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Book Report: Beyond the Boundary

Your Humble Blogger kinda wanted to read that recent award-winning novel about cricket in New York. The thing about working in an academic library is that, strangely enough, we don’t shell out the money for recent award-winning novels. I’m not altogether sure what the reasoning is, except that recent award-winning novels are (a) expensive and (2) cost a lot of money. On the other hand, this is actually false for any specific novel, as we’re talking about fifteen bucks or less, hardback with library discount, right? As compared to, say, a recent work on lasers, which could easily be seventy bucks. On the other other hand, if an instructor wants to include the recent book in a syllabus, it’ll be next door at the bookstore, and if an instructor wants to write about that recent book, she’ll want to own a copy one way or another. And I suspect that students are not terribly likely to want to read recent award-winning books to include in their papers and whatnot. And then, of course, there’s the time question: the literature section of the library is chock-fuckin’-full of award-winning books from the fifties that nobody has checked out in thirty years and nobody will ever want to read again. Being an academic library, there might well be the Shangri-La thinking that really, if the book is still noteworthy in thirty years, we can buy a copy then.

Of course, I could buy a copy myself. It’s at the bookstore next door. It’s at the public library downtown, and it’s at the bookstore next to the public library downtown. But it turns out, having picked up a copy and flipped through it, that I can wait thirty years just fine.

Now—are y’all still with me? Should I have put all of that above stuff under a Digression warning so you could skip down to the next bit? Oh, well, too late, now, you have either read this far or stopped. Anyway, in looking around at comments on that book I decided I wouldn’t much enjoy, I happened on some commenters off-hand mention of Beyond the Boundary as being (as every stoolboy knows) not only the greatest book ever written about cricket, but required reading on colonialism and post-colonialism. I had never heard of C.L.R. James, being an American and totally unacquainted with the history and development of Marxist-Socialist thought in the twentieth century, but I do have a very good ILL librarian who got me the book.

It is a wonderful book. A wonderful, wonderful book. It has been mentioned as the best book written about any sport ever, and although I don’t think I agree with that, I do think that its inclusion would be good for any such discussion. It’s a fascinating, troublesome, provocative, challenging book. It’s intensely personal. Mr. James talks in tremendous detail, passion and poetry about cricket, as an amateur player, a journalist and a spectator. He talks about the history of the game, and the history of the West Indies, and the history of England, and his own history. He makes grand, sweeping statements about cricket and about history. It’s the combination of memoir, sports analysis and polemic that ought not work, and that is often apparently clumsily stitched together, and that ultimately makes the book so wonderful.

As I was reading it, I kept finding passages I wanted to pass along, or points that I wanted to argue out. I was thinking that I could easily write a whole series of notes inspired by the book (his claim that W.G. Grace was a more influential figure than Charles Dickens in Victorian England: are people really influenced in their day-to-day actions by, oh, Manny Ramirez and his behavior modeling or Tiger Woods and his? Or, the decision of which amateur club to join when he got out of school: he wound up joining the light-skinned colored club, rather than the dark-skinned colored club, which made a big difference, says he, in his political maturation), but I got overwhelmed with the whole thing, and ultimately gave it back to ILL, and am just telling y’all: it’s a wonderful book.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,