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…

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…

Sauntering, Thoreau-Style

Sauntering, Thoreau-styleby Victor Carl FriesenPublished by Your Nickel’s Worth PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$25.00 ISBN 9-781988-783468 I embraced daily outdoor explorations decades ago, so was delighted when Rosthern, SK writer-photographer Victor Carl Friesen’s book, Sauntering, Thoreau-style, arrived in my mailbox. Friesen, a multi-genre writer, has several books behind him – including nonfiction, short stories, poetry and children’s literature – and in this latest title he revisits a favourite subject: the writer, naturalist, and legendary Massachusetts walker, Henry David Thoreau. Many will be familiar with Thoreau’s Walden – his literary response to a two-year sojourn at Walden Pond. Friesen’s book – a compilation of essays; mostly Saskatchewan photographs; poetry; and Thoreau’s own quoted, poetic observations – is an homage to Thoreau, and the images “were chosen to reflect Thoreau’s world”. Friesen explains that Thoreau was a highly sensorial writer who practiced activities like looking at objects with “the under part of his eye,” and “[smelling] plants before and after a rain in various stages of growth,” to get different perspectives. Thoreau’s writing itself emulated “the course of a saunter,” and Friesen writes that his subject considered the act of consciously walking in nature as an art. I understand! The colour photographs…

Wheel The World

Wheel the World: Travelling with Walkers and Wheelchairsby Jeanette DeanPublished by Your Nickel’s Worth PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95  ISBN 9-781988-783505 I’ve just spent a pleasant afternoon with Jeanette Dean’s book Wheel the World: Travelling with Walkers and Wheelchairs. As the entire world’s currently anchored with the Coronavirus pandemic, we need travel books like Dean’s: over a few hours and 202 pages, she took me on well-described journeys around the globe, across Canada, and through my home province of Saskatchewan while I practiced social isolation on my comfortable couch. The title infers that this might be a “How To” book, but I’m suggesting it’s a wonderful armchair- adventure title for people with mobility issues or fully able bodies.   Dean and her husband, Christopher Dean, are British-born educators – now retired – who share passions for travel and photography. Saskatoon’s been home since 1966, and there Jeanette spent twenty-two years teaching at the R.J.D. Williams School for the Deaf. In her latter years, Dean’s arthritis has seen her transition from walker to wheelchair, but these challenges have not metaphorically slowed her one iota. She states: “Above all, this book is intended as an expression of the joy of travelling itself, regardless…

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…

Gravity Proof, A…A New Universal Law…Zone State and Other Unusual True Short Stories, 2nd Edition
Karl G. Blass / 2 March 2020

Gravity Proof… A New Universal Law… Zone State and Other Unusual Short Storiesby Karl G. BlassReviewed by Ben Charles$19.99 ISBN 9871775110705 “Gravity Proof… A New Universal Law… Zone State and Other Unusual Short Stories”, written by Karl G. Blass is the result of a delightful passion project from a truly brilliant mind. As a scientist by trade, the Austrian-born Karl G. Blass has made a new trail for himself with the release of this short story series. That being said, Blass is no stranger to publications as he has been published and patented over eighty times throughout his career on various topics within the field of Clinical Biochemistry. After obtaining a PhD and an M. Sc. from the University of Windsor in the 1970s, Blass went on to become a professor of chemistry at the University of Regina and a clinical biochemist at the Regina General Hospital from the mid-seventies until the new millennium. Blass’ aptitude for the sciences rings loud and clear in the first chapter of this book, named “Gravity Research Stories”. By the author’s own admission, the third chapter is the most appropriate place of the book to start if the reader is seeking a casual short…

Touched by Eternity
White Lily Press / 26 February 2020

Touched By Eternity: A True Story of Heaven, Healing, and Angelsby Susan HarrisPublished by White Lily PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.99 ISBN 9-780994-986948 Rural Saskatchewan writer Susan Harris wears a number of hats. I’ve previously reviewed two of her Christmas alphabet books, but her literary prowess also includes inspirational and nonfiction work. It’s appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, and Sunday School students may have read her biblical literature in class. Outside of writing, Trinidad-born Harris can be found presenting on her extraordinary religious experiences, and hosting an Access7Television series called “Eternity”. In Touched By Eternity: A True Story of Heaven, Healing, and Angels, Harris explores her greatest passion, Heaven. Indeed, she claims to have an “obsession about Heaven,” and if you read her new book you’ll understand why. In clear, well-written prose, Harris tells the otherwordly story of her three near death experiences, each occasioned by a health crisis, and what she felt and observed on the proverbial “other side”. Add anecdotes about angels, a description of fiery Hell, and a few visions, and you’ll also glean why she’s dedicated her book to “those who long for Heaven”. Born into a family of “old-fashioned Pentecostals,” it wasn’t uncommon…

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…