July–August 2015

Contents Related Letters Editor's Note

Welcome to the July/August issue of the LRC. Here’s what’s in store this summer.

One doesn’t usually think of Canada as having its own belletrist tradition, but, as our reviewer Méira Cook points out, such a tradition is well worth noticing. She looks at an edited volume of love letters by Canadian poets, a compendium that offers, in Cook’s words, “a quirky, imaginative history.” It shows how some of our most eloquent writers chose to express their “passion, discontent, jubilance, mournfulness, ecstasy, penitence,” says Cook. In other words, a useful handbook for the rest of us.

So much for guidance on love. How can we better understand what sparks laughter? Answers are as subjective as “a quirk of sexual attraction or the taste for boiled cabbage” notes our contributor Geoff Pevere. The book he reviews—a study of the hundred greatest silent comedians by James Roots, a writer well known to LRC readers—provides a host of pointers as to why, as Pevere puts it, “the funniest of the silent comics are as funny now as they ever were, which is to say that the best silent comedy is timeless.”

It is not only comedy that endures; so does tragedy. A notable example is the tale of corporate icon Research in Motion, now simply known as BlackBerry. What caused its spectacular tumble? Our reviewer Joshua Gans suggests a new history of the company focuses too much on cataloging incidents rather than unearthing the reasons. Delving deeper with his own wide-ranging diagnosis reveals a double-edged story. “Yes, BlackBerry was a victim of circumstance,” Gans observes, “but it was also the victim of its own success.”

Few international relationships are as important to Canada as the one we have with China. China expert Paul Evans reviews a book by our former ambassador to China, David Mulroney, with a sympathetic critique of what Evans labels Mulroney’s “searing assessment” of Canada’s recent China policy. As our relationship with this global power evolves, Evans notes, “it is well past time for Canadians of all political stripes to think quickly and clearly about where we wish to stand and the strategic choices we need to make.”

Literary rankings, formal and informal, exert a beguiling if sometimes pernicious effect, says Keith Wilson in his review of an innovative new book on the underlying causes of literary eminence. As Wilson explains, the book’s author is brave enough to ask the key question, ‘What about merit?”, with a meticulously argued answer that many will find surprising. Just as importantly, Wilson concludes, a compelling case is made as to “why literature matters, and why some at least of the nine tenths of it that has disappeared beneath the waves is worth rescuing.”

This is a year when much attention is being placed on the historic injustices experienced by Canada’s aboriginal peoples, accompanied by a growing will to rectify the disheartening legacy. So perhaps not surprisingly this is also a year when indigenous topics dominate the nonfiction lists of many of Canada’s major publishers.

In this issue are reviews of five of these books. David Milward looks at two volumes concerned with climate change and its already visible effects on Canada’s Arctic—in particular its impact on the lives of the Inuit. Milward notes that the Arctic is giving “the dying canary warning for the rest of the world,” a warning we ignore at our own peril. “If human civilization does not care enough to help save the Arctic from global warming, does that mean it will not care enough to save the planet?”

Sophie McCall analyzes the results of displacing indigenous peoples from national parks and other protected wilderness areas. “At what cost,” asks McCall, “and who paid this cost?” This is especially true, notes McCall, given evidence that lands “whose conservation is guided by principles of indigenous knowledge are less likely to be exploited by resource extraction industries and have a higher success in protecting biodiversity.” An interesting stance whose policy-related influence could grow in the future.

Native history too makes an appearance. Artist Norval Morrisseau—also known by his Cree name Golden Thunderbird—died close to a decade ago, but the complicated aftereffects of his career live on. Reviewing a new account of Morrisseau’s life, novelist and artist Lewis DeSoto shows us how the book veers between biography and history, while serving as a powerful homage to the man and his work. DeSoto argues that Morrisseau’s accomplishments fully deserve such treatment, but also notes we should not forget the heated controversies that Morrisseau’s work spawned.

Finally James Harbeck guides us on a brief tour of a new book by Tomson Highway—creator of The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing. Highway draws his readers into the inherent comedy of his first tongue, with a playfully presented contention that “Cree has got to be the world’s funniest language.” Harbeck provides his own memorably ludic gloss.
In addition, Brian Brett chronicles a 60s-era influx into British Columbia’s Kootenays; Philip Girard analyzes the nation-building achievements of the Quebec conference; Adèle Barclay explores the cosmopolitan life of early Canadian composer; Ken McGoogan introduces us to a fascinating solution of a 19th-century murder; Andrew Horvat highlights an innovative translation of a work by Japanese literary phenomenon Haruki Murakami;  Damian Tarnopolsky and Norman Snider review new novels by Emma Hooper and Clifford Jackman. Our poetry pages feature the works of Barry Dempster and Harold Rhenisch.

In this month’s letters section are responses to June articles by Beth Haddon, Rose Ricciardelli and Les Horswill from Tasha Kheiriddin, Geoffrey James and Peter Hall and Pamela Stern, as well as a letter by Royce McGillivray on the need to re-evaluate the long-faded reputation of early Canadian fiction writer Ralph Connor.

All in all, a picnic-hamper’s-worth of what I hope you find to be a beguiling summer read.

Mark Lovewell

Interim Editor

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