Saturday, November 19, 2005

Bathroom Reading

So, I don't really know how many of you out there read, but the Literary Review of Canada released their list of the 100 most important books in Canadian publishing history, and sandwiched between people like Margaret Atwood, Archie Lampman and Northrop Frye was good ol' Howie Meeker, with his timeless instructions on hockey basics. I actually remember checking this book out of my old elementary school's library on more than one occasion as a youngster, though I honestly can't tell you what basics were found throughout. Nor can I tell you what I was thinking (I also took out a bunch of Garfield books, to put it in perspective).

Anyway, it got me thinking about hockey books in general, in particular the best of them. And, such is my want, I figured I'd list them. Now, I have to admit, I haven't read all that many hockey books, so this is sure to leave out what are likely some important ones, but by all means, feel free to add any I've overlooked/never read.

So, in no particular order, here goes:

Grapes: a Vintage View of Hockey
I'll probably get flamed for this, but I honestly have to say that this is probably one of the best books I've read with hockey as its subject matter. Yeah, yeah, it's just a fairly rambling recollection of his life in hockey, but Cherry had the benefit of not only playing minor league hockey in a time when it was essentially populated with nothing but the borderline (and sometimes outright) crazy, but also coaching what were probably two of the more interesting teams of the late '70s and, of course, being fairly flamboyant the whole time. I suppose we won't actually find out what life is like for a hockey player these days for a good ten or 15 years, but I can't imagine that, with all the conditioning and money and insurance and such, it's half as interesting as it was in Cherry's day. I also sort of like the fact that Cherry doesn't ever bother to get the least bit philosophical about his life; hockey is just a game, after all, and I think it's far better for a laugh and a good story than any deeper message about life.

The Game
Which is probably why I don't hold Ken Dryden's account in as high esteem as everyone else does. But hey, it's still a fine book, and probably the most literate account of anything by an athlete. Dryden saw the game a little differently from presumably most other players out there (and not just in the talented-player way), and it makes the book hold a bit more weight and insight than your typical memoir.

Net Worth: Exploding the Myths of Pro Hockey
This was actually the last hockey-related book I read freely of my own accord (damn you to hell, Dave Bidini!), in about 2001 or 2002, and though it probably didn't hold the weight it would have when it was first released, thanks to about a decade of players clearly winning the money battle and the fact the story had become a bit better known than it was in the early 90s, I'd say it ranks with Moneyball as one of the best examinations of the game within the game that is professional sports. It's apparently quite hard to find (the Strathcona County Library used to have a copy, and probably still does), which is sadder than a retarded puppy with a broken leg, because it's well worth a read.

Peter Puck: Love That Hockey Game!
It doesn't seem right to have a list of hockey books without Brian McFarlane on it, and this is honestly the only one I can remember reading (it might even be the only one I've ever read, come to think of it). It also has Peter Puck, which is fairly awesome. Actually, come to think of it, I'm sort of surprised Peter Puck hasn't ever been brought back. I'm too young to have gotten the full Peter Puck experience, but surely someone out there must be nostalgic for him. Huh? Space Ghost and Harvey Birdman have made comebacks, why not Peter Puck?

The Hockey Sweater
Come on, it might get a little overdone, but that's only because it manages to pretty much perfectly nail the deep-seated loyalty and loathing that come hand-in-hand with sports obsession in a format easy enough for children to understand. I mean, really, haven't we all, at some point or another, wished the entire Maple Leafs roster would get devoured by moths? It also gets the dynamic of your parents (and it's usually moms) almost buying you what you want, but missing out on the important subtleties.

That's obviously not very extensive, and while I've read more hockey books, they've mostly been a collection of mediocre memoirs or fairly unremarkable histories/anecdotes. I've heard good things about The Stick and Money Players by Bruce Dowbiggin, and I've also been recommended to Thunder and Lightning, Phil Esposito's memoir, and Ice Time by Jay Atkinson, but I've never actually bothered to check any of them out for some reason. Probably well worth a read if you get the chance, though.

So, yeah, any books all y'all dig?


Pi said...

A couple of books that I liked:

-"My 26 Stanley Cups" by Dick Irvin. He basically writes about the twenty six different times he saw the Stanley Cup presented in person. Sprinkle in some HNIC anecdotes, along with some memories about his legendary father and it's a pretty good read.

-"The Third Best Hull" by Dennis Hull. This book is hysterical. Dennis is a great story teller, and his memoirs are a definite must-read. Everything from growing up as Bobby Hull's younger brother, to coming up in the Blackhawks' system in the '60s, to his life after hockey is covered. I don't know if it's still in print, but it would be worth trying to find at your local library.

I liked "Thunder and Lightning" too.

Matt said...

I'll take on the direct question in detail another day, but for now, I'm happy to second your nomination of Grapes. It's worth the (paperback) price just for the parts about playing for Eddie Shore.

And speaking of Eddie Shore, the chapter about him in Mad Men of Hockey, by Trent Frayne, is probably the greatest thing about hockey I've ever read (the rest of the book is good too).

I've since lost my copy, but as I recall it the first time I read it, I actually said "Oh, Come ON!", out loud, half a dozen times. (Specifically, there is an anecdote that involves him borrowing a team of horses and a wagon to make it to a game in Montreal on time.)

James Vander Woude said...

My favorite book about hockey is The Game of Our Lives by Peter Gzowski. It was re-issued in 2004, but was originally published in 1981. It's well written - not a guarantee in the sports publishing world. He travelled around with the 1980-81 Oilers, and the book is about that experience, as well as his own memories of hockey, the history of hockey and thoughts on its place in Canadian culture. It's a great book, and if his philosophizing gets too much for you, you can always skip to the bits about the Oilers, which comprises most of the book. It's pretty much a must-read for any hockey fan, and certainly for an Oilers fan.

Other interesting hockey books not mentioned are Tropic of Hockey by Dave Bidini, Gross Misconduct: The Life of Spinner Spencer by Martin O'Malley, and Jim Taylor and Walter Gretzky's book about Wayne Gretzky called Gretzky: From Backyard Rink to the Stanley Cup.

Other entertaining ones were George Plimpton's hockey book, and biographies of Tiger Williams and Dave Schultz.

Dryden's The Game didn't have a really profound effect on me, but perhaps I read it too young.

Randy said...

I read Tretiak's autobiography (1984) and found that I really, really liked it -- maybe because it has that obviously-been-translated-into-English gait to it. He also claims "ski racer" is the hardest sport.
Hmmm, good call on the Spinner Spencer bio. I saw the cbc movie (F'd up).

Speaking of bad sports writing, Jim Taylor is probably not a shining example of journalistic voracity. Walter never blew me away either.

Julian said...

Why "damn you Dave Bidini"? The Tropic Of Hockey is probably my favourite hockey book ever, in fact, I credit/blame it with getting me back into hockey in such a passionate way a few years ago. I've had many of my friends read it, and they've gone on to buy their own copies for themselves or their dads. Hell, my mom even liked it. She read it on vacation. Seriously.

mike w said...

I would suggest "Power Plays: An Inside Look at the Big Business of the National Hockey League" by ex-NHL prez Gil Stein.

A good behind-the-scenes look at the greedy cash-grab expansion of the early/mid-90s and backbiting of various owners.

Dave Bidini annoys me: Canadian Culture is hockey; hockey is Canadian culture. Okay, I get it. And stop talking about you Exclaim hockey team so much, you ass! That said, his ex-player interviews are okay.

Gzowski's book is good. So is "Road Games" a chronical of the first year Senators by the normally very boring Roy MacGregor.

Pleasure Motors said...

Alright, I've never read Tropic of Hockey, but I had to read The Best Game You Can Name for an interview I did with Mr Bidini, and sweet Salo, that was one freakin' terrible book. Like, I've played hockey, and I've watched hockey, and I love hockey, but I'd have rather read a book about 17th-century Russian economic policy by Sean Avery with a foreword from Mike Keenan: it would be more insightful and gripping than hackneyed observations and painful transitions into occasionaly interesting anecdotes from b-and-worse-letters-list players. Hence, damn Dave Bidini.

I also think the Rheostatics are overrated.

Julian said...

Well, I gotta agree that The Best Game You Can Name isn't anything special. I've had it for about 2 months now, and only got around to finishing it the other night.

I think the Tropic Of Hockey is a far better book, it's really not even close. Bidini did the exact same thing in TBGYCN that he did in his book about being in a rock band calle On A Cold Road, exact same format.

I'm not sure how you think he over does the "canadian culture is hockey" thing though, he probably does it less than alot of hockey books I've read. If anything, he disparages it a little bit in TTOH when he talks about how the rest of the world has passed us by in developing talented players, "and now there is a generation of young Canadian fans that will never know what it was like to dominate the world of hockey".

I think he actually underdoes the "hockey as culture" bit, but maybe thats in comparison to other books I've read, like Home Game by Dryden and MacGregor, and Grace Under Fire by Lawrence Scanlan, or this book by David Adams Richards that I read a while ago that I can't recall the name of right now... much less than Gzowski's book even.

Anyway, I'll stick up for The Tropic of Hockey any day. The Best Game You Can Name isn't anything special though, I'll agree with that. Compared to On A Cold Road, it doesn't have the same impact.

Randy said...

Funny story about about Roy McGregor... he basically got his ass canned from the Canwest Chain over that book. He was the beat reporter who made a pile of deals with the team not to disclose certain events except in the boook. Sticky situation, especially when it involves more-or-less intentionally throwing games in order to get the first overall draft pick.
Anyway... Dave Bidini is... well...right in that between stage on the road from the Tragically Hip to Stompin' Tom Conners. Some hokum is needed. Too much hokum is death.

mike w said...

Fair enough.

I guess my problem with Dave Bidini is that he puts a lot of himself in his books whether it be jokes, anecdotes or parallels between his recreational hockey team and NHL players. It's ok if you like him, but for me, I felt like I was trapped in a bar with some overeager bass player spitting in my face about how much he likes hockey.

I would also recommend George Plimpton's proto-gonzo "Open Net," where he tries out as a goalie for the Boston Bruins. Unfortunately, you can't find it at the Edmonton Public Library. And the last time I checked, the Gzowski book was only found in Special Collections, confirming its status as a holy relic in our city.

dave bidini said...

Damned all you. I think Dave Bidini is great. I mean, really great. I mean really really great. I mean really really really really great. Hyper-great, even. I mean how much greater can one guy possibly get??

Dave Bidini