After a number of books using detailed research to add his own new perspective and expand on the canon of polar exploration history (Fatal Passage, Ancient Mariner, Lady Franklin’s Revenge), Ken McGoogan stepped out of the formula he had been working with to offer his unique take on a much broader subject, in How the Scots Invented Canada.
Working with that more expansive brush, McGoogan has now painted a picture of modern Canada, focusing on people he believes are making the biggest splash in their own fields on the global stage. 50 Canadians Who Changed the World is exactly what its title suggests – a list of 50 Canucks born in the 20th century who have had an impact beyond our own borders.
The book, and its subjects, are broken down into six categories: Activists, Visionaries, Artists (painters, writers and filmmakers), Humanitarians, Performers (actors, musicians and athletes) and Scientists and Inventors. With such a wide array of areas of expertise, McGoogan must have had more than one late night narrowing down his list to the 50 included here, and no doubt many readers will, as with any published list, take issue both with those who were included and those who were excluded.
McGoogan not only anticipates that this will happen, he relishes the thought, writing in his introduction, “If my views or assessments prove challenging, debatable or provocative, so much the better. If this paean sounds so immodest as to be un-Canadian, I do not apologize.”
The 50 subjects do indeed cover a wide range in each of their respective departments. Activists included everyone from medicare pioneer Tommy Douglas to Islamic reformer Irshad Manji. Visionaries include the expected (Marshall McLuhan) and the not-so-obvious (aboriginal architect Douglas Cardinal). Performers include local legends like Glenn Gould, and underappreciated trailblazers like Jay Silverheels, who faced considerable racism while playing Tonto on The Lone Ranger television series.
I could go on, but to reveal too many of the 50 would be to ruin the mix of pleasant surprise and mild outrage most readers will experience while making their way through the book. While it’s not as specific as his past works, the sweep and scope and sheer creativity of choices makes for an enjoyable and entertaining read, and all but the most knowledgeable modern historians will likely learn something new along the way.
Each piece is, as would be expected of the emerging pre-eminent popular history author of our time, well-researched. The book could benefit from first person interviews, but that’s a small quibble in a book that will likely inspire as much conversation among readers as 50 Canadians will.
For a taste of McGoogan’s reflections on the promotional tour for 50 Canadians Who Changed The World, which he undertook by train with his wife, painter Sheila McGoogan, read his piece here.
Aging and memory can be funny things. As people age, they gain insight and context to the lives they have led, yet often the faculty of memory can be the hardest to hold on to.
Gathered through three decades of conversations with elders on their experience of aging, during which she herself inevitably grew older herself, author Ann Elizabeth Carson has built an insightful, engaging collection of voices in We All Become Stories. The book gathers the stories of 13 elders – including Carson’s, mixed in via conversations with the main dozen subjects – to discuss aging, memory and life in general.
Carson has covered the ground of stories and their influence on memory in past work, but not on their relationship with the aging process. Many of the subjects featured in Stories are residents of an isolated island off the coast of Maine, which Carson visited often, even living there for a time; others are from Ontario, participants in the author’s memory workshops or family friends.
Some of Carson’s past work has included books of poetry, and that talent finds its way into Stories as well. Each chapter consists of a portrait of the subject, drawn by Beach artist Jennifer Kenneally, followed by a conversational dialogue between author and subject, then a poem reflecting on the relationship between the two.
All of them open up to Carson, offering their unique take on growing older. For example, Meyer is a musician, quite passionate, yet not often emotional. He talks of viewing the world in a much different way than most people: “When I was a kid, I’d look at a fence and hear a chord: it would actually glow. And I would remember that glow along with the chord.”
Yet Meyer struggles to remember people’s names, even if he remembers the way that person was feeling when he met them.
Carson’s subjects don’t shy away from the most unpleasant aspects of age, either. Contrasted with Meyer is his wife, Miriam, whose story follows his. She begins by recalling her frustration while having a stroke, and her husband’s inability to read what she tried to communicate through her eyes, unable to speak. She goes on to discuss how, even in her 80s, she’s still learning from the process of analyzing her memories and though processes.
Though there are countless books on the general topic of aging – financial planning, ageism, health, caring for aging family members – rarely, if ever, are the voices of the elders themselves allowed to speak so directly, with such clarity, as those featured in We All Become Stories. With the number of books on aging available, it’s a shame that Carson’s approach should be so novel, but it is a refreshing look at a sometimes delicate subject, explained best by those who are living it.
Fire races through the opening pages of The Spark, a new thriller by long-time firefighter and first-time novelist John Kenny.
Going into a blaze on Cherry Street, Donny Robertson, the book’s firefighter hero, drops to his knees as flames ripple in the air above him, warning the fire is hitting its flashpoint – 550 °C.
With 24 years in the Toronto fire service, Kenny adds real-world thrills to The Spark, plus a strong sense of the tradition and change in the city’s firefighting culture.
Early on, people told Kenny his book might sell better if it were set in a big US city, such as New York or Chicago.
But Kenny, who lives in the Beach when firefighting, chose to stick with the city he knows.
Local readers will feel at home in the book’s key places, from the 1880s fire hall on Lombard Street to Ashbridges Bay, where Donny keeps the sailboat that is his only love besides firefighting – an Island Packet 35 he christened Red Bird.
Donny is no CSI detective – he got his station name, ‘Wedge,’ for being “the simplest tool known to man” – and part of The Spark’s draw is a feeling of looking over Donny’s shoulder as he follows a real firefighter’s intuition.
But even as Donny unravels the Cherry Street plot, which takes on a timely shade of NSA spying, the book’s charm lies in the camaraderie at Lombard, where Donny works alongside the likes of ‘Moose,’ a towering old firefighter who knits in his free time, and Susan, a chemicals expert who becomes the station’s first female firefighter.
Kenny has plenty of editors and experts to thank at the back of the book, and their help shows – The Spark is a well-paced thriller, anchored in real-world firefighting.
Just be careful if you plan to read it on the subway – you’re likely to miss your stop.