Tears of a clown? Time to turn a new page on my library

iPads, Google search and Kindles have made NORMAN GILLER’s book collection redundant, even for his sports research

Have you ever seen a grown man cry? I don’t mean whimper like Andy Murray last Sunday. I am talking real tears running down the cheeks like raindrops on a windowpane. That was me yesterday when preparing to say goodbye to more than a thousand old friends.

Andy Murray in tears at Wimbledon last Sunday, shortly after he’d been given the news about Norman Giller’s book collection

There they were lined up in my study and garage, trusted companions for many years, all of them informative and a joy to hold, with a smell, a touch and a feel of their own. They have been reliable, instructive, amusing, enlightening, entertaining, some even life changing. Now they – several quite literally – are being consigned to the dustbin of history.

I am talking books. Small books, big books, ancient and modern books, encyclopedias, joke books, educational books, biographies, autobiographies, anthologies, complete chronicles of two World Wars, poetry and art books, memoirs and novels, books by the finest sports masters you can imagine, music books featuring the great composers and singers from Sinatra to Pavarotti, geographical and historical books, record books galore, atlases, travel guides, books here, there and everywhere, a lifetime’s collection.

And next week they are leaving me, being taken away by a book dealer for peanuts as I prepare to downsize to a smaller home where I will be surrounded by the modern soulless clutter of kindles, iPads and computer screens.

As I took an inventory of the books yesterday, my son and best pal, Michael, was there to hold my hand, gently reminding me that most of the well-thumbed volumes have not been opened for five years or more.

There’s the leather-bound 30-volume set of the Encyclopedia Britannica, in which I have lost myself for hours while trying to improve my poorly educated brain. The pages I once turned on a daily basis have been ignored and disregarded since the advent of Google.

My Wisden Almanacks are hardly touched now, and I can’t remember the last time I needed to turn to my Rothmans Football Annuals or my Ring Record books.

All have been made redundant by the oceans of information that have opened up online. I have turned my back on my books, which are suddenly decorative rather than informative. I feel like an unfaithful lover who has been caught cheating.

The book world in which I live is suffering a tsunami of turmoil. There would have been a time before search engines when my books would have been worth several thousand pounds. Now I am getting enough for a slap-up meal at somewhere like McDonalds.

I cannot argue with the dealer who is telling me that he will struggle to make any profit on my collection. The proof is there on Amazon, with almost any secondhand book you can think of available for a few pennies.

Amazon, Kindle and iPad, so wonderful for the computer generation, are slowly killing off the need for printed books, good companions as those of us of a certain age have grown to know and love them.

This is my second clear out, moving here to dozy, delightful Dorset with half the collection I had in my London and Essex writing days. Back then all my paperbacks went, including every novel I had ever read from Dickens to Dostoevsky, Hemingway to Malamud. Now I can get all those novels on to a Kindle, but they are not nearly as satisfying to hold and touch.

Some books (including the 93 I have had published, he said preening), I will not let go, such as the personally inscribed ones from Muhammad Ali (“To my friend Norman, Peace” and signed two hours after he had beaten up Richard Dunn when I was the fight publicist)… Henry Cooper (“To Norman, don’t forget that money you owe me”)… Jim Watt (“To Norman, the Ghost with the Most”)… Frank Bruno (“To Norman, Computer Brain”) …

There are a few dozen like this, autographed by sporting giants such as Jack Dempsey, Freddie Mills, Denis Compton, Billy Wright, George Best, Greavsie, of course, and dear departed old team mates like Ian Wooldridge, Geoffrey Green and Brian Moore.

The life of a book lasts much longer than a computer battery, and even with a broken spine can be patched up and salvaged. I feel sorry for my great-grandchildren’s generation, who will probably never buy a newspaper or tuck up in bed with a good book.

Holding a book? You can’t hold a candle to it. Or a Kindle.

Luka Modric: giving a swerve to AVB’s Spurs

Here’s an unexpected punchline. While writing I have had a call from my estate agent to tell me that the chain in which I am locked has just collapsed. Maybe my move is off and I still have room for all my books.

Perhaps I should write a book about it.

I HOPE I AM proved wrong, but the arrival of Andre Villas-Boas as new manager of Spurs is not giving me good vibes. I am infamous on Facebook and Twitter for always defending Harry Redknapp, but I have a feeling we are going to miss his humour and crunching of the grammar gears.

AVB to me appears to talk in riddles in his robotic English, managing for instance to make it seem he was both happy to sell and to keep Luka Modric. As I understand it, Luka is definitely – as Harry would say – on his bike, which explains why Spurs are suddenly splashing the cash.

Villas-Boas is 34 going on 54, and has none of the chirpiness of Harry that irritated as many as it entertained. Me, I am easily amused.

Like Harry, AVB has given himself a target of top four in the league and Champions League football. I would say the two Manchesters, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal are huge barriers to that ambition, and the opening match of the season at Newcastle will give him an indication of the size of the mountain he faces with Tottenham.

Harry has set the bar high with his 4th, 5th and 4th finishes. On their crowd capacity of 36,000 I would say the Spurs budget dictates that is about as good as it can get. But there are many unrealistic Tottenham fans who want the Moon.

I will be right behind the new master of the Lane as he tries to match or beat the Redkapp record, but I wonder how long it will take for the Harry Haters on line to become AVB assassins?

It was another Harry – Harris – who broke the news of AVB taking over from Redknapp, just as he was first with the Hodgson for England story. He is now contracted to ESPN as their football correspondent, so I was wrong last week when I described him as a freelance.

ESPN are, of course, under the Disney umbrella and it was Harry who told me: “At long last I’ve achieved what all my old Fleet Street rivals have been suggesting and have a Mickey Mouse column!”

His two latest books – The Roman Conquest and Mancini’s Diary – will be launched during a charity auction for the British Heart Foundation at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair on the afternoon of July 23. I wonder how they will look on my Kindle?


Tue July 24: Olympic media service and reception, St Bride’s Church. For more details click here.

Thu Dec 6: 2012 SJA British Sports Awards. An Olympic year extravaganza. Note the date in your diary now. Details to be announced soon.

One thought on “Tears of a clown? Time to turn a new page on my library

  1. This is a sad tale. But then, I can’t recall the last time I opened one of the dictionaries that sit within arm’s reach of this desk. I just look on the computer.

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