That'll do for a headline. Hoak's book about the Council in the reign of King Edward VI is, whilst thoroughly informative and insightful, arguing against certain received ideas about the various stuff that happened convincingly and with supporting evidence, well, it's utterly hopeless for actual reading. Some of the historians on my list manage to be both academically sound and able as writers, some are able writers but contribute little or nothing to the history itself, merely retelling a story that has been told before. But Hoak is, for me at least, unsuccessful as a writer. It is not that the things he says fail to be compelling, but that the process of reading this damned book has been long and lumpy, in that it has failed to be engaging as a thing to be read.
Two factors seem to make a big difference in terms of my experience as a reader. The first is that Hoak's chapters are too long to be read in a single half-hour to hour sitting, for the most part. The threads of each chapter require dedicated attention, and the typeface of my copy is simply not conducive to reading for long periods. So it ended up being bitty, often bookmarked partway through a chapter and uninviting as a reading choice because of the need to pick up, go back and reread previous paragraphs and pages, rather than dive into a new section as more chunked-up works allow.
The second factor is that for this wonderfully exciting period of history, in which the modern world as we experience was shaped quite substantially - the groundwork for the subsequent Church of England, those words which are Cranmer's but I have at least in part claimed for Edward Strelley - Hoak has managed to flatten the excitement, reducing the politics from personalities and clashes to administration and bookkeeping. That is partly due to the absolute commitment to what is upheld by the evidence, rather than previous narrative accounts of the period, but seems also to be a sort of philosophical position of Hoak's. It is as though the narrative thread - the story, as opposed to the history - has been intentionally pruned out. I suppose that this is probably evidence of the serious academic nature of the book I've read, but it prevents me getting into it. The opposite experience is the one I have had reading A L Rowse's books, where the scholarship is undoubtedly sound, at least in its context, but the writing is absolutely compelling in and of itself.
One can only wonder what Professor Hoak (I think that is the correct address; I don't know if he still is a Professor, but I think it's one you keep) would make of These Matters. If you're reading, Sir, well, you know what to do. Read the books, review them on Amazon, Goodreads, whatever. I'll even send you a free copy of all three I get an email from you!
Everyone else: read the books. Enjoy them. Review them. Recommend them to others. Please!!!
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought