#146 Poignant ruminations of summer
First published July 1, 2017
REVIEW: The Summer Book: A Treasury of Warm Tales, Timeless Memories and Meditations on Nature by 24 BC writers
by Mona Fertig (editor)
Salt Spring Island: Mother Tongue Publishing, 2017.
$24.95 / 978-1-896949-61-1
Reviewed by Howard Stewart
Mona Fertig of Mother Tongue Publishing has gathered 24 warm and poignant summer stories from B.C. writers. All contributions are previously unpublished. “The Summer Book is my counterweight, a small feather on the scale against the madness and angst in the world,” she says. The anthology is dedicated to the late Cat Majors, a performance poet who “was always about joy, creativity and positivity.”
Reviewer Howard Stewart is enchanted by the “emotionally charged powerhouse of memories” unleashed by this Trojan Horse of summer. — Ed.
I was expecting The Summer Book to be light “summer reading,” a kind of elegant grown-ups’ version of those obligatory back-to-school stories about “what I did last summer.”
Instead, Mona Fertig has put together a masterpiece collection of finely crafted and evocative reminders of why summer is such a special season. From the parched Okanagan to mossy Haida Gwaii, from the southern islands to the northern lakes, it is the time of year, more than any other, that marks the passage of our lives.
Fertig’s stable of remarkably talented B.C. writers has wrought many exquisite portraits of this complex subject.
Together, they comprise a delightfully diverse drawer full of explanations about why these long bright days and short warm nights affect us like no others.
These stories give readers much to ponder and remind us how much we have to savour from June till September. Some offer us help in coping with the pain of rich memories of sweet times that will never come again.
I had to put The Summer Book down at times, not because of the quality of the writing, which was mostly exceptional, but because of emotions stirred by the authors’ poignant ruminations on their summers. These stories remind us, again and again, of sweet times, cherished moments still so alive in our minds but otherwise gone; about our children as they were, our parents, old friends and lovers, innocence and the loss of it.
And there are so many stories! Two dozen. As I read, I scribbled inspired marginal notes, scraps of ideas that I hoped might coalesce into my own original insights about what it is that makes summers past such an emotionally charged powerhouse of memories.
Then, a chapter or two later, one of The Summer Book contributors would steal my ideas, explore them, elaborate upon them with an eloquence and sensitivity well beyond my own.
They have found so many ways to get inside the intensity of feelings and memory of these glorious high sun months — when the lucky among us might finally get an opportunity to slow down enough to notice the ravens and eagles, bees and dragonflies, frogs and alligator lizards, bullheads and Chinook salmon, dolphins and Orcas, salmon berries and blackberries that surround us in a barely controlled riot of life.
Then there are the other people, starting with our past selves. That same seasonal abundance of spare time that allows us to witness other creatures in their summer rituals must also explain why we accumulate such a surplus of rich memories of our own summertime rituals and adventures and life lessons and the people we shared them with.
We are reminded, though, that not all recollections of summer are happy ones, especially if, like Des Kennedy, you were a redhead prone to sunburn or stuck in torrid urban stews like Toronto or New York City.
Or if, like Jane Eaton Hamilton’s young friend at the lake, you just couldn’t shake that nagging fear of bull sharks.
And some summer experiences, like Claudia Cornwall’s canoe journey around Desolation Sound, are powerful and deliberate antidotes to other things that we need to put behind us.
The charming artwork of Peter Haase, Briony Penn, and Gary Sim interspersed among the writing is also a valuable complement to it — though I would have liked to see the colours in Penn’s glorious watercolours.
It is a tribute to this fine book that either the stories or the images could have stood alone.
Placed together in this generous way, the stories, linocuts, and watercolours – all produced and edited with consummate care — are a precious monument to summer in Canada from some of B.C.’s finest writers.
This is a book for reading in the hammock in the summer and leaving on the bedside table when the winter rains return.
Howard Macdonald Stewart is an historical geographer and non-practicing international consultant who writes from Denman Island, where he has lived, off and on, for more than thirty years. His forthcoming book, Views of the Salish Sea: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Change around the Strait of Georgia is forthcoming from Harbour Publishing (Fall 2017). His 17,000- word story of a 1973 bicycle trip down the Danube with the war hero and debonair cyclist Cornelius Burke was published as The Ormsby Review’s popular #21 (September 28, 2016). He is now writing an insider’s view of his four decades on the road, notionally titled Around the World on Someone Else’s Dime: Confessions of an International Worker.
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