Book Review: The Spirit of Pong by Larry Hodges

Last week I was contacted by fellow table tennis blogger Larry Hodges. “I’ve got a new book out!”, he said. “Brilliant!”, I thought (I’d read his book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers and loved it). “It’s a ping pong fantasy novel.” “Oh, that sounds… interesting?”

I have to admit I wasn’t 100% convinced. I knew Larry was into writing science fiction but I had always assumed he kept that very separate from his table tennis work. Combining the two would surely be a disaster? But I was willing to give it a go, and read The Spirit of Pong this weekend.

Despite my initial doubts, I actually really enjoyed the book.

Larry was clever enough to begin with plenty of table tennis and not too much fantasy. It was easy to relate to the characters and their uniquely ping pong struggles. Most of us European and American players have a strange curiousity when it comes to Chinese table tennis as well, and I actually felt like I was learning something about the Chinese way of training. Sure, there was some odd stuff thrown in but in general I was finding it quite educational.

By the time I reached the second half of the book – it’s only short, about 100 pages – I was hooked and wanted to discover the ending. I was happy enough to read about dragons and table tennis spirits simply to learn if Andy “Shoes” Blue would have his happy ending.

Having already read Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers it did feel like there was a bit of repetition between the two. Often the spirits of the Chinese ex-champions would be preaching the exact same pieces of coaching advice Larry had so brilliant laid out in his previous book. I still can’t get my head around his whole ‘it’s better to choose to receive first than serve first’ philosophy. I’ve heard so many other people tell me to never give away the serve. But that’s a discussion for another time!

Anyway, the book is certainly worth a read.

I think it is clearly aimed at a very niche audience. You probably have to really love table tennis in order to enjoy it. Fortunately I do. There are plenty of good table tennis mantras and ideas thrown in there that are certain useful to mull over.

I really liked the idea of splitting table tennis into ‘body’ and ‘mind’, with the physical and technical aspect comprising the ‘body’ and the tactical and mental aspects comprising the ‘mind’. I think I will continue using that. All too often we focus exclusively on the ‘body’ training and ignore the ‘mind’ part. In Andy “Shoes” Blue’s extensive Chinese training they were allocated equal parts, a year (or was it a day?) each.

I would give the book a 3/5 (on my arbitrary book rating system). I reckon lots of my audience, of self-confessed table tennis fanatics, will enjoy it but it isn’t for everyone.

You can read the write up in ITTF News here, and to buy the book visit Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

Thanks for the book Larry!