Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday update: Fathers' Day 2010

Not a bad week for reading. I finished three books, two of them short (one a children's novella) and one I've been picking at for the last, oh, three weeks or so.

Book #32 of 75:
The Game
by Ken Dryden

This is recognized by many as the definitive hockey book of the 20th century. I can understand why. Dryden is not only more intellectually articulate than any other hockey player (or writer, for that matter) that I've ever read, but his insight is incredibly fascinating. The Game is the best look I've read at the psyche of a professional hockey player and team (specifically, Dryden's last team, the 1979 Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens). Dryden's ruminations go beyond hockey, however, and shed light onto the life of any pro athlete, any celebrity, any patriot, any Canadian citizen, anybody who's ever been afraid of failure, anybody who's ever realized that the end of a good thing was just around the corner. At times melancholy, at times dynamic, sometimes alienating yet often friendly, The Game is really a fantastic piece of nonfiction.

As a hockey fan, it's such an interesting read because it gives such a well-articulated look into the Habs dynasty of the 70's, the stars of the NHL in the '60s and '70s (Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Bobby Hull, Guy Lafleur, Bobby Clarke, Dennis Potvin, etc) while detailing, blow-by-blow, what a tumultuous time that was for North American hockey in general. (The rise of the Soviets, the WHA, poor television exposure, the Broad Street Bullies) The life of the hockey champion appears both exciting and exhausting, important and insignificant, grueling and gratifying, flipping between the two extremes dozens of times per day.

It is really quite a trip, and Dryden is a more-than-capable guide.

This is the one that took me the longest to read, and I think it's because it had so much to digest. There's just a lot of thought in every page of this book, and there's a lot of vulnerability from its author. From ball-hockey games in the back driveway of a Toronto-area childhood to playing goal opposite his brother in his first NHL season, every struggle, every joy, every nerve-wracking moment of a goaltender's life is up close and personal.

I also really found it fascinating to read Dryden's thoughts on the game circa 1979 and what he thought and hoped the future held for it. Dryden, of course, didn't know who Wayne Gretzky was (or, if he did, he surely couldn't have known what Gretzky would become). He wouldn't have guessed that the Oilers and Islander would basically take turns ruling the 1980s; he suspected that the Canadiens dynasties were over, but surely he wouldn't have guessed that the Habs would only win two of the next thirty Stanley Cups. Forget Crosby and Ovechkin; Lemieux and Bure weren't on the radar yet. Nobody played the Butterfly style of goaltending. The Trap was fifteen years from prominence, clutch-and-grab hockey was thankfully still years away. Would he have guessed Stanley Cup parades would ever go through Tampa Bay? Anaheim? Raleigh? That it would be the Americans, not the Canadians, to finally embarrass the Soviets on the international stage?

Probably not.

I wonder who the voice that'll leave this sort of mark for our generation will be, or if we'll get one.

Oh, forgot: my favorite part of the book was near the end, where Dryden delves into the history of ice hockey, starting in the 1870's and tracing it right up through the turbulent times of the 1970's (in an attempt to discover what about the game it is that really changes). Really, really fascinating stuff.

A lot packed into these 248 pages.

Book #33
Diamonds are Forever
by Ian Fleming

More Bond!

I didn't like this one quite as much as the last one I read. In this story, Bond is tracking down a diamond smuggling operation in the states, so he's undercover in one of the biggest mobs in the U.S. There's an awful lot about horse racing that seemed to distract from the main thrust of the story, and so that lost me a little bit. Fleming really seemed to enjoy exploring the various types of criminals and branches of organized crime. In the four novels I've read, each has had a vastly different "villain", each a different machine that Bond is trying to understand and dismantle. In Casino Royale it was an international gambling pro; in Live and Let Die Bond tangled with the brutal underground criminal operations in the superstitious corners of Harlem all the way to the Caribbean; in Moonraker you had a covert military operation run by terrorists, and now the mafia. Really fascinating stuff, but it can get a bit off-track at times.

That said, when the story is moving, it moves well. The characters, as always, are fun, and there are some really tense moments in the last third of the book. These are fun, gritty, quick, but intense reads.

Book #34:
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
by Roald Dahl

This book is weird. I kind of read it on a whim and downed the whole thing in one sitting. It wasn't long. There are two basic thrusts to the story, which takes place immediately following the event of the more popular Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Willy Wonka and Charlie's entire family shoot into space in the great glass elevator and board the world's first space hotel, where they're attacked by carnivorous aliens called Vernicious Knids (pronounced with a hard K). While Charlie and co. escape harm, some of the hotel staff aren't so lucky, as over a dozen are eaten alive by the beasts. After saving what's left of the staff, Charlie and the others go back to the chocolate factory, where three of Charlie's grandparents take too much of a special pill Wonka invented to make them 20 years younger. They take too many, though, and end up as babies (except for Grandma Georgana, who ends up -2, prompting Charlie and Mr. Wonka to go to the hellish minus-world to rescue her. Minus World is actually pretty frightening, too)

So, there's that.

The book also has some legitimate laugh-out-loud funny moments. The scenes with the President and his cabinet feature some of the funniest stuff I've read in awhile, kids book or not. It's still bizarre, but it's funny-bone-tickling bizarre.

This week, I'm going to read a couple of smaller novels I picked up from the library before I go on vacation. I've got two books from my original list to take with me to the midwest, so I didn't want to start on them before we left, lest I run out of things to read. Started on Stephen King's The Girl Who Loved Tom Gorden (which I will probably finish tomorrow) and then will cautiously check out Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.

Pages: 248 (The Game) 229 (Diamonds are Forever) 166 (Great Glass Elevator)
Total pages: 10,580 (Broke 10,000! Yay!)
Pages/book: 311.176


  1. I read Great Glass Elevator YEARS ago, and yes, the Minus World freaked me out, too.

    Your descriptions of the Bond books are making me curious. I may have to check them out.

  2. It seems all three of us have now read Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator now. It seems we also had the same impression of minus-land.

  3. Incidentally, minus-land in the original Super Mario Bros. is pretty trippy, too.