On Snooker: A Brilliant Exploration of the Game and the Characters Who Play It

Overview

From his first days as a poolroom hustler playing truant from Baron Byng High School at the Rachel Pool Hall, Mordecai Richler has remained a snooker devotee. In his inimitable style, he delves into the fascinating world of snooker with pith and perception.

But On Snooker is not just a lifelong fan's memoir. It is a brilliantly entertaining history of the game and an account of snooker's bad boy champions, including Alex (The Hurricane) Higgins, Cliff (The Grinder) ...

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0676973728 Knopf Canada hardcover with great dustjacket

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Overview

From his first days as a poolroom hustler playing truant from Baron Byng High School at the Rachel Pool Hall, Mordecai Richler has remained a snooker devotee. In his inimitable style, he delves into the fascinating world of snooker with pith and perception.

But On Snooker is not just a lifelong fan's memoir. It is a brilliantly entertaining history of the game and an account of snooker's bad boy champions, including Alex (The Hurricane) Higgins, Cliff (The Grinder) Thorburn--both Canadian and interviewed for this book--with a chapter devoted to their special exploits and drug escapades. There are other colourful types: Ronnie (The Rocket) O'Sullivan, whose dad ("Ron's the name, porn's the game") is serving a life sentence for murder. Finally there is Stephen Hendry, the greatest player ever, who has won the world championship a record seven times.

Mordecai Richler also makes clear why many great writers have been fascinated by sports and why snooker and literary readers go together, including Hemingway, Shulberg, Mailer, Roth, Plimpton, Martin Amis, and others.

Very funny, passionate, and thoroughly researched on snooker tables from Montreal's The Main to Dublin, On Snooker is a book lovers of Richler and of great sports writing will cherish.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The recently deceased Richler (Barney's Version) was an internationally renowned novelist with a lifelong passion for snooker, an offshoot of billiards. This is his personalized general introduction to the game and its best players. In style it reads like an extended magazine piece on the milieu of the mostly British snooker subculture. The highlights are the descriptions of the players, particularly the less savory ones, but overall the book is haphazardly organized and too often heads off on tangents of questionable appeal. This short work is of interest primarily to fans of snooker or of the author's fiction. John Maxymuk, Robeson Lib., Rutgers Univ., Camden, NJ Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Long before he became a writer, Mordecai Richler fell in love with snooker, risking God's wrath by spending Friday evenings at the Laurier pool hall and concluding that "snooker was a hell of a lot more fun than Talmud classes with Mr. Yalofsky in a back room of the Young Israel Synagogue." In this homage to the snooker subculture<-- >Richler's last book<-->he looks at his own passion for the game as well as that of the hustlers, prodigies, and others who devote their lives to it. Richler fills out his observations with historic morsels (for instance, the fact that Pushkin, Austen, Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, Conrad, and Dostoyevsky all managed to squeeze at least a mention of billiards into their work). Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780676973723
  • Publisher: Knopf Canada
  • Publication date: 8/14/2001
  • Pages: 208

Read an Excerpt

Clive Everton, snookerdoom's Rashi, once pronounced on two of the game's stalwarts, Cliff Thorburn and Kirk Stevens, both Canadian born and bred, declaring them long-standing chums. "Stevens was a mere twelve-year-old," wrote the affable Everton in the monthly journal Snooker Scene, "when he painstakingly accrued four dollars with which to challenge Thorburn, a superstar even then, in 1970, in the subculture from which Canadian snooker had not even begun to emerge." (Emphasis mine.)
A small-time hustler in that "subculture" back in the late forties, I took Everton's observation as an ad hominem snub of my heritage.
Games have always played an important role in my life, culminating in my becoming a novelist, a rogue's game wherein I was at last empowered to make my own rules, rewarding and punishing as I ordained. Submitting to book tours enriched by probing TV interviews: "Is this book of yours, Mordy, based on fact, or is it just something you made up in your own head?"
To begin with, I was captivated by the simplest of childhood games common to Canadian street kids in the early forties: bolo, yo-yo, flip-the-diddle, and such beginner's card games as fish and casino. And at the age of ten I was already an impassioned fan of Montreal's Club de Hockey Canadiens, nos glorieux, and our Triple "A" baseball Royals, as well as the weekly Gilette-sponsored fight broadcasts out of Madison Square Garden in New York, the big time.
I came to snooker at the age of thirteen, in 1944, my first year at Baron Byng High School in Montreal. Montreal has a confessional-school system and BBHS operated under the aegis of the city's Protestant School Board. But squatting asthe school did on St. Urbain Street, in the heart of the working-class Jewish quarter, the brown brick building was as charming as a Victorian workhouse, the student body was 99 percent Jewish. We were a rough-and-ready lot. The sons and daughters of pants pressers, sewing-machine operators, scrap metal dealers, taxi drivers, keepers of street-corner newsagent kiosks, plumbers, shoe-repair mavens, and grocery store proprietors. My mother didn't trust Klein, the corner grocer, who would pass off yesterday's kummel bread as today's when it should have been reduced from ten to eight cents a loaf. "He never stops bragging about his son the doctor. Some doctor. He has that stutter, you could die before he gets a word out. He married for money and he does abortions."
She took the jolly French Canadian coal-delivery man for a crook as well. "He has to serve Jews it just about kills him. You go round the back and count the bags he dumps in the shed. I paid for twelve. Twelve full bags."
The ladies' auxiliary of the Young Israel Synagogue was another problem. "I would be president, if only I was married to a dentist like Gloria Hoffer, big deal, she doesn't know he plays around with his receptionist, would I say a word? But your father is a junk dealer, he comes home he sits down to supper in his Penman's underwear, what if somebody nice rang the doorbell, I ask you?"
Before he sat down my exhausted father would wash his hands with Snap, but he never succeeded in getting out all the grit. It was embedded in his fingernails and the cuts in his calloused hands. He would read the New York Daily Mirror or News at the ktichen table with the linoleum cloth, beginning with Walter Winchell, wetting a thumb before turning a page. When he was finished, I was able to catch up on Alley Oop, Dick Tracy, Maggie and Jiggs, Red Ryder, Li'l Abner, and Ella Cinders. Sometimes Macy's famous department store ran brassiere ads, and I would take the newspaper with me into the bathroom.
Round the corner from Baron Byng, on St. Laurence Boulevard (The Main, in Montreal parlance), lay the Rachel Pool Hall, my deliverance from classes in geometry and intermediate algebra, both of which confounded me. Beginning snooker players at the Rachel were obliged to apprentice on the last of four tables, lest we miscue and rip the baize cloth. The faded baize on the humiliating last table no longer mattered. It had already been mended here and there with black tape. There were sticky Coca-Cola stains and cigarette burns. Imitating the more seasoned players, I learned to select a number of cues from the wall rack, ostentatiously rolling them on the table until I settled on one that wasn't hopelessly warped. If my opponent managed a difficult pot, I would bang my cue butt three times on the floor, just like the other Rachel habitues. However, much to my chagrin, I never achieved star status, my very own cue locked into the wall rack like the one that belonged to the all but unbeatable Izzy Halprin, who also pitched for the YMHA Intermediates and would go on to serve on one of those rusty tubs sailing out of Naples, laden with concentration camp survivors, that ran the British blockade of Palestine. Another player, Mendy Perlman, a name to conjure with in those days, became a lawyer, sadly misunderstood, obliged to spend time in the summer when it turned out that too many aged widows had left him money in the wills he had prepared for them. Before being sentenced, Mendy, once Baron Byng's knockout debater, gave the judge what for: "Six million weren't enough for you," he hollered. "So today you got yourself another victim. Congratulations."
I had to be satisfied with eventually qualifying for the first table, a rite of passage second only to the much earlier test of Jack and Moe's barbershop on the corner of Park Avenue and Laurier, later displaced by a Greek loan society.
To begin with, our obdurate mothers, notorious nontippers, escorted us to Jack and Moe's for our twenty-five-cent brushcuts. A degrading plank was slipped through the silvery arms of the old-fashioned chair so that neither barber had to stoop to mow our hair. They got through the job as quickly as possible, because the presence of our unsmiling mothers, knitting needles clicking away (knit one, purl two) meant the barbers couldn't exchange the latest dirty jokes with the men in the other chairs.
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