No matter where I sit, work or relax, I’m always within striking distance of a bookshelf.
Building a book collection is equal parts passion and obsession. My areas of interest have always been broad, from history, politics and economics to classic comic strips. Some are on display in bookcases at my home. Others are tucked away in my office and a bedroom closet that was converted into bookshelves several years ago. There are volumes that I’ve purchased, been given or received as review copies.
In my line of work, you can never have too many books.
Alas, I’m not always able to set up reviews for some well-written books that I receive. That’s why I occasionally put a few mini-reviews together in a column to give them some additional exposure. It may even encourage some people to purchase a book or two.
Here are four titles that are well worth your time. (For the record, I know several of the authors – and, in two cases, have contributed to their respective publications.)
C.P. Champion and Tom Flanagan’s Grave Error: How The Media Misled Us (and the Truth about Residential Schools), published by True North and Dorchester Books, is a superb collection of essays debunking one of the biggest controversies in recent Canadian history. The former is an author, historian and editor of the Dorchester Review, while the latter is an author and professor emeritus at the University of Calgary.
Their book examines the stunning July 2021 allegations of many unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools in western Canada. The news from Kamloops, B.C. initially caught some academics, politicians and the media off-guard. It forced them, and many Canadians, to consider the terrible possibility of what might have happened.
Things have changed on that front. The two co-authors, along with contributors like Rodney Clifton, Jonathan Kay, Hymie Rubenstein and Frances Widdowson, studied the “social panic” that occurred along with the science, politics and reporting related to this controversy. Many reached a similar conclusion. “All the major elements of the story are either false or highly exaggerated,” as Champion and Flanagan pointed out – and, in spite of multiple statements from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there are no “missing children.”
Grave Error is a stunning and powerful rebuke of the unmarked graves controversy. It separates the tragic history and stories related to Indian residential schools, which still deserve our time and attention, from the (mostly) left-leaning media narrative about a tragedy that seemingly wasn’t rooted in the truth. This book will intrigue some readers, frustrate others – and challenge everyone to think or rethink their previous views.
Scott Colby, an author and the Toronto Star’s opinion page editor, has some intriguing thoughts on a subject he deals with on a daily basis. His self-published book, That’s What You Think: A Practical Guide to Writing Compelling Op-Eds and Short Memoirs, includes interesting stories and great tips on how to express your opinions to an engaged audience.
You may think that’s a simple task. Guess what? It’s not.
“A good op-ed,” according to Colby, “is commentary or analysis that is well-written, well-argued and advances the debate on a timely topic.” It can be compared to a “three-legged stool” of sorts, because “if one leg is weak, the stool topples.” Good writing is essential to crafting a good op-ed and short memoir, along with a proper thesis, compelling idea or argument and working hand-in-hand with your editor. With respect to being a good columnist, he highlights some important criteria, including having already “found their ‘voice,’” the ability to explain difficult concepts that “intelligent readers will understand,” writing with emotion, challenging preconceived notions and throwing out the occasional “curve ball.”
There’s a wealth of information in That’s What You Think. Budding young writers who dream of having their own newspaper column, or want to write a short memoir for a major publication, will find this book to be a valuable reference tool.
Biblioasis, a publishing house owned by Dan Wells and based in Windsor, Ont., has released some scintillating titles for the better part of two decades. (I used to frequent his original bookstore when I worked at the Windsor Star.) Two novels published in 2022 that I was never able to review both deserve a brief mention.
Graeme Macrae Burnet’s Case Study weaves into the realms of humour, mystery and psychotherapy like a hot knife through butter. The main character, GMB, receives a letter from Mr. Martin Grey of Clacton-on-Sea who has five notebooks in his possession written by his cousin. The subject matter? Collins Braithwaite, a largely forgotten “enfant terrible” of psychotherapy in the 1960s who may have driven a woman’s sister to suicide. GMB sets out to find the truth, with many twists and turns to come.
Clark Blaise’s This Time, That Place: Selected Stories is a collection of short literary masterpieces in one volume. Many pertain to his life, with plenty of artistic license to spare. He was born to a “Manitoba mother and a Quebec father” and usually moved every six months, other than four years living in Pittsburgh and fourteen years teaching in Montreal. His stories include a North American education with Thibidault and son, boyhood dreams of Montreal Canadiens legend Maurice “Rocket” Richard and how young Gerald Gordon’s move from Georgia to Cincinnati brought him face-to-face with racism and wanting to become a Jew.
Will you add these four interesting titles to your collection? Let me know if you do.
Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.