Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday book report

So, as the school year wrapped up and went into exam-mode, and the forced readings from the university stopped rolling in, I finally had a chance to do a little pleasure reading.

While in years past, pleasure reading has ranged from Roméo Dallaire's Shake Hands With The Devil to the Spike Milligan war memoirs to Tom Clancy to Grisham, this year I went for sports books, in the form of Jeff Pearlman's Boys Will Be Boys and Don Cherry's Hockey Stories and Stuff (ghostwritten by Al Strachan).

First, Boys Will Be Boys is an unbelievably detailed (and somewhat raunchy) foray into the world of the dynasty Cowboys of the 1990s. The book hooks you right away with the story of Michael Irvin taking a pair of scissors to Everett McIver's neck during Dallas' 1998 training camp. It gives a brief history of the Cowboys, a look at how they were during the Landry years, then the details begin. Pearlman holds a great balance between talking about the personal, and the football. It's a bit like a good episode of Friday Night Lights, amazing football with equally amazing personal.

The description of what the cleaning ladies' had to do when they came in to fix up the White House (a house the Cowboy players bought in an affluent Dallas neighbourhood), the stories about players drinking, snorting coke and enjoying the company of members of the fairer sex gives the reader an introduction to the lives of the self-declared Gods of East Texas.

Pearlman is also careful to present all characters is both positive and negative lights, giving the reader the opportunity to recognize that, while there were no saints, there were no devils either. All the stories of player actions, coaching bugger-ups and owner bugger-ups are counterbalanced by stories of all their positives. Jimmy Johnson is presented as an absolute son of a bitch with clear preference for players, but he's also shown as an amazing coach who does care for everyone who wears the blue star on the right side of their head. Stories about Michael Irvin's drinking, snorting, sexing and hazing are counterbalanced by glowing testimonials to his work ethic and his love for all his teammates (in most cases).

I had a lot of trouble putting Boys Will Be Boys down until I finished reading it (which may have cost me some marks on my UN exam), but it was well worth it. Definitely a good read for any Cowboys fan (such as myself), and also an excellent read for anyone who's looking for a good laugh and an interesting piece of nonfiction.

Thanks to Bucholtz for lending me the book!!

Next on the docket, a book I mentioned a few weeks ago as something I'd like as a Christmas present, Don Cherry's Hockey Stories and Stuff did not dissapoint me. The fact that I had to pay for it kind of sucked, and the fact that I couldn't wait until I was on the plane to read it also sucks, but is a bit of a testimonial to how good it was.

Well, it's good under the right circumstances. Essentially, it's 221 pages of disjointed, often rambling stories (written in Don's English), about his time as a player (coming up through the ranks as a kid and shuttling around in the junior leagues), as a coach (in the minor's and NHL) and as a broadcaster. The book follows no chronology, a story about his last game at the Bruins will be followed by a story about him languishing in the minors, will be followed by a story about him commentating will be followed by a story about his dad.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

The book is vintage Cherry, and it's a bit like reading Coach's Corner for a few hours. Or, better still, is just like Cherry wanted it to be: a book where it would seem "just like we were sittin' down, tellin' stories in [his] own language." It's hilarious at times, when he's doing quotes of some of the French-Canadians who played under him (like Jean Ratelle), they're done in a quasi-French accent. He refers to Peter Mansbridge as Peter Mansfred. His stories are no holds barred, he'll openly call out players, he unapologetically recounts smashing players' faces in, you really feel like you're getting a glimpse into the world of Don Cherry.

Though it can be hard to follow at times (you have to re-read some of the anecdotes every now and then because he does indeed tangent in them), it's easily one of my favourite books from this year and strengthens my resolve to one day, finally meet Don Cherry.

Thanks once again to Sherry at Scarlett Ice for originally posting about the book coming out.


Jeff said...

Thanks for the kind words. Glad you enjoyed the book ... even if it contributed to you flubbing a test.


Jeff Pearlman

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