Just Pretending by Lisa Bird-Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There were several things I liked about these short stories, most of which feature First Nations or Metis characters in Western Canada. First of all, the author delves into tough themes, such as abandonment, sexual assault, child neglect or abuse, mental illness and prejudice.
But the characters are so well developed that I really cared about what happened to them in each story. And the writer treated them with compassion. I think this is important because otherwise I wouldn’t have been inclined to get into such dark subject matter.
There was also a thread of humour running through the book which (besides causing me to almost snort tea through my nose) really illustrated how people use humour as a coping mechanism.
Finally, Lisa’s writing style is so smooth that I was able to get into each story and completely believe in the world she created.
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Apparently farm journalists are not known for being snappy dressers.
I was informed of this last year by a young man at Canadian Western Agribition. I started to defend my profession. Then I glanced at my shoes.
Continue reading Fashion
Tom Brokaw came up with the term “The Greatest Generation” to describe the people who grew up during the Great Depression. This same generation went on to fight in World War II (if not literally fighting, supporting the war effort at home).
Whenever I read anything about this generation, I automatically think of my maternal grandparents. John Holzman and Irene (Vavra) Holzman embodied many of the values people attribute to this generation. They really were great (although I suppose I’m a little biased).
Continue reading The Greatest Generation
I took in the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild conference this last weekend. It was a great conference, and I had all kinds of interesting conversations with other writers (topics ranged from bar fights to politics, which is sometimes kind of the same thing, I guess).
Anyway, one thing that stuck with me was Tim Wynne-Jones’ comments on how people become writers. Basically, it’s like playing basketball – when you start out, you’re having fun, and you’re a slightly better shot than the other kids, or a little quicker, etc… At some point you have to work hard to develop that talent, but in the beginning it comes down to a love of the game and what might be a slim advantage over your peers.
And I thought that metaphor really rang true. When I think about why I became a writer, it probably comes down to a love for good stories. And my grandma, Mary Guenther, is the first person who helped me develop that story ear.
Continue reading Stories
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Mann argues that North Americans (pre-European) actively managed their landscape (including farming), in a way that usually balanced the needs of their societies with the need to protect the environment.
Overall I enjoyed this book. As a farm journalist and former farm kid, I was particularly interested in the sections that dealt with agriculture. Some sections were a little less interesting to me personally, and I found it pretty information dense (although I suppose that’s what we should want in a book detailing history). I would definitly recommend it to anyone interested in North American history.
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Alice Munro was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature this morning. She is the first Canadian woman to receive the prestigous prize.
(The only other Canadian winner was Quebec-born Saul Bellow. And though Bellow was a Canuck by birth, he moved to the U.S. at a young age and identifies as American).
Continue reading Shorts
Two of my friends are hosting an artist retreat at Mervin, Sask. Dates are Nov. 2nd and 3rd. More info below.
The Unfinished Child by Theresa Shea
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Shea really nails the complexity of friendships between women. That mix of jealousy, resentment, and love that exists between some women was brought to life in Marie and Elizabeth. The plots pulled me along like a strong current. There is a well orchestrated plot twist part way through the novel that was very satisfying to me as a reader.
What I liked best about this novel is that Shea addresses complex, tough issues that people don’t like to talk about with compassion and sensitivity. She is a brave writer and I admire her for that. I felt like I gained some insight into people who deal with these issues, and into how people develop compassion.
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An excerpt from the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild E-briefs:
Recipients of the John V. Hicks Long Manuscript Awards Announced
The Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild (SWG) is pleased to announce the recipients of the 14th Annual John V. Hicks Long Manuscript Awards. The first place winner is Linda Biasotto for Sweet Life; the second place winner Lisa Guenther for Friendly Fire; the third place winner is Marlis Wesseler for Pleasant Manor. The three—who receive $1,000, $650, and $350, respectively—were selected by judges Trevor Cole and Christine Pountney. Honourable Mention this year goes to Infinity Signs by Andréa Ledding.
(Side note: I read Marlis Wesseler’s novel “South of the Border” a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I’m honoured to be in such fine company.)
Continue reading Shameless Self Promotion
Last Friday, my friend Wanda kindly toured me around the grid roads east of Livelong. We were looking for the Speedwell cemetery, along with the site of the Speedwell school.
What the heck is Speedwell, you ask? Well, it was a Mennonite community north of Fairholme, Sask. Author Rudy Wiebe grew up in Speedwell, which I believe sprang up during the Depression.
Speedwell had a short existence. It’s what Wiebe calls a “tombstone community.” Here’s an excerpt from his book River of Stone:
Scattered here and there across Western Canada are communities which stand as tombstones to the “homestead method” of rural settlement. A number of them were established during the depression years of the 1930s when, desperate for an honest livelihood, thousands of impoverished families felt that if only they had land to live on, they could avoid both hunger and the dole. And there lay such an immensity of Canada beyond the strip of southern settlement and below the rock of the Canadian Shield; surely it could be settled in the tried and proven way: 160 acres and five years with minimum improvements and the land was theirs. Get enough famies to settle in one area and presto! – a stable community had begun.
Continue reading Tombstone Communities