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A Medley of Voices

A recommended reading list from the author of the new memoir Remnants: Reveries of a Mountain Dweller

Book Cover Remnants

We've got copies of Natalie Lang's new book Remnants: Reveries of a Mountain Dweller up for giveaway right now. 

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Recommending a list of must-read books—a record of what inspires me—has proven to be challenging. There are too many extraordinary titles to pick from. Canadian authors have a certain kind of magic that creates unique voices, styles, and stories. Whether that magic comes from the nature of this land, a history of immigration, the reality that Canada exists in its current form because of colonization, or the simple basics of everyday life in this beautiful and expansive part of the world, there are diverse and complex perspectives that Canadian authors draw upon. It is this variance that tightly connects authors and readers.

Before I get into the Canadian titles that are absolute must readsthere are some international authors that cannot be ignored. These include, but are certainly not limited to: Joan Didion, Mary Oliver, Virginia Woolf, Charlie Mackesy, William Butler Yeats, William Wordsworth, Richard Powers, James Baldwin, Azar Nafisi, Jhumpa Lahiri, Thomas Mann, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, bell hooks, and Jean Rhys.

For my Canadian list, I have settled on a variety of authors and genres in hopes of showcasing the medley of Canadian voices that have inspired me both in my writing, and in how to navigate this wild and wonderful life. In each book we read, there are lessons in the tales they tell. We can soak in those lessons, if we take a moment and watch for them, whatever they may be. My memoir, Remnants: Reveries of a Mountain Dweller, a meditation on the social, historical, cultural, and environmental changes of Place, took direction from these and so many other titles, Canadian and international.  They continue to influence me as I move toward other projects.


Book Cover The Vision Tree

Selected Poems: The Vision Tree, by Phyllis Webb 

In collections like The Vision Tree: Selected Poems, Phyllis Webb epitomises the human condition. She lived most of her life on the West Coast of British Columbia, settling on Salt Spring Island. It was the coast, and all the natural attributes that come along with it, that inspired Webb’s poetry. She embedded the hard beauty of wild places into every image she created, while also considering the crux of depression and womanhood.  

Webb is a “West Coast Writer” who curated a signature style unmatched by any other. She wields an effective and dramatic voice through the quality, range, resonance, and flexibility of every written line. I think it is her control of the image that I love most about her poetry as she writes lines like these:

the air which tomorrow, or even today, will be

a slow, terrible movement of scars

From And in Our Time—The Vision Tree: Selected Poems, page 29.  

Whether one is a writer, a painter, a photographer, a local west coaster, or a person who is contemplating their place in the world, Webb’s voice is one that may guide the path toward a good, honest, and beautiful life.


Book Cover The Quiet in Me

The Quiet in Me, by Patrick Lane 

I regretfully admit that I had never read any of Patrick Lane’s poetry until after his death in 2017. Once I had discovered him, though, I came to see what a treasure he was. His poems are, as his partner Lorna Crozier wrote to start of Lane’s posthumous collection, “fiercely alive.” They are filled with a profound love for the creatures and flora of the world, as well as the distress felt in witnessing the damage human beings inflict upon themselves and everything else sharing space with us.  

Within every line and carefully chosen word, The Quiet in Me cultivates a distilled silence existing within and between every living thing. Each poem stands on its own, but as a collection they betray a web entwined by beauty and pain, existing simultaneously—perpetually connected. Anyone who has ever felt the complex paradox of this life, the duality of nature and humanity, and the confusion that comes with the destruction in our wake, must read this book. Poetry can help us understand the understandable, learn from wisdom, and navigate what tears us up inside. Patrick Lane’s poetry does this, as he helps us to remember that time and time again “Each wave brings water back to water” (28).


Book Cover Radiant Voices

Radiant Voices, by carla bergman 

This book, edited by carla bergman, is a collection of essays showcasing feminine voices. There is so much to be inspired by here; to take note of and learn from. Focussing on previously unheard voices, this book of essays, highlights the margins of communities and gives flight to those who have something valuable and important to say but have otherwise gone unnoticed or ignored. 

I think what this book catches in me, is my sense of justice and rebellion. It opens the opportunity for a certain dominance, that has governed so many for so long, to be overturned and moved aside to make room for other narratives—narratives which highlight the cracks in the world, allow space for fragility, femininity, and collaboration across differences. More books like this are needed in this world; books that question the status quo, celebrate the perceived other, and set the stage to “change the landscapes of our lives.”

Book Cover Brother

Brother, by David Chariandy

There is a reason that David Chariandy won the Globe and Mail’s Best Book award, the Writer’s Trust of Canada fiction prize, and was in the running for CBC’s Canada Reads, 2019, for his 2017 novel Brother. As a coming-of-age story of two sons of Trinidadian immigrants in the outskirts of Toronto, facing prejudice, loss, heartbreak, and the complexities of love, this novel is a well-crafted, powerful, and evocative tale that deserves all these accolades and more.   

While reading, Chariandy’s precision and atmospheric narration, brought me into the book so much that I could feel the sweltering heat, unjust violence, tense confrontation, and immense heartbreak painted through the pages. The skill in crafting a novel like this, is what I long to achieve in my own writing. I return to its pages again and again, re-reading passages silent and aloud, in hopes of learning how this book has had such a lasting impact on me. 


Book Cover Monkey Beach

Monkey Beach, by Eden Robinson

This book is lush, poignant, haunting, and hilarious. Set in the home of the Haisla people, five hundred miles north of Vancouver, Robinson has captured a rekindling culture through the voice of a young Haisla woman, Lisamarie— aptly named after Elvis Presley’s fiery and fiercely independent daughter.

What I love about this novel is the skillful way that Robinson weaves the story between reality, myths, and dreams. One is not always certain what is part of the character’s physical existence, what is in her mind, and what is part of the spirit world that Lisamarie is both closely connected to and tries to run from. It is a powerful West Coast story that helps the reader witness the impacts of intergenerational trauma, residential schools, and colonization of Indigenous people and lands across Turtle Island, all while sewing a thread of hope and anticipation for an bright path into a more just future.


Book Cover When We Lost Our Heads

When We Lost Our Heads, by Heather O'Neill  

Murder, madness, brothels, mansions, social climbers, and wildly intense friendships—what more could a reader ask for in a novel? Set in 19th century Montreal, this book is well written, telling a really great story that I just couldn’t put down. But there is more here than just a wild tale. When We Lost Our Heads explores and challenges gender and power, sex and desire, and class and status, all through the sometimes-tough test friendship. 

Jumping between Montreal’s high society and the harsh realities of the city’s merciless underworld, one can’t help being pulled into both protagonists’ minds, feel simultaneous frustration and sympathy, and cry, laugh, and scorn, right alongside the characters that O’Neill has created for us. 

Book Cover Split Tooth

Split Tooth, by Tanya Tagaq

The internationally acclaimed Inuit throat singer, songwriter, and artist, Tanya Tagaq, brings readers in this brooding and exhilarating novel, into a young girl’s world in 1970s Nunavut. A world filled with the seductive energy of the wild, the dangerous power of the ice and sky, the soft edges separating myth and reality and good and evil, and the raw sensations of what it is to be human in this fierce place. The atmosphere of the Arctic comes alive in this book— a character unto itself—gaining more identity and voice as the mixture of poetry and prose, fiction and memoir, myth and reality, fuse with the heroine’s journey to navigate the realities of her life; the mystic force of love all the while hanging in the balance. 


Book Cover Finding the Mother Tree

Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard

 The reason that Finding the Mother Tree made it onto the New York Times Bestseller list, is because it is an exceptionally important and well written book. Not only was it integral to the research of my own book, but amid climate disasters it should be on everyone’s reading radar. 

As one of the world’s leading forest ecologist, Simard guides us through the journey of how she came to understand the interconnectedness of the forest, and by extension the deeply entwined connections binding every living thing on this planet. Although she is a scientist, a field where writing can typically by less riveting for us non-scientists to read, Simard’s writing is captivating and accessible. She acknowledges the duality of humanity through writing about the facts of her science but with a mystical air, then pairs her discoveries quite beautifully with her own life, born and raised into the logging world within the forests of British Columbia. 

I hope everyone picks up a copy of this book, so they may come to understand just how important our environments are, not only to the lives within them, but to everything that depends on those environments, including us. 


Book Cover Almost Islands

Almost Islands, by Steve Collis  

If you tried to name a book that blends poetry, philosophy, memoir, and a nod to another writer, better than this one, I’m certain you couldn’t. Almost Islands not only draws its reader into a vivid coastal journey on B.C.’s west coast, and into the lives of its author and his mentor, the poet Phyllis Webb, but it also asks some powerful questions. What does it mean to write; to craft what we see, feel, and experience in ways that allow us to not only understand ourselves better, but also to understand the complexity of our world and our place in it? What happens when the writing leaves us?  

Almost Islands, and Stephen Collis himself, helped me to finish my thesis while completing my Master of Arts degree at Simon Fraser University. They also helped me to write my book by leading me to ask my own questions and pursue my own answers, learning along the way to use my voice and my pen to share what I discover. Without this book, my own would have been drastically different. 


Book Cover Paradise Piece by Piece

Paradise, Piece by Piece, by Molly Peacock

What struck me most about this book, from the poet, biographer, memoirist, and previous New Yorker adopted by Toronto, Ontario, is the honesty. Molly Peacock is a powerful poet, and in this memoir, she skillfully blends poetic tension with a transparent exploration of what it means to be a creative woman seeking fulfillment in her life—fulfillment that may not include children, that acknowledges the hurts of a child growing up too quickly, and that asks difficult questions about the complex and varietal nature of relationships. 

Molly Peacock, helped me, piece by piece, to be more honest with myself, to look closely at my life experience, and ask those uncomfortable questions about what I want in life and who I am working to become. 


Book Cover Remnants

Learn more about Remnants: Reveries of a Mountain Dweller

In Remnants: Reveries of a Mountain Dweller, writer and educator Natalie Virginia Lang offers a vision of Sumas Mountain throughout the seasons to expose the impact of toxic progress on Place. Through poetic prose, Lang meditates on the social, historical, cultural, and environmental losses suffered at the hands of infringement upon natural areas. Remnants ventures into the natural spaces on Sumas Mountain, illuminating the errors of the modern colonial approach to progress and posing philosophical queries for alternate pathways into the future.

With whimsical descriptions and close encounters with creatures, forests, and climate change, Lang brings us an embodied experience of nature and bridges the gap between science, philosophy, academic theories, and the social sphere. Remnantsoffers a shift in the way environment is perceived and celebrates the value of interconnected relationships with and within ecosystems. The result is a fresh lens through which to see our relationship with that natural world, one that inspires us to join an ever-growing conversation about finding balance with our environment, even in the midst of growth.



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