Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Club: The Game

Hey all! So, have you been busy reading Ken Dryden's "The Game," like we all agreed last month? I have. I went back and read through it again, so I'd be ready for this discussion. I thought maybe the best way to do this would be to throw out a few questions about your impressions of the book, and leave it open for comments. With that in mind:

1. What did you feel after you finished? For me, it was a kind of sad nostalgia, knowing that the dynasty was shortly to end and the team to be dismantled, and that there'd never be another Habs team that great again.

2. Dryden incorporates a lot of social commentary in the book. Did you enjoy that, or find yourself skimming it to get to the next hockey-related part?

3. Did you like the backgrounds of his teammates the author includes, or did you think it was a waste of space, since many of the players he probes have their own biographies out there?

4. There's a lot of "unvarnished" truth in the book, such as the incident with Shutt peeing in Tremblay's Coke. Did you think Dryden's account gave you an honest feel for what it was like inside the team at that time? Or did you think he skimmed over a lot of the gritty stuff in an effort to protect teammates' privacy?

5. Dryden makes several predictions in the book, including the controversial "the team will have to choose to be French or be good." What do you think of his foresight?

6. What did you feel was lacking in the book?

7. What do you think the book adds to the available wealth of hockey writing?

8. Do you think the book helps you get to know a team you may have never seen play? Or, if you did see that team play, does it bring you closer to the players you cheered for?

9. Is there anything you wish had NOT been included in the book?

10. Would you recommend it to a friend?


subdoxastic said...

Hi J.T.:

I really enjoy "The Game" and read it every couple years or so. Also, I really appreciate the idea of a "book club" on the Habs. Below are my reactions to the book and answers to your insightful questions.

1. The sad nostalgia you mention affects me too. Not because (or not just because) hindsight allows us to place that team's performance into context, but because Dryden's exegesis focuses on performance. I feel Dryden's discussion of performance benefits from his "insider" information but is tempered with a distance or perspective informed by his lonely position and his own intellectual habits. An ice level view of the action combined with information regarding off-ice experiences means performance can be examined without having to rely on only stadium seating perspectives or mathematical representation of performance using stats. His discussion of performance and merit is literary, and I love it. I think it's this focus on performance as struggle (against others, against one's own body, against the challenges inherent in the game) that lend the book its melancholy feel. Excellence is elusive and, at times, capricious. The struggle to attain it (and discussions of personality, coaching, managements, fans, opponents) is I think one of the key factors in generating the feeling of sadness. Excellence is fleeting in the N.H.L. which makes that dynasty even more impressive.
2. Tied to Dryden's discussion of performance is his view on what that means in a larger social context. I enjoy his social commentary as it helps to fix the narrative and reinforces the feeling of authenticity that Dryden feels fans often fail to acknowledge in their passionate roles.
3. Of course, to provide biographical details of teammates and competitors reinforces Dryden's contextualizing of performance. We learn about bad knees, bad contract negotiations, good parties and good teammates. Without background on H. Richard's squabbles with the head coach,(from a player/teammate perspective and not necessarily the agenda of the meida) would our assessment of his performance in that playoffs be as nuanced?
4. While it certainly felt that Drydent elided some of the more scatological moments that take place in dressing rooms of either pro or amateur teams, I didn't feel that this bowdlerizing hurt the book. Suitable examples were chosen to demonstrate character or personality without jeapordizing any individual's sense of privacy. Dryden here I think demonstrates an important part of what it means to be a trustworthy player and good teammate.
5. I think Dryden's foresight regarding the quality or character of the team was bang on. While critiques focussing on the role of privelege or cultural dominion have their place, I don't think the evaluation of talent and performance in the NHL is one of those places without serious qualifications being addressed. Shorter version: the onus is on those who privilege "privilege" to fully explain why it matters in this context.
6. I honestly can say that I don't think too much is lacking. Dryden avoids presenting himself as a Mary Sue character which is good, but maybe he could have been a little less modest-- just a titch.
7.I think the book does an admirable job synthesizing discussion of the game, the players (lifestyles and experiences) and the fans. It is more nuanced than the typical biopic fare.
8. I'm not old enough to remember the last dynasty, but Dryden gives me the opportunity to examine the experience in a way that would have been denied me even if I was a fan old enough to have seen the games. If anything, Dryden's book does more to inform my approach to contemporary teams and their struggles than anything.
9. Nope
10. I would definitely recommend it to a friend.

I'll end this now (sorry about the length) but thanks for the opportunity to get your thoughts on the book and share my own.

Go habs.

Anonymous said...

My turn!

1. I completely understood why Dryden runs for the Liberals. I felt disappointed.

2. His social commentary was interesting because it helped me understand who Dryden is today, if we believe that the young man is still inside of him.

3. Dryden's player biographies were useful because we see things through his eyes. For example, we see his gentle contempt at his teammates. We could see how he felt alien in the dressing room.

4. We can only guess at how accurate his stories are, but there must have been pressure from his editor(s) to provide lurid tales from behind the curtain. The book could not merely be a highbrow tome proving Dryden's superiority to every other player.

5. Dryden has been proven wrong thus far. He predicted that every season would be capped by an international tournament. He said that fighting was caused by the speed of the game (the game is arguably faster while the number of penalties has plummeted since the 1970's). Why should we believe in the French-or-win theory? I see it as a tagline to sell books.

6. The book was satisfactory, but I think Dryden could have used a little humility!

7. The book is a cynical take on a profession that provided a lot to Dryden (money, connections, a name used for politics). I would put it at the opposite end of the spectrum to Jean Beliveau's autobiography.

8. Living in Montreal at the time (near Dryden's home), hockey was incredibly popular. However, a career in hockey was not viewed as something that respectable children would consider. It was a career for the lower classes. Little wonder that Ivy League Dryden felt so out of place.

9. Nope.

10. I would recommend it to hockey fans that are also socialists. ;)