2x poplars
Photo of the Yukon by nordicshutter used under a Creative Commons license.

Jill Fredston, Rowing to Latitude (North Point Press, 2001).
Fredston is an avalanche expert who lives near Anchorage nine months out of the year; for the other three months, she and her husband take long-distance trips in oceangoing rowing shells in colder climes. This book is the story of 20,000 miles of kayaking along the coasts of British Columbia, Alaska, Yukon, Greenland, Labrador, and Norway, with a little of Sweden and Washington thrown in for good measure. Oh, she rowed 2,000 miles down the Yukon River to the Bering Strait, and before she reached the Yukon coast on that other trip she rowed down hundreds of miles down the Mackenzie River from Hay River, Northwest Territories. For those of us who dream about such trips but likely will never feather an oar in those waters, Fredston’s book is a wonderful opportunity to row vicariously — a better way to experience the tedium, mosquitoes, and bears. The book won a 2002 National Outdoor Book Award.

Here (scroll down) is Fredston’s bio at the National Avalanche School. You’ll find an excerpt here. Philip Johns says it’s a tremendous book. Dana De Zoysa says Fredston writes rings around mass-market travel scribblers (whomever they may be). Judyth Willis particularly likes Fredston’s connection with the coasts of Yukon and Labrador. David would reread it in a heartbeat. Carol Standish is glad that it’s not a sloppy paean to nature. KiwiBird appreciates Fredston’s thoughts about what’s truly wild (and she should know). Brian Handwerk (National Geographic) picks up on the same theme. Sarah Sammis says it’s one of the best books she’s ever read. It’s Katie Lindsay’s favorite travel writing book (or was in 2004). Karen Karbo (The New York Times) focuses on Fredston’s husband. Gavin J. Grant interviewed Fredston.

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Photo by Irina Souiki used under a Creative Commons license.

Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace (Anchor Books, 1997).
In 1843, a sixteen-year-old maid named Grace Marks was convicted in Toronto of killing her employer and his mistress. Atwood has made these events into a novel, Marks’ story. Her death sentence commuted to life imprisonment, Marks is committed to an asylum, where a young doctor visits her, with his own designs on her story. Marks will not surrender her memories easily, though, and the killings and her guilt in them remain enigmatic.

There are all sorts of links and good stuff here — clearly the place to start. Val Ross profiled Atwood for Quill & Quire. Here are reviews and posts by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt (The New York Times), Francine Prose (The New York Times), Tom De Haven (Entertainment Weekly), Elga (or Bill?), Dancing Badger, Julie Bowerman, kimbofo, Blue Gal, Stephanie Ayadassen, Lesley, Nicola, Gillian Bouras, Magda Healey, Sam Smith, Susan, Jacalyn Duffin, and annehawk. Laura Miller interviewed Atwood for Salon when Alias Grace was published. Marilyn Snell interviewed her for Mother Jones.

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Bill Reid's Sculpture
Photo of Raven and the First Men by Dom H UK used under a Creative Commons license.

Maria Tippett, Bill Reid: The Making of an Indian (Vintage Canada, 2004).
A biography of Reid, who was born in 1920 to a Haida mother and a white father, and who came to be seen as one of the foremost Northwest Coast Native artists and a vital figure in the development of its contemporary arts scene. Reid was associated with the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, home to one of his best-known works, The Raven and the First Men, among others, and it was part of his work to make sure that Native arts were represented there as a living tradition, not bygone history. Reid identified himself as white early in his life and as Haida later, and Tippett makes the case that many of his successes owe to his ability to walk the frontier between the two worlds.

Here is a bio of Tippett, and here is the citation (.pdf) when she was awarded an honorary degree by Simon Fraser University in 2006. Here’s a review by Kenneth R. Lister in the University of Toronto Quaterly. Robert Bringhurst, a writer and friend of Reid, thinks Tippett was “incredibly deaf to what Reid accomplished.” See also Stephany Aulenback at Maud Newton. Boy, these materials from the CBC are pretty cool. Here is bloggy reaction to the book. Here and here are more on Reid (n.b. – yes, the first url has a spelling error). Here is a slideshow of some of Reid’s work – sadly, in the news because pieces he made were recently stolen from UBC.

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From the Lighthouse
Photo of St. Anthony, Newfoundland, by Big K of Justice used under a Creative Commons license.

E. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News (Scribner, 1993).
Quoyle, miserable, widowed by an unfaithful wife and no success as a writer, flees New York with his aunt and his two young daughters for the land of his ancestors, the fishing town of Killick-Claw in Newfoundland, where he finds a second chance in writing “Shipping News,” a newspaper column of local goings-on. Killick-Claw (which apparently bears a resemblance to St. Anthony) is often cold and grey, but Quoyle warms to it, and it to him. Life on the Newfoundland coast is hard, but Quoyle and his family find a redeeming resilience and community. Winner of both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Sara Rimer profiled Proulx in The New York Times after the book won the Pulitzer Prize. Via Marilyn Babineau, Stuart Pierson’s review in Newfoundland Studies suggests that Proulx’s portrayal Newfoundland is a little off. Here are reviews and reactions from: Judi Clark (Mostly Fiction), Margaret Gunning (January Magazine), The DJ (Bibliofemme), Maia, Judith Handschuh (, Michelle, Sheila O’Malley, Howard Dratch (Blogcritics), Songcatchers, Joyce, Marie Javet, Jen, Shriram Krishnamurthi, Trish, Fiona Glass, Leslie, Vishweshwer Mangalapalli, All About PhD, King Rat, the duck thief, and La La Palooza. Orrin Judd disagrees with his mother about the book. And the Atlantic Unbound‘s Katie Bolick interviewed Proulx in 1997.

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Pender Island
Photo of Pender Island, B.C., by neil-san used under a Creative Commons license.

Terry Glavin, This Ragged Place (New Star Books, 1996).
A decade old, but this collection of essays by a local journalist gives a better picture of British Columbia than you’ll find in today’s newspapers. Many of the conflicts described here are over resource allocation: clear-cutting of timber, First Nation fishing rights, urban sprawl. If you’ve read about traditional uses of oolichans, now you can read about the modern fishery in the last piece here.

Here is Wikipedia’s entry on Glavin. Here is Glavin’s blog. This piece, “How the Circus Came to Gustafson Lake,” is included in This Ragged Place. Lesley Krueger reviewed it in Quill & Quire. And here is a recommendation from keefer. Here is Bruce Serafin on Glavin. Norman Geras has another piece by Glavin here.

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International Flora Montréal 2006
Photo of Montreal by used under a Creative Commons license.

Leonard Cohen, Beautiful Losers (Vintage, 1993).
In his piece on Montreal for the Salon Literary Guide to the World, David Mezmozgis writes:

The novel is structured around a scholarly and erotic fixation with the virgin Algonquin saint, Catherine Tekakwitha, whose name graces Montreal’s central thoroughfare, the rue Ste. Catherine — now home to hookers, strip clubs and gleaming franchise stores. Cohen’s novel, like Montreal, is a mixture of the sacred and the profane, where a fanciful description of Montreal’s first Mass . . . is followed by a graphic description of a fabled Mohawk sex cure. There is much in the book about the Indians who lived along the primeval shores of the St. Lawrence (the Onandagas, Hurons, Mohawks and Abenaki) — their allegiances, their conflicts, their mating customs, and their preferred methods of killing and torturing missionaries. All of it is lovingly rendered and some of it even appears to be true. Cohen’s plot also incorporates the separatist fervor that gripped Quebec in the 1960s and that, to a great extent, grips it to this day. Montreal, of course, has always been the sole object of contention. Canadians would have bid adieu to Quebec a long time ago if the separatists weren’t so adamant about taking Montreal with them. Neither side, naturally, can bear to part with a city that stays open all night, whose cafes are brimming with action, and where the drinking age is 18. . . .

I am unfamiliar with Leonard Cohen, but it seems that people either love him or hate him.

Cohen’s site has this bio. Suzanne Snider writes about Cohen’s career. This seems to be a comprehensive fan site. And here’s a forum for his fans. Reactions seem to be love or hate, without much in between. Here is Eric Mader-Lin. Desmond Pacey is a fan. Editor Eric is not. Chris McLaren has audio files of Cohen reading passages from the book in 1966. Here are 70 things you may not know about Cohen. Here is an academic paper by Nicole Markotic on the influence of telephones in the book. The CBC’s digital archives lets you watch the mixed reactions the book received on publication in 1966.

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'our farm'
Photo of Saskatchewan wolf willow by Windy Angels used under a Creative Commons license.

Wallace Stegner, Wolf Willow: A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier (Penguin Classics, 1990).
Renowned as a writer of the American West, Stegner lived for part of his childhood, from 1914 to 1920, in western Saskatchewan. He spent summers on the high prairie near the Montana border and winters in Eastend (called Whitemud in the book), near the Frenchman River. Written in the 1950s, this book is “a bouillabaisse of reminiscence, history, and drama,” as Page Stegner says in the introduction. As the subtitle suggests, the book is part history of the Cypress Hills region, part fiction (including a novella and a short story), and part memoir of Stegner’s time in the town and country. In an epilogue, Stegner writes about what Eastend has become. All of this fits together to make something more than its parts, tied together by the attention to the ties between people and the land that recur in Stegner’s other writing.

Janice Albert wrote a brief bio of Stegner. This page describes Stegner as one of Saskatchewan’s environmental champions. T.H. Watkins put together this annotated bibliography of Stegner’s works. You can read Page Stegner’s introduction and some of the book through Google Book Search, or see a passage describing Eastend’s dump. Andy Grace wrote about the book on the Kenyon Review‘s blog. Tom Montag visited Eastend and wrote this essay. The provincial government provides this profile of the town. Stegner’s boyhood house in Eastend is now a residence for artists, and Katherine Govier writes about it. Loren Webster found much that he liked in the book. Driving through Saskatchewan brought it back to Ben Buan.

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