At the beginning of a book-buying meeting a few months ago, my rep from Harper Collins pulled out a huge book from his bag. Flopping it on the table, he said, “Everyone in the office is raving about this. You need to read it.”
“What’s it about?” I asked him.
“Horse racing” he replied.
Horse racing? I looked at the 500+ pages and nodded, all while thinking I’ll pass. Once we reached the portion of the meeting set aside to discuss the book, he took a pause before saying that the head of the U.K. publishing company, 4th Estate, had recorded a video review of the book himself.
The head of the company.
OK, I guess I have to try it, I thought.
The book in question was The Sport of Kings by C. E. Morgan (All The Living – 2009). I think I might struggle to find a better book this year.
First off, there’s the magnificent book jacket.
I know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (although come on, we all do it) but The Sport of Kings has some of the most well-fitting cover art that I’ve seen and spans all the way to the early 2000s. The real crux of the book comes when a young black man starts working on the farm as a horse groom, opening the door to a host of issues and themes.
The book tackles race, gender, family, ownership, and the fabled “American Dream.” Even one of those themes would be enough for some authors, but Morgan is able to examine each, and how they all intertwine. It’s stunning. I can already imagine the university theses written on this work. Hell, if I had a longer word count, I would have written one myself! In a few years, this novel could be sitting next to the likes of To Kill a Mockingbird, Beloved, or The Great Gatsby in the Pantheon of Great American Literature. It feels like one of those foundational American novels.
Like the poignant cover art, The Sport of Kings is a thing of beauty. In fact, it’s a lot like a racehorse. It’s graceful and beautiful, but underneath the shining coat waits a raw, violent, power. Even the pacing of book feels like a horse race. It shoots out of the gate, building and building. It rounds the corners, speeding up. Tension builds as the characters all vie for position. Finally, in the last corner, it all explodes just before a straightaway to the finish line.
I have to say, when my rep came in for the next meeting, I had to bow my head and admit “Ok, I can see why everyone is so excited.”
He nodded knowingly.
Now when customers come into my bookshop, I’m at the ready.
“Everyone in the shop is raving about this, you need to read it.”