It might seem odd that Wilson chose to follow up a book like Inverting the Pyramid, one with such a broad, all-encompassing sweep, with one that seemsIt might seem odd that Wilson chose to follow up a book like Inverting the Pyramid, one with such a broad, all-encompassing sweep, with one that seems to have such a narrow focus; not merely a book about England's national team, but one that focuses on ten specific matches (many of which its readers are unlikely to have seen) to make its point. Yet, where else could he really have gone? Inverting the Pyramid picked up so many strands of thought and left them tantalizing unresolved or unexamined that, surely, the only way forward was to pick up one of those strands and run with it?
That's what The Anatomy of England: A History in Ten Matches does; it takes a few sentences found in the chapters named 'The English Pragmatism' from Inverting the Pyramid that attempt to sum up the personality and history of English football and uses them as a launchpad for another discussion.
That in itself is great, and when the book sticks to this concept it's a compelling read. Wilson attempts to explain throughout just why and how we are so different from so many of our European neighbours, let alone the South Americans, and why we have traditionally been so slow to adapt to change. As part of this, he also examines some of the nation's ongoing rivalries (particularly with Argentina), some of the more influential figures in the team's history and the negative influence they may have had (I was pleased to find that Wilson' hatred of Charles Reep and his refusal to ignore Alf Ramsey's multitude of flaws carried over from his last book), and the cult of personality that built up around certain figures, Paul Gascoigne especially, and why it happened.
The idea of focusing just on these ten matches holds it back a little, though. Too much of the book is given over to details of what happened during the games for my liking - if it came with a DVD where you could watch the games yourself, or even a website with clips uploaded, it wouldn't be so bad, but there's only so often you can read about an English defender losing the man he was marking before you get a little bored and wonder what this really tells us about England's team and its history. The book is meticulously researched, admittedly, and I feel the newspaper articles reacting to the games are illuminating (the national team's relationship with the media is examined throughout, and rightly so), but I think that the quotes and clippings could have been incorporated into a more free-flowing structure. Some of the games chosen just don't really seem to deserve it - the infamous 6-3 reverse against the Hungary of Kocsis, Puskás, Hidegkuti et al in 1953 and the match against Argentina in the 1966 World Cup are fair enough (and sure enough, those are the best chapters), but I have to wonder whether the 4-1 win against Holland at Euro '96, McLaren's defeat to Croatia in 2007, or the defeat to Spain in 1929 deserve the level of analysis they get here, when the points these chapters make could easily have been made in a more general overview of the tournaments or managers involved.
Still, that's a relatively minor criticism, because Wilson still makes his point well, with more than enough justification. Maybe the frustration comes from knowing that there's a lack of quality, analytical books on the England team around; when somebody comes so close to writing a book good enough to render all others irrelevant, the areas where they fall short stand out that much more. It's to Wilson's eternal credit that he comes so close though - this paints a full and vivid picture of England's national character and the way it understands and appreciates football, and how this has underpinned and contributed to all its failures and successes. It's a book that's almost reminiscent of those essay-writing classes you're made to take in college, in that it knows what point it wants to make, explains what the point is, and then makes it in a classic essay etructure (although it's obviously more complicated and delicate than that). It doesn't have the same number of eye-opening revelations or fascinating anecdotes that Inverting the Pyramid does, not does it flow quite as well, but it's a worthy follow-up to the greatest football book ever written all the same....more
Film sites are littered with people slating films because they're not as good as the book, and rightly so in most instances, so it feels weird that I'Film sites are littered with people slating films because they're not as good as the book, and rightly so in most instances, so it feels weird that I'm on a book site writing a review that says it's not as good as the film.
The key difference between Nick Hornby's vision of Rob and John Cusack's one is one of relatability. The Rob of the film is obviously sweet, charming, and insecure in a way that engenders sympathy, while the Rob of the book seems a little more distant, a little less fun to be around. The issue of music, obviously a huge one with this book, makes a difference too - the film gives the impression of Rob being a man that loves his own music more than he hates other people's, and the book just doesn't, with his opinions outside of his own generation, hip-hop particularly, making him seem like a bit of a tool (interesting how the film saught to attack this head-on by having Rob namedrop Massive Attack vs. Mad Professor in his first top five, isn't it?).
This aside, this is an essential book for anybody that's ever obsessed at music at any point in their lives. Parts of it are almost painfully vivid; it's very hard not to recognize a little of yourself in all of the three main male characters and wince a little (anybody that looks down their nose at Barry or Dick is lying to themselves), nor to wistfully empathize with the way all these men live vicariously through their record collections and the singers, musicians, producers, and labels that produced them. On the one hand it's a novel that glorifies geekiness, on the other it's one that explores the pitfalls and the downsides of retaining your geekiness into your thirties better than just about anything ever has - sometimes the most telling way to skewer something is from the inside out, and High Fidelity is a great example of that. Funny (funnier than the film in fact), charming, touching, elegantly paced, and impressively mature throughout; this is the kind of book you feel silly recommending to people because you assume that anybody that might possibly like it will have at least heard of it already, but recommend it I must....more