6 New Canadian books about the Titanic
While images of Leonardo di Caprio decorating its bow have at times threatened to overwhelm the story of the Titanic, that unsinkable ship that sank remains an object of fascination. In the century since the disaster, its story has been told countless times in books and films and even campfire songs, and now we can add to that a whole slew of new Canadian books that have just been published to mark the Titanic’s centenary this week.
Impact: The Titanic Poems by Billeh Nickerson: Perhaps poetry is what the Titanic required for the legend to be rid of its cinematic grandiosity. Nickerson has written his poems with an eye for detail, the ship itself already a ghost from the book’s start to its finish, but every single one of its rivets (and the men who built them) are rendered in remarkable specificity. So too are the passengers, crew and other details Nickerson brings back to life—the piano player who could only watch as his band played on, the woman whose last sign of her husband is the bruise he left on her arm as he pushed her into the lifeboat without him, somebody’s lucky penny drifting in the sea. Read an excerpt here.
RMS Titanic: Gilded Lives on a Fatal Voyage by Hugh Brewster: Brewster is a veteran writer of Titanicana, behind such bestsellers as Robert Ballard’s The Discovery of the Titanic. In this new book, with much Downton Abbey Edwardian appeal, Brewster tells the familiar story of the ship’s voyage to disaster by using the biographies of many of the eminent passengers on board: “...the Gilded Age masters of the universe-- Astor, Widener, Thayer, Guggenheim, Douglas, Moore, Hays, and others—who suddenly found themselves immersed in the freezing water. People used to die in shipwrecks but this was the twentieth century. This sort of thing didn’t happen any long, particularly not to people like them.”
Halifax and the Titanic by John Boileau: The Titanic is one international story whose Canadian connections are easy to come by, and John Boileau illuminates these in his new book, which is part of the Halifax: Images of Our Past series. Haligonian Samual Cunard established the first transatlantic steamship line in the 1840s, the Titanic’s White Star emerging later as its main competitor. Boileau traces the history of the Titanic from conception, to construction, to sea, highlighting Canadian passengers on board. The Halifax story comes to the forefront especially in the aftermath of disaster, as it was from there the recovery effort was launched and where the bodies of many of the dead were buried. The book contains an appendix with a list of Halifax’s Titanic locations.
That Fatal Night by Sarah Ellis: That Fatal Night is part of the Dear Canada series, in which fictional girls’ diaries present real-life historical events from a human angle. Acclaimed children’s author Ellis presents “The Titanic Diary of Dorothy Wilton”, about a young girl who has recently survived the Titanic sinking and must come to terms with how her life has changed—she is traumatized by the events before her rescue, she feels guilty for having survived when so many perished, she is also made to feel like a public spectacle because everybody knows about the Titanic and that she was the girl who lived through it. Ellis presents the events of the Titanic’s voyage and sinking in a way that’s historically accurate, but also tells a human story that is universal.
Deadly Voyage by Hugh Brewster: From the I am Canada series (Dear Canada for boys), Brewster lends his Titanic knowledge to this fictional account of Jamie Laidlaw, a young boy travelling on the ship. The story focuses on remarkable fact of the ship itself and its various workings (“But that pneumatic tube system is remarkable! Works on compressed air, I believe”), the adventures boys get up to at sea in the 20th century (Jamie gets kicked out of the gymnasium for fooling around on the exercise bikes), and the dramatic events of the ship’s disaster and aftermath. The story’s true-to-lifeness is underlined by the inclusion of maps, photographs of real life characters from the story and other historical documents.
Children of the Titanic by Christine Welldon: Welldon also gives an account of the Titanic’s voyage and sinking from a child’s-eye view in this book for younger readers. Using the experiences of three fictional children travelling in each of the Titanic’s three classes, Children of the Titanic follows the familiar story of the tragedy, and also contains photographs, historical documents, and fabulous fact boxes on most pages packed with Titanic trivia—such as that the ship’s fourth smokestack was a fake.
Which, of course, anybody who’d read Billeh Nickerson’s "The Fourth Smokestack" would know about already.
Go here to read three poems from Billeh Nickerson’s Impact.