Saturday, March 1, 2008

Top Shelf Review: Cold-Cocked: On Hockey

I'm going to take a break from the Sabres today. I've had this book review half-written for weeks now and this seems like a good time to throw it up for public consumption. Happy Easter! I'll be back on Monday.

It was with much anticipation that I curled up in my blankets with Lorna Jackson's Cold-Cocked: On Hockey. I'd heard a lot about how it was the first book about hockey from the perspective of a female fan and I was ready to absolutely love it to pieces. Unfortunately, I wanted to love it more than I actually did love it.

I will admit up front that I was a little turned off before I even started reading the book. I flipped it over to read the back cover blurb and read the following:

Star-struck biographies, nostalgic histories, gonzo road trips: hockey books say we're obsessed with the game because we grew up wanting to be players. Not women.

I've mentioned before that I didn't grow up watching hockey but when I was a little girl watching baseball I totally wanted to be the players. I wanted to be diving across the field to grab the scorching line drive. I wanted to make a perfect throw to nail the runner at the plate. I wanted to feel the crack of the bat, wave the ball into fair territory and run around the bases, fist high while the crowd went bananas and chanted my name. When my sixth grade counselor and I set long-term goals, I said, in total seriousness, that I was going to play in the Majors. Even now when it's pretty safe to say I've missed my chance to make the NHL, I watch hockey with a little bit of sadness that I didn't grow up in an area where kids played it. I don't know how good I would have been at it but knowing the kind of kid I was and the kind of athlete I was, I do know I would've loved playing it. I thought saying "women don't watch hockey that way" was a pretty broad statement to make in a time when lots of little girls are playing hockey, more colleges have womens programs, and the USA and Canada, among many other countries, have women;s national teams. So I kind of went into the book feeling like maybe it wasn't for female fans like me.

There's a lot in Cold-Cocked about Jackson's family - her father, their relationship through the years, her relationship now with her daughter - and other parts of her personal life. While I mostly see how the things connect in her mind - she talks a lot about the rhetoric of hockey as war and players as warriors in comparison to her father who was captured and held prisoner for a time in World War II - I think the way the different aspects are spread across the book is disjointed and kind of all over the place. The transition from the stories about her father's life to the travails of the Canucks are not always very smooth. Her father has an interesting story, it just often felt to me like I was reading two very different books.

Which is not to say the book was all bad. When Jackson does talk about hockey it's interesting and funny and different from a lot of "rah-rah, sports are beautiful" sports writing. She's clearly a fan of the game but she also doesn't hesitate to criticize it, particularly on the topic of violence. I don't have a problem with fighting in general but there have definitely been times when I've been disgusted with how little the league or the players or the Flyers certain teams seem to care about head shots and concussions. Concussions are not broken arms or sprained knee ligaments. When you're dealing with them, you're dealing with a guy's long-term health, something that's going to affect him long after his playing days are through. Jackson is following the Canucks during the time of the Steve Moore-Todd Bertuzzi incident so that gives her ample opportunity to talk about some of the issues surrounding the game that bother her.

I did also really enjoy the sections of the book that dealt with Jackson's efforts to get interviews with a few players for the book. I have no doubt that being a female in the world of pro sports journalism is sometimes bizarre and uncomfortable even in this day and age and I liked how honest Jackson was about her desire to come across as professional and intelligent but also at least somewhat attractive and how thrilling it was to be up-close with the players she roots for. In those moments, the book really is different from other hockey writing.

But in the end I just didn't feel like there were enough of those moments. And while I do appreciate that there is sometimes a difference in how males and females take in sports and athletes, I don't think it's as easy as men here and women over there. I'm writing this long after I finished the book so I have to admit that now I don't know if it was really the book itself or just the press releases and reviews that came with the book, but it was definitely presented as, "Finally! A woman speaks about hockey!" And while it's true that there doesn't seem to be a ton of writing out there by women about hockey, as I said in the first paragraph, I'm obviously coming at sports different than Jackson is and it's possible I would've liked the book a little more if it had been less "This is how women feel about hockey!" and more "This is how this particular woman feels about hockey." One of my favorite fellow bloggers is Kate of The Willful Caboose and while we're both smart, reasonably insightful fans of hockey (in my oh so humble opinion :P) I think it's pretty safe to say that if we both wrote books about following the Sabres they'd be two very different books.

And while I'm totally getting off-track here (I'm sorry!), at the risk of upsetting my fellow female hockey fans and bloggers, I'm kind of over the whole "I'm a female hockey blogger!" thing. Don't get me wrong, one of my favorite things about the hockey blogosphere is that there are a ton of really smart blogs being written by women and I very, very rarely run into a neanderthal male blogger who disregards my opinion because my handle is clearly a female one which is a refreshing change from real-life. When I first started writing Top Shelf I was very self-conscious about saying anything that was too female-y - I never talked about players being good-looking for example - because I wanted people to take my blog somewhat seriously and I worried that if I mentioned Henrik Tallinder's dimple or Jochen Hecht's shy smile, people would immediately label me a puck bunny. But eventually I decided that was stupid. If John Vogl can talk about which team has the best-looking Ice Girls and still be taken seriously as a journalist, why can't I acknowledge that I think Hank is an extremely talented defenseman AND an extremely handsome man? I don't want to sleep with him. I'm not even sure half the time I want to actually meet him. But yeah, I kind of noticed that he's good-looking. I figure there's enough hockey content here to balance that out and anyone who would accuse me of being a puck bunny is probably not that smart and therefore not worth worrying about. I'm proud to be a woman blogger but I don't really have a desire to wave a flag and yell I AM A WOMAN BLOGGER and I'm just not sure how important it is to other people that I'm female. Do people go read Goose's Roost for the male point-of-view and then come here thinking, "Now to get the female point-of-view!" I don't know, maybe they do. I don't really think so though. I'm just... another blogger, you know?

Anyway... Back to Cold-Cocked. In the end I liked it enough that I would probably check out something else written by Lorna Jackson but it definitely left me wanting. I do seem to be in the minority though from what I've seen. Here are some other reviews:

Scarlett Ice
Untypical Girls
Hockey Blog in Canada

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