Concrete

Concrete: From Ancient Origins to a Problematic Futureby Mary SoderstromPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Elena Bentley$28.95 ISBN 9780889777804 In her book, Concrete: From Ancient Origins to a Problematic Future, authorMary Soderstrom asks us to “[l]ook out the nearest window, then try to imagine what the view would look like without concrete.” Admittedly, before reading this book, I hadn’t given it much thought; once I finished the book, however, I started to pay attention: a leftover pile next to the trees outside my house, the garage floor, the sidewalk under my bike—concrete really is everywhere. Concrete has been used globally in some form or another since about 8700 BCE, which means that concrete has a fairly substantial history. Soderstrom holds our attention by taking us on a fascinating journey through this history, briefly highlighting concrete structures of note and the issues that surround them. Found in all levels of society, from the super highways in California to the Great Wall in China, Soderstrom confirms that concrete is “a truly egalitarian material.” So prevalent is concrete’s presence that it has made its way into popular culture. As any good English major would, Soderstrom makes reference to novels by literary greats…

White Coal City
University of Regina Press / 13 April 2021

White Coal City: A Memoir of Place & Familyby Robert BoschmanPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Keith FosterPrice $21.95 ISBN 9780889777965 As Margaret Boschman stepped onto a busy Saskatoon street from in front of a parked car, an oncoming vehicle smashed into her, killing her instantly and hurling her shoe through the air. Six months pregnant, and dead at twenty-nine. A masterpiece of creative nonfiction, Robert Boschman’s White Coal City: A Memoir of Place & Family records the impact of this pivotal event of June 29, 1940. The narrative revolves around the ripple effects his Grandmother Margaret’s death had on the entire multi-generational family. Margaret’s death utterly destroyed her husband, John, who witnessed a travelling salesman from Toronto slam into his beloved wife. The salesman stopped, surmised that Margaret had merely been knocked unconscious, and drove off. A violent, short-tempered man who took his Mennonite religion to an extreme, John unleashed his anger on his three sons. He also scolded his young grandson Robert for crying when his candy floss stuck to his face. For most of his early days, Robert and his two younger siblings lived in the rear of Prince Albert’s King Koin Launderette, cleaning and maintaining…

Red Obsidian

Red Obsidianby Stephan TorrePublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95 ISBN 9-780889-777750 Effective poetry is difficult to write. That’s the bottomline, and it’s why I’m so excited about the polished and effectual work inside BC poet Stephan Torre’s Red Obsidian, a recent collection of “New and Selected Poems” (selected from Man Living on a Side Creek and Iron Fever). Perhaps it’s no small coincidence that this latest book was edited by Randy Lundy, who’s also published in the press’s Oksana Poetry & Poetics Book Series, and whose work I greatly admire: both writers construct poems that radiate with energy. Torre’s poems straddle the contentious fence between industry and environmentalism. They’re filled with the vernacular of tree-felling and farming; of the beautiful, raw and disappearing landscapes he’s called home along the Pacific Northwest in Canada and the US; and with the birds, fish and animals he’s shared these wild rural and coastal locales with. He laments the capitalistic fervour that reduces shorelines to realtors’ signs, and though he’s lived mostly off-grid, he ponders his own part in it, ie: how he “drove deeper, and drove away/antelope and eagles from their spring nesting,/eager to rip up sage and greasewood,…

Book of Ecological Virtues, A
University of Regina Press / 6 January 2021

A Book of Ecological Virtues: Living Well in the AnthropoceneEdited by Heesoon Bai, David Chang, and Charles ScottPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$39.95  ISBN 9-780889-777569 I made several “notes to self” while reading this anthology. Although not a critical marker re: the book’s literary or academic merit, it does indicate that the text spoke to me on a personal level. Read Canticle to the Creatures (St. Francis), I scribbled. Try editor/contributor David Chang’s awareness practice on Pg. 226/227. Google Peter H. Kahn, Jr. Share the quotes on grief with ____.   This heartening anthology of well-constructed essays addresses how one can live both ethically and full-heartedly during this epoch’s “sombre reality of ecological degradation.” The trio of editors – all professors at Simon Fraser University – asked diverse contributors to consider not only what living well looks like in these times, but also what “suffering well” means. “No one discipline, tradition, or orientation has privilege over another,” the editors explain. Indeed, they have forged a “textual garden” in which scholars, educators, and poets from various disciplines and traditions – Buddhism, Christianity, psychology, ecology, ethics, traditional knowledge systems, etc. – present their interesting, individual responses, each “marked…

Uncertain Harvest
University of Regina Press / 6 January 2021

Uncertain Harvest: The Future of Food on a Warming Planetby Ian Mosby, Sarah Rotz, and Evan D.G. FraserPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Elena Bentley$27.95      ISBN 9780889777200 Does a diet of algae, caribou, kale, millet, tuna, crickets, milk, and rice sound like the food future you imagined for yourself? Don’t worry, authors Ian Mosby, Sarah Rotz, and Evan D.G. Fraser are not predicting that the solution to our “collective food future” relies on these eight staples (despite what a quick glance down the contents page might imply). Rather than predict how we can create “a sustainable, resilient, and equitable food system,” Mosby, Rotz, and Fraser “critically assess the food futures being imagined and implemented this minute” in their new book Uncertain Harvest: The Future of Food on a Warming Planet.  Part of what makes this book a success is its non-prescriptive approach. Right from the preface, the authors acknowledge that predicting the future is, and has been, futile. Algae pipelines, radiation-grown potatoes, self-replicating steaks – none of these previously put-forward solutions ever came to pass, nor were they even viable.  It’s unsurprising to learn, then, that the authors’ conclusions don’t involve glowing tubers or magical hybrid seeds;…

Cold Case North
University of Regina Press / 2 December 2020

Cold Case North: The Search for James Brady and Absolom Halkettby Michael Nest with Deanna Reder and Eric BellPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Michelle Shaw$24.95 ISBN 9780889777491 In 1967, Métis leader James Brady and Absolom Halkett, a Cree Band Councillor, vanished from their remote lakeside camp while prospecting in Saskatchewan. No trace of them was ever found and their disappearance became one of Northern Saskatchewan’s most enduring mysteries. The initial police investigation concluded that the men had got lost and died while trying to find their way out of the remote area. But rumors persisted for over 50 years. If they were indeed lost why was no trace of their bodies ever found, even though there was an extensive search at the time. Many people believed they were murdered, and their bodies disposed of, probably in the nearby lake which was very cold and deep. Various attempts were made over the years to discover what had happened, but none were successful. Deanna Reder, a Professor of English and Indigenous Studies at Simon Fraser University (SFU), grew up hearing the story of Brady and Halkett. Her uncle Frank, in particular, talked about his memories of the two men and…

Radiant Life, A
University of Regina Press / 8 October 2020

A Radiant Life: The Honourable Sylvia Fedoruk, Scientist, Sports Icon, and Stateswomanby Merle MassiePublished University of Regina PressReview by Keith Foster$34.95 ISBN 978-0889777330 As twelve-year-old Sylvia Fedoruk watched their majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on their 1939 cross-Canada tour, she thought this would be the closest she’d ever get to royalty. How mistaken she was. Nearly fifty years later she was sworn in as the Queen’s representative, becoming Saskatchewan’s first female lieutenant-governor. Merle Massie’s lively biography, A Radiant Life, offers an intimate look at the life and career of Sylvia Fedoruk. In her preface, Massie describes Sylvia as someone who “sang lustily, laughed uproariously and often, and believed that life was for living.” Instead of using her subject’s surname, Massie uses her first name throughout. Sylvia, after all, sounds much more personal. Right away, readers get to know her on a personal level and instantly feel closer to her. Sylvia attended one-room schools east of Yorkton, SK., where her father taught. To avoid being called “teacher’s pet,” Sylvia endeavoured not only to perform well, but to outperform. She did. She averaged at least two scholarships every year throughout high school and university. A sports enthusiast, Sylvia excelled at…

Reclaiming Tom Longboat
University of Regina Press / 8 October 2020

Reclaiming Tom Longboat: Indigenous Self-Determination in Canadian Sportby Janice ForsythPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Elena Bentley$27.95 ISBN 9780889777286 Although the famed Onondaga athlete features in the title, Tom Longboat (Cogwagee) is not the focus of Janice Forsyth’s new book, Reclaiming Tom Longboat: Indigenous Self-Determination in Canadian Sport; rather, it is the Tom Longboat Awards that serve as the focal point for which Forsyth’s expert examination of Indigenous sport in Canada revolves. For over five decades, the Tom Longboat Awards have been subject to the various political agendas of the organizations between which it has passed hands. Conceived of by Jan Eisenhardt and Indian Affairs in 1951, Forsyth explains that the Awards were “no mere accident of history. Nor were they the consequence of serendipity, [or] of the right people coming together at the right time without political intent.” The Awards were a purposeful attempt made by the Federal Government to quantify and regulate Indigenous bodies through encouraging participation in mainstream sport. Throughout the 70s and 80s as Indigenous leaders became more politically active, they, too, realized the “symbolic value of sport” and used the Awards as “an opportunity to broadcast messages about the significance of self-determination” and “cultural…

None of the Above
University of Regina Press / 7 October 2020

None of the Above: Nonreligious Identity in the US and Canadaby Joel Thiessen and Sarah Wilkins-LaflammePublished by University of Regina PressReview by Toby A. Welch$34.95 ISBN 9780889777460 Once a decade a book comes along that you didn’t realize that you needed to read. This is that book! None of the Above is about “religious nones” – people who claim that they do not belong to any religion. This is the fastest growing religious tradition in Canada and the US. Statistically speaking, religious nones tend to be younger than their religious counterparts and more males than females make up the group. Religious nones also tend to be born in Canada versus foreign born.  This book is meaty, not something you take to the cottage for some light reading. It covers both Canada and the US in its quest to comprehend religious identity. It is rarely a single trigger that leads to someone becoming a religious none. Even things like political positioning and charitable practices play a role in religious views.  An interesting detail came up in this book. While religious nones don’t belong to an organized religion, a fair number of them believe in spirituality. Only 13% of religious nones in…

Burden
University of Regina Press / 22 September 2020

Burdenby Douglas Burnet SmithPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95 (softcover) ISBN 9-780889-777729 In award-winning Canadian poet Douglas Burnet Smith’s seventeenth collection, Burden – a sparely-written account of a distant cousin’s World War I experience – I often found myself wincing. This visceral reaction’s a testament to the efficacy of the Governor General-nominated poet’s precisely-chosen words; to the bone and spirit-shattering power of war; and to this harrowing, personal story that wields the force of a novel in just fifty-nine taut pages. The title, Burden, alludes to the seventeen-year-old British soldier, Private Herbert Burden, whom the poet’s relative, Lance Corporal Reginald Smith, befriended and fought alongside; to the permanent weight of war on one’s psyche; and to Reg Smith’s personal burden of being one of the ten soldiers who killed Burden – a deserter suffering from PTSD – upon firing squad order. The first four poems, written in couplets and each several pages long, are delivered from Reg Smith’s point of view from the war field or from a hospital in England or Scotland, while the final poem, “Herbert Burden,” is a one-pager told from the deserter’s perspective – almost one hundred years after his death – at…