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A curate's egg
on 5 May 2014
It's interesting that four of the seven reviews already here are written by people who gave the book as a present. Perhaps those who received it share my frustrations with it. The book is clearly the product of enormous research and is full of interesting information and interesting sections, but overall I thought it missed its mark as a history of Wisden and also found it a real hard slog to reach the end.
At 400 pages it feels very flabby. The author has a habit of writing twenty words where ten would do, and tends not to draw the boundaries of his story sufficiently tightly often straying into a general account of some cricket issue or another rather than confining himself to how Wisden covered it. Perhaps a limit of 300 pages would have focused everyone's attention on how the story should be told and forced some tough decisions.
On p.315 the author confesses that his account is guilty "for storytelling reasons" of emphasising the role of Wisden's editors over the editorial support staff. I thought this was quite an admission in a book that claims to be history and wondered what other topics had the same treatment. It certainly doesn't feel like a definitive account, being unreferenced and a little shaky when it ventures beyond cricket into the general historical or publishing backgrounds, but that may not have been the intention anyway.
Above all I wish the author had resisted the temptation to sound funny or clever. It's a while since I've read a book where I was so aware of the author's voice interjecting between me and the story. The humour often feels forced and the erudition misplaced. For me at least, the reference to a Luis Borges short story (p391), a Lytton Strachey anecdote (p.349), and the "paradigms" and "dichotomies" on p.254 were just too much, and if it really is necessary to use Festschrift in a cricket book (p.120) someone should have checked its meaning (and how it differs from Gedenkschrift).
Having said all that, the book does contain a vast amount of interesting information about the history of Wisden. I suspect the way to enjoy it best is by dipping in and out of individual sections, perhaps reading twenty pages or so at a time.