FIRST. Erin Balser of CBC Books was on the radio this weekend with a list of ten recommended hockey books that mixes the unlikely and worth-investigating (Cara Hedley’s 2004 novel Twenty Miles) with a solid core of classics (Quarrington’s King Leary, Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse) and at least one dud (Al Strachan’s 99).
SECOND. The Ottawa Citizen saw fit to publish a sort-of review of Stephen J. Harper’s A Great Game last week, just five-and-a-half months after its November publication.
The reviewer was William Watson, who teaches economics at McGill University in Montreal, and he had a reason, at least, for waiting so long: though his son gave him the PM’s book for Christmas, it took him a while to get around to reading it.
The news he leads with (that Harper thanks Nigel Wright in the book’s acknowledgments) is only five months old — as long as you didn’t read it for yourself when the book came out and waited for it to break in the press. Nothing to get too crabby about, I guess. Although this did catch my eye: “As the reviews generally indicated,” Watson writes, “it is not a great book, though given the author’s day job it is a wonder it’s a book at all.”
True? Was not-greatness generally indicated? I think we owe it to the book’s author to test that statement against the record.
Reviewing the reviews, we find that at Quill & Quire, Perry Lefko called A Great Game “disappointing,” “long-winded” and “conservative.” Bruce Cheadle from The Canadian Press used the words “eye-glazing” — and not admiringly. Chris Selley at The National Post? His review was anchored by the phrases “agonizing pages” and “savagely dull tome.” And yet it did also come around to this:
Mr. Harper has given us a remarkably meticulous academic account of events that, when considered after reading and distilling them, are objectively fascinating. I suspect that’s what he set out to do, and it would be churlish to begrudge him the accomplishment or to pretend I expected a thrill-a-minute page-turner.
The New York Times’ hockey correspondent Jeff Z. Klein:
The book is no mere collection of thoughtful essays or policy recommendations, as one might expect from a sitting politician.
Rather, it is a 320-page scholarly history of an obscure period in Toronto hockey more than a century ago, with footnotes and bibliography. It is as if President Obama published a densely researched study of early basketball in Chicago.
Harper has written a finely detailed history of the struggle between professionalism and amateurism in early 20th-century Ontario hockey.
In A Great Game, Harper had the assistance of a full-time researcher and the editing help of the distinguished Canadian sportswriter Roy MacGregor, but the work is his. It includes insightful examinations of class and religion and the roles they played in a country that still saw itself as a pillar of the British Empire, all viewed through the prism of hockey at the dawn of the pro era.
At The Toronto Star,Rosie DiManno was taken aback: she found the book “a surprisingly readable and entertaining historical exposition.”
The Globe and Mail ran two reviews, four days apart. Tony Keller was first. “Reads a bit like a PhD thesis” and “sometimes heavy going,” he said — but he also gave the PM credit for “taking you back to the country, and the time, that gave birth to the national game.”
John Allemang’s was the sharpest Great Game (to date). As an historian, he wrote, Harper is “an overly engaged nostalgist” and he’s guilty of some “verbal amateurism,” e.g. when he mentions team owners “literally bleeding money.” Allemang does give him credit for flashes of boyishness and sly joshing, noting his
Alberta-Tory knowingness about 1906 Toronto’s problems with sloppy natural ice: “Some in Toronto, even then, were suggesting the climate was warming, thus necessitating an artificial-ice rink.” A cheap shot, but a good one.
All in all, I guess not great is fair enough. Fairer to say would be that the reviews were mixed — or maybe a coalition of grudgingly good-ish and tepid? Assuming they’re all in, of course. It may be worth checking in again in another five-and-a-half months.
THIRD. Since we’re picking nits, The Globe and Mail’s Eric Reguly profiled Mark Cutifani in Saturday’s paper, the CEO of mining giant Anglo American. Given the set-up of the following bit of biography, not to mention the fame of the [hockey team] in question, do we really need the parenthetical clarifier?
He is fairly short, but with a crew cut and a stocky build. He looks like he could thump a man half his age; he loves Led Zeppelin and is a sports nut who leans toward Aussie Rules football and other exertions near the more violent end of the athletic curve. He discovered winter sports when he worked for Vale Canada (formerly Inco) in Sudbury in the middle part of the last decade. “I love all sports,” he says. “My kids played hockey in Sudbury and we used to go see the Sudbury Wolves [hockey team] play.”