Sunday, March 23, 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


S.A.M. said...

hmm, I'd have to read the book. ALl I know is that it can't possibly be as bad as The Girlfriend's Guide to Hockey which made me want to claw my eyes out. (I reviewed it Here if you feel like torturing yourself)

I didn't grow up caring about any sports. My dad likes baseball and football but there was never any sort of rabid fandom around the house, until my older sister and I discovered hockey. I was 12. There is a story there, maybe I'll get arond to posting it soon in my blog, but yeah, we'll just say that when I did finally discover hcokey, I WANTED TO PLAY! And if it had been possible in any way (it wasn't there weren't many hockey teams in Dayton OH and we didn't have the kind of money needed) I would have played. So I'm with you there.

ANd anyone who thinks it is hard to be taken seriously as a female hockey FAN (and we all know it can be at times) should try working for a minor league hockey team as a female. Yeah, people just ASSUME (and this includes some of the players) that you are there for one reason and it's not the hockey. It gets really old having to prove over and over again that it's about the GAME and not the boys. (now I'm the first to admit that I find many a hockey player attractive, but I'm also the first to admit that I find many a guy in general attractive. It happens) That is NOT why I wanted to (and still want to) work for a hockey team. It's about the game.

Sorry, personal rant. ;) Thanks for the book review, I'll see if I can find it!

Sherry said...

Great review, Heather B. I enjoyed it even though you had a bit of a different take on it than I did, haha.

I have to admit that there were parts where I honestly felt like I was reading two books but at the same time I sort of understand why she did that. I think she was trying to place where she was in her life with what was going on in hockey at the time. I appreciated it because I do the same thing as well.

I have to agree with you on the whole "I'M A LADY BLOGGER" thing as well. It's not something I flaunt or proclaim because I think when people do that I feel like maybe it does create more division. You're almost asking people to read your thoughts differently because if you make it a big deal people will as well. I think that's something we try to limit over at HLOG too just because while when it first started there were only a handful of female bloggers, now it's a common occurrence and it's something we're glad to be a part of.

Sorry, that was also a bit of a personal rant. I have to agree with you on the whole 'never wanted to be a player' thing too. When I was a kid I daydreamed about being the first female player in the NHL but as I grew up reality set in. Mostly due to when I realized I obviously have no athletic ability whatsoever.

Pookie said...

Hear, hear on the "I'M A LADY BLOGGER!" front. Before blogging I never felt any pressure to be constantly assessing my fandom through the lens of being a female fan. I'm just a fan, you know?

I have to say, that blurb about women not wanting to grow up playing the game would make me put that book down before starting it.

Caitlin said...

Heather, I've read exactly one page of this book and my consensus (so far) has been nearly the same of yours. There's a lot of stuff I quibble with just off the first page and the back of the book.

I haven't had a chance to read it yet, because life's been so busy, we've all been trying to pass it around to one another -- one book and three girls doesn't for timely reviews make. Or something like that.

I didn't grow up a hockey fan, I grew up in a household of football fans and I can tell you that I wanted to grow up to play football like Daryl Johnston so badly that it wasn't even funny.

And nowadays, I really want to learn how to play hockey.

Kate said...

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.

Aww, thanks Heather! (And you're right. Our books would be different. Yours would be good, and mine would have at least one chapter devoted to Ryan Miller in a shower cap. :P)

Heather B. said...

Sam, I definitely wouldn't say Cold-Cocked was bad. When the book is about hockey I think it's interesting and smart, even when I don't necessarily agree with it. I can totally imagine, btw, that it would be tough to work for a hockey team particularly when you're in the same age group as a lot of the players. Oh, and also, if you want to read my copy, we can arrange that. I'll email you!

Sherry, I suppose having no athletic ability would be a wrench in any plans to play a sport professionally :-D I do get what Jackson was doing with all the stuff about her life, I think, I just thought that sometimes the transitions from her personal life to the hockey world were rough.

Caitlin, yeah, I kept waiting for the rest of you slackers over there to review the book :P Since you already have a copy of the book I do think it's probably worth reading when you do have time. I'd like to see how much you agree or disagree with Cat's take.

Kate, Ryan Miller in a shower cap would be your author photo, right? And knowing that you'd probably read my book I'd be sure to include a chapter called "101 REASONS WHY RYAN MILLER WILL NOT BE A RED WING IN 2009." :-D

Dayna said...

I'm currently reading "Cold-Cocked" as well, though lately it's taken a backseat to school work, but I'm having a hard time with it. I think that part of the thing for me is that during the season that Jackson is describing, I wasn't a fan at all. Hockey wasn't on my radar then, the only NHL I've really experienced is the "new" NHL.

I also find it a bit disjointed, but I'm still reading it and I haven't gotten that far in, so I can't really judge yet. Thanks for your review though, I find it interesting to see how different people are reading and interpreting this book.

Jen said...

I'm attempting to currently read this book and I'm not having much luck. The prologue has me totally disinterested and I'm dreading having to finish it.

Heather B. said...

Dayna, I think that's a totally valid reason to be having trouble with the book. Not long after I first started really following hockey I read Ken Dryden's The Game because I'd repeatedly heard it was one of the best hockey books ever written. And while I did enjoy his style of writing, I was totally clueless as to who he was talking about, what the league was like at the time, the politics of Canada etc. I might enjoy it more now, I don't know.

Jen, it did take me a very long time to read it. I read it in little chunks here and there. I'm interested in hearing what you think if you ever get through it :-D

Sue A said...

Given all the rave reviews I thought I’d love Cold Cocked. Like Jackson, I consider myself a past prime 50 year old who is passionate about hockey. I’m also divorced, live on a farm, and have great kids so I should have lapped this book up.

I’m not a writer so maybe this is unfair but the writing seemed stilted and forced to me. I also found Jackson’s stream of conscious discussions on her life and her views on hockey too introspective and self-absorbed. Most of all I found myself wanting her to stop living her life through others (her daughter, father, Markus Naslund) and start living life for herself.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy some parts. I thought the perspectives on what to do with Todd B. were funny. At other points, I wasn’t sure that this was a book about hockey at all. As for the bit about women not wanting to be players… well, here’s someone who learned to skate (badly) late in life – and who sometimes gets up enough speed to feel the cold air whip around her face so that tears weep from her eyes and for that one instant… she could be … well, let’s not embarrass ourselves!

Back to the point. I’m glad Cold Cocked resonated with many readers. It just didn’t work for me.

Heather B. said...

Sue, I love that you learned to skate late in life! I keep saying I'm going to but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Maybe my ankle heals up I'll finally take a swing at it.

I did love the "What Would You Do with Todd Bertuzzi for a Day?" section. It was funny and interesting. I actually meant to mention it and totally forgot!