Bowling Alone

Joseph O’Neill in The Atlantic Monthly:

Book Beyond a Boundary by C.L.R. James.

The general American mystification with cricket is not merely anomalous but a tad perverse — you might even say it’s the stuff of a national blind spot (“a region of understanding in which one’s intuition and judgment always fail,” according to my dictionary). Well, what of it? Why not turn a blind eye to a complicated, time-consuming, weird-looking sport? And don’t we have our own game involving sticks and balls and hot summer days?

A possibly eccentric but, I would suggest, far-reaching response to this line of argument would be as follows: To be deprived of knowledge of cricket is to be deprived, at the very least, of a full appreciation of C. L. R. James’s strange and wonderful Beyond a Boundary, the American publication of which occurred almost a quarter century ago. The original, British publication came in 1963, and ever since, the book has gone down pretty well with the critics. “To say ‘the best cricket book ever written’ is pifflingly inadequate praise,” blurbs the most current U.K. paperback edition, which quotes this further encomium:

Great claims have been made for [Beyond a Boundary]: that it is the greatest sports book ever written; that it brings the outsider a privileged insight into West Indian culture; that it is a severe examination of the colonial condition. All are true.

Such praise cannot be dismissed as self-serving hyperbole: Derek Walcott has written of “a noble book,” and V. S. Naipaul, in the days before his glorious unpleasantness had fully manifested itself (needless to say, he eventually turned on James), rejoiced at “one of the finest and most finished books to come out of the West Indies.”

More here.