Antigone Undone
University of Regina Press / 24 April 2018

Antigone Undone: Juliette Binoche, Anne Carson, Ivo van Hove and the Art of Resistance by Will Aitken Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $24.95 ISBN 9-780889-775213 Great art can pick you up by the heels and shake the daylights out of you, and that’s what happened to novelist, travel journalist and film critic Will Aitken after he was invited to Luxembourg by Canadian literary phenom Anne Carson to sit in on rehearsals for (and the premier of) Sophokles’s tragic Greek play, Antigone, which Carson’d translated. The experience undid Montreal’s Aitken, and in his book Antigone Undone, he unpacks this “ambush” and explores why the 2500-year-old play’s been profoundly affecting audiences since first produced. Antigone Undone packs quite a punch itself. The hardcover’s organized into three distinct parts, and Aitken’s sassy style, subject knowledge and humanity illuminate each page. Antigone concerns an unhappy family (naturally). The title character’s a teen princess who insists that her battle-killed brother be buried, but her uncle, the king, insists he was a traitor and “his body must rot in the sun for all to see”. When Antigone – played by my favourite, Juliette Binoche – throws dirt on the body,…

Drought and Depression
University of Regina Press / 24 April 2018

Drought & Depression (History of the Prairie West Series, Vol. 6) edited by Gregory P. Marchildon Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $34.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-539-8 Grandma Knox recalled that after her father ploughed up seven acres of virgin prairie, he seeded his entire 1933 crop to oats. “He just seeded it by hand,” she wrote. “Beautiful crop. Grew up about six feet high, and froze right down in August. Wasn’t even good feed.” This one incident pretty much encapsulates the frustrations prairie farmers felt during the Great Depression. By recording and recounting his grandmother’s experiences, Clinton N. Westman brings the flavour of the past to life. His article is just one appearing in Drought and Depression, edited by Gregory P. Marchildon. A collection of fourteen articles by fifteen authors, it’s the latest book in the History of the Prairie West Series. Each book in the series is based on a particular theme. As the title suggests, Drought and Depression focuses on the Dirty Thirties on the Canadian Prairies. This selection of articles was originally published in the Prairie Forum journal between 1977 and 2009. The advantage of this book series format is that it gathers all…

House of Charlemagne, The
University of Regina Press / 20 April 2018

The House of Charlemagne by Tim Lilburn Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-530-5 Years ago I lived a block from poet and essayist Tim Lilburn in Saskatoon’s leafy City Park area, and it’s been wonderful to watch his literary star rise. He’s earned the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, and is the first Canadian to win the European Medal of Poetry and Art. Like Lilburn, I also now live on Vancouver Island, and was excited to discover what my former nearly-neighbour has been (literarily) up to. Not surprisingly, his latest title – a collaboration with Métis artist Ed Poitras – breaks new ground. Part poetry, part essay, part script, The House of Charlemagne is a brilliantly conceived and executed “performable poem,” and an homage to Louis Riel’s imagined “House of Charlemagne,” named for the “polyglot Métis nation” Riel imagined rising centuries after his death. It was produced with male and female dancers by New Dance Horizons/Rouge-gorge in Regina (2015), and the book includes two black and white production photos. The bizarre and poetic story unfolds via multiple voices and shapes, but the key player is Honoré Jaxon (aka William Henry Jackson), a…

Door Into Faerie
Coteau Books / 20 April 2018

Door into Faerie by Edward Willett Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $14.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-654-9 Door into Faerie is the fifth and final title in Regina writer Edward Willett’s “The Shards of Excalibur” series, and I read it without reading its predecessors, and also, admittedly, with a bit of a bias against the fantasy genre. Magic shmagic. I’ve oft said that what I really value in literature is contemporary realism: stories I can connect with via details from the here and now, geography and language I can relate to because I recognize it, I speak it. The old “holding a mirror to the world” thing. Well surprise, surprise: I loved this YA fantasy. Willett wields his well-honed writing chops from page one, and my interest was maintained until the final word. In the opening we learn that teens Wally Knight (heir to King Arthur) and his girlfriend Ariane (“the fricking Lady of the Lake”), have been on a global quest to “reunite the scattered shards of the great sword Excalibur,” and they’re currently at a Bed and Breakfast in Cypress Hills. Cypress Hills! This ingenious juxtaposition of old and contemporary (ie: “fricking”), of information delivered in earlier…

Born Resilient

Born Resilient: True Stories of Life’s Greatest Challenges by Allan Kehler Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 978-1-988783-02-4 Born Resilient: True Stories of Life’s Greatest Challenges is the third book I’ve reviewed by Saskatoon writer, counsellor, and motivational speaker Allan Kehler, and it’s my favourite. In this non-fiction book about suffering, hope, and resilience, Kehler introduces each chapter then allows some of the people he’s met on his own journey to take the stage. We hear from men and women who’ve each hit rock bottom in some way, and learn how, in their own words, they climbed out of their individual valleys. Perhaps nothing’s more powerful than candid personal testimonies. In sharing theirs, the writers lend others hope that they, too, can turn their lives around. The book opens with a foreward from an ex-NHL goalie who, like the author, confesses that he’s “seen the dark side” (addiction, mental illness) and has “risen above”. In his usual clear writing style, Kehler explains that his motivation for writing this book came from a young woman who’d suffered an abusive childhood. She silently revealed the scars on her forearms, and Kehler’s response was “Scars are…

Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens
Uncategorized / 19 April 2018

Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens by Sara Williams and Bob Bors Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $39.95 ISBN 9-781550-509137 For those who desire to grow fruit in their own northern gardens, the comprehensive and visually-inviting new reference book by horticultural experts Sara Williams and Bob Bors would be the logical place to begin. This is a learned duo – Williams has penned numerous books on prairie gardening and leads workshops on diverse gardening topics; Bors is the Head of the Fruit Breeding Program and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan (he’s also globally-known for his work with haskaps, dwarf sour cherries, and Under-the Sea® coleus). These Saskatchewanians possess a plethora of knowledge and experience, and they share it, along with up-to-date research, in Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens: a veritable encyclopedia (but far more fun) that instructs gardeners on everything from the basics – like soil preparation and pruning – to specifics on how to grow and maintain healthy tree, shrub cane, groundcover, and vine fruits, and make the most of your hazelnuts. Aside from the wealth of information on more than 20 species and over 170 fruit…

Sleuth
University of Regina Press / 19 April 2018

Sleuth: Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries by Gail Bowen Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $18.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-524-4 If you’ve ever considered writing a mystery novel, Gail Bowen provides the perfect opportunity in her latest book, Sleuth: Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries. She reveals the secrets to her success and offers a step-by-step, how-to process for other writers to emulate. Bowen coaxes writers – all writers, not just those working on mystery novels – to ask themselves, “What do I hope to accomplish with this piece of writing?” In her opinion, giving readers pleasure is ample enough reason to write in the mystery genre. She’s been writing for thirty years and offers her wealth of experience and encouragement to aspiring writers. “If you can’t imagine your life without writing, then you’re a real writer,” she says. Bowen stresses the need for accuracy. Just because you’re writing fiction doesn’t mean you can play loose with the facts. If a reader finds just one discrepancy in logic, the entire novel may become suspect. Emphasizing the mantra to show, don’t tell, she encourages writers to incorporate all five senses into their writing. She shows the importance of subplot and…