Hockey fans are great readers, but I don’t imagine many of them are lovers of literary fiction.
The kind of folks reading a book called Heaven and Hell in the NHL probably aren’t the same people who get breathless at the sight of a new Alice Munro collection or Haruki Murakami doorstopper.
So it’s no surprise that the discussion of classic hockey books rarely turns to great novels. But it’s still a shame.
The Hockey Night in Canada broadcast team recently compiled a list of favourite reads—it’s not like they have anything better to do—and the results were as expected.
A few kids books, a few acknowledged gems, a few boring memoirs.
The HNIC list runs according to form in another, more insidious way.
It betrays an unshakable infatuation with the National Hockey League, even in these darkest days of the 2012 labour war.
Seven of the ten books named focus on the institution that’s currently treating the world’s greatest game with contempt.
(No coincidence that two of the outliers are written by Bill Gaston and David Adams Richards, both top-drawer Canadian novelists, though in this case they were cited for non-fiction works.)
Is now the time to lose yourself in the joy, drama, and storied history of the NHL?
Maybe it is if you work for Hockey Night in Canada.
For the rest of us, it’s a good time to look further afield, beyond the world where millionaires fight billionaires, as the lockout has been so aptly characterized.
When I was writing You Could Believe in Nothing, I never really thought of it as a “hockey novel.”
Making the main character a hockey guy was a decision of convenience more than anything else. It was a matter of using the territory you know.
But the choices you make have a way of imposing themselves on your story.
Soon it became clear that the habits and foibles of middle-aged, beer-drinking hockey players would be an important narrative thread.
My essential hockey novels feel like they came together in similar fashion.
They aren’t one-dimensional tales about hockey, or sports, or guys, or jocks.
They can’t be said to celebrate the game, not in the traditional, romantic sense.
If the books on the list share a common thread, it’s how the characters struggle with hockey and its trappings, particularly as they age and the game leaves their withering bodies behind.
The best hockey novels aren’t really about hockey. Like all great stories, they’re about everything else.
I’d recommend these books to any reader. But their perspective is especially relevant to hockey fans at a time when the big-league game is screwing fans from coast to coast.