Literacy comes in many forms – media literacy, financial literacy, computer literacy – but it all boils down to reading and thinking critically. In honour of International Literacy Day on September 8, declared by UNESCO in 1965, we asked some authors for book recommendations.
Rita Wong recommends The Peace In Peril by Christopher Pollon:
The Peace In Peril: The Real Cost of the Site C Dam (Harbour Publishing) is a timely read this autumn, as the BC Utilities Commission is finally conducting the review that should have happened before any trees were clearcut in the Peace Valley. Christopher Pollon paddles through the riverine area threatened by the dam, sharing his encounters with bears, farmers, and the deep beauty of the land. Ben Nelms’s gorgeous photographs show what incredible biodiversity and vital communities would be lost if the dam proceeds.
I also learned something unexpected in his book: that dams bigger than 30 MW do not qualify as renewable energy under California’s standards. This makes sense when we get a glimpse into the devastation and sacrifices already inflicted by the WAC Bennett Dam on the Treaty 8 First Nations. Pollon shows us the complexity of what’s at stake, and helps us to appreciate the value of the Peace Valley, intact for future generations.
Rita Wong is the author of four books of poetry: monkeypuzzle (Press Gang, 1998), forage (Nightwood Editions, 2007), sybil unrest (Line Books, 2008, with Larissa Lai) and undercurrent (Nightwood Editions, 2015). forage was the winner of the 2008 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and Canada Reads Poetry 2011.
Ian Gill recommends The Invention of Nature: Alexander van Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf:
I was camped on the shore of the Sea of Cortez earlier this year, writing, and reading (of course) Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez. But it was another book that utterly captivated me: The Invention of Nature: Alexander Humboldt’s New World (Vintage). This is one of most precise and captivating biographies I’ve ever read, superbly researched and beautifully constructed.
Humboldt, the “Shakespeare of sciences,” was a remarkable, brave and brilliant man – Einstein and Wade Davis rolled into one, and then some. The Invention of Nature left me breathless with admiration for Humboldt’s courage, his sheer genius – and for Wulf’s peerless account of his life.
Ian Gill, currently president of Discourse Media, most recently published No News is Bad News (Greystone), and earlier All That We Say Is Ours (Douglas & McIntyre), written while he headed up Ecotrust Canada. He writes an occasional column for The Tyee.
Shelby Cain recommends Dirty Windshields by Grant Lawrence:
Have you ever wanted to be in a band? Come on…who hasn’t – right? Even if you possess only one ounce of rock-God envy, you owe it to your inner stage-diving, axe-shredding demons to take a road trip with The Smugglers. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Dirty Windshields (Douglas & McIntyre, 2017). Author Grant Lawrence – CBC’s quirky, every-buddy’s buddy – has a dark side. Believe it. And in his newest book, Lawrence chronicles a musical journey you won’t be able to get out of your head. Spanning sixteen years of The Smugglers’ tour through North America and beyond – Lawrence drags you into the van and takes you along for the bumpy ride. He writes in a way that leaves you licking the dried bugs from your lips and wiping the spit from your brow. You can taste the lukewarm Black Labels and dig your fingernails into the dashboard of the decrepit VW van as you careen down Roger’s Pass in a snowy blackened abyss. And that’s only chapter one.
Assembled like a summer camp scrap-book meets heartfelt diary, Dirty Windshields is not just tales of drunken debauchery and virile tomfoolery. Although those parts are great, too. It’s a book about pursuing a dream. Lawrence’s authentic passion for both the pilgrimage and his musical comrades bleeds on to the page, running right off the paper and into the readers heart. Just like many who crossed paths with The Smugglers on their epic quest for rock and roll infamy, I couldn’t help but jump in for the party, but I stayed for the love. I have no doubt you will, too.
Shelby Cain published her first novel, Mountain Girl (Oolichan Books), in spring 2016, and has recently completed her second crime thriller, In The Devil Trees. She is also a musician and songwriter in the folk-roots band Wild Honey.
Jeff Derksen recommends someone’s dead already by Tongo Eisen-Martin:
If there was one book of poetry that shook the possibilities of how poetry can be political in the present for me, it is Tongo Eisen-Martin’s someone’s dead already (Bootstrap Press, 2015). Tongo’s from the Bay Area, so I’ll take that to be an extension of BC and part of the strong poetic dialogue that has moved up and down that coast for decades. Accordingly, I first heard Tongo read at Gallery Gatchet on Cordova Street, and the next day he met with writers, activists and other folks at The Capilano Review space.
What’s so remarkably powerful about this book is that its politics are so rampantly precise for this moment – it’s a book that makes you think politically in new ways rather than simply telling you of the politics you already know. The present aches for books of poetry that combine love and outrage, solidarities and sincerities, deep humour and deep critique of the way things are. Tong Eisen-Martin’s poems shudder in the cityscapes, waterfronts, parking lots, rooftops, subways stations, prisons, and apartments of the present, of cities contested through race and class, and cities daily joined by exuberance and “upright last words.”
Jeff Derksen is an accomplished writer, poet, editor, academic, and visual artist. His publications include several books of poetry published with Talonbooks, such as the 1991 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize winner Down Time, and The Vestiges (2013).
Melanie Florence recommends Pride by Robin Stevenson:
Pride: Celebrating Community and Diversity (Orca Book Publishers) by Robin Stevenson, an award-winning author from Victoria, is a beautiful, MUCH-NEEDED book about the different people who make up the LGBTQ community and the history of Pride Day around the world. Pride represents more than just a one-day celebration; it represents the long, continuing fight for equality and the rights of LGBTQ people everywhere. But Pride is more than a book about the struggle for acceptance; it’s a beautiful look at families just like yours being celebrated for who they are.
Melanie Florence is a writer of Cree and Scottish heritage based in Toronto and recently published He Who Dreams (Orca Book Publishers, 2017). Her book Missing Nimama (Clockwise Press) won the 2016 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and is a Forest of Reading Golden Oak Finalist.
Have you read any of these? What did you think? Tell us what you’re reading in the comments!