Friday, May 10, 2019

Book Notes from all over

1.  I share the now seemingly pervasive view that CBC's Canada Reads contest is an abomination of a books program, one where people scream at each other about absolutely the wrong reasons to read books and normally eliminate all the good books as fast as they can.

But I've been reading Max Eisen's memoir By Chance Alone, which won Canada Reads earlier this year. You know, somehow they picked a good book this year. (Probably for the wrong reasons.)

By Chance Alone is an account of how Eisen's family were swept into the Nazis' Final Solution, of which he was the only one to survive. In the amazingly calm and dispassionate way the book evokes Eisen's horrific youth in Auschwitz (and before and after), it reminded me disturbingly of Edward Metatawabin's residential schools memoir Up Ghost River. 

2. Last Sunday, the Toronto Star's Katie Daubs had a long powerful story about pioneering racialized and minority nurses at Toronto's Women's College Hospital school of nursing.  I was impressed to see how much the article drew on Kathryn MacPherson's Bedside Manners:: The Transformation of Canadian Nursing, 1900-1990. Which I actually thought was a recent book -- it's is from 2003.

3.  I take a special interest, but I sometimes think that legal history is an extraordinarily productive field these days.  A couple of recent signs. Constance Backhouse who produced a huge and impressive biography of Supreme Court Justice Claire L'Heureux in 2017 now brings out a double biography, Two Firsts: Bertha Wilson and Claire L’Heureux-Dubé at the Supreme Court of Canada.  My friend Constance is not the only feminist legal historian in Canada by any means, but if she was the field would still be thriving. 

And Harry Arthurs, legal scholar, former president of York University and much else, has produced a memoir, Connecting The Dots: The Life of an Academic Lawyer.  It sounds, well, a bit routine, but Harry Arthurs once wrote an essay about professional self-governance and ethical responsibility among lawyers that was somehow both serious and laugh-out-loud funny.  (Laughter: mine). It was called "Over Niagara Falls By Bridge and Barrel: The Perils of the Profession in Ontario and New York,"  Some of his other, equally serious essays on legal matter make title allusions to dead parrots and the climbing of Kilimanjaro that Monty Python aficionados will catch at once.

4.  Everyone who goes ape shit every time the CBC-Television attempts to do something about Canadian history might find ammunition in Recasting History: How CBC Television Has Shaped Canada's Past by Monica MacDonald (forthcoming).  Among its topics, sez the blurb, is "the role of professional historians, as journalists emerged not only as the new producers of Canadian history on CBC television, but also as the new content authorities." Sounds about right. May be interesting to compare reviews by journalists and historians on that one.

Note that, of these books, I have read only Eisen and the L'Heureux-Dubé bio.  Mention here, as they say, does not preclude future review.

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