Seventy Percent Isn’t Enough

Roger Kahn. No Jonathan Eig.

Roger Kahn. No Jonathan Eig.

Here’s a confession: Most authors I know, when asked to write a cover blurb for a contemporary’s work, don’t read the entire manuscript.

No, you ask for a chapter. A couple of chapters. A good chunk of the finished product. But, between family and professional stuff and obligations big and small, it’s sometimes hard to take time for 300 pages of a book you otherwise probably would not have read.

Such was the case with me and Roger Kahn’s new release, Rickey & Robinson.

I was asked by Kahn’s publisher to blurb his book. The author, of course, is a legend, and I was flattered by the request. So I read, oh, 70 percent. And enjoyed it. Did I love-love-love it? Honestly … no. It was filled with some riveting nuggets, but was also rambling and—at points—strangely disorganized. I liked it enough, though, and it’s Kahn’s last book, and he penned the amazing The Boys of Summer and blah, blah, blah. Hence, I wrote this blurb:

blurb

And I never again thought of it. Blurbs come, blurbs go. Then, however, one day last week a friend asked whether I was surprised by Kahn’s page 254 take on Jonathan Eig, my pal and, undoubtedly, one of the great biographers of this generation.

Um, his take? Had I missed something important?

This, I learned today, is what Kahn wrote: “In a more recent book, this one claiming to cover Robinson’s first major-league season, a journalist named Jonathan Eig is also dismissive of Woodward, who was the finest sports editor of his time. Eig sometimes writes effectively, but he simply does not understand what went on in 1947, a season that unfolded roughly two decades before he was born.”

Roger Kahn is a legend.

Roger Kahn has written 18 books.

Roger Kahn is not in Jonathan Eig’s class.

I truly mean that. Having read Eig’s Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinon’s First Season, and now (70 percent of) Rickey & Robinson, I can say a few things:

A. Eig is a significantly better writer than Kahn. I’m being sincere. Significantly better. More nuanced, more measured, more artistic. Just better. The best of Eig batters the best of Kahn. Period. The arrogance that drips from the line, “… sometimes writes effectively” makes me want to vomit. I can’t imagine ever using those words on another scribe. Even if I thought them. Just … mean.

B. Eig is as thorough and detailed a researcher as I’ve come across. Opening Day was beyond intensive. Kahn writes largely off memories—which is fine. Eig writes off of research and the memories of participants. I’ll take that every time.

C. I know where Kahn is surely coming from. I understand. Back in the spring of 2003, when I was researching The Bad Guys Won, I was sitting near a table of Met beat writers who knew I was in camp, but didn’t recognize me 10 feet away. They were talking about the book project, and how I had no right to be doing it. “He wasn’t even there,” was the line I remember. I’m sure Kahn feels the same way; feels a sense of ownership of the Robinson saga.

But here’s the thing: Nobody owns a story.

Anyhow, I’ve learned my lesson. I really have. I think Roger Kahn deserves all the praise and accolades he’s received. He’s had a brilliant career—there’s no denying that. Had I read all of Rickey & Robinson, though, the blurb doesn’t exist, and my name isn’t on the jacket.

Seventy percent isn’t enough.

2 thoughts on “Seventy Percent Isn’t Enough”

  1. “Kahn writes largely off memories.” I’ve been working for a while now on a project that may or may not become a book someday. It has brought me in contact with a couple of Roger Kahn’s books that aren’t “The Boys of Summer,” and this is definitely something that I’ve noticed. He’ll write something that seems questionable, or different from something else that I’ve read, and after further research I’ll find that he’s either wrong or his fact can’t be conclusively proven. It’s not something that happens constantly, but just often enough that it’s bothersome, especially from someone as accomplished and legendary as Mr. Kahn.

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