Tuesday, October 31, 2006


The World's Strangest Hockey Book

"The smaller the ball used in the sport, the better the book. There are superb books about golf, very good books about baseball, not very many good books about basketball, and no good books on beach balls."
-- George Plimpton

Plimpton's quote sort of bypasses hockey, but really, painfully, let's be honest -- wonderful though the sport may be, it's lent little to the annals of great, or even good, literature. There's "The Game," of course, and Peter Gzowski's book about the Oilers that I can never remember the title. I like what I've read of Dave Bidini's books. There's a dark horse, Ratso Sloman's "Thin Ice." And the great Mordecai Richler wrote some about hockey. And beyond that, uh...

For a while, a few years back, I collected hockey books -- I had some vague idea of assembling a vast hockey library. I eventually gave it up because you can only read so many books like "Brett: Shootin' and Smilin'" or "Manon: Alone in Front of the Net" or "Maltby: Utter Loser" before you start to stare at the walls and contemplate what you're doing with your life. Then there's the "a season with the team" books, written by sportswriters unwilling to deal any real dirt. Then there's the inspirational hockey genre, stuff so sentimental and sappy it would make Mitch Albom nauseous.

Then there's Cleo Birdwell's "Amazons."

Published in 1980, it tells the story of Birdwell's first season in the NHL. It's subtitled "An Intimate Memoir by the First Woman Ever to Play in the National Hockey League," which should be one of the first clues that it's not exactly non-fiction.

It's an odd book, parody but too light-hearted to really deliver satirical zingers, too smart to be Harold Robbins-style softcore (despite Birdwell's propensity to jump into the sack with nearly every character). It's pretty entertaining, and Keith Gessen in the New York Times (registration required) called it the closest thing to a Great American Hockey Novel.

But what makes it really strange is who's actually behind it. "Cleo Birdwell" is Don DeLillo and a collaborator -- the same Don DeLillo that's perpetually on the shortlist of Major Literary Figures. He's always been a pretty obvious sports fan (baseball is a major plot point in "Underworld," and football is the foundation of "End Zone" -- which "Amazons" resembles, albeit on a slighter scale), but even so, "Amazons" sticks out like a sore thumb in his ouevre.

Its motivations will likely remain a mystery for a long time, if they're ever revealed -- DeLillo has never actually admitted to writing it, though his involvement is an open secret. One DeLillo site notes that it came right as DD was at the tipping point, between critically-acclaimed but not-selling and critically-acclaimed bestseller, and theorizes that it was just a light-hearted way to blow off steam.

It's good fun for hockey fans -- DeLillo knows the sport and it follows Birdwell around the NHL of the late 1970s. I'd recommend it if you can find a copy, and for people who don't mind the more salacious parts of life.

In the pre-Internet days, this was something of a legend -- when I found a copy in the basement of a Denver bookstore in the late '90s, I briefly achieved levitation, certain that I'd found a rare literary treasure. Now, it's a little demystified and Amazon.com had a used copy for $9 when I checked this morning. But it's never come back into print and doesn't seem likely to reappear.

The title of the Gzowski book was "The Game Of Our Lives"
Hmm.. can you get this book on Amazon.com?

I have and read the Manon Rheaume book. Interesting read.

I even have a hockey fiction romance book that turned out okay. I wouldn't say its for guys. It's called Body Check by Deirdre Martin.
"Maltby - Utter Loser" Brilliant! That will keep me chuckling all day..thanks!
A fun hockey book is "How Hockey Saved the World (and defeated George W. Bush but not necessarily in that order)" by Alex Charns
I have a question, really, and i didnt really know where to go with it.

I was just wondering if anyone knew when the last european captain of an nhl team won the stanley cup
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