Chalk Dust

Chalk Dust: Memoirs of a Prairie Teacherby Dianne MillerPublished by Your Nickel’s Worth PublishingReview by Keith Foster$19.95 ISBN 978-1-988783-51-2 Dianne Miller’s Chalk Dust: Memoirs of a Prairie Teacher is a delightful read. Writing in a chatty conversational style, she not only relates her own stories but incorporates anecdotes of others as well, usually from their point of view. She has a passion for brilliant imagery and humour, and her prose is sprinkled with them. For more than thirty years, from 1970 to 2003, Miller taught a variety of grades in nine schools, primarily in Saskatoon, Yorkton, and Swift Current. She reviews her career as she rises through the ranks as student, teacher, vice-principal, principal, and administrator. One way Miller sets the context of her sixteen chapters is by describing the changing fashions of the times. In the early 1970s, for instance, styles varied from “Mini-skirts to shoulder pads to jeans. Platform heels to stilettos to Birkenstocks.” On her first day of teaching, Miller turned up in stacked heels, a shag hairdo, and hot pants. Miller describes the chaos on that first day when thirty-seven of her Grade 4 students lined up to sharpen their pencils. In trials like this, she…

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…

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…

In My Own Moccasins: A Memoir of Resilience
University of Regina Press / 5 September 2019

In My Own Moccasins: A Memoir of Resilienceby Helen KnottPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$24.95 ISBN 9-780889-776449 When a novice author earns the praise of writers like Maria Campbell and Richard Van Camp, it’s like a promise: readers are in for a powerful experience. But Helen Knott’s In My Own Moccasins: A Memoir of Resilience, also comes with a warning: the content is “related to addiction and sexual violence. It is sometimes graphic and can be triggering for readers.” The author suggests that any readers who are triggered “be gentle with [themselves].” She opens her story by acknowledging other women’s painful memories, and stating that she “gives this in hopes that [they] remember that [they] are worth a thousand horses.” I am already wowed. As suggested, I’m not alone. Eden Robinson’s written the memoir’s foreword, and says Knott – a Dane Zaa, Nehiyaw, and mixed Euro-descent writer in Northeastern BC – is “one of the most powerful voices of her generation.” Knott’s introduction to the compact hardcover reveals her raison d’être for the book: “I summoned these words and the healing that comes with them to lighten the loads of shame, addiction, and struggle” for Indigenous…

David G Grade 3
Cameron House Media / 17 July 2019

David G Grade 3: The Tragicomic Memoir of a Reluctant Atheistby David Robert LoblawPublished by Cameron House MediaReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$20.00 ISBN 978-0-9959495-0-8 Regina writer David Robert Loblaw – he legally changed his name from David G in his early twenties to eradicate any connection to his mother’s husband, “Maurice-the-piece of-shit” – has published his first book in a series of memoirs, and it’s quite the romp. Over an easy-to-read 207 pages, Loblaw introduces us to his family, including his hard-working single mother, a staunch Roman Catholic; his half-sister sister Yvette, whom he adores; and two half-brothers, whom he does not adore. Other portions David G Grade 3 concern school misadventures, Loblaw’s passion for the Apollo moon missions, and his experiences with the church, including his love for the Bible’s “great stories of adventure”. He’s such a good child he has to make up a sin (“‘I beat up a kid’”) during his first Confession – and thus he commits the sin of lying while in his very first Confession. There’s rich fodder here. As he says, “How can you now love a religion that has human asterisks behind every God-given rule?” The book’s dedicated thus: “For the two…

One Lucky Devil
Shadowpaw Press / 9 January 2019

One Lucky Devil: The First World War Memoirs of Sampson J. Goodfellow Edited by Edward Willett Published by Shadowpaw Press Review by Keith Foster $19.95 ISBN 978-1-9993827-6-6 One Lucky Devil: The First World War Memoirs of Sampson J. Goodfellow, edited by Edward Willett, details the incredible wartime experiences of a remarkable man. Sampson Goodfellow seemed to have nine lives, but there was more than just blind luck involved. Born in Scotland, he immigrated to Toronto, then moved to Regina in 1911, working as a machinist. The next year he witnessed a cyclone barrelling through the city. “I watched it coming from the south,” he wrote, “and saw the houses on Cornwall Street tumbling down, one after the other.” Goodfellow enlisted in the Canadian Army when World War I broke out and, because of his mechanical skill, was assigned as a driver. At Passchendaele, German planes bombed troops unloading shells from his truck. Shrapnel smashed through the back seat where he’d been sitting just moments before. Goodfellow transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, renamed the Royal Air Force in April 1918, as a navigator. Understanding aviation concepts better than his instructors, he wound up teaching a course. He survived several crashes…

every day we disappear
Radiant Press / 7 December 2018

every day we disappear by Angela Long Published by Radiant Press Reviewed by Toby A. Welch $22.00 ISBN 9781775183938 I am a firm believer that the best writing – or at least the most entertaining writing to read – comes from authors who hold nothing back. Those that dig so deep that they must’ve felt like they were laying in the gutter after they poured out their words are my favourites. In every day we disappear, Angela Long proves herself to be one of those writers. When she listed the lovers she’s had, I applauded her honesty. When she shared her inability to leave a toxic relationship, I felt her pain. Long spares nothing. It is refreshing to experience in the often politically correct world we live in. It was glorious to travel the world with Long from the coziness of my reading chair. I could almost feel the chaos of India as we meandered across the country, from Delhi to the Zanskar mountain range and a dozen other places. I felt at home with Long in Montreal. Her time in Italy has me seriously contemplating moving there. And northern BC sounds like another planet, albeit a fascinating one The…

No-Badge Killick
Monkey's Fist Publishing / 19 October 2018

No-Badge Killick: Life at Sea in Canada’s Cold War Navy by Gord Hunter Published by Monkey’s Fist Publishing Review by Keith Foster $20.00 ISBN 978-0-9681803-1-0 Talk about adventures on the high seas. Gord Hunter hits the mark in No-Badge Killick: Life at Sea in Canada’s Cold War Navy, where some of his adventures take place under the seas. Sailors in Commonwealth Navies refer to a Leading Seaman as a killick, originally the name given to a small anchor. After serving at least three years without getting into trouble, a sailor is entitled to wear a good conduct badge. If a Leading Seaman commits a major breach, he loses his good conduct badge, thus becoming a no-badge killick. In 1962, after his high school principal tells him not to bother returning, Hunter enlists in the Royal Canadian Navy. He’s only seventeen. He barely completes his basic training before being assigned to a ship during the Cuban missile crisis that fall, at the height of the Cold War. Hunter trains as a sonar operator, learning how to detect and track Soviet submarines and spy ships. The highly sensitive equipment is top secret and on one occasion he has to order a senior…

Ladder Valley

Ladder Valley by Donna Miller Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Keith Foster $21.95 ISBN 978-1-988783-24-6 Based on her life story, Donna Miller’s Ladder Valley reads more like a psychological thriller than a memoir. Her first-person narrative smashes through raw emotions like a chainsaw shredding flesh. This is Miller’s fourth book in a series called Help Me; I’m Naked. Examining mother-daughter relationships, her hard-hitting look at domestic violence shows how abuse affects three generations of women as it trickles down from mother to daughter to granddaughter. To protect their privacy, Miller changes her name and those of her children. She becomes Korel, and her children are Angie, Sonya, Sapphire, and Kennalyn. They’re living near Big River, an isolated area on the edge of Saskatchewan’s boreal forest, in 1979-1980. Due to a curse by her great-grandmother, all of Korel’s relationships, and those of her mother, turn out badly. Listening to her mother describe being raped at age six, Korel finds herself “slipping into a pit, an ugly black abyss of compassion juxtaposed with anger” and contempt, creating a ghetto in her soul. An only child whose father molested her, Korel fled an unhappy marriage with her four daughters, then…

Spaces to Fill
Benchmark Press / 23 January 2018

Spaces to Fill: And A Century To Do It by Jack Boan Published by Benchmark Press Review by Keith Foster $25.00 ISBN 978-1-927352-34-2 “When a door opens, walk through it.” This is one of the chapter titles in Jack Boan’s autobiography, Spaces to Fill: And A Century To Do It. It’s also Boan’s personal philosophy. He’s walked through many doors in his 100-year-long life. Boan was born in 1917, a few miles southeast of Briercrest, SK. He ran away from home at age five but returned later that day. He started selling newspapers when he was eleven, boarding the two trains that stopped at Briercrest daily. After tinkering with radios, he worked as a farm labourer, earning fifty cents or sometimes a dollar a day, good money for a fourteen-year-old. Boan relives experiences with his relatives. One day, while enjoying a family reunion near a river, he noticed his brother’s head submerging. Young Boan was able to pull him ashore. When World War II broke out, Boan enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, attaining the rank of sergeant. Airsickness was a major problem for flight crews, so Boan purchased small paper bags from a grocery store for just such…