By Dan Burkitt
I asked my dad for running kit for Christmas and he gave me five-time Snooker World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan’s autobiography. My dad isn’t senile, he was just confused by title of the book – Running.
And the book is, in fact, all about how running made O’Sullivan a better snooker player. However, the sections on running are easily the least interesting – essentially just a dispassionate list of the distances and times he achieved as a decent amateur runner, with no real insight into why he finds it such an addictive and therapeutic activity.
I have a passing interest in snooker. That is, I am slightly ashamed to say I have actually dedicated hours of my life to watching it in the past, and, as a result, I know that O’Sullivan is probably the most interesting figure in the largely dull sport.
I’m a bit of a snob, so I’ve never read a celebrity autobiography. I assume most of them have nothing interesting to say. And I’m always trying to read something much less exciting, with much more cultural capital like Nicholas Nickelby. If I leave one of the two copies I own on my bedside table long enough, I’ll read it one day. Won’t I?
Anyway, back to O’Sullivan and his tedious, rambling autobiography. What can I tell you about it? If I was putting my English BA to use, I might say something like:
A queer reading of O’Sullivan’s 2013 Running can elucidate the ways in which homosocial relationships are fundamentally grounded in tacit sexual desire, as exemplified by the relationship between the narrator and artist, Damien Hirst.
Although O’Sullivan never overtly states the nature of his sexuality, he gestures towards it. In the chapter ‘Heroes’, hiding behind the performative, masculine mask that sport provides, O’Sullivan makes something of a Freudian slip. He writes, ‘Anything with a ball was easy for me. I think you’ve either got a feel for a ball or you haven’t’ (p. 157). Sexuality is, of course, not the binary scale implied here, but the reader can infer at which end the writer places himself.
Moreover, the highly phallic snooker cue pervades the text as a symbol of masculine power, one that O’Sullivan uses, almost violently, as a tool of dominance. However, the cue-as-phallus simultaneously becomes a source of overwhelming insecurity. Indeed, it becomes a kind of extension of self, and one with which O’Sullivan struggles, perhaps even more so than his repressed sexual identity.
Although I enjoyed my degree, a big part of me is glad I’m not still writing essays like that. We’re often pulling something from nothing, directly out of our arses at SCA, but it’s never on quite the same level as literary criticism.
If I was thinking about the book and putting my SCA education to use, I might say something like:
Running is an interesting insight into the obsession that is necessary to achieve success. Hard work beats talent – except for talent working hard.
And that’s it. That’s all there is to take away from his book really. The SCA education is perhaps already proving to be more valuable than the English literature one – I want my writing to be defined by brevity and impact, not polysyllables and overanalysis. And that’s what I’ll be working towards in 2019.