Monday, May 30, 2011

A $100 book

Noel Fallows' Jousting in Medieval and Renaissance Iberia is a $100 book.

And I say that with the greatest respect.

I have been known to rant and rave about the fact that all too many scholarly works cost a hundred dollars. But every once in a while you come across something that bears that a price tag for a good reason, and this is one of them. I am very glad I got this book that a deep discount at an academic conference, but in all fairness I must say that Boydell Press can be proud of this publishing venture, and the price that they have attached to it is quite a reasonable one for the people who want the book.

And what a book it is. The phrase "antiquarian" comes to mind, because this seems to be an old-fashioned effort to collect and interpret all the relevant information on an important topic. Antiquarian is usually not a compliment these days, because antiquarianism is thought to emphasize collection over interpretation. There's just some subjects where nothing much can be done without collecting the source material first and making it available to the readers, who can then appreciate the scholar's interpretation. And this is the case with Fallows' book. English-speaking readers have little access to the rich material on jousting from Spain and Portugal in the later Middle Ages. So Fallows makes it available to us, so that we can we can explore the social and psychological and technical history of jousting in the Peninsula.

And no one could credibly say that Fallows is a deficient scholar, a "mere" antiquarian.  It may be too much to say that he is scholarly Superman, but his big ambitions – to re-create before our eyes the entire world jousting – are matched by his energetic and careful compilation of data and sources.

Some of those sources are written accounts, including several manuals, about Iberian jousting. Their inclusion, which is immensely to the value of the book, makes this work a large one, over 500 pages. The book also includes a vast amount of information on the equipment used in jousting over the 14th 15th and 16th centuries. To aid the reader's understanding, there are dozens of photographs and other illustrations, printed on high-quality paper.

And now you know why this is a $100 book.

The intended reader of this book will not care about the price, if he or she can afford it up front. Once the reader has the book in hand, she or he will find hours and hours of edification and amusement. When I think of the real fans and the serious scholars immersing themselves in this amazing work, that's when I think of the antiquarian books of old, where an enthusiastic and often quite talented nonacademic scholar did his level best to master an exotic piece of the past, one that in his judgment had never been done justice before.

Gentlemen and ladies, you now know whether this book is for you.

I hope to say more about this book later.

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