Understanding Ourselves a Bit Better Through Our Sport and Our Literature | Review of “Writing The Body In Motion: A Critical Anthology on Canadian Sport Literature” edited by Angie Abdou & Jamie Dopp (2018) AU Press, Athabasca University

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For those of us who  read, do it to sincerely understand the world around us better. And in understanding the world better, sincerely learn about ourselves a bit more. Well-crafted fiction gives those of us who read the ultimate opportunity to do so but rarer and rarer are readers given the notions to contemplate what they have read. One such book has given me pause to reflect on some of my serious past reading and that book is Writing The Body In Motion: A Critical Anthology on Canadian Sport Literature edited by Angie Abdou and Jamie Dopp.

Page 5 Introduction by Angie Abdou

The lessons of these literary works – and the essays about them – extend beyond the sporting arena. According to the course website of Don Morrow, who taught one of Canada’s first sport lit courses at the University of Western Ontario, sport literature is never just about sport; rather, it explores the human condition using sport as the dominant metaphor. Similarly, Priscila Uppal, perhaps the most well-known Canadian scholar and writer to focus her attention on this topic, explains that the best sport literature functions as “metaphor, paradigm a way to experience some of the harsher realities of the world, a place to escape to, an arena from which endless lessons can be learned, passed on, learned again” (2009, xiv). Many of the essays in this collection, therefore, examine the various ways in which sport functions metaphorically. Our authors also consider various recurring themes of sport literature, including how sport relates to the body, violence, gender, society, sexuality, heroism, the father/son relationship, memory, the environment, redemption, mortality, religion, quest, and place.

While I read literature quite a bit, I rarely read any academic analysis. And while I am not the most athletic person around either, this book awoke certain understandings about the human condition that I had never considered before.  Both Abdou and Dopp are personally well-versed in both athletics and literature (No fears of any calls of cultural appropriation with this work) and they have brought together a collection of analysis from some of the most noted academics into some of the great classics of Canadian fiction that is thought-provoking and enlightening.

Page 11 W. P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe: The Fairy Tale, the Hero’s Quest, and the Magic Realism of Baseball by Fred Mason

Baseball is probably the sport most written about by fiction writers; indeed, as David McGimpsey notes, “baseball has in fact gained a highbrow, literary reputation that no other American sport, and very few objects of American culture, enjoy”  (2000, 2). McGimpsey (2000, 2) notes that the genre of baseball literature have many consistent tropes: baseball is a natural, God-given sport; it allows people to be judged on quantifiable merit; it is connected to the simplicity of childhood; it brings fathers and sons together. More cynical tropes can also be found: baseball can be corrupted by its fixed monopoly at the professional level, and its “purity” is always under threat, with a nostalgic not to “how it used to be.” W. P. Kinsella’s novels and short stories have contributed heavily to the genre of baseball fiction, beginning with Shoeless Joe in 1982 (Steele 2011, 17), and his work almost always expresses some of these tropes.

There are some interesting thoughts and discussions in here, again, not just about sport but about the human condition. Many people who engage in athletics do so not just for the physical aspects of the activity but to join in with other humans in some sort of social bonding. Yet, for me, when I had originally read some of these titles, I had missed that important fact. Reading these essays caused me to rethink some of my views of those works and made me want to re-read them.

Pages 94 Hockey, Zen, and the Art of Bill Gaston’s The Good Body by Jamie Dopp

Yet Bonaduce’s journey towards enlightenment is more complicated that it might first appear. Much of this complication has to do with The Good Body’s portrayal of hockey. The novel suggests that Bonaduce’s somnambulistic life is largely a consequence of his pursuit of the hockey dream, and that hockey (or at least professional hockey) is emblematic of the kind of like that might lead a person into somnambulism. But the story also suggests that there is more to Bonaduce – as well as to hockey – that a focus on “little things which . . . don’t mean dick.” The one Buddha figure in the novel turns out to be a goalie whose characterization draws a comic parallel between the ambiguity of Buddha figures and the stereotypical weirdness of goalies – adding further complications. The novel implies that, for all their differences, hockey and Buddhism share uncanny parallels to one another. The encounter between Zen and hockey in The Good Body, then, leads to a fascinating and multilayered (not to mention often hilarious) meeting of cultures – an encounter that, I think, is part of what is most impressive about the art of Bill Gaston.

There is a lot more than looking at athleticism in Writing The Body In Motion: A Critical Anthology on Canadian Sport Literature. The book documents elements of the human condition as we engage in sport. It is certainly an enlightening read and one worthy of review for anyone who ponders over literature.

*****

Link to AU Press’ website for Writing The Body In Motion: A Critical Anthology on Canadian Sport Literature

Link to Angie Abdou’s website

Link to Jamie Dopp’s website

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