theme of all motorcycle racers – sub-standard machinery compared to those of his competitors.

However, as the book develops we do come see Walker as an entertaining narrator with a pithy turn of phrase. Food in the Czech Republic is handsomely summarised thusly: Every meal is like Sunday dinner but shit. Another emergent theme which adds tremendously to the entertainment value is that Walker is a rider who makes habitually very bad career decisions. Turning down a lucrative Erion AMA FX/SS ride in order to bet his future on the Moto Cinelli BSB fiasco is a notable but by no means isolated example.

All of Walker’s many setbacks and injuries are borne with good humour and fortitude until the BSB season of 2000. After three consecutive 2nd place finishes in the series Walker was three laps away from finally winning the championship when engine failure cruelly robbed him of the title. The open and honest description of his emotions and actions in hours immediately following the race are some of the best writing in the book and it’s these passages that elevate Stalker! above the flock of BSB biographies.

The book finishes at the end of Walker’s indifferent 2007 BSB season with Rizla Suzuki and provides no satisfying or logical conclusion to the narrative. An updated version with details of Walker’s turbulent 2008 season in WSS and WSBK would be welcome.

RS Rating: 8/10

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