Today's Runners And Writers: The Six Shortlisted For The William Hill Sports Book Of The Year

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A FAVOURITE story concerning Jimmy White happened last year. Snooker's "Whirlwind" was partying with aggressive intent as night turned to dawn and Ronnie Wood sidled up to a colleague. "The trouble with Jimmy," said a man who has spent a large proportion of his adult life working and playing with Keith Richard, "is that he keeps some bad company."

When a Rolling Stone is concerned about your lifestyle you ought to worry, but Jimmy? Come off it, he will have enjoyed the paradox of it more than anyone. Proud of it, even.

White's story is one of a little boy who has never grown up, whose instinct when faced with responsibility is to hide either behind booze or gambling. In someone else it would be pathetic but mud refuses to stick to him. A mumbled apology, an embarrassed smile and the world opens its arms, which is a lovely blessing to have.

White, somehow, has managed to become the embodiment of everyone's free spirit. You fear where his life might have gone if, at eight, he and a friend had not fled into a snooker club to escape overwhelmingly poor odds in a fist fight. "The floor was awash with cigarette ash and stubs and there was a kind of dusty, musty, beery, smoky, almost soot-like ... I heard the click of balls and then a clunk and a faint rumble like thunder as the ball dropped into the pocket."

The book is packed with evocative language like this which makes splendid reading but pushes the autobiography element into the realms of fantasy. White could not read when he left school and is never as erudite as he appears in print. Rosemary Kingsland is a good writer and she deserved better than a mention on an inside page.

Having said that, the book would have been appreciably better if a snooker expert had read it at the proof stage. Describing the Embassy World Championship trophy as the world cup rankles, but to describe arguably the best snooker player ever, Joe Davis, only as "the greatest billiard player in the world" is sacrilege.