Tag Archives: Bill Gaston

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

writing

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

Not All the Colours of a Human’s Personality are Bright | Review of “Juliet Was A Surprise” by Bill Gaston (2014) Hamish Hamiliton

We try to associate bright colours to human personalities when we first encounter them but in reality the whole colour spectrum belongs to the make up of inner thoughts and desires to an individual. We meet somebody and note their happiness brings flashes of yellow to our mind but later realize their passions push themselves to a burning red. At what would we perceive as a thoughtful person would bring images of green to our mind but later we would realize that their over-thinking of issues would bring on a dark blue of melancholia. And we all know about the shades of greys and blacks that colour our inner desires and fears that we would never admit to another soul. This is, in short, the realizations that Bill Gaston has his characters come to find in his excellent collection of short stories called Juliet Was A Surprise.

Page 10-11 House Clowns

“We can be your house clowns.” Eden put her hands to her head like antlers and swayed back and forth, big-eyed and unsmiling. Her eyes were playful but ironic and – he didn’t know why he thought of the word – literate. But still possibly dangerous. There weren’t two bedrooms, there were three. None were giant. Anybody, especially any woman, knows exactly how many bedrooms they are renting. Vacationing renters don’t hitch-hike. They just don’t.

He didn’t think sleep was in the cards, and he was right. He lay staring at the ceiling, blinking rapidly if he blinked at all. They didn’t want him phoning the McGregors. They had no food, no car to go get some. It felt portentous for someone as handsome as Adam to dress like that. Even if – even if they were just a couple of hippies looking for vacant houses to crash in, as a kind of lifestyle, well, what kind of wimp was he? Why let himself be bullied like this?

Gaston is able to describe elements of the human condition in this book that seem to exist of the periphery of our day-to-day observations yet remain unnoticed until now. His prose is simple and easy to understand. Yet the scenes he creates are both familiar and surreal which makes his stories fascinating to read.

Page 36-37 Cake’s Chicken

 . . .(B)ecause they weren’t the brightest lights, Danny and Cake. In my last year of high school, I remember being attracted to their clique of two. I was a loner, still am, and I was probably drawn by their friendship, the friendship they had for each other, ugly as it was. Danny was tall, a jock without a team, a guy who maybe could have done okay in school if he’d cared. He was wry and acidic before irony became the norm. When he smiled, his eyes didn’t, and he was had to like. As for his buddy, if Cake was smart he hid it well. He was big too but sloppier, with a gut. I assumed he was called Cake because of that, but then I learned his last name was Baker, so who knows. Cake didn’t seem to care about his nickname, or anything else. He “like to have a good time,” he said, which is maybe odd because I don’t recall once ever seeing him laugh. He looked vaguely Asian, or maybe Mexican, and even slightly retarded, which is the word we used then. Rumour said he got violent without much reason. Probably I liked them because “not giving a shit about anything” looked like a bona fide wisdom you couldn’t quite do yourself. Anyway, whatever magnetism worked then wouldn’t now. Cake’s dead and I don’t like where Danny ended up.

These aren’t  stories  that should be rush through. Consideration to every phrase and scene should be given to fully understand the situations Gaston describes. In doing so, a reader completely becomes involved with Gaston’s protagonist and becomes enlightened about human interactions more and more. This is what great literature is suppose to do.

Page 81 Tumpadabump

So she must understand him. It is funny that she does not know if he was funny. “Funny” being such a funny word. Maybe he was funny spelled w-e-i-r-d. Maybe she still does not know what funny is over here. Sometimes Bill’s small remark would make everyone laugh except her, or sometimes she was the only one to laugh. Maybe it was a French truc. In fact he often cold remind her of a Frenchman. An old, typically clear-headed yet twisted man, a philosopher in the way all old Frenchmen are, islands unto themselves and always right despite the ocean of evidence to the contrary. It is true, his irony could grate. Once he  quoted to her, “Irony is the sound of a bird in love with its cage,” an image so self-knowing it made her forgive everything. He was being ironic, of course.

Juliet Was A Surprise by Bill Gaston explores the different natures of the human condition. It may be a bit simplistic to apply colours to human psyches but that is why novels are written to help us understand their different “shades.”  

Link to Hamish Hamilton’s page for Juliet Was A Surprise