Girl from Dream City, The

The Girl from Dream City: A Literary Lifeby Linda LeithPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Michelle Shaw$21.95 ISBN 9780889777859 One of the joys of reviewing books is that I’m constantly discovering fascinating lives and original stories. Linda Leith is new to me, but her book is so interesting that she quickly drew me into her narrative. The Girl from Dream City is a small book, yet it manages to combine numerous aspects of Leith’s life, as well as the context of the broader literary world in which she lives and writes. First and foremost, the book is a memoir of sorts, from Leith’s early years growing up in Northern Ireland and England, with an emotionally unpredictable and volatile father, to her later years as a writer and publisher in Montreal. Leith’s early life was peripatetic and complicated. Her family was “a world unto itself” and their constant moving from country to country as her father progressed up the corporate ladder meant that no one else was really allowed into the family unit. Her father ruled the family with a strong hand and his volatility ensured he wasn’t challenged, at least not without repercussions. Only years later did she discover…

Gather

Gather: Richard Van Camp on the Joy of Storytellingby Richard Van CampPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Keith Foster$19.95 ISBN 9780889777002 In his latest book, Gather: Richard Van Camp on the Joy of Storytelling, Richard Van Camp offers sound advice on the fine art of storytelling. He shares his insights on how and where to best gather stories and shows how to tell those stories to best advantage. He also shares examples of fine storytelling from his own collection. Some of his advice is plain common sense, like showing respect for your listeners. After all, if there were no listeners, the speaker would have no reason to be there. Perhaps his most important tip is to listen to the storytellers – observe their mannerisms, how they raise or lower their voices, and especially when and where they pause. Although Gather is geared primarily to an Indigenous audience, Van Camp has ample ideas for anyone who aspires to become a storyteller. A prolific storyteller himself, he’s published twenty-five books in twenty-four years, with more on the way. He gathered many of his stories from Elders while driving a Handi-Bus in Fort Smith, NT. Van Camp claims the smartest thing he…

Beaver, Bison, Horse

Beaver, Bison, Horse: The Traditional Knowledge and Ecology of the Northern Great Plainsby R. Grace MorganPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Elena Bentley$34.95 ISBN 9780889777880 The gratitude, kindness, and respect with which James Daschuk and Cristina Eisenberg write the foreword and afterword to Beaver, Bison, Horse: The Traditional Knowledge and Ecology of the Northern Great Plains reveals just how deeply influential Dr. R. Grace Morgan’s research has been, and continues to be, on the study of Plains ecology. Central to Dr. Morgan’s book is her insistence on the importance of acknowledging Indigenous ways of knowing the land—a view not widely shared by the scientific community at the time she was conducting her field research. According to Eisenberg, Indigenous “oral histories have only recently been allowed to inform [ecological] restoration. … However, this is changing thanks to [Dr. Morgan’s] persevering work.” Dr. Morgan originally undertook her doctoral research in the late 1980s, and completed her dissertation in 1991. Sadly, Dr. Morgan passed away before the publication of her book in 2020, but her children, and a few dedicated friends and colleagues, made sure her work found its way into the world because her scientific contribution “remains as important today as…

Way of the Gardener, The

The Way of the Gardener: Lost in the Weeds along the Camino de Santiagoby Lyndon PennerPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$25.95 ISBN 9-780889-778061 I’ve long wanted to experience “The Camino”. The Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James) is a weeks-long, thousand-year-old, on-foot pilgrimage that often begins in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, crosses the Pyrenees, and continues across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, where the disciple St. James’ remains are entombed in the cathedral named for him. Many people undertake the arduous expedition for religious reasons, while others wish to physically challenge themselves, enjoy the Basque-country landscape, or learn more about themselves and humanity. Camino Francés, described above, is the 800-kilometre route writer and environmentalist Lyndon Penner undertook. In his wonderfully entertaining The Way of the Gardener: Lost in the Weeds along the Camino de Santiago, the Saskatoon-based author hadn’t even heard of the trek before he’d agreed to embark on it, and the gardener/plant tour guide walked up to three hours a day with “a heavy backpack” to train. There’s much literature about the Camino, and it’s been the setting for movies (ie: “The Way”), but Penner’s memoir examines it via a unique lens. “I…

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…