While the National Hockey League remains on ice, the Los Angeles Review of Books serves up this long, luscious compendium of hockey books, beginning with an excerpt from a 1955 Sports Illustrated article about a New York Rangers-Montreal Canadiens game at Madison Square Garden:
“[The game] seemed discorded and inconsequent, bizarre and paradoxical like the frantic darting of the weightless bugs which run on the surface of stagnant pools. Then it would break, coalesce through a kind of kaleidoscopic whirl like a child’s toy, into a pattern, a design almost beautiful, as if an inspired choreographer had drilled a willing and patient and hard-working troupe of dancers — a pattern, design which was trying to tell him something, say something to him urgent and important and true in that second before, already bulging with the motion and the speed, it began to disintegrate and dissolve.”
The writer had never seen hockey before, and never wrote about it again. But as David Davis explains, the “brief essay captured hockey’s relentless tempo, its improvisational surges, its attendant carnage.”
The writer was William Faulkner, who knew attendant carnage when he saw it, and evoked it like no other novelist who ever lived.
Davis rattles off a rich litany of hockey books, including Canadian novelist Mordechai Richler’s prose and goaltender Ken Dryden’s acclaimed 1983 book, “The Game,” which has been lauded by narrative-lovers, sabermetricians and those in between as one of the best books, fiction or non-fiction, ever written about the sport.
The Montreal Gazette’s Ian McGillis, earlier this year:
“The Game does more than capture the essence of a team and a sport. It also provides a collateral social history through the eyes of a fully engaged citizen, nowhere better exemplified than in Dryden’s memorable account of the mood in the Montreal Forum the night the PQ won the November 1976 provincial election. Finally, The Game works so well, and stays so relevant, because Dryden is a real writer.”
Davis is hopeful that last season’s Stanley Cup victory by the Kings “will inspire a young writer to create the Great American Hockey Novel.”
But you don’t have to be like me, in the land that hockey forgot, to feel the temptation to plow into a few of these seemingly exotic volumes, even if the Powers-That-Be in the NHL manage to settle their differences and end the lockout.
For the winter will be a long with or without the games, and there’s never enough time to read even a sampling of what Davis has aptly recommended.