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Almanac records women’s voices, stories


2017: A Woman’s Almanac: Voices From Newfoundland and Labrador Breakwater Books and the St. John’s Status of Women Council 160 pages; $19.95

Today’s average working person — OK, me — lives according to their day planner.

(In addition to the detailed lists of to-dos, don’t-forgets and must-finishes, I personally also have a colour-coded system involving sharpies and post-its and some essential memo written on a piece of torn envelope that I have just put down and can no longer find.)

So a good planner is a necessity, and one filled with Newfoundland and Labrador stories is a real treat.

In “2017: A Woman’s Almanac: Voices From Newfoundland and Labrador,” months are introduced by chapters, profiles of women written by women.

Some are household names (Joan Morrissey), some are unsung heroines (women of the Labrador fishery).

For example, July opens with Susan Shiner (the well known community activist who went to court for the right to give her children a hyphenated last name encapsulating the equality between herself and her partner) introducing Jennifer Rimmer, an inspiring figure from the deaf community, who then carries on in her own words: “Many deaf leaders have left this province because services and opportunities here are so few. If I had given birth to a deaf child, I would have moved out of this province. Absolutely. No doubt. I stayed so that my son, my husband and I can have close contact with our extended families. … There have been times when it has become too emotional and I have become exhausted. I rest and start again.”

I’m not crazy about the cover, a generic image of hands cupping coffee mugs. Why not an original painting or photograph from one of our many super-talented visual artists?

That aside, the well-thought-out design includes an enveloping stiff cover and spiral binding allowing the almanac to lie flat, all the better to write in.

The pages have a nice texture, with ample day-to-day blockings supplemented by lots of spaces for notes and reminders, all illustrated with lots of colour photographs.

FYI, Marian Frances White originated this idea in the 1980s, and it’s great to see it revived.

 

Strangers & Others: The Great Eastern

By Stan Dragland

Pedlar Press

300 pages; $22

 

“The Great Eastern” was a half-hour radio program that aired on CBC Radio from 1994-99. Subtitled “Newfoundland’s Cultural Magazine,” written by Steve Palmer, Edward Riche and Mack Furlong, “The Great Eastern” presented a brilliant, multi-faceted, alternative, through-the-looking-glass Newfoundland that was fully realized and beguilingly and authentically populated.

To say it had a devoted following would be something of an understatement. To this day avid listeners fondly recall, among many possible examples, the BCN, the lost colony of Oougubomba and the famed contest “What’s that noise from Newfoundland?”

Still, few fans go so far as to produce an entire book on the subject. Stan Dragland’s “Strangers & Others: The Great Eastern” is divided into sections, with an interlude and bridge, intricately decoding the character, setting and milieu.

It started as a single essay, but broadened, “meandered” Dragland might say, into all kinds of avenues: irony versus comedy, the continuing reverberations of the 1970s Newfoundland Renaissance, the poetry of John Steffler, the characteristics of anti- and sub-heroes: “For pages now, I’ve been discussing the world of ‘The Great Eastern’ to give an account, or at least an impression, of its physical roundedness. I have been describing something of the foundation in particularities of the creators’ vision: a fictional world parallel to the experiential world, distorted and exaggerated for purposes of satire or just out of sheer inventive exuberance. Setting is part of that, and character is too … all the regulars have their personalities, not that who and what they are is laid out all at once. ‘The Great Eastern’ eschews leaden exposition.”

It’s a learned, erudite deciphering.

If even reading the book’s title has you longing to hear Paul Moth, Ariel Flint and Erling Biggs, go to the http://gporter.net/great/.

 

Centring the Margins: Essays and Reviews

By Jeff Bursey

Zero Books

190 pages; $22.95

 

“Centring the Margins: Essays and Reviews” is another non-fiction collection, and again a highly specialized selection. Jeff Bursey is a deft and engaged critic, and these reviews cross genres and span a decade or more.

They include “John Domini, The Sea-Gods’ Herb: Essays and Criticism, 1975–2014” and “Ornela Vorspi, The Country Where No One Ever Dies.”

The somewhat esoteric material is written by a reader with a sharply observant eye and wry voice: “In 1986 (British literary theorist) Terry Eagleton gave what was called the Pratt lecture at MUN. Dressed in a loose-fitting, or possibly sagging, cardigan seemingly made from oatmeal or at least that colour, Eagleton spoke at length, in dry tones, no affectation of style or vocal modulation permitted, on ‘the End of English.’”

Bursey to Eagleton: not so fast.

Joan Sullivan is editor of Newfoundland Quarterly magazine. She reviews both fiction and non-fiction for The Telegram.

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