A Taster: Spring 2021 Nonfiction Preview

Life stories, family, baseball, and retreat. These highlight the nonfiction we're most looking forward to this spring,

*****

Her Name Was Margaret (February), by Denise Davy

About the book: Margaret Jacobson was a sweet-natured young girl who played the accordion and had dreams of becoming a teacher until she had a psychotic break in her teens, which sent her down a much darker path. Her Name Was Margaret traces Margaret's life from her childhood to her death as a homeless woman on the streets of Hamilton, Ontario. With meticulous research and deep compassion author Denise Davy analyzed over 800 pages of medical records and conducted interviews with Margaret's friends and family, as well as those who worked in psychiatric care, to create this compelling portrait of a woman abandoned by society.

Through the revolving door of psychiatric admissions to discharges to rundown boarding homes, Davy shows us the grim impact of deinstutionalization: patients spiralled inexorably toward homelessness and death as psychiatric beds were closed and patients were left to fend for themselves on the streets of cities across North America. Today there are more 235,000 people in Canada who are counted among the homeless annually and 35,000 who are homeless on any given night. Most of them are struggling with mental health issues.

Margaret's story is a heartbreaking illustration of what happens in our society to our most vulnerable and should serve as a wake-up call to politicians and leaders in cities across Canada.

*

On Killing a Revolution (June), by Andray Domise

About the book: An argument against the liberal paradigm of allyship in favour of movements based on Black self-determination
Blackout Tuesday was the pivotal moment, Andray Domise argues, when street-level protests were uploaded to corporate boardrooms and the grassroots protest movement begun after the murder of George Floyd turned from rebellion against white supremacist state violence to a corporatized love-in—what Malcom X dubbed “the circus.”

In On Killing a Revolution, Domise analyzes the co-opting by liberal interests of Black liberation movements ranging from Haiti to Burkina Faso to Canada and the United States and argues for a new kind of revolution based on Black self-determination instead of assimilation into bourgeois white liberal politics.

*

My Mother's Daughter (March), by Perdita Felicien

About the book: Decades before Perdita Felicien became a World Champion hurdler running the biggest race of her life at the 2004 Olympics, she carried more than a nation's hopes—she carried her mother Catherine's dreams.
 
In 1974, Catherine is determined and tenacious, but she's also pregnant with her second child and just scraping by in St. Lucia. When she meets a wealthy white Canadian family vacationing on the island, she knows it's her chance. They ask her to come to Canada to be their nanny—and she accepts.
 
This was the beginning of Catherine's new life: a life of opportunity, but also suffering. Within a few years, she would find herself pregnant a third time—this time in her new country with no family to support her, and this time, with Perdita. Together, in the years to come, mother and daughter would experience racism, domestic abuse, and even homelessness, but Catherine's will would always pull them through.
 
As Perdita grew and began to discover her preternatural athletic gifts, she was edged onward by her mother's love, grit, and faith. Facing literal and figurative hurdles, she learned to leap and pick herself back up when she stumbled. This book is a daughter's memoir—a book about the power of a parent's love to transform their child's life.

*

The Only Way Is the Steady Way: Essays on Baseball, Ichiro, and How We Watch the Game (April), by Andrew Forbes

About the book: Essays about baseball’s past, present, and future—and the wisdom of Ichiro Suzuki.

The Only Way Is the Steady Way is a baseball memoir in scorecards and baseball cards, a recollection of the game’s biggest stars and outlandish personalities, and introspective letters to a legendary player. These essays examine the meaning of baseball across international borders and at all levels of the game—from Little League diamonds to big league ballparks. Parents learn unexpected lessons at t-ball, cheap souvenirs reveal their hidden significance, and baseball’s beating heart is exposed through sharply beautiful observations about the history of the game. Forbes locates peace, reassurance, and a way to measure the passage of time with home run bonanzas, old games on YouTube, and especially in the unique career of beloved outfielder Ichiro Suzuki.

Just as he did in The Utility of Boredom, Forbes shows us how a summertime distraction might help us to make sense of the world, and how a certain enigmatic Japanese superstar offers a surprising ethos for living.

*

The Girl From Dream City (April), by Linda Leith

About the book: Vivid stories from a Canadian literary icon, who shares a life spread across continents and immersed in books.
It’s the life that many dream of: education in some of Europe’s most beautiful cities before becoming a novelist, essayist, translator and literary curator.
 
But the start of Linda Leith’s journey is anything but idyllic. The daughter of a glamorous mother and a charming left-wing doctor, she is never told of her father’s psychiatric breakdown or his subsequent shock therapy for what was then called manic depression.
 
As this secret festers, Leith’s father uproots the family to various European cities as he reinvents himself as a corporate executive, eventually moving across the Atlantic to Montreal.
 
It’s there, in her first year of university, that Leith is inspired by Madame de Staël: a writer and salonnière, banished from Paris by Napoleon himself. With none of Staël’s advantages—no wealth, no social status, no château on Lake Geneva—Leith can scarcely imagine a salon, but she is drawn to Paris, and dreams of becoming a writer.
 
This dream fuels her education in London, her marriage and writing in Budapest, and—finally—her journey back to Montreal where she meets a community of writers and readers who she works with to transform the city’s literary scene.
 
As Leith publishes, translates, and curates, she also comes to terms with her troubled father and the secrets of her childhood.
 
A luscious read, this book will rivet readers of Jill Ker Conway’s The Road from Coorain and Tara Westover’s Educated, or anyone who has dreamed of building a cultural life.

*

In Praise of Retreat: Finding Sanctuary in the Modern World (March), by Kirsteen MacLeod

About the book: For readers of Walden, Wild, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, A Book of Silence, A Gift from the Sea and other celebrations of the inner adventure.

An utterly engaging dive into our modern ways of retreat—where we go, why we’re drawn, and how it’s urgent
From pilgrim paths to forest cabins, and from rented hermitages to arts temples and quiet havens for yoga and meditation, In Praise of Retreat explores the pleasures and powers of this ancient practice for modern people. Kirsteen MacLeod draws on the history of retreat and personal experiences to reveal the many ways readers can step back from society to reconnect with their deepest selves—and to their loftiest aspirations in life.

In the 21st century, disengaging, even briefly, is seen by many as self-indulgent, unproductive, and antisocial. Yet to retreat is as basic a human need as being social, and everyone can benefit, whether it’s for a weekend, a month, or a lifetime. Retreat is an uncertain adventure with as many peaks and valleys as any mountain expedition, except we head inward, to recharge and find fresh energy and brave new ideas to bring back into our everyday lives.

*

The Bushman’s Lair: On the Trail of the Fugitive of the Shuswap (April), by Paul McKendrick

About the book: Some of Western Canada’s most enduring legends involve wilderness fugitives like the Mad Trapper of Rat River or Gunanoot of the Skeena. This book is about one of the most mysterious and most recent fugitives, the Bushman of the Shuswap, who made national headlines while on the lam in the wilderness around Shuswap Lake during the turn of the millennium. For several years he played cat and mouse with the RCMP, raiding summer cottages for supplies and giving media interviews at the edge of the bush only to vanish like smoke.

Who was the mysterious Bushman? What drove him? What happened to him? Author Paul McKendrick became obsessed with these questions after a group of houseboaters discovered a doorway built into a rocky outcrop above a remote arm of Shuswap Lake. It opened into an elaborately excavated nine-hundred-square-foot home, complete with electricity and other amenities—the Bushman’s long-sought hideout.

Intrigued by the ingenuity of the fugitive’s lair and sensing that there was more to the story than what had been reported by the media, McKendrick began reaching out to people who knew the man, whose real name was John Bjornstrom. What had driven Bjornstrom to go on the lam in the first place, and why specifically to the Shuswap? Why did he escape from prison shortly before completing his sentence? The Bushman’s Lair is the culmination of numerous interviews, court and RCMP transcripts and McKendrick’s own experience of following the Bushman’s trails.

The stranger-than-fiction story that McKendrick has woven together is as full of twists and surprises as any reader could hope for: a child of Romani refugees raised by outdoor enthusiasts from Norway; a bizarre, top-secret US military program that recruited individuals with supposed psychic abilities; conspiracy theories and entanglements with shady characters; an alleged hit list tied to the infamous Bre-X mining scandal; and more.

Reminiscent of John Vaillant's The Golden Spruce and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, this fascinating portrait of a far-from-ordinary fugitive makes for a page-turning read.

*

Peyakow: Reclaiming Cree Dignity, A Memoir, by Darrel J. McLeod

About the book: Mamaskatch, Darrel J. McLeod’s 2018 memoir of growing up Cree in Northern Alberta, was a publishing sensation—winning the Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction, shortlisted for many other major prizes and translated into French and German editions. In Peyakow, McLeod continues the poignant story of his impoverished youth, beset by constant fears of being dragged down by the self-destruction and deaths of those closest to him as he battles the bullying of white classmates, copes with the trauma of physical and sexual abuse, and endures painful separation from his family and culture. With steely determination, he triumphs: now elementary teacher; now school principal; now head of an Indigenous delegation to the UN in Geneva; now executive in the Government of Canada—and now a celebrated author.

Brutally frank but buoyed throughout by McLeod’s unquenchable spirit, Peyakow—a title borrowed from the Cree word for “one who walks alone”—is an inspiring account of triumph against unimaginable odds. McLeod’s perspective as someone whose career path has crossed both sides of the Indigenous/white chasm resonates with particular force in today’s Canada.

*

Big Reader (May), by Susan Olding

About the book: A book about memory, loss, and a love of books from one of Canada's finest essayists.

Ever since childhood, Susan Olding has been a big reader, never without a book on the go. Not surprising, then, that she turns to the library to read her own life. From the dissolution of her marriage to the forging of a tentative relationship with her new partner's daughter, from discovering Toronto as a young undergrad to, years later, watching her mother slowly go blind: through every experience, Olding crafts exquisite, searingly honest essays about what it means to be human, to be a woman--and to be a reader.

Big Reader is a brilliant, achingly beautiful collection about the slipperiness of memory and identity, the enduring legacy of loss, and the nuanced disappointments and joys of a reading life.

*

Boom Kids: Growing Up in the Calgary Suburbs, 1950-1970 (May), by James A. Onusko

About the book: The baby boomers and postwar suburbia remain a touchstone. For many, there is a belief that it has never been as good for youngsters and their families, as it was in the postwar years. Boom Kids explores the triumphs and challenges of childhood and adolescence in Calgary’s postwar suburbs.

The boomers’ impact on '50s and '60s Canadian life is unchallenged; social and cultural changes were made to meet their needs and desires. While time has passed, this era stands still in time—viewed as an idyllic period when great hopes and relative prosperity went hand in hand for all.

Boom Kids is organized thematically, with chapters focusing on: suburban spaces; the Cold War and its impact on young people; ethnicity, “race,” and work; the importance of play and recreation; children’s bodies, health and sexuality; and "the night," resistances and delinquency. Reinforced throughout this manuscript is the fact that children and adolescents were not only affected by their suburban experiences, but that they influenced the adult world in which they lived.

Oral histories from former community members and archival materials, including school-based publications, form the backbone for a study that demonstrates that suburban life was diverse and filled with rich experiences for youngsters.

*

The Case for Basic Income: Freedom, Security, Justice, by Jamie Swift & Elaine Power, foreword by Danielle Martin

About the book: Inequality is up. Decent work is down. Free market fundamentalism has been exposed as a tragic failure. In a job market upended by COVID-19—with Canadians caught in the grip of precarious labour, stagnant wages, a climate crisis, and the steady creep of automation—an ever-louder chorus of voices calls for a liveable and obligation-free basic income.

Could a basic income guarantee be the way forward to democratize security and intervene where the market economy and social programs fail? Jamie Swift and Elaine Power scrutinize the politics and the potential behind a radical proposal in a post-pandemic world: that wealth should be built by a society, not individuals. And that we all have an unconditional right to a fair share.

In these pages, Swift and Power bring to the forefront the deeply personal stories of Canadians who participated in the 2017–2019 Ontario Basic Income Pilot; examine the essential literature and history behind the movement; and answer basic income’s critics from both the right and left.

*

Uncle: Race, Nostalgia, and the Cultural Politics of Loyalty, by Cheryl Thompson

About the book: From martyr to insult, how “Uncle Tom” has influenced two centuries of racial politics.

Jackie Robinson, President Barack Obama, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, O.J. Simpson and Christopher Darden have all been accused of being an Uncle Tom during their careers. How, why, and with what consequences for our society did Uncle Tom morph first into a servile old man and then to a racial epithet hurled at African American men deemed, by other Black people, to have betrayed their race?

Uncle Tom, the eponymous figure in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s sentimental anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was a loyal Christian who died a martyr’s death. But soon after the best-selling novel appeared, theatre troupes across North America and Europe transformed Stowe’s story into minstrel shows featuring white men in blackface. In Uncle, Cheryl Thompson traces Tom’s journey from literary character to racial trope. She explores how Uncle Tom came to be and exposes the relentless reworking of Uncle Tom into a nostalgic, racial metaphor with the power to shape how we see Black men, a distortion visible in everything from Uncle Ben and Rastus The Cream of Wheat chef to Shirley Temple and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson to Bill Cosby.

In Donald Trump’s post-truth America, where nostalgia is used as a political tool to rewrite history, Uncle makes the case for why understanding the production of racial stereotypes matters more than ever before.

*

Gather (May), by Richard Van Camp

About the book: Stories are medicine. During a time of heightened isolation, bestselling author Richard Van Camp shares what he knows about the power of storytelling—and offers some of his own favourite stories from Elders, friends, and family.
Gathering around a campfire, or the dinner table, we humans have always told stories. Through them, we define our identities and shape our understanding of the world.
 
Master storyteller and bestselling author Richard Van Camp writes of the power of storytelling and its potential to transform speakers and audiences alike.
 
In Gather, Van Camp shares what elements make a compelling story and offers insights into basic storytelling techniques, such as how to read a room and how to capture the attention of listeners. And he delves further into the impact storytelling can have, helping readers understand how to create community and how to banish loneliness through their tales. A member of the Tlicho Dene First Nation, Van Camp also includes stories from Elders whose wisdom influenced him.
 
During a time of uncertainty and disconnection, stories reach across vast distances to offer connection. Gather is a joyful reminder of this for storytellers: all of us.

*

On Property (February), by Rinaldo Walcott

About the book: From plantation rebellion to prison labour's super-exploitation, Walcott examines the relationship between policing and property.

That a man can lose his life for passing a fake $20 bill when we know our economies are flush with fake money says something damning about the way we’ve organized society. Yet the intensity of the calls to abolish the police after George Floyd’s death surprised almost everyone. What, exactly, does abolition mean? How did we get here? And what does property have to do with it?

In On Property, Rinaldo Walcott explores the long shadow cast by slavery’s afterlife and shows how present-day abolitionists continue the work of their forebears in service of an imaginative, creative philosophy that ensures freedom and equality for all. Thoughtful, wide-ranging, compassionate, and profound, On Property makes an urgent plea for a new ethics of care.

*

Float Like a Butterfly, Drink Mint Tea: How I Beat the Shit Out of All My Addictions (April), by Alex Wood

About the book: As an alcoholic, drug-addicted comedian with tendencies to over-indulge and under-achieve since he was a teenager, Alex Wood was on track for to achieve his greatest goals: to die young and drunk. At the age of twenty-eight, feeling desperate in the face of addiction and associated health problems (ulcers, pancreatitis)—which were compounded by the deaths of loved ones and even worse undiagnosed issues—he decided to do something he'd actually been doing all his life: fight.

Alex concocted a plan to quit not only alcohol and drugs, but everything else that he felt was holding him back: cigarettes, caffeine, red meat, dairy, sugar, social media, smartphones, porn, credit cards, nail-biting, social media, and gossip. His biggest weapons? A pair of boxing gloves and plenty of peppermint tea. But as Alex soon learned, people don't change overnight, and sobriety isn't a linear journey; there's heartbreak, relapses, and abuse along the way, but there's also love, support, and lots of laughter. In this memoir, Alex wants to prove that people really can change, or go on a withdrawal-inspired murder spree, whichever comes first.

With plenty of self-effacing wit and grace, Float like a Butterfly, Drink Mint Tea tears down the walls of shame surrounding addiction, providing an honest and open portrait of the stakes involved when one is willing to quit everything in order to survive.

January 21, 2021
Books mentioned in this post
Her Name Was Margaret

Her Name Was Margaret

Life and Death on the Streets
edition:Paperback
More Info
My Mother's Daughter

My Mother's Daughter

A Memoir of Struggle and Triumph
edition:Hardcover
More Info
The Only Way Is the Steady Way

The Only Way Is the Steady Way

Essays on Baseball, Ichiro, and How We Watch the Game
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
The Girl from Dream City

The Girl from Dream City

A Literary Life
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback eBook
tagged : literary, women
More Info
The Bushman’s Lair

The Bushman’s Lair

On the Trail of the Fugitive of the Shuswap
edition:Paperback
More Info
Peyakow

Peyakow

Reclaiming Cree Dignity, A Memoir
edition:Hardcover
also available: Audiobook (CD)
More Info
Big Reader

Big Reader

Essays
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
Boom Kids

Boom Kids

Growing Up in the Calgary Suburbs, 1950-1970
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
More Info
Uncle

Uncle

Race, Nostalgia, and the Cultural Politics of Loyalty
edition:eBook
More Info
Gather

Gather

Richard Van Camp on the Joy of Storytelling
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
More Info
On Property

On Property

Policing, Prisons, and the Call for Abolition
edition:Paperback
More Info
Float Like a Butterfly, Drink Mint Tea

Float Like a Butterfly, Drink Mint Tea

How I Beat the Shit Out of All My Addictions
edition:Paperback
More Info
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