Friday, 16 April 2010

TBC: Now Is The Winter

Teebz's Book Club has had this review on the burner for some time now, but today seemed appropriate to bring it forth with a number of leagues determining their respective champions. Rarely do these kinds of books come along in the sporting world where a number of excellent essayists pen their thoughts about life, society, and sports with such intelligence, but Now Is The Winter: Thinking About Hockey, edited by Jamie Dopp and Richard Harrison and published by Wolsak and Wynn, is one of those books. This collection of essays look at a wide variety of topics in and around the sport of hockey, and present very intelligent viewpoints on these topics that may go unappreciated by even the most dedicated fan. It is with this thought in mind that I began to read Now Is The Winter: Thinking About Hockey, and I'm proud to say that I have considerable admiration for the ideas and thoughts brought forth by the essayists.

From the Wolsak and Wynn website: "Jamie Dopp is an Associate Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Victoria. He has published a variety of articles on Canadian fiction, poetry, and culture, as well as one novel and two books of poems. In 2004, during a very rare cold spell in Victoria, he stayed up all night to build a backyard ice rink and managed to have three blissful days of outdoor hockey with his family."

Richard Harrison is a freelance editor and teaches English and Creative Writing at Mount Royal College. He has published five books of poetry, and has earned numerous nominations for literary prizes, winning a Milton Acorn Prize and the City of Calgary/W.O. Mitchell Book Prize. He has infused poetry into the world of hockey by reading at places like the Calgary Booster Club’s annual Sportsman-of-the-Year banquet, the Hockey Hall of Fame, and the Pengrowth Saddledome. Richard lives in Calgary with his wife Lisa and their two children, Emma and Keeghan.

It's hard to put this book into one category since the essayists featured in this book delve into a wide-range of categories with their works. What I will do, however, is touch on each of the essays within the book as there are some excellent looks at the game of hockey in the contexts in which it is framed by each author.

Stephen Hardy and Andrew Holman examine a way to periodize hockey much like historians do with the world's history. In terms of the globalization of the planet, historians have been characterizing periods of time for centuries, but sport, in its own microcosm, needs some clarity as well. Hardy and Holman do a great job in breaking down the various periods that hockey has seen with respect to the global game.

Michael P. Buma looks at how hockey has been claimed and lost by Canadians as "our game" through politics in two books - George Grant's Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism, and Bruce Kidd's and John Macfarlane's The Death of Hockey. Mr. Buma's look at how the game has evolved from a Canadian pasttime to an American business is in part due to the passion for the game changing in society. It's a very interesting look at how the game hockey moved from its humble roots into its billion-dollar industry.

Andrew Holman tackles the literary world in staking a claim over the portrayal of hockey, Canadians, and American heroes in fictional sports stories from 1890-1940. More often than not, hockey was a foreign sport played by the more talented and evil Canadian antagonists to the American protagonists. It was also portrayed as a violent, brutal sport that had no semblance of American values. Holman does an excellent job in bringing these points to light through numerous examples.

Richard Harrison draws a phenomenal comparison between the Stanley Cup and Superman - two Canadian creations that have been globalized. Both Superman and the Stanley Cup have experienced changes, seen dramatic reshaping of their worlds, and have remained as an icon in society through their histories. Honestly, this is one essay that should be read by all simply due to how both iconic figures seem to live in the same timeframes when speaking of their transitions and adaptations.

David McNeil brings to us a story of how photography in the 1950s really made hockey a more nationalized game thanks to the work of some early sports photography pioneers. The Turofsky brothers and Scotty Kilpatrick are two names that should be synonymous with sports photography, and we, as fans, should be thankful that these men pioneered some of the best camera rigs to capture the most timeless moments in hockey history. Mr. McNeil's story even includes his father's defining moment - goaltender Gerry McNeil of the Montreal Canadiens stopping Detroit's Gordie Howe. McNeil tells an impressive story of how these photos came to be, and it should be mandatory reading for photojournalists.

John Soares presents an interesting topic in his examination of international hockey from 1957-62 in looking at how hockey, and sports, can build bridges between politically-opposed nations. Soares looks at the dynamics between the Soviet Union and the United States as his example of two nations that forged friendships on the ice despite their respective nations staring one another down during the height of the Cold War. Very interesting essay, to say the least, and a compelling look at sports during a time of political unrest on the globe.

Sam McKegney delves into the mass media world in their look at Jonathan Cheechoo's Richard Trophy-winning season, and how Cheechoo was made into a sidekick of Joe Thornton rather than earning merit on his own for his goal-scoring prowess. McKegney feels that the media plays a large part in Cheechoo's mythological status by turning him into a sidekick. Another part is this unknown world that Cheechoo comes from called Moose Factory, Ontario - this "exotic" locale that makes Cheechoo seem foreign despite being Canadian. McKegney looks at a lot of different reasons for Cheechoo not getting the credit it seems he should have received, and, when looking back on it, McKegney may be right.

Anne Hartman has a long and interesting essay about the lack of women's shinny hockey in Toronto, and the uphill battle the women face year-in and year-out when it comes to claiming ice-time at various arenas. Hartman talks to all sorts of female hockey players in her quest to find why the women don't get the same chance to play as the men, and there are some very interesting comments made. An excellent piece by Hartman shows that while the women's game has never been more popular, they still have a long way to go for equality.

E.W. Mason looks at hockey in New Zealand, and how the sport is working to gain a foothold in a not-so-common hockey country. Mason shows that, despite big wins in international tournaments, the game is still being referred to as "new" by the media in New Zealand. Hockey has a deep tradition in New Zealand, so the "new sport" that the media speak of seems odd to Mason. Mason's work is literary genius, and it certainly deserves a read.

Brian Kennedy looks at hockey spectating, and compares the hoopla surrounding the game to that of a carnival atmosphere. He draws a lot of excellent comparisons, and really hits the heart of the matter when talking about the carefully-scripted hockey games and sensory overload that we experience today at games in comparison to those thirty years ago when the breaks in action gave the man at the organ something to do. A very well-written piece on what might be the biggest reason that some fans no longer enjoy the game.

Craig G. Hyatt, William M. Foster, and Mark R. Julien thoroughly examine the relationship between player and fan, and what is expected in this relationship from each side. In particular, they use the Chris Pronger trade demand out of Edmonton as their example, and the wrath of the Oilers fans after Pronger went public with his trade request. If you're a hockey fan, this is a must-read essay in terms of trying to determine who owes whom what in the player-fan relationship.

Kelly Hewson ends the collection of essays by looking at how hockey has worked its way into pop culture such as music and television, its effect on the Canadian psyche, and what each letter in the acronym "NHL" means to Miss Hewson. The writing is witty and humourous, but Miss Hewson really hits the nail on the head with her meaning of NHL.

The twelve essays are not arranged in any particular order that I can see, but they read very well. I liked the topics they brought forth, and there wasn't an oversaturation of one particular league or topic. From hockey media in New Zealand to the political views of Soviets and Americans in the Cold War to black-and-white hockey photographers in the 1950s, there are essays here for anyone interested in hockey at a more intellectual level.

While I wouldn't say the 140-page book is meant for anyone but adults, some advanced high school readers could tackle this work. There are some points of language that would push the book into a PG-rating, but the usage of this language is timely and appropriate by the authors. The content alone, however, is simply outstanding, and Now Is The Winter: Thinking About Hockey is more than worthy of the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval due to the intelligent writing that Dopp and Harrison brought forth in this collection.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Sid said...

It was also portrayed as a violent, brutal sport that had no semblance of American values. Holman does an excellent job in bringing these points to light through numerous examples.