Monthly Archives: January 2012

Another milestone, a continuing literacy commitment

I’ve mused previously about the importance of literacy. From those musings, coupled with kind advice and support from book and publishing friends and acquaintances in real life and online, I’ve made a commitment to supporting literacy initiatives and programs … every time I hit a followership milestone on Twitter. This time, I’ve made my donation to the following organization:

First Book Canada

First Book provides access to new books for children in need. To date, First Book has distributed more than 85 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada.

The first steps for First Book/Le Premier Livre came in 2006 when First Book President, Kyle Zimmer, and members of First Book’s senior team traveled to Toronto and met with leaders from private, government, and social sectors to discuss First Book/Le Premier Livre. The team met with many of the major Canadian children’s publishers as well as Canadian affiliates of our US publishing partners. The Honourable James K. Bartleman, former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario; John O’Leary, President of Frontier College; and Tim Pinnington, EVP TD Bank Financial Group and First Book Board member, hosted receptions which offered the opportunity to meet with key leaders and stakeholders from foundations, library organizations, and education/outreach programs serving children from low-income families across Canada.

Learn more about the organization at: and

As I’ve mentioned previously on this subject, much more important than numbers of followers or influence scores or whatever is that we are in this social milieu reading and writing and talking … about books and literature and print and digital formats and reading devices, and on to bookstores and libraries and the vital reading experience in all its forms. I value those who follow me and converse with me, those that I follow and learn from, and those that I come across even fleetingly in this vibrant tweeting, retweeting, chattering, enthusiastic and engaged environment. It’s not the numbers of them (although that there are an endless potential for book friends out there is astonishing), but the quality of the discourse and the spirit, dealing with fundamental issues, not to mention myriad delights.

Numbers are just numbers. But then again, we can use those numbers in creative ways to challenge ourselves to remember, to recognize, to give back. Through this exercise, I’ve learned about other organizations and institutions supporting literacy and books that I’d like to recognize in future, so I’m going to set a goal to do just that whenever I hit one of those “number” milestones. I challenge other book tweeters and bloggers to do the same.

The Game, by Ken Dryden

The Game, by Ken Dryden

“A time capsule buried at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931 and revealed on Thursday (January 26, 2012) contains an NHL rule book, a municipal code, financial information on the team and a tiny carved ivory elephant of mysterious origin.”(1)

Hockey in all its forms, in all its lore, never fails to captivate many Canadians. But do we listen carefully to those voices from the distant (1931 NHL rule book …) and more recent past?

The Game by Ken Dryden, first published in 1983, offers enduring contributions to sport literature, non-fiction and Canadian literature. Considering it comes straight from one of the most accomplished players of the sport (written by him, not mediated through an interviewer or ghost writer), the book intrigues and challenges because it’s not entirely a celebration of the sport of hockey, but a reverential and at times very troubled examination of it. The Game is neither a light nor quick read, but it’s an absorbing and thoughtful reflection on the game of hockey and the experience of being part of a team. The book will fascinate fans and students of the sport as well as those interested in the history, psychology and national resonances and significance of this particular sport.

This reader’s patently unscientific observation is that some of the best sports commentators that played sports themselves are those that have a full, clear and at times undisturbed view of the expanse of the playing field for most of the game – players such as catchers in baseball and goalies in hockey. That premise is perhaps debatable, because hockey lore and culture will also attest to goalies often being singular, separate by choice from the rest of their teams and even eccentric. At any rate, I’ll use the positive aspects of that premise to suggest that makes Ken Dryden an especially thoughtful and clear-eyed analyst – as close as you can get to objective – of Canada’s national sport.

Dryden approaches the game from many different angles, from the professional and technical, to the cultural, the personal and the philosophical. Some of the most engaging sequences in The Game capture the experience of working as part of a team, from the often rollicking accounts of travel and locker room camaraderie, to the continuum from grueling physical commitment to the collective euphoria when teammates come together as one and strive for victory. Most intriguing are Dryden’s incisive reflections on the individual experience of and effects of being part of a team:

The great satisfaction of playing goal comes form the challenge it presents. Simply stated, it is to give the team what it needs, when it needs it, not when I feel well-rested, injury-free, warmed-up, psyched-up, healthy, happy, and able to give it, but when the team needs it.

The Game is one of five contenders for the 2012 rendition of Canada Reads, which seeks – through longlist and shortlist popular votes followed by a final round of debates with celebrity book advocates – to find the memoir, biography or work of literary non-fiction that would be meaningful for the entire country to read. Part of the lead-up to the debates in early February has included online chats on the CBC web site with the authors of the contending books. Dryden eloquently stick handled reader questions during his turn(2), and I was pleased to be able to pose this to him:

Q. Throughout The Game but especially towards the end of the book, I found your reflections on being an individual, being part of a team, and finding one’s individuality by being part of a team to be really resonant. Do you think that being part of a team in some form or another (sports, but also other activities, like music, etc.) should be a formative part of everyone’s upbringing?

A. It is always hard to find the mix that feels right about being an individual and being part of a group. Sometimes a group forces the best out in you; sometimes a group takes away what you most fundamentally and forces you into a role that isn’t you. But we will all live our lives in both circumstances, and we’d better find a way of learning how to be good at both. So, yes, I think it’s crucial to have those group and solitary experiences. And almost nothing now that is truly important gets achieved now by just an individual.

As I was rereading The Game in advance of the Canada Reads debates, it just so happens I was also rereading The Antagonist by Lynn Coady (yes, it’s that good – a discussion for a future review, I hope). The story of a troubled former hockey enforcer, Coady’s protagonist actually finds solace in the purity of the physical pleasure of the game and being part of a team. This line from The Antagonist certainly echoed what I was reading at the same time in The Game:

“team in the purest sense – when you’re as individual as you’ve ever been knowing you’re completely unalone. Completely with.”(3)

While its reflections on the essence of team and teamwork were most appealing to this reader, there are many other interesting layers and threads to The Game. Dryden’s childhood reminiscences are lively and charming, particularly of the uniquely configured backyard that made his home the destination for all the sports-loving neighbourhood children. The Game also purveys a hefty slice of sports history: a fabled sports franchise at a storied pinnacle, featuring and going behind the scenes with some of the sport’s greatest players and coaches. If you’re a fan and familiar with that era, the names and talents and signature moves will leap from the page. Even if you’re not familiar with them, Dryden creates a balance of veneration and down-to-earth insights around those superstars that will draw you in. As well, Dryden gives equal and respectful consideration to the sports journeymen and to others supporting the game behind the scenes that gives a well-rounded picture of how the sport is served up to its avid spectators.

Dryden’s pointed observations about the NHL’s rationale for tolerating violence (remember, this was first published in1983) are, sadly, still relevant today. In that regard, The Game is most assuredly not a sealed time capsule, but still part of the ongoing debate. As he summed it up:

The NHL theory of violence goes something like this: Hockey is by its nature a violent game. Played in an area confined by boards and unbreakable glass, by players carrying sticks travelling at speeds approaching 30 miles per hour, collisions occur, and because they occur, the rules specifically permit them, with only some exceptions. But whether legal or illegal, accidental or not, such collisions can cause violent feelings, and violent feelings with a stick in your hands are dangerous, potentially lethal feelings. It is crucial, therefore, that these feelings be vented quickly before anger and frustration explode into savage overreaction, channelled towards, if not desirable, at least more tolerable, directions. In essence, this is Freud’s “drive-discharge” theory of human aggression.(4)

… and as he responds:

The NHL is wrong … if Freud was right, anthropologist Desmond Morris is also right. As Morris believes, anger released, though sometimes therapeutic, is sometimes inflammatory; that is, by fighting, two players may get violent feelings out of their systems, or, by fighting they may create new violent feelings to make further release (more fighting) necessary. If Freud was right, the NHL is also wrong believing as it does that fighting and stick-swinging represent the only channels by which violent feelings can be released. Anger and frustration can be released within the rules, by skating faster, by shooting harder, by doing relentless, dogged violence on an opponent’s mind, as Bjorn Borg, Pete Rose and Bob Gainey do. If Freud was right and anger released is anger spent, then a right hook given is a body-check missed, and by permitting fighting, the NHL discourages determined, inspired play as retaliation.(5)

Dryden’s observations again are balanced. He posits with the passion of someone who has been literally in the midst of the collisions and skirmishes and their aftermath, and with the level-headed analysis and supporting arguments of the lawyer and politician he became after he left the sport.

Again, I was pleased to follow up with him on these contentious aspects of the sport during the Canada Reads online chat:

Q. I learned a lot about the evolution of how the game of hockey is played – the strategic, tactical and physical changes – from The Game. I think that should be a primer for anyone aspiring to play, to manage, to own a team, to make policy associated with hockey at any level. Do you feel anyone in the hockey world – amateur or professional – has a sense of that evolution and heeds today what you highlighted back in the 1980s?

A. I think all of us tend to forget our own histories. And history is particularly important now when we see all the head injuries and yet any suggestions as to changes is met with the answer – you can’t do that. That would be changing the nature of the game. If we knew that history, we would know that this game is always changing – once hockey was played 7-against-7 with no substitutions and until the 1920s without the forward pass. These things transformed how hockey is played and it is a much better game because of it. We are at a moment where we need to know we can change again, and again make hockey a better game.

By turns thoughtfully, almost coolly erudite (although maybe Don Cherry has also spoken about Freud’s “drive-discharge” theory of human aggression, and I just missed it because I mute Coach’s Corner) … and warmly heartfelt, The Game is a cornerstone Canadian work. It’s not a hermetically sealed and concealed time capsule, intriguing but frozen in time. It’s still current and relevant today.


1. Maple Leaf Gardens time capsule offers peek at 1931
Conn Smythe’s son has theory of mysterious ivory elephant’s origin
CBC News (January 26, 2012)

2. Transcript of CBC Books live chat with Ken Dryden (January 5, 2012)

3. The Antagonist, by Lynn Coady (2011, House of Anansi Press), p. 118

4. The Game, by Ken Dryden (1984 edition, Totem Books) p. 189

5. The Game, by Ken Dryden (1984 edition, Totem Books) p. 190

See also:

Ken Dryden on how he writes

My reviews of other Canada Reads 2012 finalists:

The Money Tree, by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small

My husband Jason and I are dog lovers. We adore dogs in all shapes, sizes and breeds, but our hearts were especially captured by and we have shared our home for over two decades with devastatingly charming, handsome, rambunctious Airedale terriers.

We’re as passionate about books as we are about our companion beasts. What better way to combine the two then, than by building a subset of our library to focus on Airedales? Thanks to Jason’s particular eye for and terrier-like tenacity for researching and seeking out rare, obscure and offbeat books, we’ve amassed and are constantly on the lookout for books that feature, depict and even just mention Airedales in passing, in pictures and print. (1) One day, we aim to publish an annotated bibliography of what we’ve gathered.

Through that search for all things both bookish and Airedalian, The Money Tree, by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small recently came our way … and I am besotted.

The Money Tree, by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small

The Money Tree tells its story through deceptively simple, almost circumspect text and rich, endlessly evocative illustrations. Miss McGillicuddy shares a pastoral life on a lush piece of land with a warmly appointed farmhouse with three dogs (one of which, of course, is an Airedale), a cat, some birds (including a parrot) and farm animals, including a horse and some goats. Miss McGillicuddy is quietly self reliant, planting and harvesting and caring for her animals, and finding time to quilt, read, fly a kite and make a Maypole for the neighbourhood children. Over the course of a year, she discovers a strange tree growing on her property, watches as it yields a puzzling but compelling bounty, shares that bounty with her community, and then wisely brings the bounty to an end, clearly with much thought and no alarm or rancour.

David Small’s illustrations are rich in colour and detail, and offer character and storytelling details that deepen Sarah Stewart’s understated, poetic text. How do we know that over the seasons, the enigmatic Miss McGillicuddy has made her decisions with such benevolence, tempered with such prudent moderation? Small’s particular strength has been to focus on this independent woman’s face, throwing beams of the subtly changing seasonal light on her musing, absorbed and absorbing expressions.

The Money Tree movingly captures the enduring beauty and reassurances of and in the changes of the seasons. The book simultaneously pays tribute to personal resilience and communal generosity.

This is a sweet and gentle tale for young children. There is also much to entrance and, evinced in Miss McGillicuddy’s Mona Lisa smile on the last page, to ever so softly provoke adult readers, too.


1. Here are some of our Airedale books that I’ve previously mentioned on this blog:

See also:

The Money Tree by Sarah Stewart, from the Experiencing Nature blog

#todayspoem, the solace and delight of contemplating and sharing a poem daily

Little Theatres, by Erin Moure

It all started with this thoughtful and quietly ebullient reflection from writer Alan Heathcock:

A Poem A Day: Portable, Peaceful And Perfect
datelined December 26, 2011 on the NPR web site (but published around December 24th, I think …)

One daunting, harried morning, Heathcock paused to randomly draw a book of poetry from a shelf, and to just as randomly select and read a poem. Mary Oliver’s “Egrets” momentarily took him away from not enough sleep, from kids needing to get to school, from deadlines demanding to be met … and after that brief respite …

I closed the book, transformed, bolstered from the inside out.

From that day forward, each morning I read a poem.

A bunch of us book friends on Twitter – including Harvey Freedenberg, Jeanne Duperreault and Elizabeth Bastos – starting discussing the power of randomly selected and surprisingly resonant poetry to lift one’s spirits and put a new spin on the day. From that conversation, we agreed that we could all quite happily manage the New Year’s resolution of starting our day with a poem. We’d swiftly grab it from a bookshelf or online, as suited, and we would take the time to read, savour and contemplate, like a brief morning meditation. And then we’d share our choices with each other, using the #todayspoem Twitter hashtag.

Even before January 1st, several of us jumped in enthusiastically. The selections are diverse, whimsical, touching, haunting, prescient, eye-opening. Let me share a few of the tweets that have help to draw those of us who know about it (so far) into this exquisite shared experience:

@michaelmagras This poem by Octavio Paz is one of my favorites. #todayspoem

@Perednia From Tomas Transtromer’s Prelude: “Waking up is a parachute jump from dreams.” #todayspoem

@HarvF Ellen Bass, “Gate C22.” Very appropriate for this season of travel: #todayspoem

@bookgaga “Regard a tree. / Who would have better seized light’s longing?” @ErinMoure from Aturuxo Calados, Little Theatres #todayspoem

I think I’m especially in love with this tweet, because it shares an image of the poem on the page:

@Materfam #todayspoem Le Train de Midi, Stephanie Bolster

As you can see, everyone is sharing their #todayspoem experience a little differently, with an image, a link, an excerpt, whatever fits in a tweet. Each tweet is enough to spur a moment of delight or recognition or, handily favorited in Twitter, is a lovely bookmark for future poetry explorations.

The #todayspoem experience is a dual delight. You treat yourself to an energizing moment of reflection in the morning, and then you have others’ shared #todayspoem gifts to enjoy just by going to the hashtag at any time. Care to join us?

See also:

What I read in 2011

The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace

Here are the books I read in 2011, with links to reviews where I have them. As I’ve done in previous years, this is an exhaustive, “all of” list, not a best of list … although there are some “best of” books in there … can you guess which ones? It feels like it was a another year of lively reads indeed. While I reviewed fewer books, I do feel like this was a year of stretching in terms of genres and subject matter to which I wouldn’t normally gravitate – and I’m glad for what I learned by stretching. I’m not a big resolution maker, but I think I can safely resolve to do more stretching with my reading in 2012.

  1. Patient Frame
    by Steven Heighton

  2. The Water Rat of Wanchai
    by Ian Hamilton

  3. Better Living Through Plastic Explosives
    by Zsuzsi Gartner

  4. The Canterbury Trail
    by Angie Abdou

  5. Pigeon English
    by Stephen Kelman

  6. The Year of Broken Glass
    by Joe Denham

  7. Irma Voth
    by Miriam Toews

  8. The Bird Sisters
    by Rebecca Rasmussen

  9. A Visit From the Goon Squad
    by Jennifer Egan

  10. Lookout
    by John Steffler

  11. The Guilty Plea
    by Robert Rotenberg

  12. Up Up Up
    by Julie Booker

  13. The Empty Family
    by Colm Toibin

  14. Ossuaries
    by Dionne Brand

  15. Skippy Dies
    by Paul Murray

  16. The Cat’s Table
    by Michael Ondaatje

  17. Offshore
    by Penelope Fitzgerald (reread)

  18. The Ghost Brush
    by Katherine Govier

  19. Girlwood
    by Jennifer Still

  20. Practical Jean
    by Trevor Cole

  21. Hooked
    by Carolyn Smart

  22. Rin Tin Tin – The Life and the Legend
    by Susan Orlean

  23. Appointment in Samarra
    by John O’Hara

  24. The Pale King
    by David Foster Wallace

  25. The Sense of an Ending
    by Julian Barnes

  26. Cool Water
    by Dianne Warren

  27. The Antagonist
    by Lynn Coady
    (Reading guide questions)

  28. Indexical Elegies
    by Jon Paul Fiorentino

  29. Short Talks
    by Anne Carson

  30. Doctor Brinkley’s Tower
    by Robert Hough
    (Reading guide questions)

  31. Elimination Dance / La danse eliminatoire
    by Michael Ondaatje (trans. Lola Lemire Tostevin)

  32. A Good Man
    by Guy Vanderhaeghe

  33. Go the Fuck to Sleep
    by Adam Mansbach
    Hee hee …

  34. Making Light of Tragedy
    by Jessica Grant

  35. Easy to Like
    by Edward Riche
    (Reading guide questions)

  36. The Odious Child
    by Carolyn Black

  37. The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth
    by Stuart Clark

  38. Prisoner of Tehran
    by Marina Nemat

  39. The Tiger
    by John Vaillant

  40. Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu
    by John Updike

I start 2012 with the following books started in 2011 and still in progress:

  • The Game
    by Ken Dryden
  • The Marriage Plot
    by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The Antagonist
    by Lynn Coady (reread)
  • Drawing Back to Take a Running Jump, by Lorne Daniel


… and, ahem, I start 2012 with the following books started in 2010 and still in progress (I nibbled on both of them this past year – honest):

  • Voltaire’s Bastards
    by John Ralston Saul
  • The Mill on the Floss
    by George Eliot


In 2010, I read 43 books, inspired a lot by great discussions and suggestions I found amongst the book blogging and reader community on Twitter. I didn’t match my 2010 or even more ambitious 2009 totals – not even close, really… I have to ask again, though, are total numbers of books or pages really the point? What do you think?

In 2011, I was delighted to include some contributions to this blog by way of guest reviewers, as follows:

I’m keen to welcome more guest reviewers here in 2012.

So … onward into the TBR pile!