When I was quite a bit younger I used to review music for a couple of publications. I recall getting in a bit of trouble with the editor for a particularly scathing review of a Damian Rice album where I said more about the person and fanbase than I did the long-player. There were other scurrilous missives. I look back with regret. It’s a bit like that horrible moment when you have children yourself and realise just how much of a dick you’ve been to your parents over the years. Except in this case, you don’t then hate parents, because that’s what you’ve become. Whereas, writing a book or doing anything creative leads to a certain disdain for those who make a living by ‘mediating’ (read, feasting on) the works of others and making judgements. I’m not saying critics and reviewers aren’t important, but I am saying that some of them are pretty fucking useless. It’s partly why I felt resolutely unmoved by the hoopla surrounding the death of Brian Sewell. He was an overly articulate sociopath with a habit of spewing out controversial shit in the name of criticism.
But anyway, yet again, it’s perfume from a dress that makes me so digress. This week two reviews came in from relatively mainstream cycle websites. Road.cc posted their review to coincide with the hill races. It’s a positive review, insofar as they give it 8/10. Apart from that, I’m struggling to work out if the reviewer actually the read the thing in the first place, or just skimmed off a few quotes, looked at the pictures and spuffed out the word-count in a few short minutes.
In contrast, Feargal Mckay wrote about the book for www.podiumcafe.com. It’s a super review. This is because he has taken the time to look at the various strands in the book and try and work out exactly what the book is saying. I can’t help but think that many of the subtleties of the text are missed by some reviewers, in favour of a few headline elements; it’s obscure, it’s anti-sportif, it’s nichey niche, and so on. In contrast, Mckay ‘gets’ it. He sees that I’m genuinely trying to take a wider look at cycling through the prism of a narrow event. And he says some lovely things:
“…A Corinthian Endeavour is trying to be larger than that, it’s trying to say something bigger. As much as it is a book about the British national hill climb championships, it is also a book about “the unifying and singular joy that comes from riding a bicycle.”
“…the text is littered with occasional lines that cause you to pause: “The clock ticks audibly on the wall within the silence of reminiscence, the seconds so palpably less precious now, in conversation, than they ever were in the race.” Give Jones a smaller canvas than seventy years of hill climbing champions and I think he is capable of astounding the reader.”
“A Corinthian Endeavour, then, is a book that can appeal beyond its apparent immediate audience of British testerati, is not just for those with intimate knowledge of that quaint curiosity, the British hill climbing season, and can appeal to all who care about cycling, want to understand where it has come from and what it is that keeps it going on. For Jones, the hills and the champions who have reigned on them are the portal to the community spirit that is the true heart of cycling, present in the hearts of true cyclists.”
More than anything else, McKay has understood the book. I feel really grateful and appreciative. He has gone some way to restoring my faith in critics and reviewers. I shall keep the virtual clipping next to the washingmachinepost.net review in my digi-scrapbook.