Dave Gorman vs The Rest Of The World

Book review by Steve Bennett

Dave Gorman’s books follow a fairly well-established pattern now. He gets an idea for an apparently jolly adventure, which grows to become an all-consuming passion that takes him around the world, and to increasing extremes of behaviour, as the target he set himself looks increasingly unattainable.

So when he tweeted, ‘Does anyone play any games? Real life, not computer games. Would you like a game?’ his followers no doubt sniffed another high-concept venture in the offing. But no, he protests, this was never intended as a project: ‘I’d just got some spare time on my hands and games seemed as good as way as any to use it up.’ Simple as that.

But it’s not really in Gorman’s nature to join a darts leagues and be done with it; so it’s not long till he’s travelling to Didcot to play an Egyptian laser chess games with a couple of magicians; to Lewes to play the obscure pub game Toad In The Hole with former sketch comedian Ben Ward; and to Liverpool to play poker with some students. Some of these opponents were known to him, other times he would accept invitations to go to total strangers’ houses on the basis of nothing stronger than his belief that people are basically decent.

The surprise is that, against type, this game-playing phase doesn’t become an ambitious quest. Aware of the patterns he falls into, and of the fact that an impending wedding means he really ought to cap his excesses, Gorman checks his own behaviour, and consciously tells himself to simply enjoy the pastimes for the amiable diversions they are.

That might be good for his mental well-being, but it does mean the book is missing a strong narrative core. Instead, it’s more episodic as he moves from one game to the next. Some are familiar, from Guess Who? to Subbuteo, prompting childhood nostalgia and an analysis of the merits of their gameplay, while some are hugely obscure as he introduces the likes of Kubb, Smite and Settlers Of Catan to a wider constituency.

Now I suspect that if you’re interested in these forgotten pastimes, there are plenty of books which will fill you in on their origins and rules. Gorman’s is a more personal approach, describing his relationships with games old and new. Interesting when it’s something a bit silly or odd – such as sock golf – but rather less satisfying when its dominos.

The result is a little more like reading a blog, than a book. Gorman’s an effortless writer, and the anecdotes move along nicely, but some episodes are distinctly more entertaining than others. It’s only a bizarre, and seriously discombobulating, encounter at the end of the book that gives any sense of purpose beyond a glorified, if enjoyable, ‘what I did in my holidays’ volume.

As such, Dave Gorman Vs The Rest Of The World is an enjoyable time-filler – and could well inspire you to try a few new offbeat activities yourself . But while there’s a warm humanity to the book, built on the camaraderie of strangers united in gamesmanship, the book is short on the compelling drive that defined his previous works. It is, in short, an amiable, diverting pastime in itself, just like the activities he samples.

  • Dave Gorman vs The Rest Of The World is published by Ebury, priced £11.99. Click here to order from Amazon at £5.99.

Published: 13 Jun 2011

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