Shortlisted, Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Award
Warm, imaginative, and thoroughly original, this memoir intertwines the mysteries of trees with the defining moments in the life of novelist and essayist Theresa Kishkan. For Kishkan, trees are memory markers of life, and in this book she explores the presence of trees in nature, in culture and in her personal history. Naming each chapter for a particular tree — the Garry oak, the Ponderosa pine, the silver olive, the Plane tree, the Arbutus, and others — she draws on Pliny the Elder's Natural History, John Evelyn's Sylva, and strands of mythology from other classical and contemporary sources to blend scientific fact with natural history and the artifacts of human culture.
Never pedantic and always accessible, Mnemonic reveals — through one woman's relationship with the natural world — how all of us have roots that intertwine with the broader world, tapping deep into the rich well of universal themes. In the words of Pliny the Elder, "Hence it is right to follow the natural order, to speak about trees before other things..."
About the author
Theresa Kishkan came to national attention in 2000, with her first full-length novel, Sisters of Grass. A true "writer's writer," she has been steadfastly championed by her peers as a writer against whom others measure their own work, and she has fostered the careers of many other writers while refining her own craft. A popular reader in British Columbia, Washington, and other parts of western Canada and the US, she is an enthusiastic organizer of and participant in regional literary events, and she has twice won Province of British Columbia Cultural Services awards. Kishkan's poetry and essays have appeared in periodicals including Brick, Canadian Forum, The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review, Matrix, The Vancouver Sun, and Manoa (Hawaii) and in five book-length collections including the highly praised Black Cup and Morning Glory, which won the 1992 bp Nichol Chapbook Prize. She has also published a collection of essays on place and history, entitled Red Laredo Boots (New Star, 1996), which Susan Musgrave selected as one of her favourite books of the decade in BC Bookworld. Inishbream is based on a year the author spent on such an island in the 1970s. Today, she lives on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia with her husband, the poet John Pass.
- Short-listed, Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Award
"Mnemonic: A Book of Trees (Goose Lane), Kishkan's newest collection of essays, contains some of her best writing yet. ... The essays in Mnemonic transcend their autobiographical origins as Kishkan uses the personal as a lens through which to explore a broad range of interests. ... There's a wonderful sense of place throughout, and Kishkan's observant curiosity makes you think of Forster's exhortation in Howard's End: ‘Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted.’ Mnemonic exalts."
"Mnemonic is a beautiful read. ... Hers is a beautiful, personal memoir."
<i>Maple Tree Literary Supplement</i>
"An astonishing book, a tribute to the unique and patient genius of its author. ... At once erotic, intellectually rigorous and beguiling, Mnemonic is cultural botany, memoir, arboreal ethnography and love story. It is a sublime and rare thing when writing so gracefully defies taxonomical classification."
"Not since I first read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek have I encountered anything like this, any mind like this. These essays are challenging, rich and surprising, and well worth the close attention they demand from their reader. And lack of knowledge of about filbert catkins ceases to matter anyway, though Kishkan leaves you curious, but the point is to follow where she leads, her path through the woods, and there's no doubt you're in the hands of a most capable guide."
<i>Pickle Me This</i>
"Theresa Kishkan invites us into the company of her favourite trees, where memories perch lightly in the foliage. Her words are readied for flight, yet her stories have deep roots in the experience of a life well lived. Mnemonic will nourish your own heart wood."
"Her beautiful, original, and meditative book is both a (partial) story of her own life, and a hymn of praise to the trees that have sheltered and nurtured her from girlhood to her present age. ... The essay reaches its fullest flower in mature hands. Kishkan's are practiced and confident, and her prose, while fresh and smooth, also accommodates the knottiness of genuine thought. Mnemonic may seem an easy read, but it richly rewards revisiting. If this book were a tree, it would have deep and thirsty roots; broad and elegrant branches; its leaves would always be tipping toward the light; and its fruit would be tangy and sweet."
<i>The Malahat Review</i>
"Whether discussing the olive trees of Knossos, Crete where she once lived or the displaced quercus virginiana she knew as a child growing up in BC, Kishkan's mnemonic exercise and the result — ie, this book — is the consequence of her own evolving, unfolding perspective, told in wonderfully unadorned prose. Like the trees she so loves, her book is a living work."
"Theresa Kishkan's lyrical memoir, written in deliciously rhythmic and light-filled poetic prose, admirably fulfulls [David] Abram's instruction to ‘re-inhabit place’ in writing as a way of retrieving a sens of intimacy with nature and with the earth. ... The memoir is organized in chapters named for prominent trees in the author's life and meanders between personal memories, philosophical reflections, and impressively researched and always vividly presented and beautifully relevant botanical and literary intertexts. ... the book is a gorgeous read and contains breathtaking passages of associative brilliance."
<i>University of Toronto Quarterly</i>, Volume 82, Number 3
"Mnemonic is both tiny and astounding. Loss, life and love between two covers. I can't imagine I'll ever completely let it go."