Read Recently — January 2015 — Nonfiction

The Bradbury Chronicles by Sam Weller

Weller set out to write a magazine article on Bradbury, but after talking to the man became convinced he needed to write his biography. And, even better, managed to convince him.

Bradbury had, it turns out, a really interesting life. He wrote the script for John Huston’s Moby Dick, for instance, getting a trip to Ireland out of the deal. He was ripped off by the Twilight Zone (among others). He stayed married to the same woman for decades despite marital troubles during the 70s (he claims to remember his own birth, but I don’t believe that). There is a hell of a lot more of his writing that I haven’t read and didn’t even know about.

Overall, if you’re a fan of Ray Bradbury, you should read this. If you’re not a fan of Ray Bradbury, why not?!

Recommended.

Speaking Out Louder: ideas that work for Canadians by Jack Layton

Back in 2004, Layton wrote a book called Speaking Out Loud. This is the 2006 revised version of that book. Layton was, at the time, leader of the Federal NDP, Canada’s left-wing party, though he had not yet led them to 2011’s all-time electoral high of forming the Official Opposition.

While there is a lot of discussion of elections and his interactions with the other parties, not to mention stuff about his family, Layton usually manages to tie it all in to the idea of, as the subtitle puts it, “ideas that work for Canadians”. He writes clearly and articulately, making this a very readable work.

Probably not very interesting to Americans, given the whole Canadian left-wing viewpoint, but recommended overall.

Blood And Daring: how Canada fought the American civil war and forged a nation by John Boyko

Two major events happened in the 1860s: Canada as a nation was created, and the US had some sort of war (you might have heard about it). Boyko argues that the two events are related, and goes on to make a good argument for it. He sets up his argument in the introduction, and then follows six different people, one in each of the six chapters that make up the book, to prove things (for the most part, the chapters move forward in time, beginning with the underground railroad in the before-war period and ending with Canadian Confederation in 1867 and, in the epilogue, one final problem, so not all of the people introduced in early chapters disappear in the later chapters (or appear for the first time in their titular chapter): US Secretary of State William Seward is the focus of chapter two, but he remains an active influence on events well up to the end; John A MacDonald is the focus of chapter six, but he is an active force from Chapter One on)).

And speaking of Chapter one, it’s the story of one John Anderson, an escaped slave who rode the underground railway to Canada. Along the way, however, he accidentally killed a man who tried to stop him. This resulted in him being put on trial for extradition; as far as Canada was concerned the Fugitive Slave act had no weight; a slave who escaped stole himself or herself and deprived his master of value as far as the south was concerned, but as far as Canada was concerned no crime was being committed. Southerners wanting their property back had to produce evidence of some other crimes, and Canada’s judiciary had already said that any crime a person might commit to rescue themselves from slavery was perfectly justified. But murder? Anderson went on trial, but with all of Canada basically in his corner and the Governor-General of Canada West (ie–Ontario) paying his legal bills, it was a shoe-in for him to walk. Okay, there was a bit of tension involved. Read the book!

So with that attitude to slavery, you’d think Canada would unequivocally support the North when the Civil War inevitably broke out, and you certainly wouldn’t expect to find Canadians fighting for the South, or for Southern spies and the like to be allowed to operate out of “Neutral” Canada trouble-free. But in your thinking, you have failed to reckon with the US attitude towards Canada throughout the 19th Century, which can be summed up thus: “How big of a dick can we be towards Canada? That big? Wow. Any chance we could be dickier? Oh, we can? Let’s do that, then.” I mean, even after the South seceded the above-mentioned Secretary of State was arguing for a war with Britain over Canada (not, apparently, having learned anything from 1812) on the basis that this would cause even the rebel states to forget all this foolishness and go liberate Canada from it’s chosen form of government. And, because of a few . . . regrettable incidents . . . during the war, menace continued afterwards, leading almost directly to Confederation and the birth of Canada as we know it today.

Highly readable, entertainingly written. Highly recommended, on both sides of the border.

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