Organist, The

The Organist: Fugues, Fatherhood, and a Fragile Mindby Mark AbleyPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$21.95 (softcover) ISBN 9-780889-777613 Does anyone ever really know anyone else? In multi-genre writer Mark Abley’s absorbing memoir, The Organist: Fugues, Fatherhood, and a Fragile Mind, the Pointe Claire, QC writer contemplates the life of his perplexing father, Harry Abley – virtuoso organist, composer, and music teacher with a complex “range of identities” – and in doing so the author attempts to reconcile why this accomplished and restless man, more than twenty years gone, never seemed enough to his only child. Abley has a dozen critically-acclaimed books behind him and I heartily recommend this title because the writing’s exceptional: I was hooked by the end of the short prologue. The work is also honest. Abley admits that “any picture I draw of [his father] becomes an exercise in self-portraiture.” I commend that clear-eyed confession: it helps me to trust the writer, and know there’ll be no subterfuge. I also applaud the book’s interesting structure, conversational tone, and the gentle pacing of its ending … despite their often tempestuous relationship, Abley seems in no hurry to kill his father off quickly on the…

Aesthetics of Senescence, The

The Aesthetics of Senescence: Aging, Population and the Nineteenth-Century British Novelby Andrea CharisePublished by University of Regina PressReview by Michelle Shaw$34.95 9780889777064 Early on in the writing of this book, the author Andrea Charise, suggested developing a particular seminar for her advanced undergraduates. “Called ‘Reading Older Age’, its goal was to introduce students to representations of age and aging in a variety of literary genres,” in order to “better understand how such portrayals contribute to our perceptions of fleshly temporality.” At the start of the seminar, her students, all in their early twenties, described aging, not surprisingly, in terms of decline, “the naturalized assumption that old age is inextricably bound to illness, incapacity, lack and diminishment.” But as the semester progressed, with the students reading a variety of books ranging from Shakespeare’s King Lear to David Markson’s The Last Novel, she was intrigued to discover that her students began to perceive aging through a far more complex lens. In The Aesthetics of Senescence, which was shaped by her doctoral studies at the University of Toronto, Charise “explores how the invention of population in the early 19th century impacted broader cultural conceptualizations of older age.” She examines the works of a…

Out of My Mind

“Out of My Mind: A Psychologist’s Descent into Madness and Back”by Shalom CamenietzkiPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Toby A. Welch$24.95 ISBN 9780889776890 Don’t let the compactness of this pocket-sized book fool you – it packs a punch.  Out of My Mind is a chronological journey with Camenietzki from the time his bipolar disorder symptoms first appeared at the age of 32 to his life now in his early 80s. As the decades go by, Camenietzki also suffers with serious bouts of depression, manic episodes, and suicidal contemplation. It is fascinating to step into his shoes and experience his struggles alongside him.  Camenietzki tries a wide range of treatments in his quest to get mentally healthy. He runs the gamut from a constant string of medications to shock treatments to hospitalizations to a variety of counselling methods. Ultimately what helped him was the drug Seroquel, which was approved by Health Canada in 2010 as a possible treatment for bipolar disorder.  To anyone who hasn’t suffered from mental illness, this book will be extremely eye-opening. Ever since Catherine Zeta-Jones announced in 2011 that she suffers from bipolar disorder, I’ve wondered what it would be like to live with the lifelong…

Until We Are Free
University of Regina Press / 23 April 2020

Until We Are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter in CanadaEdited by Rodney Diverlus, Sandy Hudson, and Syrus Marcus WarePublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$27.95 ISBN 9-780889-776944 This multi-voiced tour-de-force details the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement from compelling Canadian perspectives. It’s comprehensive, diverse, and explains the “origin story” and trajectory of BLM – praise-worthy, all – but I also commend the anthology’s structure. Editors Sandy Hudson (founder of the BLM’s Canadian presence and BLM—Toronto) and Rodney Diverlus (a Haitian-born artist, activist, educator and member of BLM—Toronto) have written a creative introduction set in “An Imagined Future” (2055 C.E.), after the world’s been decimated by “droughts, fires … class wars” and “race wars”. The narrator melts beneath the blistering sun under one of the few remaining trees on a “weekly water-sourcing trek,” and reflects upon this very book. “We wrote about our future,” he/she says, “and it was beautiful”. It’s a literary entry into a text that’s alternately academic, political, and also written for those just learning about the movement, which was spawned after the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman re: the shooting murder of the unarmed Black teen Trayvon Martin. “This case captured the public’s…

Field Notes for the Self
University of Regina Press / 17 April 2020

Field Notes for the SelfPublished by University of Regina Pressby Randy LundyReview by gillian harding-russell $19.95 ISBN 978089776913 In Field Notes for the Self, Randy Lundy – a Barren Lands Cree originally from northern Manitoba but currently residing in Saskatchewan – writes meditations that embrace the landscape, memory and the ever-changing self. Most often in prose-poem style, the long, sinuous verses carry though along a difficult passage where bright and often homely or humorous images catch the light of truth and recognition in the reader’s mind. As the speaker lives with his dogs on an acreage in Pense SK, a rhythm to the seasons and a feeling of expectation (or its counterpart, disillusion) carry the poems towards discovery in the presence of nature. These meditations reflect not only what it is to be First Nation with a heightened burden of memory but also emphasize how difficult it is simply to be human.       Characteristically, an ease and conversational flow lightens these verses, with recurring bursts of clarity and insight, such as come through with simplicity and force in the poem, “In Autumn, Blackbirds”: Yes, the blackbirds are doing it again. Somewhere beyond the horizon’s what they have dreamed for an entire season….

Loss of Indigenous Eden and the Fall of Spirituality

Loss of Indigenous Eden and the Fall of Spiritualityby Blair StonechildPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$32.95  ISBN 9-780889-776999 Blair Stonechild’s made a name for himself as the skilled writer of numerous nonfiction books, and as a professor of Indigenous Studies at Regina’s First Nations University of Canada. Stonechild’s led an interesting life. He attended Residential School, obtained his doctorate and became an academic and historian, and he’s worked closely with First Nations Elders for more than forty years. He’s supremely well qualified to write on Indigenous spirituality, and that’s precisely what he’s mastered in his latest book.  In this ten-chaptered new title, Stonechild discusses how “the Indigenous world preceded that of modern civilization, that it contained values vital to human survival, and that the significance of ancient beliefs needs to be re-explained for today’s world”. The author’s travelled globally to visit other Indigenous communities, and writes that “we all share incredibly strong beliefs about the transcendent”.    He begins by discussing the fundamentally-held belief among Indigenous Peoples of the world that they possess a “sacred obligation” re: protecting the land and environment, and hold a common belief that “spirits lurk in every corner – in trees, in…

Arrows in a Quiver

Arrows in a Quiver: From Contact to the Courts in Indigenous-Canadian Relations by James Frideres Review by Ben Charles $39.95 ISBN 9870889776784 Indigenous-settler relations, sovereignty, and legalities have a long and tumultuous history in Canada. Unfortunately, this means that the average Canadian does not have the context nor perspective to understand this history, resulting in widespread acceptance of half-truths, racial bias, and a lack of empathy towards different cultures. On the positive side, a wealth of peer-reviewed literature exists in the academic ethos that can assist in closing the gap that exists in Indigenous-settler relations. One of the best examples of this literature can be found in James Frideres’ newest book, Arrows in a Quiver: From Contact to the Courts in Indigenous-Canadian Relations. This literature is also complemented very well by the striking painting found on the cover of this book, provided by artist Lawerence Paul Yuxweliptun. This 2019 release by the University of Regina Press discusses the implications of a colonial government structure in Canada and how a restructuring of many policies and the structure that systematically represses Indigenous people must take place in order for reconciliation to occur. However, the book is not all on the deficits that…

Field Notes for the Self
University of Regina Press / 25 March 2020

Field Notes for the Selfby Randy LundyPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95 ISBN 9-780889-776913 It’s official: Saskatchewan’s Randy Lundy is one of my favourite Canadian poets. His last collection, Blackbird Song, fueled my fandom for this erudite writer, but the recently-released Field Notes for the Self has secured it. This is a poet at the top of his game: one doesn’t so much read this new collection of mostly prose poems as she experiences it. This is Lundy’s magic: although the title indicates that these are works “for the Self” – and the second person “You” (the narrator) is addressed throughout – I felt these contemplative works so viscerally it was as if they were articulating my own intimate thoughts and practices. Move over, Mary Oliver.   In Blackbird Song, many poems spun on the word thinking, and in this handsome new volume, knowing is central. Lundy writes: “you know you know the song, but nothing is clear to you anymore,” “Your heart knows and holds the key – meditate, live purely, do your work, be quiet,” and “You know that you almost know, and you know that is as close as you will get.”  There’s a…

RAW
University of Regina Press / 25 March 2020

Raw: PrEP, Pedagogy, and the Politics of Barebacking Edited by Ricky Varghese Published by University of Regina Press Review by Toby A. Welch $34.95 ISBN 9780889776838 I have never learned as much from a book as I did from Raw. Considering that I love expanding my knowledge about almost any topic, that is a great thing! ‘Raw’ I understood but I had no idea what the subtitle of this book meant – I learned fast. PrEP, the acronym for pre-exposure prophylaxis, is an antiretroviral medicine used to prevent HIV infection. Pedagogy in general terms means educating and sharing information, often with social, critical, and cultural responsibilities. Barebacking is having intercourse without using a condom, a reference most used these days to describe two men engaging in anal sex. Now that we have the title cleared up, let’s jump in! A massive amount of time and research went into the compilation of this book. Each of the 14 contributors, including the editor of the tome, has an impressive resume. As for what this book is about, the editor sums it up best in his introduction: “Each of the authors in this project provides a rigorous examination of the ideological, socio-political, ethical,…

Angry Queer Somali Boy
University of Regina Press / 7 February 2020

Angry Queer Somali Boy: A Complicated Memoirby Mohamed Abdulkarim AliPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$21.95 ISBN 9-780889-776593 Sometimes a single line succinctly underscores the depths of the valley a person’s experienced. Deep into Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali’s memoir, Angry Queer Somali Boy: A Complicated Memoir, the Torontonian’s phrase “the first day I was homeless for the second time” leaps off the page, and it’s an example of how this first-time writer both lives, and writes. Changes happen quickly, and the reader finds herself catching her breath. Ali’s memoir was published as part of the University of Regina Press’s series The Regina Collection. These pocket-sized hardcovers emulate the U of R’s motto, “a voice of many peoples,” and “tell the stories of those who have been caught up in social and political circumstances beyond their control.” Born in Mogadishu in 1985, Ali was removed from his mother’s home at age five to join his father and the man’s new family in Abu Dhabi, then relocated to a refugee camp in the Netherlands (sans Dad). The next move – with his abusive stepmother and her kids – was to Toronto’s “Jane and Finch area,” where in school “The relationships…