Reviews (Works received)

Reviews (Works received) McGill University

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ALUMNI QUARTERLY - winter 2008
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Home > McGill News > 2000 > Summer 2000 > Reviews > Reviews (Works received)

Penser la nation québécoise, Éditions Québec Amérique, 1999, 26,95 $, sous la direction de Michel Venne. Résultat d'une série d'articles parus dans le quotidien Le Devoir ainsi que d'un colloque organisé conjointement par Le Devoir et par le Programme d'études sur le Québec de l'Université McGill, ce livre pose un regard sur le thème de la nation québecoise, ses urgences, ses exigences, son évolution.

Seize intellectuels québécois de toutes origines, de disciplines diverses et de toute allégeance (incluant Gregory Baum, professeur émérite à la faculté des sciences religieuses et Charles Taylor, professeur émérite au département de philosophie de l'Université McGill), ont été mis à contribution pour dresser ce portrait de la nation québébecoise non seulement sous l'angle politique, mais aussi dans ses demensions philosophiques, historiques et sociologiques. Fédéralistes et souverainistes s'unissent donc pour décrire et analyser les composantes d'une collectivité pluraliste qui continue à se chercher un avenir.

Bird's Eye View, Véhicule Press, 1999, $17.95, by David M. Bird, MSc'76, PhD'78. Subtitled a "Practical Compendium for Bird Lovers," the book is not a romantic memoir, but refers to the increasing numbers of people who, binoculars pressed to faces, are studying the habits of our feathered friends. According to the author, birdwatching is the fastest-growing activity in the world, and is currently practised by one in four North Americans. There is even a professional event, the World Series of Birding, which in 1995 featured 55 teams, 27 corporate sponsors and $450,000 in contributions.

David Bird ("How lucky I am to be a person blessed with a name that fits his profession perfectly") is a professor of Wildlife Biology and Director of the Avian Science and Conservation Centre at Macdonald Campus. He has also written columns for the Montreal Gazette for 16 years and Bird's Eye View is a collection of his best essays. It follows another book released last year, The Bird Almanac: The Ultimate Guide to Essential Facts and Figures of the World's Birds. Covering subjects ranging from the success of single-mother bird families to the impact of feral felines on populations and why vultures vomit, Bird's Eye View also provides instruction on buying binoculars, and setting up feeders and backyard bird houses. A must-have for bird freaks.

It's Wonderful, Susie Arioli Swing Band featuring Jordan Officer, BMus'01, Fleming Artists Management. Two years ago, the relatively unknown Susie Arioli was paying her dues gracefully on a Montreal Jazz Festival outdoor stage when she got the last-minute nod from organizers to sub for the ailing Charles Brown as the opening act for none other than Ray Charles. Since then we've been promised a CD, and here it finally is, living very much up to its title. Arioli, on vocals and snare drum, and blues guitar prodigy Jordan Officer are the heart of this quirky, charming band, which plays mostly 1930s swing music --do not think swing revival and GAP ads here -- in a delightfully intimate setting. They're joined by Shane MacKenzie, Aron Doyle, BMus'95, and Montreal blues royalty Stephen Barry and Michael Browne, and the tunes are penned by Cole Porter, Oscar Hammerstein, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington among others. Wonderful indeed. Buy the CD, then go see the band swing at the Montreal Jazz Festival this summer.

High Hopes: Coming of Age at the Mid-Century, ECW Press, 1999, $19.95, by Paul Almond and Michael Ballantyne, BA'52. High Hopes follows several years of correspondence between a pair of bright young friends who aspire to literary greatness. Paul Almond and Michael Ballantyne enter McGill together in the late '40s. They had met at boarding school and found, despite being poles apart in their personalities, that they shared what Almond calls "an odd yen for poetry."

Their correspondence begins when Almond leaves Montreal at the end of their freshman year. He heads to California in search of author Christopher Isherwood whose book about Stephen Spender,

W.H. Auden and others was taken by Almond and Ballantyne as "our textbook on how young poets might behave. So we determined that somehow I should get across North America to meet him."

That he might not find Isherwood or that the author might refuse to see him never occurred to Almond. Ballantyne recalls their innocence in "those calm, cloud-free days," noting that "we lived inside the pages of an undemanding book." They were equally naive about some of their idols: "We thought that the world consisted exclusively of two sexes; that Auden and Isherwood travelled to Berlin to learn German; that Gore Vidal's early novels had no homoerotic subtext."

Almond succeeded in his quest, locating Isherwood (who did agree to meet him and who eventually became a friend) in Los Angeles. That fall, Almond left for Oxford and he and Ballantyne exchanged letters throughout their undergraduate years. Though neither of them ultimately pursued their adolescent "high hopes" of becoming poets, they encouraged each other's literary ambitions and shared discoveries of exciting new writers. By the time they graduated they had had at least fleeting contact with many of the cultural luminaries of the day. Highlighted by journal entries, photographs and present-day reflections, their correspondence is both fascinating and charming, providing a glimpse into the 1950s arts scene on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Green Alembic, Signal Editions, 1999, $12.95, by Louise Fabiani, BSc'80. The title of Louise Fabiani's poetry collection refers to a vessel used in the ancient art of alchemy, concerned mainly with turning base metals into gold and silver. In this book, her first, Fabiani transforms processes like recycling and small events like grilling red peppers or visiting a spa into rich, robust and even funny fare.

Pummelled with expert fingers,
I submit to the beauty rite
and leave light and clean.
Closer to the angels --
     those apple-cheeked,
pimple-free, tiny-pored Heidis --
until I walk into a diesel bus fart,
and the atmosphere's effluvia
imbeds the interface of inner and outer.

Fabiani is a biology grad, and many of her poems deal with animals, environmental destruction by humans and recollections of growing up close to nature.

How easy it is to return to those seasons
Of monitored metamorphosis, recall
The slick clutch of new legs on dry skin,
And the faint vibrati of three-chambered hearts
     -- a sound only children
     have been proven to hear.

The publisher's blurb says that Fabiani is currently working on a novel. That seems a shame since her poetry is glorious but there may be more delights in store. Anyone who can conjure phrases like "the cheerful fascism of Pollyannas and their bean-counting balance of good and evil," will probably produce great fiction.

A Rich Garland: Poems for A.M. Klein, Véhicule Press, $12.95, edited by Seymour Mayne, BA'65, B. Glen Rotchin, BA'86. Many of our finest poets pay tribute to one of their own in this collection celebrating Montreal writer and McGill lecturer A.M. Klein, BA'30. One of the great Canadian modernists who explored both his Jewish roots and his place in the modern world, Klein has been a touchstone for many of the poets who followed. These 50 some poems include work by Dorothy Livesay, P.K. Page, Leo Kennedy, Eli Mandel, Miriam Waddington and Douglas Fetherling as well as McGill poets like Patience Wheatley, BA'46, Leonard Cohen, BA'55, DLitt'92, and Irving Layton, BScAgr'39, MA'46.

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