Carousing: 'May I take your coat, Mr Reed?'
Christmas books of the year
Sunday 18 December 2011
Readers of Robert Sellers's irresistible bad-behaviour biographies no longer need to correct his wobbly syntax in their heads.
The artist JAKe's "graphic novelisation" of Sellers' Hellraisers (Self Made Hero, £14.99) covers the lives of boozy Burton, reckless Reed, headcase Harris and tiddly O'Toole, and is a treat. These men did horrible things, it's true, but forgive them their Seventies movies and enjoy their excesses, as told by their ghosts. (O'Toole is not actually dead, though he did try.) It's A Christmas Carol for the perpetually hungover. It's brilliant.
Sport and booze go together like fags and cancer. Tony Francis's fascinatingly grim Who Was Hurricane Higgins? (Hodder, £20) tries to untangle the life of the former snooker world champion who died of malnutrition in sheltered accommodation in 2010. More of a coat holder than a fighting man (he was terrified of his erstwhile drinking "buddy" Oliver Reed), Higgins's talents pretty much stopped at looking dapper and hitting balls with a stick. Parenting, eating solid food, making and keeping friends and money were all beyond him. Even drinkier is Jonathan Wilson's Nobody Ever Says Thank You, his life of Brian Clough (Orion, £20). Ol' Big Head's achievements in football management cannot be undermined, but by God, he knocked it back. Cloughie and his sidekick Peter Taylor were forced out of Derby County after complaining that the directors celebrated wins by broaching their office stash of Scotch.
More problematic is On Booze (Picador, £9.99), a selection of the wettest writings of the notorious two-pot screamer F Scott Fitzgerald. Ranging from the unsettling ("The Crack-Up") to the unnecessary (pages of hopeful aphorisms), this is better suited to a New Year detox. Victoria Moore's How to Drink at Christmas (Granta, £9.99) is an artful set of seasonal suggestions from the Nigella of the grape, but more fun is The Finest Wines of Rioja and Northwest Spain (Aurum, £20) an intelligent and accessible guide to some great wines that non-bankers can afford. But it's not just for wine buffs – fans of absurdly Spanish-looking Spaniards will thrill to portrait photos of the idiosyncratic winemaker Emilio Rojo and the spectacularly aristocratic Vicente Dalmau Cebrián-Sagarriga.
Recently, the professional Northerner Terry Christian yelped about the joys of provincial life, boasting that his local serves a two-quid pint and a meal for a fiver. So does mine and, better still, as it's in London, he definitely won't be there. Yet we surely agree that, as smoking bans and health warnings dissuade customers from sharing communal oblivion, the Great British Pub is in crisis. Paul Moody and Robin Turner's The Search For the Perfect Pub (Orion, £14.99) is part elegy, part report on the state of the nation's libation. They are admirably even-handed, meeting both evil pubco mouthpieces and nice "micropub" hosts, and make an excellent case for using and encouraging our pubs.
The Oxford Companion to Beer (OUP, £35) is as inviting as a proper tavern and as impressive as the publisher's classic volumes on food and wine. Edited by the US brewmaster Garrett Oliver, it shows a certain transatlantic bias, yet the incredible revival of America's brewing industry is worth celebrating; proof that pub life can survive and thrive even.
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