Tag Archives: nonfiction

Finished this book: The Invisible Empire: A History of Racism in Canada by Margaret Cannon

The Invisible Empire: Racism in Canada book cover image

The Invisible Empire: Racism in Canada book cover image

This book was published back in 1995 and I remember quite liking it then. I was at the tail end of my Women’s Studies degree and quite impressed with my own knowledge and open-mindedness. A book about racism in Canada was right up my alley. Not only would it look impressive when I read it on the bus, but it was also unlikely (I was certain) to challenge me in any real way, given all the recent reading and learning I had done around the intersections among race, class, power, sexuality, and gender.

Rereading this book almost a quarter of a century later has been a sobering experience. I don’t recall exactly what I thought and felt about this book back then; I just had a general feeling of it being an interesting look at the then-current state of race in my country.

Now, however, I am surprised that I would have bought a book by a white woman to learn about racism in Canada. Particularly not a person who is writing from such a place of power and privilege, with access to the media as a journalist, private school for her daughter, etc. It amazes me that I thought this might be a useful perspective.

There was some interesting information and research about such things as how the Heritage Front is constituted and connected to other people and groups (and how these groups exist to basically protect middle-aged white, middle-aged women like the author), some history of  immigration in Toronto, etc. But overall I was pretty disappointed in this book now. To put it in today’s terms, I felt it smelled strongly of #notallwhitepeople.

Things that made me feel this way:

  • lots of pointing out how different ethnic groups also dislike or discriminate against each other (felt like: “they do it too”)
  • lots of “trying to find the truth” between the lived experience of POC and the feelings of white people (felt like: “both sides of the story are equally valid and have to be heard”)
  • a discomfort with naming racism, hatred, and consequences clearly (felt like “try to remain polite”)
  • not enough analysis or placing of events / issues in a context of systemic oppression, but rather more explaining the way things are. Perhaps this descriptive rather than analytical approach comes from the writer’s journalist background. But description by a member of the oppressor’s group is not neutral.
  • too many protestations of the goodness of individual white people (for example, “June Callwood did so much good for the community and is being persecuted for this mistake / misunderstanding”; and, regarding the ROM Into the Heart of Darkness / Africa exhibit: “but the curators did a brilliant job; it’s just that people didn’t understand the cleverness and intellectualism and irony of it all!”; and how opening a new theatre with a production of Showboat was was a more of a lapse of good judgement than actual racism
  • blaming multiculturalism for a lot of these problems (which felt like: “immigrants should just adapt to our ways and there wouldn’t be a problem”

 

While Cannon does seem to be pushing her own comfort zone in this book, especially when venturing out to attend Heritage Front meetings and the like, and does seem to move toward an understanding of the fact that racism extends beyond the confines of actual “hate groups” to include the beliefs and actions of “ordinary people like you and me” (with the definite assumption that “we”—she and her readers— are white people), she does not take her understanding further to embed this in a systemic context.

On the one hand, I understand that this was a fairly new concept for a lot of us white people back in the nineties, but on the other hand, at that time, I certainly owned and worked hard at understanding an expensive pile of textbooks talking about this exact systemic dynamic, textbooks which would certainly have been accessible and parseable by someone with Cannon’s writerly qualifications.

I will put this book in the giveaway pile and wouldn’t recommend it now, but it was very interesting to take this trip backward and see how much my own views and understanding of racism have changed over time. It makes me wonder uncomfortably how much more I have yet to learn, and how another quarter century will (I hope) change my views and deepen my understanding of the toxic webs of systemic oppression and my place in them.

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Very Important Note: None of the phrases in quotation marks are direct quotes from the book.


 

Finished this book: Stupendous Stitching: How to Make Fun and Fabulous Fiber Art (by Carol Ann Waugh)

Cover of Stupendous Stitching by Carol Ann Waugh

Cover of Stupendous Stitching by Carol Ann Waugh

Back at the beginning of April, I went to a quilt show with my mom. Since her retirement, she’s taken up quilting, and she makes some gorgeous pieces. I’ve resisted having her make a quilt for my king-sized bed, partly because that’s a heavy bunch of quilt for my mom to be working on, and partly because I feel it’s a waste to give me nice bed blankets of any sort, since I share my bed with two fluffy gunky-assed cats and two big dogs. That’s a lot of fur and dirt, frankly, and my bed is always covered with a “dog blanket” anyway, so a gorgeous handmade quilt would be not only endangered but also simply never on display. Continue reading

Finished this book: Animals Make Us Human (by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson)

Cover of Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin

Cover of Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin

Last month, I browsing the sale shelf at McNally Robinson Grant Park, and I was excited to find Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals. Years ago, I read Animals in Translation by the same authors which—as far as I remember—was somewhat dryer than this book. But I enjoyed that first book very much and was surprised and pleased to see how much work Dr. Grandin has done to improve the lives of factory-farm animals. Continue reading

Finished this book: Feminist Thought by Rosemarie Tong

Cover of Feminist Thought by Rosemarie Tong (1989 edition).

Cover of Feminist Thought by Rosemarie Tong (1989 edition).

I started re-reading this book on International Women’s Day. It’s an old textbook from my Women’s Studies days at the University of Manitoba, and I don’t think I’ve read it since then. It’s a survey of the different streams of feminist theory, and gives a clear summary of liberal feminism, Marxist feminism, radical feminism (from two perspectives: reproduction / mothering and gender / sexuality), psychoanalytic feminism, socialist feminism,  existentialist feminism, and postmodern feminism. Continue reading

Finished this book: Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid by Evelyn Lau

runaway

This was a disturbing book. Evelyn Lau writes about her experiences living on the street after running away from home at the age of fourteen to escape her abusive, controlling parents.

Lau had always wanted to be a writer, and had already received some awards and recognition for her writing at a young age, but she was forced to leave home to escape an unendurable situation. She stayed with friends at first, given the network of friends and fellow writers she had already established, but as the pressure from police and child welfare authorities increased, her friends became unable and unwilling to shelter her. Continue reading

Finished this book: Incognito Street by Barbara Sjoholm

Cover of Incognito Street by Barbara Sjoholm

Cover of Incognito Street by Barbara Sjoholm

This memoir of the author’s travels through Europe as a young woman is a well-written and pleasant read. The countries in which she describes her travels (primarily France, Spain, and Norway) are mere backgrounds, however, to her inner travels. Sjoholm is struggling to be a writer, to understand what being a writer means, to find the balance between writing and living. She is also coming to terms with her attraction for her friend Laura, and Laura’s attraction to her. Also, at the time she was traveling, there were great political changes happening in her home country (USA) with regard to gender and politics, and the book touches on her growing awareness of and interest in that. Continue reading

Finished this book: The Hidden Lives of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

Cover of The Hidden Lives of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

Cover of The Hidden Lives of Dogs by E. M. Thomas

This book is a reflection about the author’s many years of living with dogs, during which time she eschewed formal training, preferring to let the dogs develop naturally, make their own decisions, and learn from each other. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas wanted to figure out what dogs want, and to see how dogs would behave when left primarily to their own devices. Her observations, and her synthesis of all those observations over the years, are quite interesting, but they are so grounded in very particular views not only of dogs and kyno-human relationships, but also very specific ideas about human culture (that is, the one Thomas knows), that some of her conclusions and ruminations seems odd to me. Continue reading

Finished this book: Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

Cover of Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.

Cover of Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.

Masson has written many books about animals, a few of which I have read. His love for animals shines through everything he writes, as well as his advocacy for their welfare and that of their habitats.

The short sections of this book each discuss a different animal. Any aspect of animals might be discussed in any given segment, from feeding habits to mythology to lovemaking preferences to communication to childrearing to emotional responses. Masson very strongly encourages the reader to think of animals in a relational rather than a functional manner.

I liked how the book was broken up into sections of 3 to 5 pages. It’s a good bathroom book or before-bed book because there is no actual plot, but you can sit and learn something about an animal while you poop or while the sleeping pill kicks in (pro tip: try not to do these at the same time).

Masson laments the destruction of habitats and also the human mindsets that allow us to kill for our own convenience. Once in a while he comes across a little bit preachy, but it is forgivable because his deep interest in and voracious curiosity about all the animals he discusses is so obvious and so beautiful.

Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras: A Menagerie of 100 Favorite Animals by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. 2006. ISBN 9780345478818.

 

 

Finished this book: The Darwin Awards II by Wendy Northcutt

Cover of The Darwin Awards II: Unnatural Selection

Cover of The Darwin Awards II: Unnatural Selection

A book about how people die stupid and unnecessary deaths makes me feel smart and accomplished just for having survived so far. On the other hand, every time I giggle-snorted at another ridiculously avoidable demise, I was also reminded of the incredibly poor judgement I have sometimes shown in my life, and reminded of just how random luck is, killing some fools and letting others live. I suppose there are more important things to wish for, but I do hope that the manner of my death won’t be a laugh on me. Continue reading

Finished this book: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Cover of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Cover of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

I first read Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within back in the late 80s, and I’ve reread it quite a few times since then. Natalie Goldberg’s writing is clear and uncluttered; it’s a style I enjoy. The book’s contents are divided into very short chapters, some less than two pages. She teaches through little stories and anecdotes, informed by her Zen Buddhism, and full of kindness and generosity. She encourages writers to treat themselves with that same kindness and generosity, and rather than outlining strict rules for writing, she shows how even setbacks or doubts can be approached from another angle and made useful.

I like the book’s easy, intimate, conversational style, and I very much appreciate that Goldberg does not presume to have the One True Path to writing success. Continue reading

Finished this book: Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Cover of Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Cover of Yes Please by Amy Poehler

This book stood out for me because of Poehler’s amazingly positive outlook on life. Sure, things go wrong or things are hard, but overall the attitude that shines through is one of optimism, hope, belief in hard work, trust in her friends, and an understanding of how fortunate she is to be living the life she is, with work that she loves and children she loves.

It was interesting to read about her career so far. What I found especially fascinating was how she has perspective on the early days of her career, when she was unknown, passed over, broke, and struggling. Continue reading

Finished this book: Marley & Me (by John Grogan)

Cover of the book Marley & Me by John Grogan

Cover of the book Marley & Me by John Grogan

I’m a sucker for a book about dogs. I mean, dogs, right? Nature’s most perfect animal? Except they’re not really natural, I guess. But anyway, what I love even more than a book about a dog is a book about a bad dog, because it makes me feel better about my own unruly beasts. The only problem about true stories about dogs is that they generally cover the whole lifespan of the dog. That is, from start to finish. That is, the dog usually dies at the end of the book. Well, I guess crying is good for cleaning out the sinuses. Continue reading

A Book I’ll Never Forget: Descartes Error (by Antonio Damasio)

This isn’t a book review: this book changed my thinking about the relationship between logic and emotion, but I read it so long ago (2008) that I can’t really “review” it at this point. Before I read this book, I had vague thoughts and feelings about how ridiculous it was that our culture believes so strongly in a mind / body split, and that we so strongly privilege logic and reason over emotion (which, in our cultural stereotypes, also feeds into privileging men over women, whites over people of colour, and so on). In this book, Antonio Damasio (a neurologist), shows how logic and emotion must work in concert in order for people to make reasonable decisions. Continue reading

Finished this book: Page Fright: Foibles and fetishes of famous writers (by Harry Bruce)

Picture of the cover of Stage Fright by Harry Bruce.

Picture of the cover of Stage Fright by Harry Bruce.

 

This book was so much fun! It started with the history of paper and writing implements, moving on to typewriters and computers, and ending up with drugs, sex, suicide, and superstitions, with stories about how famous writers throughout history have written. What tools they use, what rituals they followed, what superstitions they had, what drugs they did, how they viewed writing itself… Continue reading