Nonfiction Friday Returns with “Push Dick’s Button”

After a few weeks’ worth of nasty illness, I have returned in time for Nonfiction Friday. (And the crowd goes wild!)

Push Dick's Button: A Conversation on Skating from a Good Part of the Last Century--And a Little TomfooleryPUSH DICK’S BUTTON is the first nonfiction effort by long-time figure skating commentator Dick Button. Button knows figure skating down to the ground, as he’s a two-time Olympic gold medal winner (1948 and 1952) and has won an Emmy for his television commentary on figure skating — which, if you haven’t heard it, can be pungent. (Think of him as the figure skating answer to Jim Rome, long before Jim Rome sat before a mike — but with far more authenticity as Button, unlike Rome and Howard Cosell before him, actually “played the game.”) So opening up the pages of PUSH DICK’S BUTTON, I knew I’d be in for an entertaining experience.

That said, I hadn’t expected Button’s conversational approach — the subtitle “A Conversation on Skating from a Good Part of the Last Century — and a Little Tomfoolery” notwithstanding.

But maybe I should have. Button’s always been at his best in conversation, as his wit, knowledge, repartee, and yes, even cattiness come into their sharpest relief. So taking a conversational approach with regards to the current state of figure skating was actually a very smart move.

Note that you do not need to be a long-time figure skating aficionado to enjoy PUSH DICK’S BUTTON, as Button goes into much detail about why he loves figure skating. Button’s explanations are worded in such a way that people who know very little about figure skating should be able to get the gist of what he’s talking about. (For example, Button believes that figure skating combines the best of dance, performance art, and athleticism in order to tell a compelling story. Anyone who’s seen Torvill and Dean’s “Bolero” should know that…and if you haven’t seen Torvill and Dean’s performance yet, go look it up on YouTube. You’ll enjoy it, even if you know nothing whatsoever about figure skating.)

Within the pages of PUSH DICK’S BUTTON, I observed a number of things, including:

  1. Button detests the current figure skating scoring system. He views it as inherently flawed at best, and outright obfuscational at worst. (Quick note: your correspondent shares that belief, and has since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics — if not before. Johnny Weir was robbed.)
  2. Button despises Ottavio Cinquanta, who currently is the President of the International Skating Union and sits on the board of the International Olympic Committee. Button lays much of the blame of the current scoring system at Cinquanta’s feet, and believes much of the reason viewers have turned away from figure skating is because of Cinquanta’s meddling.
  3. Button does not think much of the current state of figure skating, either, mostly because athleticism (quadruple-rotation jumps, or simply “quads”) has been more greatly rewarded than artistry in recent years. (‘Nuff said.)

Now, if you are a long-time watcher of figure skating, none of this is likely to come as a surprise to you. But it’s still quite interesting to read. Button, while much gentler in print than he often was as a TV commentator, continues to pull no punches when it comes to his opinions. They are informed, sometimes edgy, but always delivered with a wry wit and charm that was positively disarming…and I enjoyed it immensely.

The only drawback I found is that Button was a bit cagey when it came to his personal life. He mentions his traumatic brain injury, his sons, his love of dogs and gardening and much, much more — but he never discusses his ex-wife, figure skating coach Slavka Kohout Button (Janet Lynn’s coach). And that is a rather curious omission.

There are a few minor issues as well when it comes to editing and organization, and one or two minor things when it comes to factual references (did Button really think Michelle Kwan’s “Scheherezade” was great, or was he referring to “Salome” instead, as is much more likely? Or did he like them both, but conflate them?) But the book, overall, is a solid effort and a very enjoyable one at that.

Bottom line? PUSH DICK’S BUTTON is a fast, fun read with many laugh-out-loud moments. If you love figure skating, figure skating commentary, or just want to know a little more about Dick Button, this book is for you.

Grade: A-minus

–reviewed by Barb

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