It’s now the holiday season. Like, I guess? I mean, it’s the holiday season, but it also feels like we’re just in March, Chapter IX. Anyway, if you are looking for gift ideas for the hockey person in your life or for the book person in your life or for the unicornishly rare hockey-book hybrid person in your life, here are some good ideas.
All the links below use bookshop.org and support independent bookstores.
Here are some strictly hockey books that I have personally read and personally endorse.
This Team Is Ruining My Life (But I Love Them): How I Became a Professional Hockey Fan by Steve “dangle” Glynn
Obviously starting with Steve’s. RMNB hosted a party for this book in the Before Times. Steve tells a lighthearted tale of becoming a hockey maniac. His lovely family plays a big role as well. There’s a lot in common in the energies that Steve brings to his work and what we try to invoke here at RMNB. Note: this book’s publishing predates the evil vein of Babcock-to-Caps energy that had recently corrupted Steve’s once pure soul.
Hockey Plays and Strategies by Ryan Walter and Mike Johnston
Johnston may not have lasted long as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he knows his stuff. I’ve learned more about tactics and X’s and O’s from this book than from any other single source.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hooked on Hockey by Laura Robinson, Jack Canfield, and Mark Victor Hansen
Caps fan and author Moira Rose Donohue contributed a piece to this collection about becoming a radicalized superfan. Her story namedrops your favorite hockey blog, and I treasure my copy. I also very much enjoy the story about Georges Laraque. The collection is a ton of little snippets with all kinds of perspectives on hockey.
Take Your Eye Off the Puck by Greg “Puck Daddy” Wyshynski
I was reminded of this book by something Eva said on the You Can’t Do That podcast a few weeks ago. Wysh’s book is like a snarky but useful instruction manual for any somewhat casual fan who wants to embiggen their hockey brain. It’s lots of fun and genuinely helpful. Skip the foreword.
Hockey Abstract Presents… Stat Shot by Rob Vollman with Tom Awad and Iain Fyffe
Stat Shot is a perfect primer for how we can understand hockey more deeply using statistics. Like all Vollman’s writing, it’s approachable and breezy. I also recommend Vollman’s Hockey Abstract, which is like a compendium of provocative, statistical ideas that challenge and expand the way we look at the sport.
Check, Please! Book 1 by Ngozi Ukazu
Check Please is an institution. Ukazu initially published the serial as a webcomic, but I think it looks even better on glossy paper. CP is the adorable story of Bitty, a good skater and maybe even a better baker, who has to navigate his identity as he becomes a college hockey player. When our Sun finally burns out, the undying cuteness of this series alone will warm the Earth. Book 2 is also available now.
Open Net: A Professional Amateur in the World of Big-Time Hockey by George Plimpton
It’s entirely possible that Plimpton was a CIA agent, unwitting or not, for his entire career. The only thing we know for certain about him is this: the dweeb could write. Part of a loose series that I think of as the Dork Gets Destroyed By Jocks Then Writes Lovingly About It sequence, here’s Plimpton’s first-person account of playing goalie for the Bruins against the Flyers in an exhibition game. If the hero-worship side of hockey grates on you, maybe skip this one, as Plimpton reveres these guys. And they just positively pummel him.
The Game by Ken Dryden
This is an obligatory inclusion. The Game is considered the single essential hockey book, and I think that’s fair. Dryden zips in and out of the hockey rink, telling a story about winning a buttload of Stanley Cup championships while retaining his humility and humanity. Without a ghostwriter (as far as I know), Dryden is a terrific writer — incisive and sensitive, but never ponderous — and his autobiography has aged very well. It’s one of the best sports books ever written.
Honorable mention: That’s Not Hockey! A thoroughly French Canadian illustrated children’s book celebrating Jacques Plante’s revolutionary idea of not getting repeatedly hit in the face with a frozen puck.
And because I can’t help myself, here are some non-hockey books that I also recommend.
Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
If you like Lovecraft and depression, this is the comic book for you! Hill tells a thoughtful story about grief and trauma and shame, but it’s got magical keys and fanciful adventures in it too. There are some strong horror elements in it — especially in the first issue — so I wouldn’t recommend this to all audiences. But there’s a lot of catharsis here too, and I suspect there are lots of people who would benefit from reading it these days. There is also a slipcase of the entire series available.
How to Be Happy by Eleanor Davis
Eleanor Davis is a genius. Happy is a collection of work that shows off an impressive range of talents in art and storytelling. As much as it dances around styles, it stay consistently affecting and powerful. I’ve found myself coming back to this book a bunch over the years, as if it had predicted our future and demanded re-evaluation in new contexts. Also it’s gorgeous.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
I like to read books about Abraham Lincoln, but this was the first fiction one I read that didn’t have vampires in it. In a daunting style, Saunders explores the seemingly bottomless depression that seemed to animate Lincoln through the death of his son Willie. This book is at times achingly sad, and I had to stop reading it for a time. But in the end it rewards you for reading, sharing tenderness and hopefulness and maybe a deeper understanding about the nature of loss.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
This series was a recommendation from someone on twitter who has disappeared, and now I don’t know who to thank for it. Leckie’s a wizard-tier writer; this first book in the trilogy does some dazzling work with shifting identities and perspectives and times. A spaceship’s AI controls a bunch of drone bodies called ancillaries, and Leckie examines what happens when all those identities get collapsed. I think this is fourth book in a row I’ve recommended explicitly about grief, but this one has laser guns in it too. It’s righteous.
The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
The Earth is about to be destroyed. Every institution is crumbling, as are social bonds in general. What do you do if whatever you do means nothing? Ben Winter’s trilogy isn’t nearly as bleak as that sounds. There’s mystery pulp and action beats and a slowly unspooling conspiracy, but there’s also some sincere pondering on the moral meaning of duty. The last page of the third book was the most powerful thing I’ve read in at least ten years.
Cult of the Dead Cow by Joseph Menn
My first guitar had a cDc sticker on it. I’ve been reading and following this hacker collective’s work since the 90s, but I learned more from Menn’s book than I did from every textfile I ever downloaded. There’s a humble beginning then their anarchy-powered rise to global notoriety, and then a dark downfall whose story hasn’t really been told until now. Also Beto O’Rourke is in it?
Without Condition by Sonora Taylor
Taylor tells a horror story flipped on its head. A serial killer stalks her prey, spurred on by urges she can’t fully understand. But this book isn’t about terrified victims; it’s about the monstrous shapes we sometimes contort ourselves into for love. We need more stories like this — perspectives we don’t expect telling stories that unsettle us in new and unfamiliar ways. I look forward to reading Taylor’s most recent book, Seeing Things.
Water, Wasted by Alex Branson
Idiots will know Branson from his work on the very stupid podcast, Episode One, which will one day be considered an indispensable time capsule for our age. I read Branson’s first novel, Into The Hills, Young Master, over the summer, and I’d recommend it to any disaffected post-adolescent. I’ve only begun Branson’s new book, but I am enjoying it immensely already.
If you have any book recommendations for the holidays, please share below.
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