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October 14, 2016

The Hockey Scribbler by George Bowering

I recently picked up George Bowering's new hockey offering, The Hockey Scribbler.

Yes, George Bowering has a hockey book out. Yes, that George Bowering

Bowering is most famous as one of Canada's top poets, though he also has written a seemingly endless collections of plays, novels and memoirs, too. He's also a professor and a notable baseball historian.

The book was recommended to me by none other than Tom Hawthorn, a bookseller at the iconic Munro's Books down on Government Street in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia. Tom knows seemingly everything about books in Canada and especially in BC, and his passion for books is obvious when you meet him. He, of course, is a prolific author in his own right. Plus he knows George Bowering personally because, well, Tom is cool like that.

The book is fantastically well-written, and a joy to see such credible writing in hockey literature. Obviously. It is George Bowering after all.

Bowering revisits his youth and his relationship with hockey by revisiting a childhood hockey scrapbook he long ago maintained, and he turns that into an interesting offering on his thoughts on hockey.

While hockey may not likely be the first thing you normally would associate with Canada's former parliamentary poet laureate, Bowering fans should not put off by the topic as it is essentially a breezy if selective memoir/autobiography by Bowering. As he tries to connect his love of poetry with his on-again/off-again love of hockey, we get an open and interesting look into the real, everyday George Bowering that we, and not just Tom, can all relate to.

(Interesting yes, though the short passage about a well timed "He shoots....he scores" call by Foster Hewitt still disturbs me.)

Bowering spends a lot of time reminiscing about hockey back in the day, be it about his Toronto Maple Leafs or individual players such as Danny Lewicki or Boom Boom Geoffrion. Hockey as it was, not hockey as it is It is a pleasure to experience such a gifted author share his thoughts on hockey as only he can. I couldn't put the book down, which is a rare thing to say for most hockey books.

Somehow the book did not end as I had hoped, as it lacked some grand epiphany about hockey in our country, brilliantly offered by someone as gifted a writer as George Bowering is. He somewhat abandons his literary capacity and comes across as just cranky.

Instead the book ends with Bowering essentially falling out of love with the game, thanks mainly to violence (notably the Todd Bertuzzi case) and business. He laments the salaries and ticket prices and the boring product on the ice, taking a few shots at Don Cherry, indoor hockey and even Tim Hortons along the way.

Perhaps Bowering's autobiographical hockey history book will ultimately be best recognized as a comment on Canadian culture. It is a theme throughout the book, but perhaps, ultimately, that is the grand epiphany and I just did not like it.

Bottom line is this an excellent addition to hockey literature. Released earlier this summer, this book will likely get overlooked by the Christmas shoppers admiring all the glossy titles now being released. But it is an excellent read.

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