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Books to pass a day by the pool this summer

The Eastern Door was introduced to Nonvella recently, and the publisher’s two suggested picks did not disappoint. They are two memoires that are well worth picking up and checking out over the summer. (Daniel J. Rowe, The Eastern Door)

Tale of trapline and discovery:

Duncan McCue put his money where his identity is and headed off for the trail. He towed the trap line, learned what it meant to be the worst hunter in the bunch, and wrote about it.

The Anishinaabe CBC host of Cross-Country Check up put the whole experience down in The Shoe Boy (Nonvella Press, $16.90), and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, nicely balanced and ideal summer read (or winter read really, as it takes place in the cold).

McCue is honest and engaging about who he is as a young Anishinaabe person stuck between two worlds.

“My upbringing off-reserve set me apart from my own First Nation,” he writes. “I wasn’t totally disconnected: I visited my grandparents for idyllic stretches of summer throughout my childhood, but when I accompanied them to community gatherings, whether funerals or elections or regatta days, I was a visitor – connected by blood to a large web of people I didn’t know and whose names I couldn’t keep track of. This place where so much of my family history was rooted was distant to me.”

To connect with his roots, he joins a group of Cree on a trapline and the story becomes one of reconnection, reconciliation, history, humour and hunting.

McCue shows off his chops as a storyteller in this relatively short novella (84 pages) about grappling with his own identity as a half-Native boy, while drawing attention to the overarching issues of the Cree nation and the destructive power of Quebec’s hydro projects, as well as the ongoing issue of suicide in Onkwehón:we communities across the country.

He completes the tale all with simple words, and straightforward thoughts. He does it all, while giving inspiration to those who may have lost a traditional sense, or those who want to understand why that traditional way of life is important, nay vital, to populations worldwide.

It is an excellent journey to be along with and one readers will enjoy, should they decide to open the book and follow the pages.

A look down the needle of opium:

From the beautiful red and pink blooms of the papaver somniferum flower comes a seed with so much power it will alter the body and mind of any who ingest it, and can transform a community to one of despair and dependence.

Carlyn Zwarenstein’s Opium Eater: The New Confessions ($16.90) is a brave and compelling journal of a person gripped by debilitating pain caused by ankylosing spondylitis (a degenerative autoimmune disease), and dependent on the opioid Tramadol.

While telling her journey of pain and drugs, Zwarenstein lines the book with tales of past famous opium eaters, particularly English essayist Thomas de Quincey, author of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater published in 1821.

Opioid addiction and its societal impact have become regular news fodder with the drug’s various incarnations affecting communities across Turtle Island and beyond, most recently Fentanyl.

The untold story, however, is often that of those who depend on the drug to relieve crippling chronic pain, and the struggles they have to overcome relying on something to give them a reprieve, so they can go about their day pain-free.

“It is pain that now regularly pushes me back to depression – a long-time acquaintance I was happy to forget when pregnancy and breastfeeding turned out to be miracle cures for my apparently hormonal woes,” writes Zwarenstein. “It is as bad as I’d remember it. If pain were a substance it would be a dangerous, mind-altering one indeed.”

The book should be a must-read, particularly now with discussions of marijuana use and opioid abuse such hot topics of conversations (ranting) throughout the community.

Zwarenstein tells the story for what it is, and is never afraid to bear all when doing so. She is honest about her addiction and how prevalent the drugs are worldwide.

“The estimated amount of opiate raw materials needed for legal (that is, medical) purposes around the world for 2015 was equivalent to some 620 tonnes of morphine,” she writes.

“Globally, including non-legal uses, we collectively consumed 6.27 milligrams of morphine per person in 2013, or over 42,000 tonnes.”

The two Nonvella memoires are ideal summer reads. They’re short, well-written, interesting and full of life stories any reader would have no problem engaging with.

Daniel J. Rowe
Daniel J. Rowe is an award-winning reporter and photographer originally from B.C. In addition to journalism, he produces and edits a Shakespeare-inspired blog and podcast called the Bard Brawl. His writing has also appeared in the Montreal Gazette, Canadian Press and U.S. Lacrosse magazine. His facial hair rotates with the season, and he’s recently discovered the genius of wearing a cowboy hat.
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