Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Christmas Gift (To Me)

I don't know how I missed this for so long, but the ČTK -- the Czech press agency -- has a nice big chunk of its photo archive up on the web, going back to the earliest parts of the 20th century. So if you're like me, you're going to want to do a search on "hockey," go straight to page 5197, and start browsing backward. This is really fantastic stuff, if you're a giant nerd about old Czechoslovakian hockey. The photos are all watermarked, so I won't be wallpapering with them, but they're still great -- lots of pictures of ATK Praha and Tankista and Tatra Smichov and all those myth-shrouded clubs. There's even a shot with my main man Victor Lonsmin. Seriously, this will keep me entertained for weeks. Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Vacation Reading

Struck me today: this will be the first year since I started tracking that I won't hit 50 books read. I'll trade that for having read "Infinite Jest," sure, but still: end of an era.

#39 -- "Bloodlands" by Timothy Snyder

#40 -- "Czechoslovakia Since World War II" by Tad Szulc

Snyder was a friend of Tony Judt, so of course I was all over this. I'm happy to say that "Bloodlands" lives up to that connection -- it's absolutely shattering and up there with "Postwar" and "Nixonland" in the pantheon of great history books I've read in the last few years. Snyder's subject is the unhappy fate of the lands trapped between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union (roughly Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and the Baltics) and parts of it were enough to (seriously) give me nightmares. That shouldn't put you off, though. It's excellent.

Szulc's book is an old used bookstore find. There is a surprising lack of good works on the Prague Spring and the Soviet invasion -- this is one of the best, and it's pretty flawed. Some of that is unavoidable; it was published in 1971 and lacked a lot of material that came out later. But much could have been better; despite the title, you'd be forgiven for thinking not much happened between about 1950 and 1965. (There are also some basic errors, including (gasp) a hockey error.) It picks up considerably once it gets to the events of 1968, at which point it discovers the urgency the rest of the book lacks. In the absence of a "Twelve Days"-style retelling of the invasion, this may be about as good as it gets.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Colorado State of Mind

Back in the homeland for a few days. I don't think the temperatures have crept above 40 since I arrived, so much of my oohing and ahhing over the state's natural beauty comes from the vantage point of my parents' couch rather than outdoors. My brain's a bit mushy, and I've already aborted two would-be posts (you missed out on what I think about Tim Tebow, so devote some time today to thinking about bullets you've dodged). In lieu of that, check this: footage from a 1959 World Championships match between Czechoslovakia and Canada. My guys are in dark and doing well here, though they ended up third behind Canada and the Soviets. Whoever posted this is some kind of hero of the universe.