Title by title the fall’s shelf of new hockey books is filling up — with one big gap dead at the centre: we’re still waiting for details of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s long-anticipated volume of hockey history.
I was going to say slim there, a slim volume, because that’s what I imagine, without really knowing one way or the other — it could be as mighty a tome as an omnibus budget. The nothing we know hasn’t stopped any of the chatter about what is, no doubt, the most thoroughly dissected book ever to have delved into the early operations of the pre-National Hockey Association Toronto Professionals.
Publishers were bidding on the book back in February, and one of the prospective houses got what it was after on or about March 1: this we know. Otherwise, what we still haven’t heard includes who won, how much they paid, title, page-count, price, what’s the publication date, lots of editing required or just a little? The silence has been spookily reminiscent of a time long, long ago before Twitter knew everything before anyone bothered to know they were interested.
And it goes on: this week I went to the agent handling the deal for the PM, the venerable Michael Levine, for an update, which was this one: “Sorry — no official word yet.”
So we’ll wait. I’ll put my money on McClelland & Stewart, Penguin’s Viking/Canada, or HarperCollins, or I would, if I had it to split three ways. Whoever it is, safe to say that they’ll be rolling out the PM’s book with considerably more fanfare than previous books to have covered Harper’s (purported) chosen ground — John Chi-Kit Wong’s Lords of the Rinks: The Emergence of the National Hockey League, 1875-1936 (2005), say, or Deceptions and Doublecross: How the NHL Conquered Hockey (2002) by Morey Holzman and Joseph Nieforth.
If much of what voters see in politicians is what they want to see — well, I think it’s fair to say that readers are going to find the same is true of the PM’s book. We’ve already seen it. Like its author, it’s going to inspire strong emotions. Whatever its pages have to say about early hockey history, they’re also going to be studied for buried ideology and policy smoke signals. Like its author, the book is going to be accused of trying to the change the channel. It’s going to be seen as a calculated and maybe even cynical attempt to soften the PM’s imperious image even as it’s held up as confirmation of his all-Canadian regular good-guyness.
John Baird will find some way to use the excellence of its research and prose to illustrate how steadily the Conservatives are steering the economy while simultaneously accusing the NDP of failing to support the national war effort in 1812. Liberals will be buying the book just to hurl across the room. Radicals will pay for their copies using foreign money before the Canada Revenue Agency can stop them.
Maybe the Harper’s scholarship will shine through it all. Eventually, when the dust settles, it could be that we’ll read the book simply for what it is, whatever that might be. In the meantime, any bets on when it first shows up in an editorial cartoon? Or who’s first to brandish a copy in Question Period, a beaming Pierre Poilievre or a scowling Tom Mulcair?