Blogroll

Book Review: Gratoony the Loony by Gilles Gratton

Sports are replete with stereotypes. Yet few are probably as old and ingrained as that ice hockey goaltenders are quirky weird crazy. Even Hall of Fame goaltender Bernie Parent said, “You don’t have to be crazy to be a goalie. But it helps!” And then there’s the goaltenders who embody the stereotype, such as Gilles Gratton, a goalie who earned the moniker “Gratoony the Loony” (to be distinguished from “loonie,” the $1 Canadian coin).

Even though Gratton only played in 47 NHL games in the 1975-76 and 1976-77 seasons, he achieved somewhat legendary status. His autobiography Gratoony the Loony: The Wild, Unpredictable Life of Gilles Gratton, co-written with Greg Oliver, shows how his quirks and actions created the image of the crazy goaltender. But it also tells the story of a French-Canadian boy growing up playing hockey and reaching the big stage while believing there was more to life than a hockey rink.

Gratton spent three seasons in the World Hockey Association, playing in its second All-Star Game, before moving to the NHL. He asserts that he didn’t want to play hockey, “it just seemed that destiny pushed me into it.” Similarly, he says his brother Norm, who would play 201 games with four NHL teams, would rather hunt than play outdoor hockey when they were growing up.

The introduction to Gratoony the Loony deals with an event near the end of his career that drew extensive attention. While goalies had fiberglass masks, they were not that far removed from the type made iconic in Friday the 13th. At a home game at Madison Square Garden on January 30, 1977, Gratton came on the ice wearing a mask painted as a snarling lion. (It’s probably apropos that he chose a lion because his astrological sign is Leo.) The mask was so striking that, according to Gratton, the referees and players on the ice came down to look at it. He believes the mask “has come to define me, because most of the rest of my career was just a series of fuck-ups.”

Gratton doesn’t limit his focus to the quirks and antics that he’s remembered for. Instead, Gratoony the Loony is more autobiographical than many sports memoirs. He writes of growing up with parents who were “emotionally absent,” allowing him to do whatever he wanted. He says he struggled with “despair over the meaninglessness of life.” He dropped out of high school after only three days. Before his last NHL season, Gratton no longer wanted to play hockey; he wanted to “meditate, go to ashrams, do my spiritual stuff and uncover life’s secrets.” In fact, after retiring at age 24, Gratton spent several years exploring Transcendental Meditation and yoga, in hopes of becoming “an enlightened being.” Ultimately, though, I think readers would have been better served by a deeper exploration of the effects of how he and his brother (who drank himself to death in 2010) were raised and a more abbreviated discussion of his life after retiring.

Make no mistake. This is a book about hockey. There’s plenty of narrative of Gratton’s years playing hockey, especially professional hockey. In fact, the book at times has the feel of a series of war stories. Perhaps because of that, brief, oral history-like accounts from a wide variety of people are interspersed throughout the book. To me, the inserts tended to break the flow of the book and a number didn’t seem that relevant to the subject at hand. But those interested in the Gratoony the Loony reputation also get what they came for. Among other things, Grattong tells of:

  • His mood and thinking being affected by his horoscope and why would you play a goalie who wasn’t in the right mood to perform?
  • While playing for Toronto’s WHA team, taking several laps around the practice rink wearing only his mask and skates, ending with a pirouette at center ice.
  • When interviewed at center ice in San Diego after being named first star of the game, Gratton told the crowd, “You have a nice city here. It’s too bad you don’t have a good hockey team.”
  • After getting hit in the ribs by a puck, telling the doctor the reason it hurt so much was because he was stabbed in the same place by a Spaniard in a prior life.

Plainly, Gratton reinforced the hockey goalie stereotype. He still may be doing so. Gratoony the Loony also tells of his post-hockey astral projection and that he’s currently living two distinct timelines. In the past, he’s lived as a 12th century sailor, a 14th century Indian “hobo,” a 17th century Spanish landowner, an 18th century Spanish priest and a 19th century British surgeon. All in all, to paraphrase Daniel Tosh, it’s not a stereotype if it’s true.


My old enemy had come back to haunt me, and I entered a state where winning and losing did not matter. Nothing seemed important to me

Gilles Gratton, Gratoony the Loony

Weekend Edition: 9-30 (plus one)

Bulletin Board

  • Weekend Edition is plus one day because this weekend I became plus one son-in-law (the first)

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubez

Blog Headline of the Week

  • The Psychology of Men Who Put Their Dicks in Tiny Objects
  • Bookish Linkage

    Nonbookish Linkage


    Life flies by in seconds
    You’re not a baby Gracie, you’re my friend
    You’ll be a lady soon but until then
    You gotta do what I say

    Ben Folds, “GracieSongs for Silverman

    Book Review: Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit

    Thousands of pages and hours have been consumed debating the purposes of literature. Many, myself included, would agree with Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who says it “enable[s] us to explore and to understand more fully the common human abyss.” And foreign authors like Vargas Llosa enable Americans to see the extent to which elements of the human condition are shared regardless of geography or culture.

    Dirk Kurbjuweit’s novel Fear is a sterling example. It explores family disarray and moral codes. Despite the fact Kurbjuweit tells us most of the end of the story in the second chapter, there’s a sense of existential trepidation throughout.

    The book is narrated by Randolph Tiefenthaler, a 45-year-old Berlin architect. He, his wife and two children live in the ground floor of a late 19th century home with flats in the basement, second floor and attic. When they meet Dieter Tiberius, the man who leases the basement flat, things seem normal. Unfortunately, Tiberius later makes suggestive comments to Tiefenthaler’s wife, Rebecca, and writes her love letters. His bizarre actions escalate. Soon he is writing notes and letters accusing the couple of abusing and molesting their children. (The plot is based upon Kurbjuweit’s own experiences more than a decade ago.)

    When Tiefenthaler goes to the police and lawyers trying to stop Tiberius, he finds there is nothing to be done since Tiberius hasn’t committed a crime. Tiefenthaler even offers to buy the basement flat from its owner, an offer that is rejected. Not only is Tiefenthaler frustrated, he fears someone may believe the allegations. Combined with the thought that he is failing to protect his family, Tiefenthaler’s self-loathing grows.

    Tiefenthaler’s thoughts make clear he suffers an inordinate amount of angst. It’s apparent that much of it is tied up in the rocky relationship he had with his father growing up. Tiefenthaler’s father is infatuated with pistols; he has around 30 guns in their home. Each Saturday, his father would drive them to a shooting range for the two of them to shoot at targets. Tiefenthaler, though, had a strong aversion to his father’s passion and just before his 10th birthday refuses to go to the practice range any more. His younger sister eventually takes his place and the father-son relationship never improves.

    Tiefenthaler can’t put his finger on the fear underlying his dislike of shooting with this father, just as he has a hard time understanding his dread in general. His relationship with Rebecca becomes strained, even to the point where Tiefenthaler begins to wonder if maybe Tiberius is telling the truth. “‘I trust you not to abuse our children’ is something you should have have to say,” he thinks one night as they sit in their living room.

    Kurbjuweit’s pacing as Tiefenthaler’s turmoil increases not only heightens the sense of pressure but helps the reader grasp it. And while the reader knows how the story ends, the devil is in the details. Kurbjuweit, deputy editor of Der Spiegel, has won several awards for his reporting and is the author of several nonfiction works and novels. Translated by Imogen Taylor, Fear is his first book to be translated into English. It is an auspicious beginning.


    The upwardly mobile are particularly afraid. We are afraid of losing what we have attained, because it is not secure, neither morally nor financially.

    Dirk Kurbjuweit, Fear

    Book Review: Mental: Lithium, Love, and Losing My Mind by Jaime Lowe

    It seems that memoirs about dealing with mental illness are becoming proportionately as ubiquitous as the conditions themselves. Searching “mental health” in Amazon’s biographies and memoirs category produces more than 5,000 results. At least anecdotally, such works coming into the mainstream seems to correspond with increasing public discussion of destigmatizing mental illness. In recounting her 20 years struggling with bipolar disorder in Mental: Lithium, Love, and Losing My Mind, Jaime Lowe not only discusses the condition but examines the treatment of choice.

    Bipolar disorder, once known as manic depressive illness, usually first appears between the ages of 15 and 30, with 25 being the average age of onset. Lowe was an overachiever, with her first hospitalization for the condition occurring at age 16. Mental opens with a recounting of her first episode of extreme mania. As with other accounts, one wonders how someone who, to put it colloquially, is “out of their mind can accurately describe what happened. Lowe, though, says that because the experience was “real for me,” she does remember and the incidents leave a feeling that “never fully dissipates.”

    While hospitalized, she was started on lithium, the first line treatment for bipolar disorder. What is more striking about this first hospitalization is not necessarily what led to it but the existential state in which she was left once well enough to be released.

    Who was I if my actions and thoughts didn’t represent me? What if they did represent me? What if they were extensions of me, rooted in a subconscious realm? What if the me from before I was on lithium is the real me?

    Lowe recognizes these questions were too deep for her teenage mind to ponder for long. At the same time, she says, “I no longer had a baseline for reality or even a way to fully trust myself.” And those existential questions, or at least their undercurrent, would not disappear.

    Lowe was fortunate because lithium worked for her, allowing her to live and work without being overwhelmed by her condition. In late 1999, Lowe tapered off lithium after having taken it for six years. She began slipping into a manic state even before stopping the drug entirely and once full blown, it would take several months to convince her to go back on the drug. Again, she returned to comparatively normal life.

    Still, her “normality” reflects one of the problems with the psychiatric memoir. As a college student, she lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, for a year studying art history. She’s traveled to Turkey, Germany and Japan and enjoyed the nightlife and other things New York City had to offer while living and working there. To date, the memoir authors largely have been white and relatively privileged. We aren’t hearing the experiences of those, minority or otherwise, who struggle to obtain treatment, let alone those who lack the resources, or the deinstitutionalized. Granted, this is not a problem cause by Lowe. In fact, near the end of Mental, she discusses the fact that while she spent more than $100,000 on outpatient psychiatric care in 18 years in New York City, some 43 million Americans don’t have that option.

    In 2014, Lowe encountered something many others who rely on lithium face — kidney damage. Routine blood tests by her primary care physician ultimately revealed that two decades of lithium left her kidneys with only 48 percent function. “I had to choose between my kidneys or losing my sanity,” she writes. Her need to search for a replacement treatment leads her to explore lithium itself. In doing so, Mental is uncommon.

    As if infatuated by it, Lowe travels to lithium production sites in Nevada and Bolivia and spas with lithium in the water. She ultimately weaves together concise summaries of the history of treating mental illness, what lithium is, where it comes from and the history of its medical use. And, Lowe says, the nature of lithium creates a problem for patients. Lithium is one of the first three chemical elements created by the Big Bang. That means it can’t be patented so, according to Lowe, there’s no financial incentive to continue studying its effect on the brain. Lowe fortunately found another treatment that has worked, although the book recounts that it was far from a simple process.

    As noted, Mental comes from the view of a privileged, white American, which is heightened here by a sense of New York City bohemian cool. Perhaps related to the latter, at times the tone is one of hip casualness and there are occasional clunkers (“temperament itself is so tempestuous”). Lowe also tends to wander or be a bit wordy in the last third of the book, delving into family history and other topics. The flaws, though, do not leave the book or its scope hollow. By going beyond the personal aspects of bipolar disorder, Lowe provides a rare perspective.


    I don’t really believe in God, but I believe in lithium.

    Jaime Lowe, Mental

    Weekend Edition: 9-23

    Bulletin Board

    • Whether hurricane hangover or whatever, there was no Weekend Edition last week as not much struck me as worth passing along. As a result, a couple items below are a week or so old.

    Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubez

    Bookish Linkage

    Nonbookish Linkage

  • Here’s a great look at the Adderley Brothers
  • Frank Zappa is going back on the road — as a hologram
  • Why Blade Runner is more relevant than ever
  • The history of corduroy
  • Merriam-Webster has added more than 250 words and definitions to its dictionary
  • A visual history of lunchboxes
  • A brief history of hiding dicks in cartoons

  • As it is an ancient truth that freedom cannot be legislated into existence, so it is no less obvious that freedom cannot be censored into existence.

    Dwight D. Eisenhower, June 24, 1953

    The book that didn’t exist — until hundreds asked for it

    Trump supporters on Reddit last week tried, but failed, to keep Hillary Clinton’s new book from reaching No. 1 on Amazon’s bestseller lists. It wasn’t the first time an effort by a group of people affected the book industry. Perhaps the most interesting one, though, involved demand for a book that didn’t exist.

    Jean Shepherd had the graveyard slot on New York City’s WOR radio in the early 1950s. Shepherd frequently offered monologues and commentary on his show. A frequent topic was the difference between “night people,” as he dubbed his listeners, and “day people,” who let their lives be governed by rules, lists and schedules. He found what he considered a prime example of day people and their effect on night people in April 1956.

    Shepherd went to a noted New York City bookstore looking for a book with the scripts of an old radio show. The clerk told Shepherd that not only didn’t the store have it, the book didn’t exist because it wasn’t on any publisher’s list. Shepherd, though, knew the book existed and the clerk’s insistence to the contrary led to one of the better book hoaxes.

    In telling his audience about his experience, Shepherd suggested they ask bookstores for a book they knew didn’t exist. He and listeners came up with I, Libertine, the first novel in trilogy on 18th century English court life. The imaginary author was Frederick R. Ewing, a retired Royal Navy Commander “well remembered” for a BBC radio series on “Erotica of the 18th Century.” Hundreds of night people responded, asking bookstores and libraries throughout the country for the book. Soon enough, publishers were getting calls from befuddled bookstore clerks and librarians. The nonexistent book was actually banned by the Catholic archdiocese in Boston after a listener who worked for the archdiocese put it on the church’s list of prohibited books as a joke. Once there, evidently no one dared to remove it

    Given the number of inquiries publishers were receiving, Ian Ballantine of Ballantine Books investigated and discovered I, Libertine was hokum. He decided to capitalize on it and actually publish a book by that name. He contacted Shepherd and noted SF writer Theodore Sturgeon. Shepherd outlined the story and Sturgeon wrote the book in 30 days. The cover, of course, listed Frederick R. Ewing as the author and called the book “Turbulent! Turgid! Tempestuous!” Shepherd posed for the author photo on the back cover.

    I, Libertine was no longer a hoax come September 20, 1956, when it was published with an initial press run of 130,000 copies. The book lost some momentum before it was published, though. On August 1, 1956, the Wall Street Journal ran a front page story detailing the hoax and Ballantine’s plan to publish a book by that name. The media and others felt they had been played for fools, some saying it all was a tawdry publicity stunt. Others, though, suggest the WSJ article actually helped sales.

    Today, print copies of the book on Amazon cost from $65 for a paperback to $125 for a hardcover while prices on AbeBooks go as high as $300. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble offer I, Libertine as an e-book with Sturgeon as the author.

    There’s been some who claim I, Libertine hit bestseller lists. I can find no evidence of that — but there’s little doubt that it sold well — for a hoax.


    A barrister needs to know the law; abiding by it is quite another specialty.

    “Frederick R. Ewing,” I, Libertine