Time to look back at the year that was on the Podium Café Bookshelf and work out the Top 10 of 2016's cycling books. The following are in an order and not in an order, both at the same time: the two books at the top of the list could exchange places depending on my mood, the book at the bottom is meant to be at the bottom, the rest float freely.
- What Goes Around: A London Cycle Courier's Story, by Emily Chappell
This tale of life, London and cycle couriers grabs you from its opening chapter. At its best Chappell's writing has a wonderful cinematic quality, she crafts scenes that come alive in the mind's eye: the feeling I was left with at the end of What Goes Around was that of an American indy film, a slice of life, elegantly told.
You can read an excerpt from Sarah Connolly's interview with Emily Chappell here.
- Greg LeMond: Yellow Jersey Racer, by Guy Andrews
One of the joys of Guy Andrews's look at the racing career of the first American to win the Tour de France is that as well as telling Greg LeMond's story Andrews - through the chorus of voices he co-opted to tell the tale - paints a vivid picture of cycling in the 1980s. Add to that the photos - many rarely seen, few (if any) seen so often they've been reduced to visual clichés - and the story they tell of a man for all seasons and a rider often seen going on the attack - and you have a book all should want to own a copy of.
You can read an interview with Guy Andrews here.
- Circus: Inside the World of Professional Bike Racing, by Camille McMillan
Over the last few years I've become somewhat jaded when it comes to cycling photography and have generally avoided cycling photo albums: some that I've seen (and reviewed) have been good but most have tended to go in one eye and out the other, barely registering. Not so with Camille McMillan's Circus, whose photos were stuck in my mind for a long time after I'd zipped through its two hundred odd pages.
- Magnum Cycling, by Guy Andrews
Three photo books on the one list? I guess that 2016 was that kind of year, when some of the best stories were told visually. Combined, all three books also tell a story of sorts about why we can't have these sort of books all the time: like good music albums people need time to dream these things up. This one, drawn from the archives of the Magnum photo agency offers classics from Robert Capa alongside images from the 1980s featuring Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon, among others.
- Spitting in the Soup: Inside the Dirty Game of Doping in Sport, by Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson takes the subject of anti-doping as his focus and serves up a a dose of Gladwellian counter-intuitive paradigm-shifting, challenging your perception of today's anti-doping system. At times it's a bit too heavy on the religious symbolism - a sin committed by many in the anti-doping community - but ultimately it's a rewarding read, building on papers by the likes of Paul Dimeo, Werner Møller, Bernat López, John Gleaves and others as well as offering a take on America's problems with the supplement industry.
You can read an interview with Mark Johnson here.
- Cols and Passes of the British Isles, by Graham Robb
An wonderful little book that is more than just a list of the 2,002 cols and 105 passes of the British Isles. Robb - whose Discovery of France is much loved by many - has an elegant and gentle way of rewiring your brain, challenging you to stop thinking of cols as obstacles, something to be got over, and instead to see them as doorways, portals into history.
- The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold: Adventures Along the Iron Curtain Trail, by Tim Moore
Tim Moore is probably responsible for many of the bad mamilogues that pass over my desk - a lot of people who once had someone laugh at something they once said think they can write as funny as Moore can - but I guess that after French Revolutions, Gironimo! and this, his latest offering, I can hold off beating him about the head with rolled up copies of l'Équipe. The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold sees Moore undertaking his biggest challenge yet: riding the length of the Iron Curtain. On a shopping bike.
- Devil Take the Hindmost, by Martin Cathcart Froden
For the Café Bookshelf 2016 was the year of the novel. Old ones and new ones. Good ones and not so good ones. Some have had only a passing relationship with cycling: David Rose's Vault, Dimitri Verhulst's The Misfortunates, Caroline Vermalle's George's Grand Tour. The worst was hyped to the high heavens: Bert Wagendorp's Ventoux, which has been compared to Tim Krabbé by people who have clearly not understood Krabbé. Devil Take the Hindmost was the best of the new, an enjoyable noir with an imaginative take on the world of cycling and an ending that kept me turning the pages.
- The Invisible Mile, by David Coventry
I thought from the opening chapter that I was going to love this tale of the Tour's heroic age, that here was the cycling novel that would finally dethrone Krabbé's The Rider. I ended up wondering where it all went wrong. And who it had gone wrong for, me or the author. I'm still working on that. Even still, for the parts that worked for me, this ambitious début achieved more for me than most of the books I read in 2016.
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Back in 2010, when I first started reviewing cycling books for this site, I thought I'd be done and dusted within the year. New books, they were only appearing sporadically and I had no more than about 30 old books I thought were worth writing about. Some of them I never did: the trickle of new books became a torrent. Some very good books emerged, some of which will stand the test of time. It goes without saying that a lot of not so good books also emerged, that is the nature of a publishing industry that just chucks so much stuff at the wall and sees what sticks.
It all peaked, though, in 2014: when I did a Top 10 then I had to struggle over what to leave out. Now I'm struggling over what to put in, ending up with a Top 10 that's just 8½ books long. The year's big hitters - chamoirs from Chris Boardman, Laura and Jason Kenny, Jens Voigt; history from Alasdair Fotheringham - all disappointed, some more than others. None of the stocking filler fodder - adult colouring books from Richard Mitchelson, William Fotheringam and others, Ned Boulting's Meaning of Liff knock-off - registered. Nor did much else that was thrown at bookshop shelves: the celebrity haberdasher's scrapbook, the too many miscellany/listicle books and so on. Everything else, well they fall where most books inevitably fall: somewhere in between.
The absent book on the list, that's a space I'm reserving for one of the handful of 2016's cycling books that I've yet to get a look at: I didn't have time for Balint Hamvas's latest 'cross annual, I didn't have time for Michael Blann's Mountains, I didn't have time for a handful of other books, at least one of which I'd like to think will reward reading. Better to live in hope, and all that.
Hopefully 2016, like 2015 before it, will prove to have been a lull, a couple of quiet years. There are signs that 2017 will have fun in it, with books due from Herbie Sykes (Giro 100), Paul Fournel (Anquetil, Alone), Peter Cossins (The First Tour de France), Guy Van den Langenbergh (Fabian Cancellara), Magnus McGrandle (Short Ride on a Fast Machine),
Edward Pickering (The Ronde: Inside the World's Toughest Bike Race), Guy Andrews and others (The Brooks Compendium of Cycling Culture), Jeremy Whittle (Ventoux: Sacrifice and Suffering on the Giant of Provence), and Colin O'Brien (Giro d'Italia: the Story of the World's Most Beautiful Bike Race).