Sunday, 3 November 2013

TBC: Keon And Me

I had a discussion a couple of weeks ago with a colleague of mine about books. He was convinced that baseball had better writers while I took the obvious side of hockey writers. We tossed names back and forth in terms of excellent material produced, and we determined that there was one name that fit on both our lists quite easily: Dave Bidini. In saying this, Teebz's Book Club is proud to review Keon and Me, written by Dave Bidini and published by the Penguin Group. If you haven't read any of Mr. Bidini's previous works, you're missing out on one of the better writers to tackle sports subjects on the planet. In Keon and Me, we learn a great deal about Mr. Bidini's childhood, how he came to love the Maple Leafs, and his interest into one of the greatest Maple Leafs to ever play the game and how he seemed to fade from the public's eye without ever returning to the city and team where people still hold him in the highest esteem.

From the dust jacket off Keon and Me, "Dave Bidini is the only person to have been nominated for a Gemini, Genie, and Juno as well as CBC's Canada Reads. He is a founding member of the acclaimed rock band the Rheostatics, and has published twelve books, including On a Cold Road, Tropic of Hockey, Around the World in 57 ½ Gigs, Home and Away, and most recently the Toronto Book Award-nominated Writing Gordon Lightfoot. He has made two Gemini Award-nominated documentaries, and his play, The Five Hole Stories, toured the country in 2008. His third book, Baseballissimo, is being developed for the screen, and in 2010 he won his third National Magazine Award for 'Travels in Narnia'. A contributor to the CBC Radio Show Q, he also writes a weekly column for the Saturday National Post. He currently performs with Bidiniband, whose third album, The Motherland, will be released in spring 2014." Clearly, Mr. Bidini is an accomplished writer, musician, playwright, and documentarian. And this is why I hold him with such high praise.

At first, Keon and Me seemed a little reflective in terms of how the book is structured. Reading about Mr. Bidini's childhood and how he grew up as a Leafs fans, I was a little concerned that Keon and Me was an autobiography about Mr. Bidini instead of being about former Maple Leafs great Dave Keon.

As one reads further into the book, Mr. Bidini's journey to find and speak with Dave Keon becomes the main story, and the background story of how Mr. Bidini's childhood cemented his love for the Maple Leafs and his respect for the team's captain provides the drive that pushes the main story. You not only want Mr. Bidini to find Dave Keon for all the questions he has, but you want him to find Dave Keon for all the things that happened to him as a child that challenged that faith in the blue-and-white. The story in Keon and Me is less of a search to locate Dave Keon and more of a pilgrimage to re-affirm all of Mr. Bidini's beliefs in everything he held as gospel when it came to Keon and the Maple Leafs.

Would his hero be as intense in real-life despite his age as he once was on the ice? Would Mr. Bidini even be able to find Mr. Keon? If he did locate his childhood hero, would Mr. Keon even want to speak to Mr. Bidini after having avoided publicity and adoration for so long? Were Mr. Bidini's idealisms from his childhood simply romantic views on the Leafs and his idol? In Keon and Me, Mr. Bidini would answer all of these questions and more.

"It's the thread that winds through your life from childhood to adulthood," Mr. Bidini told The Globe and Mail's Shawna Richer about sports. "It's a romance. As you age, it's harder to keep cynicism at bay, and one of the things that sports does is leaven the cynicism." While there is more to Keon and Me than the quotation above, there is an underlying theme about this cynicism in the book, and Mr. Bidini's quest to find Mr. Keon makes him face this cynicism at times.

Not lost on Mr. Bidini as he embarks on his quest is the immense amount of hockey history he begins to discover while searching for his hero. The players who hailed from and around the quiet Quebec town of Rouyn-Noranda, Mr. Keon's birthplace, were numerous, and the area produced a pile of incredibly talented players who would become stars in the NHL.
The portraits were just as the people at Hockey Heritage had promised. Painted by artist Mark Didine, the canvases were radiant and luminous, running black and white floor to ceiling around the rink. The two-tone colour made the subjects appear ghostly, and even more so in the silence of the clapboard seats that echoed the once-scraping blades of 60s and 70s star players: the Plager Boys, and the Watsons, Mickey and Dick Redmond, Shakey Walton, and Larry Hillman, who'd played with Keon in Toronto, and who, after being denied a raise by Harold Ballard in 1968, predicted that the Leafs would suffer years of futility until they ponied up the cash, which, of course, they never did. I lingered in front of each canvas, writing down names and numbers, thrilled to have discovered this trove and grateful that I'd stopped by.
I'm always drawn towards great writing, but the above passage is a mere crumb of the array of examples that I could have used in emphasizing the lyrical prose that Mr. Bidini employs. It's writing that is conversational; that is, it feels like you're listening to him speak rather than reading through a pile of history and stats that may mean little. Mr. Bidini writes with a passion about his subject like few others in the hockey world, and it comes through again and again in Keon and Me.

I cannot say enough good things about Keon and Me. I really enjoyed the book, and, as Mr. Bidini's quest comes closer and closer to its end, the book really picks up momentum as you want to see if he gets to meet his childhood hero. The writing over the 295 pages is eloquent, and there are a number of times I found myself chuckling over Mr. Bidini's stories. While there are times of PG-rated language, the usage is appropriate in terms of story. I have to say that Keon and Me is one of the best books I have had the pleasure of reading in 2013, and I wholeheartedly award Keon and Me the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

Look for Keon and Me at your local bookstore. It would make a perfect Christmas gift for any Maple Leafs fan on your Christmas list - especially older ones - and it suitable for teenagers and older. Highly recommended reading for any hockey fan, though!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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