Imagine my excitement in picking up Di Brandt’s So this is the world and here I am in it (2007) for the Women Unbound Reading Challenge and discovering that not only was one of my earlier Women Unbound writers considered in it (Dorothy Livesay, her novella The Husband) but my *next* Women Unbound subject, Kristjana Gunnars was commenting on Livesay as well. And elsewhere in the book is a reference to Hiromi Goto’s novel Chorus of Mushrooms, which I’m also planning to read later in this Women Unbound reading year.
Suddenly I felt like we should all have matching T-shirts or buttons or something: it was all coming together.
And, really, that is the sense I’ve had reading this collection of essays all the way along, a sense of belonging mixed with understanding.
The opening essay “This land that I love, this wide, wide prairie” is nakedly political. “This stolen land, Métis land, Cree land, buffalo land. When did I first understand this, the dark underside of property, colonization, ownership, the shady dealings that brought us here, to this earthly paradise?”
And personal, as when she describes her recent experience attending an Aboriginal moon ceremony led by an Anishinabe elder: “I remember when worship meant laughter and dancing and lovemaking under the moon, carelessly, instead of sternly remembering the torture of innocence, and fearing the night, and obeying our husbands, and sitting still in church.”
Her tone strikes a pleasing balance for me and I found that I had read the first three essays when I had only planned to leaf through the book for a few minutes.
Well, perhaps that’s not too surprising, as I couldn’t really NOT read the second essay, because it was about Mavis Gallant’s The Pegnitz Junction (Gallant rocks), and I definitely HAD to read the next essay, not only because it has just a fun title, but because the novel it considers is one of my ATF books: “That crazy wacky Hoda in Winnipeg: A brief anatomy of an honest attempt at a pithy statement about Adele Wiseman’s Crackpot.” And then I was back at the essay I had read first, “Why do you lie there just shaking with laughter?” Revisiting Dorothy Livesay’s The Husband“. And then I knew that even if I didn’t finish it that night, I would be reading on in this collection.
Part of the appeal was that Brandt refers to a lot of my favourite writers (e.g. Alice Munro, Carol Shields, Miriam Toews, Margaret Atwood, Mavis Gallant, Thomas King, Barbara Gowdy, Margaret Laurence) and also to authors/artists whose work I’m familiar with (e.g. Michael Moore, Rupert Sheldrake, Tomson Highway, Paula Gunn Allen, Lori Lansens, Natalie Angier, Guy Maddin).
And that only made me more curious about the essays that considered writers who were less familiar to me, for instance “The happiest reader in the world: David Arnason’s joyfully revisionary stories” and “Souwestoegg on Winnipuzz: James Reaney’s Winnipeg”. And then there was the article about Aganetha Dyck’s artwork, about which I knew absolutely nothing, which is absolutely fascinating: her site is here and the Di Brandt poem commissioned for one of her shows is here.
I borrowed this one from the library and, admittedly, it’s hard to convince me to buy a collection of essays when my list of novels-yet-to-buy is so seemingly endless, but So this is the world and here I am in it is now on my Must-Buy list. It’s available from NeWest Press and, as the blurb from Tomson Highway states on the back cover, “I didn’t want it to end.”
Anyone else read a memorable essay collection they would recommend?