“Reading gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are.” Robyn Scott, president of the NWT’s Northwords literary festival, has that mantra on a poster.
This year, she is finding that poster more meaningful than ever. “Even though a lot of our travel plans are on hold, or our professional goals we’re not able to pursue, we can still have adventures,” Scott says.
“We can still have connections with other people, even if they’re through stories and through fiction.”
That’s why Cabin Radio asked you what you’ve been reading during the pandemic.
On this page, we have compiled a collage of voices across the territory explaining what they’re reading and why it speaks to them right now – from fighting dragons in a fantastical faraway kingdom to looking over someone’s shoulder in a personal memoir.
Fort Smith author Patti-Kay Hamilton finds tales of courage and resilience go a long way for her in times of crisis.
“Things have been worse,” she says. “There have been horrible, horrible things happen in the world. And yet people carry on and live to tell the tale, and often later thrive.”
Hamilton has a particular story in mind when she says this: By Chance Alone, by Canadian author Max Eisen.
In his memoir, Eisen recalls narrowly avoiding death in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War. It’s a haunting and difficult read, Hamilton admits, but it’s ultimately a story of perseverance.
“It’s [a] story of someone who probably shouldn’t have survived, and yet he did,” she says. “He went on to have a family and live a good life. So, what’s a virus?”
Below, explore the books keeping other NWT residents going during a difficult 2020.
Some answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
“I bought the book from Yellowknife Book Cellar in the spirit of supporting local businesses. I was drawn to it because it is written by an Indigenous-Canadian author. The pandemic has really exaggerated global inequalities and injustices, and I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on my privilege and empathize with diverse perspectives in the hope that humanity can move forward together, while being gentler with themselves, each other, and the environment.”
We Remember the Coming of the White Man edited by Elizabeth Yakeleya, Joe Blondin, Sarah Simon, and others
“This book includes Dene Elders talking about their memories of the 1928 flu epidemic, which wiped out up to 15 percent of the Indigenous population of the North. It was brought about by the Hudson’s Bay Company supply boat.”
Highway of Tears by Jessica McDiarmid
“Jessica’s one of my best friends and I bought her book right away, but haven’t had the time to read it. Now, with the cooler nights and extended daylight, I’ve been enjoying reading it, as I grew up in the area (northwestern BC). With the recent passing of May 5 – the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls – it was time to finally read this one. I was the same age as these girls who went missing and I just had no idea, because of how old I was. I know my friend, the author, poured her heart into writing this book, and it’s making such an impact.”
Moccasin Square Gardens by Richard Van Camp
“I’m re-reading Richard Van Camp’s Moccasin Square Gardens. During the anxiety of Covid-19, while we are all walking on eggshells trying to remember to social distance, Richard’s stories are like a warm hug that lead you unafraid into exciting worlds where even a gentle porcupine springs to life in a Wheetago war. Richard not only writes compelling stories, but he also encourages northern writers to challenge themselves and look at our world with fresh eyes.”
The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
“There are three themes brought up by The Sudden Appearance of Hope, to my mind. Hope has been isolated from society all her life because no one remembers her. Her relationships only last as long as she keeps the attention of others; it takes less than 60 seconds for her to be out of someone’s view and they have entirely forgotten her.
“So, as we isolate from society to avoid Covid-19, I wonder if ‘out of sight, out of mind’ happens? Do people think of me when I’m not around to make myself known? So many parallels can be drawn between Hope’s isolation and what the world is experiencing right now.
“Also, the concept of perfection. Perfection is a construct, it does not exist, it is not real, and can never be attained by flawed and finite humanity. Yet the concept of perfection is an idea that business capitalizes on and is a multi-billion-dollar industry. It leads to mental health issues (ie body dysmorphia), financial insecurity, a caste system, and other social issues.”
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
“It was one of the first books I read where the lines were blurred between right and wrong, but not good and evil. The more Lecter speaks and Clarice listens, the story grows. An entire world is built organically, rather than being explained all at once. I love stories that make me think and force me to put the pieces together myself.”
Women Talking by Miriam Toews
“I belong to the Yellowknife United Church book club. This book was reviewed in our national church magazine, Broadview, and was recommended by a book club member. It is a novel based on a true case of abuse of women and girls in a traditional Mennonite colony in Bolivia. I think there are several lessons in the book that are important. They include the lessons that:
- teaching boys how to behave and how to treat women with respect is the responsibility of both women and men;
- domestic and sexual abuse are never acceptable and the perpetrators must be brought to justice;
- men and women need to equally share leadership and decision-making for a community; and
- a group of ordinary people can come together in community, overcome their fear of the unknown, and have the resilience to make important decisions.
Although this is a tough book to read and digest, we found the time of quiet we are experiencing during Covid-19 gave us the ability to really think about the theme and meaning of the novel.”
The Good Place and Philosophy: Get an Afterlife (Based on the television show) edited by Steven A. Benko and Andrew Pavelich
“As fans of The Good Place would attest, it actually makes philosophy fun and understandable (even practical). The book just delves a little more into the concepts introduced in the show, so I feel like I’m bettering myself somewhat with education during quarantine. This sounds dull, I know, but the book keeps with the show’s absurdist humour!”
The Stand by Stephen King
“I read Stephen King’s The Stand right at the beginning, when the Covid-19 situation was just starting to ramp up. What spoke to me the most about reading this particular book during a pandemic was how surreal it was comparing the situation in the book, when the pandemic was breaking out, to the situation in real life. Particularly when it came to things like misinformation, withholding information, and conspiracy theories. The similarities between reactions in the book and things I would see on Twitter or Facebook were creepy at times. Thankfully, our survival rate is a little bit better for Covid-19 than it was for Captain Trips.”
Eldest by Christopher Paolini
“I love fantasy books filled with magic and adventure. I’ve been reading this series since I was about 18. I don’t know how many times I’ve read them to be honest, but it’s been 14 years. I’ve been an obsessive reader since before kindergarten. I’m also a creature of habit and rotate through like six different series and just re-read everything. It’s nice to get lost in someone else’s world, someone else’s story for a time. I tend to tone out my surroundings entirely. My husband could be talking right in my face and I don’t even hear him.
“It’s most definitely my favourite pastime. There’s a quote I’ve seen a number of times on Pinterest that always speaks to me. It says, ‘I read like the ink on the page is oxygen and I’m gasping for breath.’ I don’t know who said it, but I keep it on my tattoo board for ‘one day.’”
Fiona, Freyja, and Annika Atkins
A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Liard
“A friend gave it to me.”
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
“I started reading it two years ago and didn’t understand it. I started again and love it.”
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
“I wanted to read the Hunger Games trilogy because I had heard they were good. I wasn’t allowed to watch the movies until I finished the books.”
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
“Because I love him! My dream as a child was to be Courtney Cox in the Dancing in the Dark video.”
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
“It was given to me when I left Australia and have never finished it. No excuse now!”