Great Companions

As fascinating as books themselves (and oh, are books ever fascinating) are the connections between books, the curious ways in which books inform and echo each other, creating strange synergies completely outside of their authors' purview. In celebration of these connections, we've made great pairings of recent Canadian books of note, creating ideal literary companions. 

*****

All About Abodes

Home, by Carson Ellis, and A View from the Porch, by Avi Friedman 

Carson Ellis's smash-hit picture book explores the meaning of home as it considers all kinds of homes—a ship, a shoe, a home on the moon?—and shares the same preoccupations as Avi Friedman's new collection of essays. 

About Home: 

Influential artist Carson Ellis makes her solo picture-book debut with a whimsical tribute to the many possibilities of home.

Home might be a house in the country, an apartment in the city, or even a shoe. Home may be on the road or the sea, in the realm of myth, or in the artist’s own studio. A meditation on the concept of home and a visual treat that invites many return visits, this loving look at the places where people live marks the picture-book debut of Carson Ellis, acclaimed illustrator of the Wildwood series and artist for the indie band the Decemberists.

Book Cover A View from the Porch

About A View from the Porch:

 A View from the Porch is an illuminating collection of 22 essays about the points where design touches life and the big and small things that make us appreciate, or become disconnected from, our homes and neighbourhoods. Drawing on his experiences as an architect, planner, world traveller, and educator, Friedman delves into issues such as the North American obsession with monster homes, the impact of scale on the feeling of comfort in our communities, environmental concerns such as deforestation, innovative recycling methods in building materials, the booming do-it-yourself industry, the decline of craftsmanship, and the role of good design in bringing families together. Written with Friedman's trademark flare A View from the Porch offers a compelling vision of the influence of design in our everyday lives from one of the world's most innovative thinkers. 

See also

Book Cover Breaking and Entering

Breaking and Entering, by Bridget Elliott: 

As climate change, economic recession, war, and mass migration destabilize the world and create a less certain future, notions of home and shelter loom large. Breaking and Entering considers how contemporary artists and filmmakers address anxieties and vulnerabilities around housing and the house by prying open both physical and metaphorical domestic structures. Deploying tactics that range from cutting into the surface of actual buildings, to making and manipulating "real" and virtual architectural models, to filming urban decay, the artists under discussion dismantle traditional domesticity to expose what remains hidden and to explore what might be salvaged and recycled. The Contributors' central themes include exile and homelessness, narratives of belonging and exclusion, domestic rituals, memories, furnishing and hoarding, invasions of privacy, pleasures and perils of home ownership, utopian visions, and playing house. Broached from a variety of methodological perspectives drawn from art history, architecture, and film studies, the essays in this book invite us to contemplate what we can salvage from historical experiences of dwelling and help us find shelter in the future.

**

Reconnecting With Our Nature

Born to Walk, by Dan Rubinstein, and The Big Swim, by Carrie Saxifrage

Okay, while these authors disagree about modes of transport, they both see the value of getting there on one's own steam. And by "getting there" they mean to a better world. And Saxifrage walks a lot too, even if she is a little bit mermaid. 

About Born to Walk:

The humble act of putting one foot in front of the other transcends age, geography, culture, and class, and is one of the most economical and environmentally responsible modes of transit. Yet with our modern fixation on speed, this healthy pedestrian activity has been largely left behind.

At a personal and professional crossroads, writer, editor, and obsessive walker Dan Rubinstein travelled throughout the U.S., U.K., and Canada to walk with people who saw the act not only as a form of transportation and recreation, but also as a path to a better world. There are no magic-bullet solutions to modern epidemics like obesity, anxiety, alienation, and climate change. But what if there is a simple way to take a step in the right direction? Combining fascinating reportage, eye-opening research, and Rubinstein’s own discoveries, Born to Walk explores how far this ancient habit can take us, how much repair is within range, and guarantees that you’ll never again take walking for granted.

Book Cover The Big Swim

About The Big Swim: 

The Big Swim puts forward the idea that personal growth arises from facing both inner tensions and threats to the biosphere. In a collection of stories that is frequently touching, surprisingly funny and always thought-provoking, author Carrie Saxifrage seeks out the places where science meets self-discovery, inviting us to join her as she:

  • Learns the art of appreciation from an ancient jawbone
  • Hikes solo through the wilderness to find balance in a field of blueberries
  • Swims for four hours through cold, open water, seeking a fleeting state of grace.

Each of the stories in The Big Swim encourages possibilities for greater personal satisfaction with lower environmental impacts. While exploring significant topics, such as sustainable forestry, nature-centered philosophy or First Nations culture, the author discovers that the greatest adventure is learning to align how she lives with what she loves. By turning her own despair into action she paves the way for us all to discover the many tools we have at hand to meet the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced.

** 

On Inheritance

They Left Us Everything, by Plum Johnson, and A Year of Days, by Myrl Coulter

Johnson's memoir just won the RBC Taylor Prize for non-fiction, and Coulter's essay collection was just published. Both deal with sorting through what remains of our parents after they die—it Johnson's case, the sorting is actual stuff, and for Coulter it's mostly memories. The effect is the same though. As Coulter writes, "Words and pictures—survival gear for our stories.” 

About They Left Us Everything

After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parents—first for their senile father,  and then for their cantankerous 93-year-old mother—author Plum Johnson  and her three younger brothers experience conflicted feelings of grief and relief when  their mother, the surviving parent, dies. Now they must empty and sell the beloved  family home, which hasn’t been de-cluttered in more than half a century. 23 rooms bulge with history, antiques, and oxygen tanks. Plum remembers her loving  but difficult parents who could not have been more different: the British father, a  handsome, disciplined patriarch who nonetheless could not control his opinionated, extroverted Southern-belle wife who loved tennis and gin gimlets. The task consumes  her, becoming more rewarding than she ever imagined. Items from childhood trigger  memories of her eccentric family growing up in a small town on the shores of Lake  Ontario in the 1950s and 60s. But unearthing new facts about her parents helps her  reconcile those relationships with a more accepting perspective about who they were  and what they valued.

Book Cover A year of Days

About A Year of Days

"As soon as she was gone from this earth, I felt an overwhelming need for more of her. I had to find her again. But how do you find someone after they're gone for good?" After her mother succumbed to a rare form of dementia, Myrl Coulter turned the eulogy she had written for the funeral into a series of meditations on absence. The result is 15 personal narrative essays that move through the vacations, holidays, special occasions, and ordinary days each year brings. Coulter reaches for the mother who is gone, yet ever-present, no matter where she is or what she is doing. In every captivating detail of Coulter's world, A Year of Days offers readers an intimate odyssey of experience and catharsis.

**

Dawning Consciousness

The Night Drummer, by Paul Nicholas Mason, and Wake the Stone Man, by Carol McDougall

Something is beginning to change in Canada, people waking up to the continuing colonial legacy of harm and injustice toward Indigenous people. Indigenous people are telling their own stories, and these two coming-of-age novels are born of the dawning consciousness resulting from that.

Wake the Stone Man is the 2014 winner of the Beacon Award for Social Justice Literature.

About The Night Drummer: 

The Night Drummer is the story of two teenage friends—white, middle-class Peter Ellis, and Otis James, a native boy adopted by an older evangelical Christian couple. Peter and Otis grow up in small town Ontario in the 1970s, and the novel follows them through their high school years where both confront challenges that require them to decide who they are and who they want to be, decisions that will have profound consequences not only for themselves, but for their friends and family.

Book Cover Wake the Stone Man

About Wake the Stone Man

Set in a small northern town, under the mythical shadow of the Sleeping Giant, Wake the Stone Man follows the complicated friendship of two girls coming of age in the 1960s. Molly meets Nakina, who is Ojibwe and a survivor of the residential school system, in high school, and they form a strong friendship. As the bond between them grows, Molly, who is not native, finds herself a silent witness to the racism and abuse her friend must face each day.

In this time of political awakening, Molly turns to her camera to try to make sense of the intolerance she sees in the world around her. Her photos become a way to freeze time and observe the complex human politics of her hometown. Her search for understanding uncovers some hard truths about Nakina’s past and leaves Molly with a growing sense of guilt over her own silence.

When personal tragedy tears them apart, Molly must travel a long hard road in search of forgiveness and friendship.

April 23, 2015
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