Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Swan's Road

December 7, 2017

Garth Pettersen. The Swan's Road. Tirgearr, 2017. eBook.

The Swan’s Road is local writer Garth Pettersen’s enjoyable historical action adventure novel, a balance of armour and amour, following the travels of a Danish youth, Harald, on the Swan’s Road to Rome, in 1027 AD. A fast-paced, character-centred tale with cinematic scenes of accidents enroute, encounters, ambushes, arm-to-arm combat, in the context of familial and romantic longings. Loyalties are contested and identities in doubt as Harald rushes to meet up with his father King Cnute at the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor.

Personally, I also enjoyed the author’s Historical Notes at the end of The Swan’s Road, about the process of researching and writing, the historical accuracies and additions, and the careful vocabulary choices consistent with the development of the language used in Engla-lond at the time. Looking forward to Garth Pettersen’s next installments about the politics of Europe and the romance of Harald and Selia. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Nick Mount. Arrival: The Story of CanLit. Anansi, 2017.

In spite of my passion for CanLit (or maybe because of it), I held off reading this book – Arrival: The Story of CanLit.  Maybe if he had changed the title to The Story of CanLit in the 1960s I’d be a bit less critical.

I avoided reading because I knew it would make me mad. It would be T-O-centric and phallo-centric. And it is. Moreover, it is the tone. That overly confidant mansplaining talk which presents opinion as if it were fact. I blame that tendency for the false news fad which we are fighting today. Rather than blame myself, and other teachers and former teachers, who have failed to stress, teach, develop the skill of being able to differentiate opinion, fiction, from fact. Or worse, we failed to help groom students who care about the difference, the ethics of opinion. The responsibility of speaking in the public forum.

You can sort of imagine how this book grew. First, everything starts in Toronto. With a bit of bleed from Montreal after the Quiet Revolution. Then someone said You have to include some other part of the country. What about Vancouver, Tish, and the American influence? Then someone said You have to include some First Nations and more women, so he drops in Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed although it is the ONLY indigenous writer and the ONLY non-fiction and published in 1973.

It’s a child’s viewpoint, the belief that nothing happened before I got here. No reference to previous award winners, especially writers who remained in Canada. In the brief biographies, writers like Laurence and MacLennan do pay homage to earlier writers from their regions—Sinclair Ross, Ernest Buckler. Little reference to E.J. Pratt. Nothing important said about Dorothy Livesay, twice GG winner, active in the little mag Contemporary Verse from Edmonton in the 1940s. Or Laura Salverson or Winnipeg. Or Emily Carr. Not enough mention of the Centennial and all the promotion in the years before 1967 which helped young people travel in Canada, develop a sense of Canadian identity and pride, and meet their counterparts in other regions. Money did come from the Canada Council for writers and publishers, but the biggest benefit to me seems to be the creation of a nation of young people who desire a CanLit, to make it and to buy it.

I do like the little blurbs about books, although not the stars. Trust the tale, not the teller. And I did learn the meaning of Tish. Backwards?

I also felt a lack of a definition or an understanding of what literature really is and why it is important. And of the link between colonialism and CanLit. If there was no CanLit before 1967, it was because we were a colony. Even if politically we were not a colony after 1927, in our heads, and in the education of the decision-makers, we were still “lesser than” the mother countries and convinced, as they told us, that nothing of value comes from here.

I avoided reading because I knew it would make me mad, and it did. But, I guess, it also made me think.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Dorothea Lange

October 23, 2017

Dorothea Lange. Photo Exhibition Catalogue. MoMA, 1966.

Eloquence in black and white.


October 23, 2017

Billeh Nickerson. McPoems. Arsenal, 2009.

A most enjoyable collection of a young writer's initiation into the McJob workforce and the art community. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Oriental Love Poems

October 22, 2017

Michelle Lovric. Oriental Love Poems. Andrews McMeel, 2003.

Chinese and Japanese poetry translated into English and illustrated with relevant symbols and origami constructs. A beautiful little volume with pockets and envelopes containing secret papers. 

The fourth of sixteen selections I chose at the Rotary Book Sale in Chilliwack, 2017.


October 22, 2017

Leona Gom. Northbound: Poems Selected and New. Thistledown, 1984.

Very enjoyable. Very familiar scenes and situations--women escaping the farm and family ties. 

Canada: Romancing the Land

October 21, 2017

Lorraine Monk and Miriam Waddington. Canada: Romancing the Land. Key Porter, 1996.

The Cuckoo's Calling

October 21, 2017

Robert Galbraith. The Cuckoo's Calling. Mulholland, 2013.

Private Detective Cormoran Strike accepts a client's mission, to investigate the presumed suicide of a young model, to ensure that the death was not murder. With the help of his temp, Robin, the ex-MP and wounded soldier tracks down the truth. Interesting characters, set inside the fashion industry in London. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Lullabies For Little Criminals

O'Neill, Heather. Lullabies For Little Criminals. HarperCollins, 2006.

Why did it take me ten years to read this book? It is incredible. I suggest it should be Recommended Reading for every teacher, social worker, law enforcer, and law maker.

Lullabies is told from the POV of Baby, through her tween and first teen (13) year, although she still sees the world through the magic eyes of a child. She lives in Montreal with Jules, her struggling father, fifteen years her senior. Poverty, drug use, mental health issues, immaturity, innocence, vulnerability--all interfere with this family's happiness. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Fall from Grace

Wayne Arthurson. Fall from Grace. Forge, 2011.

#1 in the Leo Deroches detective series by Edmonton writer Wayne Arthurson. Leo is a complicated protagonist with "challenges" which include his unfamiliar First Nations heritage, his struggle against gambling addiction, his substitutions to fill the void (what they call on the Street, the "flutter"), his shattered family, his unresolved issues with his father. Take these into the big city newspaper where he works and chaos is bound to ensue. Attendance at a crime scene--the body of a young prostitute dumped in a field--leads Leo to do research into similar deaths and to snoop around where he is not welcome, with native elders and Edmonton police officers, active and retired. The story had me hooked; the complex flawed lead character, perhaps I will reserve judgement. I like my good guys to be good. But that's just me. I especially like the Edmonton setting, and the explanations of all the "Canadianisms" for an unfamiliar, likely American, readership. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

You Don't Have To Say You Love Me

Sherman Alexie. You Don't Have To Say You Love Me. Little, Brown, 2017.

I've been coveting this book since before it was released, giving subtle hints and not so subtle kites, trying to make it materialize into my life. I finally found it at Munro's Books in Victoria at the end of August and I forced myself to wait to read it until I could guarantee it my undivided attention. And I have consumed its 450+ pages in less than 48 hours.

You Don't Have To Say You Love Me is a memoir of grief following the death of Alexie's mother Lillian. 

Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reserve and escaped through education, words, to become a writer/raconteur who has lived in Seattle for the last two dozen years. I first became aware of him as the writer behind the movie Smoke Signals starring two of my favourite actors, Adam Beach and Evan Adams. Dr. Evan Adams. On the plane to Toronto in 2010 I read The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven which I probably bought, along with Reservation Blues at Village Books in Bellingham. And I found Blasphemy at Bill's Used Books and Bongs in Fort St. John, BC, last summer, when I also found John O'Donohue's Anam Cara, on top of my Amazon list at the time. I include these gratuitous details only as evidence of book-lover's divination -- that we envision what we need and it appears. Or is it the other way around? That the universe knows what we need and when we need it, and we have to learn to pay attention. 

You know a book has hooked you when you start marking the passages that you want to read aloud to people you love. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

A Killing Winter

Wayne Arthurson. A Killing Winter. Forge, 2012.

This crime mystery novel checks all my boxes. Canadian writer. Canadian prairie (Edmonton) setting. Flawed, complicated, appealing recurring character, Leo Desroches, journalist, First Nations, not-quite-yet recovering gambler. A complete story, #2 in a series. Important issues, especially the decline of print media, attitudes towards homelessness, absentee fathers, and the rise of native gangs on reserves and in cities. Cliff-hanger ending. Female characters are limited to the nagging ex-wife and the insecure boss. Let's see if there is progress with these challenges farther into the series. I am hoping Arthurson will give me "the Canadian Rebus." 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Love Her Wild

Atticus. Love Her Wild. Atria, 2017.

A gift. Poetry that is positive, epigrammatic, ecstatic. A youthful world view suitable for texts and tats. 

we so seldom look on love

Barbara Gowdy. We So Seldom Look On Love. Harper, 1992.

This is the first Barbara Gowdy I've read although she is Canadian and has been publishing award-winning stories and novels since 1988. I will definitely be looking for more, including her latest new title, Little Sister

In this collection of short stories, We So Seldom Look On Love, the protagonists seem to be abducted from inside the tents of circus sideshows. Gowdy breathes life into them and presents them to us full frontal, in all their humanity. It's impossible to turn away. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Somewhere In Ireland a Village Is Missing an Idiot

David Feherty. Somewhere In Ireland a Village Is Missing an Idiot. Ruggedland, 2003.

A friend bought me this book because he knew of my passion for Ireland. A happy accident, because there is almost nothing about Ireland except the personality of the writer. But there are unexpected laugh-out-louds. For the golf-challenged like me, the fun is in the language, the hyperbole, the irreverence, the descriptions, and the imagination. Who would dream of describing a bout of intestinal turbulence as if it were a science-fiction plot? 

David Feherty is a former professional golfer turned television commentator and magazine writer.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Between the Acts

August 12, 2017

Virginia Woolf. Between the Acts. Penguin, 1992 (1941).

Found this treasure at Baker's Books in Hope last week. This is Woolf's last novel, about a day in June in 1939 in a small community as England anticipates another war with Germany. Where does the violence come from? And what would happen if history were written (as the playwright does here) without reference to military and violent responses? What if we were to turn the mirrors on to the audience? What could you do to stop it? 
We know from history that Woolf despaired. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

God Is Alive Magic Is Afoot

Leonard Cohen. God Is Alive Magic Is Afoot: from the novel Beautiful Losers. Stoddart, 2000. Illustrations by Sarah Perkins & Ian Jackson. 

An absolutely beautiful gift, art inspired by this excerpt made famous by Buffy St Marie from Cohen's experimental novel. 

Abattoir Blues

Peter Robinson. Abattoir Blues: An Inspector Banks Novel. McClelland & Stewart, 2014.

I am a great fan of mystery crime fiction as the many listings for Rebus and Gamache testify. Inspector Banks too, by Canadian writer Peter Robinson, yet always set in or near Yorkshire, is another favourite. I especially enjoy the television adaptations, the actor who plays Banks. (Sorry I cannot remember his name but he used to play a priest in Ballykissangel.)
In Abattoir Blues, the plot, instigated by the theft of an expensive tractor, leads to a missing person, and an accident on a lonely mountain road. Who knew there were caves and blizzards in Yorkshire? 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Dropped Threads

Carol Shields & Marjorie Anderson, Eds. Dropped Threads: What We Aren't Told. Vintage, 2001.

A most interesting and entertaining collection of essays by mostly Canadian female writers on topics of their choice around the theme of "things we weren't told." I was most attracted to Martha Brooks descriptions of ecstasy and Sharon Butala's disclosure of the esp-like ability to "see" signs which often go unnoticed. I especially enjoyed Lorna Crozier's story about dancing with her father. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Monday, July 24, 2017

Rather Be the Devil

Ian Rankin. Rather Be the Devil. Orion, 2016.

Rebus and Big Ger - they've still got it.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Okanagan Odyssey

Don Gayton. Okanagan Odyssey: Journeys through Terrain, Terroir & Culture. Rocky Mountain Books, 2010.

I had heard of this book before, possibly from when I reviewed another Gayton title, Man Facing West. Have looked forward to reading this ever since and finally there it was in my favourite book store in Hope. Love the image and the sensuous French-fold cover. Love the braiding of wine terroir and tripling with nature walks and with traversing the geography (ie, the organization which follows the map). I'm going to suggest a couple of hesitations, but only because I like the book and its concept so much. I felt that transitions between chapters were missing. And I felt that the grasp of local and BC history was minimal, but then again, isn't that why we write books? To learn what we want to learn about the places we inhabit. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Bad Luck and Trouble

Lee Child. Bad Luck and Trouble. Delacorte, 2007.

Fraud in a defense contract puts the nation at risk. Reacher and three former colleagues meet in LA to try to rescue four others. Helicopters and a side trip to Vegas are involved. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

At A Loss For Words

Diane Schoemperlen. At A Loss For Words: A Post-Romantic Novel. Harper Collins, 2008.

A depressing story. Depressingly familiar. Impressively written. A writer obsesses about an old flame, blaming him for her writer's block. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Great Reckoning

July 13, 2017

Louise Penny. A Great Reckoning. Minotaur, 2016.

#12 in the Inspector Gamache series. Commander Gamache comes out of stress leave and attempts to clean up the rot in the police academy. Another great Three Pines mystery.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Missed Her

July 8, 2017
Ivan Coyote. Misses Her. Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, 2010.

I have loved this writer's work for years. Even attended a reading once in FVRL Delta. And hear her interviewed often on the radio. She seems to prefer to identify herself as a "storyteller." Whatever label we use, she has that knack of finding the centre of each incident and giving us a flash of its beating heart.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Embers: One Ojibway's Meditations

Richard Wagamese. Embers: One Ojibway's Meditations. Douglas & McIntyre, 2016.

I followed Richard Wagamese's Facebook posts and it is so good to re-read them in this attractive collection which feels so good to touch. So sad to think that we will not hear his voice again. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Lady Chatterley's Lover

D.H. Lawrence. Lady Chatterley's Lover. 1928. Arcturus, 2010.

Found this beautiful slip-covered edition at a Value Village and just the feel of it inspired me to re-read this classic. 

Summer re-reading. What will be different when I re-read this, DHL's last novel, fifty years later? 

I still find his language a bit wordy, but so sincere. Sincerely averse to industrial ugliness and its ravages on the land and the workers. Sincerely passionate about the beauty of nature and about our human place within that flower-strewn green natural world. So sad that the public were blinded by the sex and oblivious to the true obscenities which Mellors was trying to hide from, and Lawrence was trying to raise awareness about. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Wiener Dog Art: A Far Side Collection

Gary Larson. Wiener Dog Art: A Far Side Collection. 1990.

I do miss Gary Larson.

Thanks to the free shelf, Nuggets Books, Chilliwack, BC.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mud Woman: Poems from the Clay

June 21, 2017
Nora Naranjo-Morse. Mud Woman: Poems from the Clay. U Arizona, 1992.

A delightful collection of poetry and art, about creativity and identity.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Chilliwack Story

The Chilliwack Story. Ron Denman, Editor. Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society, 2007.

Very well organized, with a focus on archival photographs. Very interesting local history coffee table book, encompassing some of the First Nations reserves as well as the villages and communities which grew into a city surrounding them. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Ireland In Poetry

Ireland In Poetry: With Paintings, Drawings, Photographs, and Other Works of Art. Charles Sullivan, Editor. Abrams, 1990.

An incredibly beautiful collection. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Carrying the Shadow

June 10, 2017

Patrick Friesen. Carrying the Shadow. Porcepic, 1999.

Reading Carrying the Shadow is like walking through a graveyard with Patrick and eavesdropping on the conversations he has. It is wonderful. I like it almost more than You Don't Get to Be a Saint. And I think I have found in it a poem that gave me goosebumps when I heard Patrick read it at a Word on the Street, about a dead man with an open blue eye--"the man who licked stones." But it is these lines, from "poem for a father" which make me want to quote and re-read: 
     I've watched him [a boy] on the beach
     digging among the rocks
     stopping to stare across the water

     he doesn't know what he's looking for
     it'a a code in his bones
     that drives him toward memory (p. 64)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis

June 6, 2017
Lance Woolaver and Bob Brooks. The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis. Nimbus, AGNS, 1996?

Had to find out more about Maud Lewis after seeing Ethan Hawke's Maudie. This book answered most of my questions -- the usual hesitation about biopics -- with a respectful personal adulation, additional information about Everett, and great colour photos. I wish I had one of her happy cat pictures, or the team of oxen. 

The Knife Sharpener's Bell

June 4, 2017
Rhea Tregebov. The Knife Sharpener's Bell. Coteau, 2010.

An interesting coming-of-age tale of Annette, born in Winnipeg, who, with her idealistic parents, returns to the homeland, the new USSR, to Odessa, in the 1930s. Through the eyes of an outsider who knows only Canadian ways, we see details of growing up as a secular Jew in Odessa/Moscow/Russia through the Depression, World War II, and the remaining years of Stalin's rule. The language is beautifully poetic in a way which does not distract from the story. The challenges of human rights and prejudice/discrimination/racism are eerily too familiar these generations later. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

At Home: A Short History of Private Life

May 31, 2017
Bill Bryson. A Short History of Private Life. Doubleday, 2010.

This is my third Bryson, 450 pages of information about the development of "private spaces" (would I think be more accurate). He starts and ends with the 1851 rectory he purchased in Norfolk to explore the design of private houses in England and America, and the technological changes which impacted upon the way people could and/or chose to live. Income. Infrastructure. Attitudes. Almost free associating, as he walks us through each room. Interesting.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Just Living

May 22, 2017

Meredith Egan. Just Living: A Novel. Amity, 2016.

Found this on the "local writers" shelf at The Bookman. I love CanLit and I love local, and this book kept me reading right to the end (450 pages). Becoming-priest Beth Hill has finished her coursework and requires only a practicum before being ordained. The opportunity to work in a halfway house north of Mission helps her decide what kind of future she wants.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


May 14, 2017

Paulo Coelho. Brida. Harper, 2008.

A young Irish woman, Brida, goes to a teacher, Wicca, and a Magus, to be initiated into an ancient tradition. Translated from the Portuguese. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

A Walk In the Woods

May 11, 2017

Bill Bryson. A Walk In the Woods: Rediscovering America On the Appalachian Trail. Anchor Canada, 2015 / 1997.

I enjoyed the movie, and I know Bryson has many fans, so when this copy showed up at a local thrift store, I pounced. And I am not disappointed. Knowing someone who has walked the trail helped me feel as if I was there with the hikers, and wondering as they do, why people choose to do this. The joys of walking. The related tangents--history, geology, crime, flora, fauna, personal relationships. Environmental degradation and commercialism. And humour. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

San Francisco Blues

May 1, 2017

Jack Kerouac. San Francisco Blues. Penguin, 1954, 1995.

Interesting. Never published during his lifetime. Poetry as jazz.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Night School

April 30, 2017

Lee Child. Night School. Delacorte, 2016.

It is 1997, before Y2K and 9/11. Jack Reacher, after being awarded another medal, is sent inexplicably to Night School, to learn “inter-agency cooperation.” They end up in Germany. The mission it to keep something (lost fifty years before and recently found) from getting into the hands of dangerous people. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Gift

April 24, 2017

The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, The Great Sufi Master. trans. Daniel Ladinsky. Penguin, 1999.

I wanted to reread Hafiz, looking for wisdom. And looking for the source of the phrase "turning into light." Found it [p.159] in "Is it true that our destiny / Is to turn into Light / Itself?" Found more wisdom closer to the end: "I wish I could put the swaying splendor / Of the fields into words." [p. 305] and "Plant / So that your own heart / Will grow." [p.330]

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Desire In Seven Voices

Desire In Seven Voices. Ed. Lorna Crozier. Douglas and McIntyre, 1999.

The books I read function as a kind of divination. What is it I am needing now, at this moment, this station in my journey? They come to me, they arrive, comfortably pre-read, as gifts, as loans, by word-of-mouth, or by serendipity, falling at my feet off the shelves of thrift stores and secondhand book stores which form the trap line of my urban life. I cannot afford to buy books new. Library due dates create too much anxiety. But "used" suits me fine. I read and enjoy. Some I adopt, squeezing them in to existing rows. CanLit. Poetry. First Nations. Non-Fiction. History. Art and Design. Others I return, or pass to a next reader, or donate, or recycle.

Yesterday's find is Desire In Seven Voices. Six essays and one story, by seven accomplished Canadian female writers--Dionne Brand, Bonnie Burnard, Evelyn Lau, Shani Mootoo, Susan Musgrave, Carol Shields, and Crozier herself. I love the female perspectives, the stories of awakenings, confessions, even gossip. And the explorations of other desires besides the sexual.

Crozier's essay--"Changing Into Fire"--is my favourite. Possibly because our backgrounds are most similar. Possibly because she seems, she and Shields seem, most aware, most evolved, if you think of that pyramid of self-actualization. Seeming to have the greater understanding. Beyond rebellion. Beyond working out unresolved childhood "issues." I love her line: "How did I learn to love myself and then love you?" [p.66]

Because the goal seems to be to explore rather than to define, I am left feeling teased yet still unsatisfied. This, I suspect, is the goal of this little jewel of a volume. Experiential. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Loving A Woman In Two Worlds

April 11, 2017
Robert Bly. Loving A Woman In Two Worlds. Harper & Row, 1985.

Poems about mature love. The two worlds seem to refer to this and another. Somehow, rereading Bly 30 years later, nice, but he doesn't take me there with him. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

No Sad Songs Wanted Here

Raymond Souster. No Sad Songs Wanted Here. Oberon, 1995.

Raymond Souster, 1921 - 2012, Governor-General's Award-winning Canadian poet, published dozens of volumes. The poems in No Sad Songs are accessible. I like accessible. They are crafted from every-day experience by a man who loves: Toronto, chocolate, jazz. A veteran who observes birds, trees, weather, who watches baseball, basketball, and the news on television, who pays attention to his dreams.

A Confederate General from Big Sur

April 9, 2017
Richard Brautigan. A Confederate General from Big Sur. Grove, 1964.

Brautigan's first novel. Set in the late Fifties, published in 1964, before Trout Fishing In America. Two men at loose ends, Lee Mellon and Jesse, the narrator, camp out on Big Sur. They are visited by free-spirited women and a crazy insurance salesman. To me, it seems that this is a story about vulnerability--economic, sexual, psychological. And about the tentativeness of identity. I know it is not fair to do this, but it's as if Brautigan foresaw his own future.

This Cake Is For the Party

April 6, 2017
Sarah Selecky. This Cake Is For the Party. Thomas Allen, 2010.

Scrumptious. I like that the stories are female-centric. No old men trying to seduce young girls. They are about relationships and entanglements. They are about trying to survive without a government job. They are about why we are who we are.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth

Drew Hayden Taylor. Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth. Talonbooks, 1998. 

Thanks to Elsie for loaning me this book. Only Drunks... , a sequel to Taylor's Someday, addresses the identity crises of adopted Indian children scooped from their families and communities and raised in White culture. The birth mother Anne, who Janice met for a few hours the previous year, has died and Janice's sister Barb comes to Toronto to retrieve her and bring her home again. This play again (as with Tomson Highway's Dry Lips...) struggles with an aboriginal writer's dilemma. Who is the audience? And how can he tell a story which will be viewed totally differently by people from the different cultures. Although he does not tell the "crabs in a bucket" story, the opening scenes evoked its memory in this reader. Speaking as an outsider, to me, Barb and her two sidekicks seem to be bullying Janice and seem oblivious to her conflicts and struggles. They also project a "holier-than-thou" attitude towards her, assuming that they know what is best for her and what she "should" do. The one-liners are stale, but the play is twenty years old so I'll give him the benefit. And they would likely be more appreciated by the native audience who could get a laugh at recognizing the familiar of the unfamiliar stage set. The dreamcatcher too suffers from over-exposure and commercialism since the end of the twentieth century. The many stereotypes are also disconcerting. The family moving in to your city apartment. The Indian male "putting the moves on" every female he meets (which just seems to link "trickster" with "manipulator"). The belief that children are apprehended because of alcoholism in the home. And the belief that using alcohol is a positive way to bond. So not my experience, and one opinion I stereotypically associate with addiction and denial.

Hidden beneath the discomfort for me is also a new awareness of the grief experienced by the mothers who lost children and the impact of that grieving mother on the subsequent siblings. And the cognitive dissonance experienced by Janice, a trained lawyer who believes in "the system," to cope with the idea that "the system" caused the scoop and its subsequent consequences. This for me parallels the way the rest of us experience such cognitive dissonance about the residential school system scoops. We didn't do it (meaning I personally do not feel responsible for what happened). Most of those who worked within the system were sincere in their belief that they were helping educate children. Not everyone was an abuser or a criminal. Corporal punishment was the norm in all schools everywhere for most of those years. Many former students are appreciative of the education they received. I have heard some say they are glad they learned English at school and that they revel in their Christian faith. However, we have real difficulty teasing out all the issues involved, and putting our fingers on the biggest knot--the racism behind the belief that this sort of education was best for Indian children. That the ways of the colonizers were superior to the beliefs and customs of the First Nations people. And furthermore, we have difficulty accepting that those of us who believe that "educating the children" was for the best are racist--accidental, unconscious, or otherwise.

Who? Me?

And What do we do about that?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bent Box

Lee Maracle. Bent Box. Theytus, 2000.

March 22, 2017

I love the cover. I love the title, the idea of the bent box as a place to collect and store sacred objects. I love seeing the work of a prolific storyteller, editor, cultural worker, presented in another genre (poetry). I love the way she loves the English alphabet, words, language, and the uses to which it can be put. The way she has loved it ever since she was a child. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Literary Lineage

My first literary influence was Margaret Laurence. 

Laurence was born & went to school 50 miles from where I grew up in Manitoba. She wrote about places I knew and people exactly like the people I was related to, including an old woman with dementia lost in an abandoned BC cannery. I was about 14 when I read The Stone Angel. When I read The Diviners I felt that there was absolutely nothing left to say. But I recovered somewhat after a few years. I went to university 50 years ago in the age of raging Canadian nationalism, after the Centennial. For many years I read only Canadian writers. Then my influences in order of importance were Leonard Cohen, Dorothy Livesay, Carol Shields, and Alice Munro. I took a course from Dorothy and I met Carol through the writers' guild. Before I was bitten by the Canada bug, I was into D.H. Lawrence and John Fowles. A gaggle of romantics, for sure. I have always been more interested in content than in style. I guess I like male writers who talk about sex and relationships and nature and addiction, and female writers who highlight the importance of the lives of girls and women. In my novel Embers, my first goal was to write a story with an older female protagonist. I am so tired of coming-of-age stories of teens inventing sex.

I know Cohen was influenced by Layton (very lusty) and in The Diviners Laurence returns to Old Country roots and to the ancestral writers who celebrated the Celtic heritage buried beneath Britain. This may also explain my passion for Irish literature (anything by John O'Donohue or Roddy Doyle). Coming to terms with "being on the wrong side of history," with being descended from oppressor colonials (how I hate the term "settler"), learning to meet and know Others, being able to empathize with and identify with victims and victim groups, giving voice to the voiceless are other running themes for me. And the importance of place. Our rootedness in place. Our place in the world.

For relaxation reading, I like detective stories where the protagonists always succeed in restoring order out of chaos. Lately, my two faves are Louise Penny (Quebec, Montreal & the Eastern Townships) and Ian Rankin (Edinburgh). Face it, I love Rebus, a man who loves his city and whose work is his life. And my guilty pleasure is Lee Child's Jack Reacher thrillers. So sorry to admit that. Although I always refuse to acknowledge the body count, these novels are page-turners, but well-written page turners, I like to think. Child has a lot to teach us about character development, hooks, scenes, pacing, and about hiding personal story within the larger political plots. Never thought of it quite this way until I took Nicole's CNF course. Thanks again. 


Peter Robinson. WHEN THE MUSIC'S OVER . M&S, 2016.  Banks has been promoted. His first two cases involve sexual abuse--one histori...