Monday, December 29, 2014


The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro is one of my favourite things: a true fairy tale. Neither a too-precious tale for children nor a too-heroic piece of genre fantasy, but a story of the kind that J.R.R. Tolkien describes as being characterized by “a quality of strangeness and wonder,” a story of the kind that Tolkien himself accomplished only rarely, in “Leaf by Niggle” or “Smith of Wooten Major”, a story in the tradition of George MacDonald's Lilith or Howard Pyle's The Garden Behind the Moon or C.S. Lewis' Til We Have Faces.

Like these others, Ishiguro's novel operates on a symbolic level that should be described as mythical or mythopoetic rather than simply metaphorical or allegorical. It follows a small group of characters -- an old couple who cannot quite recall their past, a young boy bitten by a strange beast, a warrior with a hidden purpose, an old knight who is the last of Arthur's roundtable -- as they seek the source of a strange forgetfulness that has fallen over the land. Their story explores questions of memory and forgetfulness, especially as they relate to love and death, war and justice, presenting these familiar human questions in a way made new and strange and thereby compelling.

Though the earlier chapters contain some elements that feel out of place, the novel as a whole is also strong stylistically, as Ishiguro's books generally are. A sense of dreaminess, of forgetfulness, seems almost palpably to hang over the prose at times, immersing the reader in the very questions of memory that lie at the heart of the novel but making these questions strange enough that we must reconsider them, must search them out again, as if we are only catching glimpses of them beyond the horizon or seeing them in a dream from which we have just awakened.

I often feel with G. K. Chesterton that “the things I believe most now are the things called fairy tales,” and in this sense Ishiguro's The Buried Giant is a story that can be believed, a story that speaks profoundly to our human experience by returning to us its essential strangeness and wonder.

Jeremy Luke Hill teaches literature, makes jams and preserves, reads continental philosophy, uses open source software, bakes bread, watches documentary film, plays old-man basketball, and writes poetry, among other things. He is the founder of Vocamus Press, an organization that supports reading, writing, and publishing in Guelph. He has a book of poetry, short prose, and photography called Island Pieces. You can read his blog at at, and you can reach him at

Monday, December 15, 2014


Eric McCormack is a writer of exceptional range and talent. You approach his writing innocently enough, getting absorbed in an intriguing story, until you come to an edge in the story. Peel back the edge to reveal another layer, and another, until you finally come to realize that it's layers all the way down.

Cloud is Eric McCormack's most recent novel, and his first book in a decade. Despite the gap, it has been well worth the wait. The book begins with its protagonist, Harry Steene, finding an improbable book about an improbable event in an improbably named bookstore, while attending an unmemorable conference in Mexico. The discovery of the book, and its link to a remote town in Scotland in which Steene lived briefly but loved memorably, is the impetus for a much broader search for understanding and quest for meaning.

What follows is a book that is as broadly sweeping as it is acutely personal. The story roams around the globe, from the slums of Glasgow to the mines of South America to the remote islands of the Pacific, with frequent stops in McCormack's beloved and only vaguely fictional Camberloo. While the book covers a vast geography, though, it rarely strays from the essential questions of purpose, identity, love and relationships.

McCormack's protagonist is intriguing, in that we come to know him more through how he is seen and reacted to by others. His identity is defined—and shaped—by those he meets and their view of his talents, abilities, loyalties, ethics and romantic potential. He is less an actor than he is acted upon, although this makes him no less intriguing as we witness the opportunities that are presented and the choices that are thrust upon him by others. Every situation that we see him in, every person he meets and every interaction he has provides a little reflection of the man we are following. Bit by bit we piece the fragments together until larger features emerge, even while the whole picture remains maddeningly elusive.

I thoroughly enjoyed Cloud from the outset. It is first and foremost a well-crafted story, one that weaves multiple threads of plot and character development into a rich tapestry. McCormack's characters are well developed, intriguing and wonderfully nuanced. If that were all, it would be a good book, and still well worth reading. What I delighted in, however, was the shear complexity, intricacy and texture with which McCormack has sculpted his book. Recurring concepts, motifs and images intertwine in a tale of stunning complexity. As the book unfolds, events, characters, ideas and concepts both build on and reinforce what has come previously.

I found Cloud to be a delight from the outset, and was altogether saddened when it ended. McCormack is a delightful author. His attention to plot, gift for the absurd and delight in the macabre remind me of Neil Gaiman. The depth and complexity of his characters and exploration of the depths of human nature recalls the delightful storytelling of Gabriel García Márquez. And his ability to challenge convention, contemplate the fantastical and question meaning bring to mind the works of José Saramago. Of course, you could also just really enjoy the book as the work of Eric McCormack. And hope we don't have to wait ten years for the next one.

Mark Mullaly is an avid reader, sometimes writer, enthusiastic motorcyclist and lover of wine (and endeavours to engage in only one of these pursuits at any given time).

Monday, December 8, 2014


Growing up in post-war Britain near a city where smoke still hung in the air from industrial waste still smouldering from war-time bombing, I had a deep, personal and abiding interest in the Second World War. As I grew old enough to view the terrible news footage of liberating Nazi camps and able to read Primo Levi, Anne Frank and other astounding authors about the holocaust, I became fascinated at the motivations of the oppressors and petrified at the magnitude of their terrible deeds. As a teen I was fortunate to see Edgar Reitz’s 32 episode series Heimat and I began to glimpse some of the nuances that might illuminate how a community might be more than merely monsters.

Caroline Moorehead’s finely drawn book Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazi’s in Vichy France is a portrait of a community that opened its doors, both institutional and private, to harbour thousands of Jews and other persecuted people during the war. This noble history has become mired in controversy and hagiography since and Moorehead is painstaking in her research to avoid over-blowing the extraordinary story.

Le Chambon-sur-Lievre emerged from its existence as a pre-war holiday resort, remote and lacking in transport, where city folks and orphans could visit for the healthy air and peaceful countryside. What made the community doubly unique was its concentration of devout Christians, many of whom held to archaic non conformist traditions. Hugenots and Darbyists stayed close to home and had strong traditions of not talking, or gossiping. They also demonstrated a commitment to non-violence and protection of the innocent and with the urging of several charismatic and practical leaders they took in increasing streams of displaced people, as well as guiding some to Switzerland and freedom.

Descriptions of the appalling conditions in French holding camps, the arbitrariness of who was shipped off to the camps or who was interrogated and returned to the community, defy logic. Of course there is no logic, only disbelief and admiration for a community that did not lapse into apathy or denial so common elsewhere. The many photographs in the text help to demonstrate how, despite privations, some did enjoy some insulation from the atrocities. What is also clear however is the impossibility of undoing what had been experienced and the distrust deeply sown into the collective psyche. Moorehead does not pretend the miracle is anything more than a gift of chance, she does acknowledge even in paradise betrayals and sacrifices were experienced.

Moorehead’s extensive research painstakingly peels back the layers of memory to reveal the unique alignments that created this chance haven. Le Chambon stands as a proof that monster regimes can be defied and that it takes a village to counter an unthinkable threat. As a book that illuminates a little explored element of the war, this is a highly recommended read. It will certainly convince you that even miracles are underscored by ambiguous fact but that heroic achievements deserve to have a light shone upon them - all the more when a whole community is characterized by the response. 

- Rosslyn Bentley 


Every city has a story, but what does Guelph have tucked away in its unassuming corners? David J. Knight's fascinating anthology Guelph Versifiers of the 19th Century scratches the surface of the delicious secrets of our city. How better to learn about the origins of our city than from some of the first people who lived and breathed in Guelph?

The anthology examines poets from all walks of life spanning the change-filled 19th century. The variety is amusing and astounding. The collection spans poetry from Guelph founder John Galt to anonymous amateur poets to neglected gems of the ever-popular John McCrae. All of the poetry is rare and has perhaps not been read since they were first published in early Guelph newspapers and journals. Odes to sewing machines, bitter tirades lamenting the politics of early Guelph, and emotive monologues demonstrate that there is certainly more to Guelph than meets the eye. It is a surreal and eye-opening experience to read charmingly archaic poetry by long-forgotten Guelphites who once walked the same steps as we do every day. It’s a strange and pleasant surprise to see the Speed River and Wyndham Street in the eyes of a different century and mindset!

There are poems for every taste and each reader will find their own pearls in the mix. Some of my personal favourites include Henrietta "Hetty" Hazelwood and her vivid and emotionally charged imagery, Charles C. Foster's nostalgic "The City of Guelph", and Thomas Laidlaw's succinct Dickinsonian tidbits. Of special note is the delusional yet amusing James Gay, Canada's self-titled Poet Laureate, whose poetry is definitely worth reading for its "quality". David J. Knight’s charming introductions to each poet and succinct footnotes shed tasteful led on the fascinating lives of these Guelph poets. It truly makes me wonder why more city histories are not explored through anthologies of their poetry. A sequel to Guelph Versifiers is certainly in order!

Mike Fan is a Chinese-Canadian classical baritone. Mike plays five instruments and speaks three languages (with a few in progress). He holds degrees in piano performance and biomedical science, but it was obvious from an early age that music would win out. On the literary side, Mike wrote 365 sonnets in his teens and writes for his poetry blog Follow @MikeZFan for Mike's adventures, musical and otherwise. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014


Sufferin’ Suffragists, Superwoman! It’s Wonder Woman! And she doesn’t need a fey cape like all the super hero guys. Because their stories pale next to hers. She appeared in the dark days of World War II, in 1941. When what the world needed was another heroine!

Her creator was an odd duck of a man. William Moulton Marston was born and raised in a sprawling medieval turreted manor north of Boston. You can’t make this stuff up—there’s a photo of the manor early in Jill Lepore’s book. It looks like the home of a Batman villain we could imagine as, say, Turretman, who masquerades as an evil slum building architect by day.

It’s hard to believe that Wonder Woman sprang from the head of someone raised in this neo-Romanesque heap. But she did. Marston was an unusual man. He invented the first lie detector device, and failed to patent it, while someone else improved on it, and patented it. He was often unemployed, and although he attended Harvard, he was very rarely employed to lecture at a university. Throughout his life he founded one business after another, only to see them fail. At one point he even claimed in magazine ads, that his lie detector could prove that Gillette razor blades were the best shaving blades on the market.

While Marston was trying to find a career, the period before and after the First World War, saw a growth in demands by women for equality. The United States government deigned to give them the vote in 1919. Women also demanded access to birth control, and the right to decide whether they would have children or not. At that time, these demands were met with contemptuous male resistance, that often included jail sentences for suffragists. Many men responded similarly, decades later in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Once again men rejected or resisted the news from women like Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan, Susan Brownmiller, Carol Gilligan, Kate Millett and Shulamith Firestone.

There are more unusual echoes between these two periods. The early period, covered in detail by Lepore, at one point launches its concerns 50 years into the future. The suffragist Ethel Byrne is imprisoned in 1917 for showing women how to use birth control devices. Her health begins to fail during her hunger strike, and the New York Tribune newspaper prints an editorial aimed at the governor of New York, asking him to pardon Byrne. Its appeal is both timely and peculiarly prescient: “It will be hard to make the youth of 1967 believe that in 1917 a woman was imprisoned for doing what Mrs. Byrne did.” The youth of 1967 found themselves on the cusp of another great feminist wave.

As for that perennial also-ran-out-of-work, William Moulton Marston, he continued to move from one failure to another. Although he did manage to find small sources of income, much of his income came from the women who lived with him, and who worked out in the world, and bore his children, in a ménage à trois that would have appeared peculiar later, even by the standards of those distant ménages à trois outposts in the 1960s. As for his creation, Wonder Woman, after numerous references to her, she finally appears with illustrations almost 200 pages into the book. And becomes the most popular superhero in a time of many superheroes. Lepore’s presentation of the little known history of a now distant time, is deeply informed by her research, and by her thoughtful understanding of the wonder women who fought for change so long ago.


Ian Leslie’s book Curious and Walter Mischel’s The Marshmallow Test happened to arrive on my reviewing pile at the same time. As the daughter of an educational psychologist I have an intense curiosity of how people’s minds work. Having been the guinea-pig for many a school-aged child screening test, I resist classification and abhor labels. The revolution in discovering the plasticity of the human brain points to more fascinating lessons from psychology and neuroscience in the future - so I’m hooked.

Mischel is a granddaddy in the modern psychological field; his famous test devised at Stanford in the early 60’s (asking young kids to delay eating a marshmallow or playing with a toy in order to get two, sometime later) demonstrates the importance of delayed gratification and self control in achieving our heart desires and society’s best rewards in the future. His body of work, as well as all the related research his groundbreaking work inspired, has reinforced our perception that the “hot” immediate response to stimuli system needs to be countered by “cool” skills of self control to achieve better social and cognitive functioning, healthier lifestyles and a greater sense of self-worth. Mischel is candid about how his research began: “As both my students and my children can testify, self-control does not come naturally to me.” Clearly he has a strong degree of investment of moving beyond the fact that self control is a natural trait. His research was essential in demonstrating self control can be honed. Techniques to reinforce the belief that tough mental exertion is stimulating not depleting are helpful. Mischel warns about not falling into the trap of never enjoying the fruits of our labour, continuously delaying is to be avoided making us miserable and unfulfilled.

Mischel describes eloquently the research that gave rise to the “If-Then” strategies common in cognitive behaviour strategies that enhance our executive function and that are so useful at re-programming negative thinking and repetitive self-destructive behaviours. Recognizing one’s own stressors and teaching kids to self-distract, to create self-distance instead of self immersion and the reinforcement of choices that have consequences are great ways of creating optimal conditions for healthy self control. By understanding abilities and intelligence as skills and competencies that can grow if effort is made to improve performance our children are preparing for a life-time of balancing the hot and cool systems of our minds. Mischel also reminds us that the goals we set ourselves are as important as our innate abilities or even those we have refined: “No matter how they are formed, the goals that drive our life stories are as important as the [executive function] we need to try and reach them.”

Now, as a parent myself, my research population of two has led me to some scepticism as to how much influence any adult can have on a teen, let alone their own child. I am however like most of us, eager for any help to encourage my kids to flower as happy, productive contributors to society. Mischel astutely remarks that your reactions to his research depend on your own beliefs about how much people can really control and change what they become. His maxim is a nice twist on Descartes’ famous dictum: “I think, therefore I can change what I am” but he further reminds us that we have to want to change to achieve it. I’ll take that as inspiration!

Which brings me neatly to Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, a fascinating book uncovering the absorbing human trait of curiosity. What Ian Leslie observes in many different ways is that the curious mind is “unruly” and prone to being stigmatized, yet it is the spark that has fueled many great advances in human development. Leslie recognizes that employers are seeking the hungry minded, the creative problem solvers, the out-of-the-box leaps that lead to disruptive change.

Leslie describes simple curiosity, or “the itch to explore” as diversive curiosity. Left untrammelled, diversive curiosity can become futile, sending us haring after useless facts or disappearing down rabbit-holes. When curiosity is transformed into a quest for knowledge and understanding then it is epistemic curiosity, a driving force for innovation. Leslie argues that this “font of satisfaction and… sustenance for the soul” flourished on a widespread scale as a result of sharing ideas in print and having time to think and explore ideas created by post-industrial revolution societies.

Leslie surprisingly tolls a warning bell that the internet instead of being a beacon of opportunity for epistemic curiosity has instead become a harbour of diversive curiosity as we effortlessly find out facts and distract ourselves with cute kittens or celebrity lifestyles. Here then is a building from Mischel’s understanding of delayed gratification that using one’s executive function to control and further explore at a deeper level is what is beneficial at a societal as well as at a personal level.

Leslie’s secondary theme in the book is the importance of empathetic curiosity to bringing us out of ourselves: he gives several examples of people who have managed to navigate themselves out of a deep depression through engaging in ideas as simple as wanting to know how a storyline ends or as complex as a thirst for learning. Curiosity is contagious but so is incuriosity: Leslie’s book is a call to arms to invest in one’s own deep curiosity, he urges us to value learning for itself and not merely for goals to be achieved.

Reading these two books back to back reminded me of how much potential we have in our world today and how much we have a duty to our complex world, with all its joys and challenges, to invest in our innately human capacities. We really are an extra-ordinary species and we have the capacity to create extraordinary things and undertake amazing feats: we just have to put our minds to it and work hard to try, while enjoying the process itself. 

- Rosslyn Bentley

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Sarah Waters has crafted a wonderful read in The Paying Guests. Generally, I am favourably disposed to reading stories set in or around the world wars and this one does not disappoint. The novel is billed as a murder story, but that's not the heading I would use, even if the murder clearly is a dramatic focal point that inevitably draws the characters to crisis points.

Frances is a mid-twenties young woman, called a spinster in this era, who lives with her widowed mother in a too-large London house left vacant by the loss of her two brothers in the war. It is 1922 and they are forced to take in lodgers – the Barbers
to support upkeep of the house. Frances bears the burden of taking care of her mother and the house and bears the brunt of the strain of living in diminished means. The novel opens with the young couple moving in to the upstairs and instantly setting in motion enormous changes in how Frances and her mother live. The gradually unfolding saga of the Barbers’ relationship and the eventual entwinement with Frances is a pathway that can only end in grief.

Waters is tremendously talented at describing the inner thoughts and feelings of her characters. The increasing inner conflict and tension that Frances experiences in relationship with her mother, close friends and quickly with Lillian and Leonard Barber dramatically hooked me in to their story.

As a minimalist detail gatherer, I could have enjoyed the novel with 100 pages less of Frances’ highly angst-ridden inner dialogue as she grappled with her emotions and ethics. I felt like I needed a break from this intensity as the events unfolded. And yet, I can appreciate that this backdrop is how Waters brings her audience to walk in the shoes of her various characters. One is left breathless until the end, waiting to discover the fates of Frances and Lillian.

The Paying Guests is tremendously entertaining and I look forward to Waters' next offering.

Jennifer Mackie has lived in Guelph for over 40 years, is a business consultant with never enough hobby time for reading, sports, online puzzles and quilting. She reads for entertainment and to discover the world of ‘curious’. Along with finding value in the story, she enjoys experiencing different writer’s styles and methods for how they entice one into their made up worlds. 


How long would you wait to speak up about abuse? How long would you wait to reach out for treatment if you were ill? How long would you wait if the treatments available were very scarce and possibly inappropriate? Kellie JOYce’s book The Wait conveys the inexorable frustration of waiting for opportunities to speak out about abuse, to reach out for mental health care and to be treated effectively for mental illness.

There are many books about brave people who rise above the circumstances of their birth -- poverty, addictions, abuse – but few convey the intense sense that JOYce describes of the innate stubborn refusal to give up hope. Science teaches us our genes and circumstances shape us, so how is it that in the face of overwhelming odds someone emerges with the strength to go beyond circumstances and flourish? JOYce’s impish refusal to submerge is celebratory and we cannot help but smile at her tales of survival despite the horror that underpins them. Reminded of Miriam Toews' All My Puny Sorrows, The Wait reads like dirty water circling a drain, inevitably sucking downwards. Like Elf, who despite her concert pianist brilliance is depressed beyond recognition, JOYce’s husband, Les, struggles to cope with his wife’s PTSD and his own deep depression. While JOYce is speaking from a place of her own sorrow and torture, the book remains defiant and hopeful.

It would be so easy to close the book, refuse to read the doleful facts and ignore the need. JOYce writes an estimated 75% of those suffering from a mental illness will never receive treatment, but she must not be a Cassandra; her own bravery shows us the way. True victory lies in action. I hope the book will spur you to pressure for better and more mental health care resources and help you to look in your own life at how you could reach out a hand of friendship or support to those who are forced to live apart through stigma and shame. We should laud the JOYce’s of the world who name the family violence that gives rise to such circumstances and turn the prurient poking of government agencies into creative and inspiring programming for recovery and health. As the administrative sponsor of the Bereaved By Suicide program at Hospice that helped JOYce, I know prevention is our strongest weapon. Ensuring the wounded are not left to wither away unheard and uncared for is also a challenge we can all rise to.

- Rosslyn Bentley

Thursday, November 20, 2014

TONIGHT: The Bookshelf will be at Rickson Ridge PS for their Twilight Shopping Night

Rickson Ridge Public School is having their inaugural Twilight Shopping Night this evening from 5:30-8:00. Making the trip south and bringing our favourite books of the year has gotten us really excited!

Our booth will feature our favourite cookbooks, the latest non-fiction, and the hottest biographies. Of course you will also find 2014 award-winners, including Thomas King, Sean Michaels, and Malala Yousafzai, to name a few.

For the younger set, there will be an excellent selection of picture books, junior fiction, and young adult novels. We also have great books for Minecrafters and LEGO Master Builders!!

20% of The Bookshelf's sales will be donated to the Rickson Ridge Parent Council. Come out and support some excellent local businesses while checking off some names on your Christmas list. We hope to see you there!

Saturday, November 15, 2014


The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe strives, as the title suggests, to be moderately epic in scope. In the space of 300 tightly written pages, it does just that. The book takes us on a romp that begins in a village in India, passes through an Ikea store on the outskirts of Paris, and then launches us on a journey that is alternatingly spectacular, improbable, delightful, edifying and more than a little bit slapstick.

The protagonist of the story is Aatashatru Ogash Ragod, an Indian fakir on a pilgrimage to buy a new bed of nails at Ikea, armed with a borrowed suit, a fake 100-euro note (printed on one side only) and a round-trip plane ticket financed by the village that has adopted him as their resident faker. Relying on his mastery of the arts of deception and diversion, his intent is simply to complete his purchase and return home. He gets more than a little waylaid along the way.

The story begins with Ajatashatru finding love in the most unlikely of places (the line for Swedish meatballs in the Ikea store). Committed to his mission, he lets love leave through the front door, before unexpectedly finding himself leaving through the loading dock, trapped in the eponymous wardrobe.

In writing The Extraordinary Journey…, Romain Puertolas has combined a penchant for vaudevillian slapstick worthy of a Pink Panther movie with a biting sense of social injustice. Softened by humour, Puertolas nonetheless offers an insightful commentary on the injustices and ineptitude exercised by countries fending their borders from unwanted immigration, and the corruption and callousness of many of those stationed at sentry boxes to guard against such incursions. The book highlights the dangers faced by those seeking a better life in the 'good countries'; often at the mercy of indifferent traffickers, subjected to inhumane conditions and travelling in perilous transports. While Puertolas acknowledges the cruelty that can exist in the world, he also reminds us of the good in humankind: of the importance and value to be found in the kindness of strangers, the rewards of helping others and the redemptive power of love.

I enjoyed The Extraordinary Journey… a great deal. While it is an easy read, it is also a delightful one. Puertolas' writing style is highly visual, and I am sure that even now the book is being optioned into a movie. Suspend your disbelief and embrace the improbability that life so often offers, and this is a book that you will find rewardingly worth the time. The Extraordinary Journey… is a delightful reminder of the importance of finding love, meaning, friendship and fulfillment.

Mark Mullaly is an avid reader, sometimes writer, enthusiastic motorcyclist and lover of wine (and endeavours to engage in only one of these pursuits at any given time).


Prim and proper. Those were the first words that came to mind when Queenie Hennessy appeared in Rachel’s Joyce’s bestselling novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Dressed in a loosely-fitting brown wool suit and smiling demurely, the brewery’s first female accountant behaved impeccably in the workplace and whenever Harold drove her to business appointments.

But there was more to the “colleague” relationship between Queenie and Harold. Why else would a dying Queenie send a scrawled note to a man she had not seen in over two decades? And why would Harold walk 627 miles to help keep Queenie alive?

In The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, Ms. Joyce provides the answers.

For starters, Queenie was not an accountant. She was a Cambridge classics scholar who persuaded the belligerent owner to hire her by promising to save the brewery five hundred pounds. Afterward, she began a program of self-education, spending days at the library reading about bookkeeping and finances.

Queenie also had a checkered past.

In addition to holding positions more suited to her education—tutor, researcher, tour guide—Queenie spent several years living with a troupe of female artists, and she had an affair with a retired high court judge. Alone and pregnant, she arrived in Kingsbridge hoping for a fresh start. She hadn’t planned on becoming embroiled personally and professionally with another married man.

Encouraged by one of the hospice volunteers, Queenie decides to write an extended deathbed letter to Harold, revealing the details of her past and her encounters with his hostile wife and wayward son. While reading, I could easily envision her trembling hands as she penned her story, all the while, determined to release decades of painful secrets. But Queenie’s inner voice is calm and sure: “My life has been small, it has been nothing to speak of. But the past is still inside me, Harold. I have never let it go.”

The novel alternates between these touching vignettes and humor-infused descriptions of hospice life. The patients are well-drawn, with their own quirks and set opinions on almost every topic. Surrounded by death’s ever-present shadow, they still manage to find renewed hope in everyday events.

When one of the more outspoken patients asks if anyone else is waiting for Harold Fry, the response is overwhelming: “One by one, and in silence, the patients raised their hands. Sunken faces. Skeletal wrists. Bandages and tubes. Sunlight poured through the windows, and the air shone with dust motes, billowing like silvered snow. The friends and families of the patients began to raise their hands too, and so did the volunteers and the nuns. At last every one in the dayroom had a hand in the air. Tall, small, young, old, fat ones, thin ones, healthy, dying. They looked from one person to the next with a dawning sense of wonder. Something new was happening. It was palpable.”

I recommend reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry before picking up this book. While the events do occur concurrently, it is much easier to fill in the gaps of Harold’s story rather than starting with the intimate details of Queenie’s inner life.

After retiring from a 31-year teaching career, Joanne Guidoccio launched a second act as a writer. Her articles, book reviews and short stories have appeared in newspapers, magazines and online. In September 2013, Soul Mate Publishing released her debut novel, Between Land and Sea. You can visit her website at

Sunday, November 9, 2014


The difficult relationship between Tibet and China extends across thousands of years. The countries were often at war, and in the 8th century Tibetan forces attacked and captured the fabled city of Changan in China. Generally, this historical fact does not appear in Chinese histories of the Tang dynasty, (618-908), one of China’s greatest cultural periods.

Much of China’s cruelty toward the people of Tibet since China invaded is a matter of public record. However, the environmental devastation carried out by China in Tibet is not as well known. Canadian journalist Michael Buckley presents China’s environmental devastation of Tibet in his clear and sometimes heart felt writing. He has visited Tibet many times over the years, and wrote the first Lonely Planet guidebook to Tibet. His deep concern for the fate of Tibet and its people fills every page of Meltdown in Tibet.

China and India together are building four coal-fired power plants a week. At that rate, all of the global warming mitigation in the world will not matter. The rest of the world can’t mitigate the effects of burning that much coal. The effect of coal burning is worst for Tibet. The dark particulates in the air from coal burning settle on the snow and ice. Sunshine falling on the coal dust heats it and is causing one of the world’s three great cooling systems to melt rapidly. This accelerating melt is worsened by other Chinese environmental devastation in Tibet—the building of massive dams.

You may recall that when the Chinese government built the Three Gorges Dam, they forcibly removed Chinese families from homes that would be flooded by the new dam. The displaced people tried to return to their homes. The government destroyed the homes—devastation captured by Edward Burtynsky’s photographs of the communities just before they disappeared under water. When this largest dam in the world was filled with water, the weight of the water altered the rotation of the earth.

Now the Chinese government is building a much larger dam in Tibet. Along with other new dams in Tibet, all to provide hydroelectric power to China. Ordinarily, before a dam is built, such as the dam at Guelph Lake, extensive studies are carried out, and permission to build must be received from a number of government agencies, to ensure that building such a dam will not cause environmental damage. However, the dams being built by China in Tibet are being built with no permissions, and will change river flows in large rivers that flow from Tibet through numerous countries in southeast Asia. No one knows how extensive the damage will be in these countries

Is there hope for Tibet? The Simla Accord of 1914 recognized the autonomy of Tibet. That recognition disappeared in 2008, in the interests of placating China, and providing financial gains for a number of greasy palms. Britain’s role, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s role in this shameful betrayal of Tibet was covered by The New York Times. See: “Did Britain Just Sell Tibet?" HERE.


This past week the Canadian press - and Canadian communities - have been asking a lot of questions about crime and punishment. With the very public revelation of Jian Ghomeshi's criminal behaviour, the public conversation includes calls for criminal prosecution all the while enacting a sort of collective trial, sentencing, and punishment in the press and social media. While listening and reading stories of his violent and repugnant behaviour, I was reading Linden MacIntyre's new book, Punishment.

Punishment is not about sexual and physical violence. Nor is it about the CBC or the media (though MacIntyre long worked for the CBC). Instead it's a book about a former prison officer, Tony Breau, who gets involved - is made to be involved - in a small town murder investigation. It's also about the consequences of telling the truth: the violence, threats, and shame that attach to those who speak out (you can see, then, why it might be a book that resonated with what I was reading and hearing in the cultural conversation around violence against women). So it's a novel that takes on the 'big' crime of murder, but it's also a novel that explores the slippery boundary between what is considered criminal, and the 'crimes' outside the criminal code: betrayal in friendship, adultery, and the willful withholding of truth from others.

Punishment offers readers a nuanced and complicated exploration of guilt, punishment, retribution and reconciliation. Early on in the novel it explodes the idea that all those in prison are criminals and that all those on the 'outside' are innocent; the novel does not belabour this point, but simply makes the observation that many crimes go unrecognized and unpunished and that many criminals are in prison for complicated reasons. Much of the novel is concerned with how and if Tony can reconcile his past with his present, his moral position with an unjust society, his care for others with the certainty that the truth can be painful. In a quintessentially Canadian literature way this struggle is worked out in the small and isolated community, where the big bad criminals come from the United States and the city, where outsiders are suspect and when guilt is both the prelude an apology and an unavoidable state of being.

What the novel does incredibly well (and with a sort of bravery, I think) is to ask readers to consider - just consider - separating the crime from the criminal; the behaviour from the person. It can be hard to empathize. It can be hard to consider empathy. When we are betrayed by lovers or friends, when a singular crime is perpetrated against us or when we are wronged by systemic and entrenched systems, the impulse is not to empathy. The push is to retribution, to punishment. As if in the punishment itself we might understand the crime or feel differently about the criminal. I am not making a novel argument in suggesting that there might be a difference between retributive and restorative justice. Rather, I'm making an argument that this novel shows - with great care and nuance - how these forms of justice differ and what is at stake for us as individuals and as communities in taking one approach or the other.

When's she not reading, Erin Aspenlieder is teaching, running or eating cookies (sometimes all at once). She prefers fiction and books made of paper. She blogs at

Friday, October 31, 2014


Several years ago, I developed a list of requests to have followed for me in the event I was unable to make decisions for myself. Then things changed. Over the last two years I have visited more retirement homes, nursing homes, and hospitals providing eldercare than I care to remember. I saw and spoke to older men and women who were alert, and enjoying their lives. I also saw older people, whose minds were deteriorating, and those who now spent most of the day sleeping. Then my parents moved into a retirement home. I revised my end of life requests in response to what I saw.

I wish that I had read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End before the events of the last few years. I’ve been reading his work for years, and think of him as the checklist doctor, who wrote The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.  After Gawande observed a number of problems develop during the course of surgery in hospital operating rooms, he developed a checklist procedure which is now in place in many hospitals. Before an operation proceeds, the checklist involves each doctor and member of the operating team introducing themselves to each other, and describing what each member of the team is responsible for.

In Being Mortal, Gawande has examined something that many of us put off until it is too late. The gasps in the movie theatre during Michael Haneke’s film Amour, as Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) kills his beloved wife, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), after she has become incapacitated by a stroke, suggest that many of us have not thought through “what matters in the end.” What will matter in the end, for the largest generation in history, the aging boomers, will loom very large for that generation. 

If you were born between 1946 and 1964, this is a book for you. If you’re a boomer, plan now—the last thing we need is retirement and nursing homes full of old boomers who didn’t make their end of life plans. Gawande’s book contains few examples of those who planned, and many examples of those who didn’t plan for the decisions necessary as the end of life approaches.

Talk to your parents about what they want. Talk to your partner. Talk to your kids. And do it soon. “Death has a thousand doors to let out life.” Read Being Mortal, and sort out what matters in the end, with whoever may be there for you, as you approach that last door. Before it’s too late. Gawande’s Being Mortal is a clearly written, deeply informed, and compassionate book.

And by the way, one more little thing for you guys who have stopped updating the Boomer Deathwatch site.


Sunday, October 26, 2014


There’s a good way to market a novel, and then there’s a bad way. Jessie Burton’s debut novel, The Miniaturist, is a victim of the latter, and it’s really too bad, as The Miniaturist is a fine piece of literary fiction . . . but therein lies the problem.

It’s sometimes said that genre fiction resolves and literary fiction resonates. Such is the case here, where the story of 18-year-old Nella Oortman, who’s just begun a new life in the city of Amsterdam after marrying merchant trader Johannes Brandt, winds its way toward an ending that is far more thematically satisfying than a piece of genre fiction usually is. On the flip side, however, its plot resolution is . . . well, a bit light, as knots are left untied and questions left unanswered. But the novel’s conclusion is intentional and not a flaw in the design.

The problem here revolves around the titular miniaturist who is commissioned to build a fully-furnished, cabinet-sized replica of Nella’s new home. As the novel progresses, this elusive miniaturist crafts more and more tiny replicas, though now of the people living inside the home. These new creations, however, mirror their real-life counterparts in sometimes surreal ways. As the blurb on the back of the book asks, “Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to the inhabitants’ salvation or the architect of their downfall?”

Sounds like a thriller, doesn’t it? But The Miniaturist most assuredly is not. The prose is vibrant and rich, and the characterization is complex and colourful, which aren’t characteristics exclusive to literary fiction, to be sure, but it does suggest that this is a serious work of fiction, as opposed to a silly story about a doll maker out for blood or some other such nonsense. Trouble is, you wouldn’t know it from reading the blub on the back of the book.

While a glass cutter by day, by night Z.S. Roe spends his time writing fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. His writings have appeared in various publications, including the Cambridge Times, The Silhouette, and The Toronto Sun, among others. Most recently, his short story “Peeping Tara” appeared in issue 13 of Dark Moon Digest. You can visit his blog at


Let me begin this review by saying that this is simply one of the best fantasy books I have ever read. Alternatively humorous, dark, and saddening, Chris Evans' new novel is an exercise in the futility of warfare and the desperation of those involved in it.

We begin in a hot, steamy jungle with a troop of tired soldiers fighting against barely seen enemies for a kingdom whose politics are in turmoil. Evans here does a good job conveying the soldiers despair and exhaustion at doing this, especially as they tramp all over the mountain to find their foe, named “slyts” after their word for hello. Eventually, we are introduced to other characters, such as wizards, dragon pilots, and dwarves as each contributes their own viewpoint on how the war is going.

As I read, I encountered many similarities between Of Bone And Thunder and Harry Turtledove's “World War" Series; for those unfamiliar, a series of fantasy novels paralleling World War Two. While Turtledove's novels dealt with the higher up, influential people, Evans' novel is told mostly from the viewpoints of ordinary soldiers. This gives the whole book a much grittier, honest feeling. We can sympathize with these men and the stupidity of their officers and their yearning to go home.

Of Bone And Thunder has previously been called a reflection of the Vietnam War, and that comparison is clear when reading this book, from the obvious (the setting of a jungle) to the not-so-obvious (such as the fact of the slyts firing arrows at the incoming dragons, reminiscent of how Viet Cong soldiers would attempt to shoot down American aircraft). The best part of the novel has to be the death scenes. While these are common enough in both war and fantasy novels, usually there are a few major deaths surrounded by those simply created to be a body count. Not so in this novel. It is a tribute to Evans' writing that he can make the death of every character have an emotional impact, even those that died 'offscreen' as it were.

Of Bone And Thunder is heady, heavy novel and definitely not for the light-hearted, casual reader. But if you're looking to sink your teeth into a novel with something to say and a brutal way of saying it, definitely give this one a read.

Robert Green is a confirmed bibliophile and aspiring writer whose love of sci-fi has caused him to own many more books than he has physical room for. He is also the owner and creator of the up-and-coming company Verity Books, which can be seen at various cons throughout the year. Any questions or comments can be sent to or

Monday, October 20, 2014


What could be more storybook perfect than the romance of a one day fling with a charming, intelligent Parisian? (Shades of Before Sunrise for you film fans out there.) Samantha Verant’s memoir of her one day crush re-discovered 20 years later is a girl's princess dreams come true. This tale of the all American girl, now woman, teetering on the brink of a mid-life disaster is chat show territory.

Sam has lost her job to the global recession, her marriage to neglect and trust issues, and she needs a shakeup, a make-over, a hero! A girlfriend’s reminder of their glorious final day in Paris has her digging out the old unanswered love letter pile and the letters serve as the pulse of lost love to drag our heroine back to the land of hope. Jean-Luc’s beautiful love letters lift the narrative to a more personal and heartfelt place and you find yourself cheering for the gallant who so clearly left his heart with the hesitant 19 year old Sam on a train platform in Paris.

There is nothing surprising about the book: it charms your heart like a light wine or memories of your own first love or romantic travel adventure and therefore it’s a treasure. Too soon we cast off those Disney-like fluffy pink dreams and don’t believe in happy endings. Sam finally gets her sexy French rocket man--complete with the normal complications of modern life: ex-spouse, kids, and long distance relationship. I could have lived without the bridal magazine list of wedding day décor preparations, but the fillip of a modern day turnaround romance is just too delicious to miss.

- Rosslyn Bentley


Jane Austen (1775-1817) is, arguably, a household name. Adaptations of her writings and biography abound, albeit in varying degrees of faithfulness to the original. Film, mystery novels, musicals and even a video game focus on “Jane” or are inspired by her. Add to this the perennial academic interest in her works, and Jane Austen achieves the status of one of the most widely read authors in English literature.

Yet Jane Austen’s works have never taken the public by storm. She published only four novels while she was alive — Sense and Sensibility in 1810; Pride and Prejudice in 1811; Mansfield Park in 1814; and Emma in 1815. Then, only months after her death in 1817, her family published Northanger Abbey and Persuasion together.

This publication record––suggesting that Jane started writing late in her life, was prolific, and had great publication success––doesn’t do justice to the story of Jane Austen and her writing career. At various times she was able to earn significant income––for a writer and a woman at that––but it was sporadic and she lived all of her life with her immediate family whose financial situation was precarious. The Austens were, however, part of the landed gentry that Jane writes about, and often parodies.

By the 18th and 19th centuries, “landed gentry” no longer meant “nobility,” or even reliably indicated land ownership––the form of wealth considered more prestigious than that achieved through business affairs or work of any kind, beyond certain esteemed positions in the military, the clergy, and the diplomatic or judiciary system. The term did, however, still signify upper classes in Britain and carry with it prestige.

Jane Austen’s writing, focusing as it does on the trials and tribulations of such a privileged class, can appear trifling and even a bit tiresome. But the window she provides into the life of her times, along with her veiled political commentary, is deceptively revealing. She wrote anonymously for much of her career, no doubt to avoid the criticism that her biting irony could attract. When her brother published a biography of Jane, after her death, interest in her work increased. The six novels by Jane Austen have not been out of print since their appearance in a collected edition in 1833.

The publication, in 2013, of Jane Austen’s Manuscript Works adds a new dimension to any analysis of her writing. Because it’s a book by scholars, perhaps thinking they are writing mostly for scholars, little thought seems to have been given to a more scintillating title. It could just as well be called Naughty Jane or What Was Jane Austen Thinking!?

And therein lies the beauty––and fun––of this book that one can only hope will find a place beside the novels, as well as on the critical theory or textbook shelves. Jane Austen’s Manuscript Works is really a collection of her short stories, written when she was very young, along with a novella, and two novels, one unfinished, that follow chronologically. Anyone familiar with the published novels will recognize many of Jane Austen’s themes in these earlier works, particularly the antics caused by strict class structures and the fate of young women whose families can’t afford to leave them well-off. The “pride and prejudice” involved in social relationships is especially obvious in the role of marriage as a strategic alliance more often than as a coming together of lovers.

But after these basic common concerns, the unpublished early works are a source of surprise and amazement.

Consider the story of Frederic and Elfrida, betrothed for some years but held back from marrying by Elfrida’s indecision, or what might have, at the time, been called her modesty:

Elfrida, who had found her former acquaintance were growing too old and too ugly to be any longer agreable, was rejoiced to hear of the arrival of so pretty a girl as Eleanor with whom she was determined to form the strictest friendship.

But the Happiness she had expected from an acquaintance with Eleanor, she soon found was not to be received, for she had not only the mortification of finding herself treated by her a little less than an old woman, but had actually the horror of perceiving a growing passion in the Bosom of Frederic for the Daughter of the amiable Rebecca.

The instant she had the first idea of such an attachment, she flew to Frederic and in a manner truly heroick, spluttered out to him her intention of being married the next Day.

To one in his predicament who possessed less personal Courage than Frederic was master of, such a speech would have been Death; but he not being the least terrified boldly replied, “Damme Elfrida––you may be married tomorrow but I won’t.”

This is the voice of 12-year-old Jane Austen, writing in 1787.

The burlesque nature of Austen's writing is constant throughout the juvenilia and although it lessens as she matures, the writing all of the works in this volume are cutting and direct.

Here is another short excerpt from the juvenilia, this time from Henry and Eliza, Eliza having stolen money from her adoptive parents, run off with the lover of her next guardian, being destitute after a jail term and returning to her original benefactors who are reconciled with her after the following explanation from the mother to the father :

Four months after you were gone, I was delivered of this Girl, but dreading your just resentment at her not proving the Boy you wished, I took her to a Haycock and laid her down. A few weeks afterwards, you returned, and fortunately for me, made no enquiries on the subject. Satisfied within myself of the wellfare of my Child, I soon forgot I had one, insomuch that when, we shortly after found her in the very Haycock, I had placed her, I had no more idea of her being my own, than you had, and nothing I will venture to say could have recalled the circumstance to my remembrance, but my thus accidentally hearing her voice which now strikes me as being the very counterpart of my own Child’s.”

Between 1786 and 1793, Jane writes stories that she divides into 3 volumes (exercise books, really; now called her “Juvenilia.”) The family performed theatre works at home and Jane read her stories aloud to their delight. She takes a seemingly wicked pleasure in describing those who drink too much, especially women “who had partaken too freely” of the claret. Genteel conversation is, rather, “pumping her with so much dexterity” and “the elegant manners of Lucy” include her harassment of a “gentleman” with constant letters offering her hand to him in marriage, followed by her arrival at each of his homes, culminating with her being caught in a trap set in the gardens of his country house.

Although her family would for decades after her death promote her character as that of “good aunt Jane,” a docile, genteel person, the manuscript works reveal not only a record of how she created her novels, but also a surprisingly open and scathing analysis of the plight of women whose only chance for security revolves around their ability to attract a wealthy husband. The great opening line of Pride and Prejudice––“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”––rings with clearer irony after reading pages of the Juvenilia.

Jane Austen’s Manuscript Works includes approximately half of her Juvenilia, all of her later fiction––a novella called Lady Susan, an early draft of a novel, left untitled but now referred to as The Watsons, and her final novel, also untitled, but known as Sandition––along with appendices that provide some of her letters, fragments of earlier drafts of the works, along with an excerpt from Mary Wollstonecraft’s Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787), and a review of Emma by the one of the most famous writers of the time, Walter Scott.

The simple clarity of the book is also a credit to the editors’ introductory essay, which provides interesting context and an illuminating guide through the book. They have all produced other detailed, scholarly works. Linda Bree is Editorial Director, Arts and Literature at the Cambridge University Press and the editor of the Broadview Edition of Jane Austen's Persuasion. Peter Sabor is Professor of English and Canada Research Chair in Eighteenth Century Studies at McGill University, and the editor of the Broadview Edition of Sarah Fielding's The History of Ophelia. Janet Todd is President of Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge and the co-editor of the Broadview Edition of Charlotte Smith's Desmond.

A sample of Austen’s handwriting on the cover of the book makes clear the contribution the editors have made: anyone who enjoys the works of Jane Austen will delight in these new stories, now approachable in easily readable form. The footnotes, far from being dense and never slowing down the narrative, add often hilarious explanations of Jane’s double meanings and constant word play. Her vocabulary is rich and her allusions to other works of the time show her to be highly literate and well read, itself an indication of the changing times in which she lived.

Sense and Sensibility, first edtion
While there is much debate about when the novel form first appeared––some arguing for its roots in ancient Greece and Rome––the new forms of printing that developed in Austen’s lifetime made books more affordable and increased the number of novels available. And increased accessibility, along with the rise of the middle class with its increase in resources of both time and money, went hand-in-hand with increased literacy throughout the population.

But another major force in Austen’s lifetime also has an impact on how we view Austen today. The few references in Austen’s works to military and political events makes it easy to forget that Austen was writing before, during and after the French Revolution and that for most of her life France and Britain were at war. And it has been said that the French Revolution––happening outside Britain––was the most important event in British history. It’s not that Austen was untouched by the Revolution: two of her brothers were in the Royal Naval Academy, another was in the Militia and her cousin Eliza’s husband––the French army officer, Jean-François Capot de Feuillide, was guillotined in Paris in 1794. Eliza later married Austen’s brother, Henry.

Not only were events of the French Revolution personally felt by Austen, but she was in the midst of the Romantic Period of British literature, for which the French Revolution was a major concern. It’s easy to forget that Austen was born just five years after Wordsworth and three after Coleridge. Although Austen is relentless at exposing social issues and the twists and turns of fate that have more to do with class and money, there is little of the Romantic concern for the limitless potential of the human being, what my professors called man’s sharing in the Godhead. Being female and poor obviously brings the heavens down to earth.

Austen deviates from the Romantic tradition in such a way as to be thought of as, perhaps, anticipating the Victorian era, which is usually considered to have begun with the reign of Queen Victoria in 1837. When we think of Victorian writers most of us would think of Charles Dickens and the “Dickensian” exposure of class differences. He was born in 1812 right near the end of Austen’s life. Scholars also attribute the start of the realist novel, with its seemingly objective narrator, psychologically developed characters, and minute descriptions of the realities of domestic life––to Austen, but they are always thinking of her published works.

That Jane Austen was to successfully engaged both in the development of the realist novel and in anticipating the Victorian concern with class ––while still in her childhood–– is truly amazing.

Reginald Sauvages, PhD, is the nom de plume of a local bibliophile (read: bookworm) who goes on building bookshelves and buying paperbacks for the beach so sand doesn’t ruin favourite clothbound books, even while owning an e-reader.

Monday, October 13, 2014


Surveying plot points in his critical introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, Salmon Rushdie, seeming almost to deny the novel’s 1989 Man Booker Prize win, muses that “[n]othing much happens.” Indeed, the ostensible “high point” of Mr. Stevens’s solitary motor tour into the West Country of early Postwar Britain, suggests Rushdie, is his failed attempt to resolve a “professional matter” by persuading Darlington Hall’s former housekeeper, Miss Kenton (now Mrs. Benn), to resume her prewar post: an overworked butler is unable to relieve a household staff shortage. In short, quips Rushdie, “tiny events.”

The narrative’s surface quietude, however, provides the perfect counterpoint to this story’s muddied depths, just as the cautious formality of Stevens’s travelling clothes serves to accentuate the unseemly disorder into which his servant’s affections have fallen; similarly, the recollection of his father’s pitiful death within a dingy garret must needs be confined behind the simultaneous farewell dinner of Lord Darlington’s “unofficial,” and, as history will soon show, misguided international conference in the softened brilliance of the banqueting hall below. Stevens thereby remembers his grief as little more than cause for employer displeasure. Quickly wiping away his tears, this consummate butler laughs, apologizes. “The strains of a hard day,” he explains. The juxtaposition is devastating.

As physical spaces embody the psychological, Stevens’s movement away from the great house and towards unknown, albeit picturesque country sites, signifies his faint attempt to apprehend something as yet half-imagined and uncertain within himself. Ishiguro’s novel is the portrait of a man who has placed his faith in a way of life that is losing what remains of its former dignity; the codes of reverential service and patronage that undergird the household domestic’s raison d’être have begun to destabilize in view of the traditional oligarchs’ demotion to “gentleman amateurs.” The lately voiceless butler begins to feel, at least subconsciously, the waste born of a choking subjugation. A few rare “off duty” hours’ study of a sentimental romance novel have taken the place of true affection and relationship; even Miss Kenton, Stevens’s closest acquaintance, is observed struggling to release the thin volume from his grasp.

“While it is all very well to talk of ‘turning points,’” affirms Stevens, “one can surely only recognize such moments in retrospect. … [T]here [is] surely nothing to indicate … that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.” To speculate otherwise, he posits, is folly. However, the act of retrospection itself necessitates a mining of the past for such veiled “turning points,” as if one were attempting to account for life’s trajectory; which “tiny events” were, well, not so very tiny after all? When was a look misinterpreted, or a cold word miscalculated? Who mattered most? And what truly remains of the day?

Though a bit of a heel, Abigail Slinger is learning that patience is a virtue, and that one catches more flies with honey.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


The all-seasons beauty and gifts of the Albany River provides a life-affirming backdrop to the colonial cruelty that Edmund Metatawabin reflects on in Up Ghost River: A Chief’s journey through the turbulent waters of native history. What Metatawabin manages to do in this book is reveal his resolve, despite pernicious abuse, to tell his own heartwrenching story and thereby carry many of his St. Anne residential school sufferers with him to the raised consciousness of anyone who reads Up Ghost River.

Metatawabin writes with a deep, sweet honesty about lifelong struggles with the residential school and its everlasting effects. With dignity and fortitude, Metatawabin makes a very difficult subject rise up from the muck of hurtful memories while he shares with us the transformative power of love.

If you want to really get to know the struggle of North Eastern Ontario’s James Bay lowlands Cree as they try to uphold and renew their indigenous values and way of life, read this book. If you want to learn more about our interconnectedness with the flora and fauna of the natural world, read this book. And if you are craving something to feel good about, if you want to read a story about hope and perseverance, Edmund Metatawabin delivers. His unpretentious honesty, understated humour and rediscovered confidence combine in a sharing of personal and societal truths that cannot be denied.

Metatawabin ends his book with thoughtful suggestions as to how all of us, together, can effect change. Whatever your passion for political and social justice, there is a way to get involved.

- Lori Ryan Gray