A Number of Things: Stories About Canada Told Through 50 Objects – Jane Urquhart

28374401On the Cover: From one of our nation’s most beloved and iconic authors comes a lyrical 150th birthday gift to Canada. Jane Urquhart chooses 50 Canadian objects and weaves a rich and surprising narrative that speaks to our collective experience as a nation.

Each object is beautifully illustrated by the noted artist Scott McKowen, with Jane Urquhart conjuring and distilling meaning and magic from these unexpected facets of our history.

The fifty artifacts range from a Nobel Peace Prize medal, a literary cherry tree, a royal cowcatcher, a Beothuk legging, a famous skull and an iconic artist’s shoe, as well as an Innu tea doll, a Sikh RCMP turban, a Cree basket, a Massey-Harris tractor and a hanging rope, among an array of unexpected and intriguing objects.

Bringing the curiosity of the novelist and the eloquence of the poet to her task, Jane Urquhart composes a symphonic memory bank with objects that resonate with symbolic significance. In this compelling portrait of a completely original country called Canada, a master novelist has given all of us a national birthday bouquet like no other.

Published: October 2016


 

The Review:

This book contains a list of 50 objects, complete with description, history, significance, and why it relates to Canada as a whole. I was initially concerned that 50 objects would be a marathon, yet somehow this book absolutely engaged me as a reader.

There is such a fascinating variety of objects here and I never knew what was coming next. The book brought a smile to my face when I recognized an object and instilled a curiosity when I didn’t. While some of the items deeply resonated with me – Sir Isaac Brock’s hat, or a cross stitch sample – many did not, but instead exposed me to many of the cultures and histories that make up the fabric of Canada. Urquhart skillfully explains how each object is connected to the people and places of our country and why it is significant. It made me incredibly happy that not only did I feel represented but that I was taught something as well.

The only drawback to the book is that some objects are very strongly personal to Urquhart, and are accompanied by personal anecdotes in the description. While these objects do connect to the larger picture of Canada, they contrast sharply to the objects that are historic and have a textbook description. I had very mixed feelings about the inclusion of personal stories; while this was Urquhart’s version of Canada, the personal touches felt out of place and more appropriate for a memoir.

All drawbacks aside, this is a fascinating collection. It gives a superb snapshot of so many corners of Canada and I was immensely impressed with how many different locations and cultures were represented in 50 objects. This is a great book to read for Canadians, to feel that smile when you read one of Urquhart’s objects and know it’s one of yours, too.

Rating: 4 / 5

Quotations: 

“Twisted metal and charred timbers lay in contorted positions around the foundation, and the old clock from the central tower, which purportedly had continued to tick and chime until the tower fell, was smashed on the ground. Rescued furniture and relics were piled haphazardly in the snow, and in some cases were covered in ice themselves. But one thing that was neither rescued nor hosed down and then frozen was the mace. And this was a big problem for Parliament. p 182 “Mace”

“Canadians love their libraries and their small bookstores, and in spite of all efforts to discourage us, we are very loyal to our authors, whether they write about camping in the Canadian wilds or never make reference to a Canadian landscape at all.” p 36 “Books”

 

Mini Reviews: March 2017

Life has been crazy busy for me the past few weeks between working, reorganizing my house, and planning for a wedding. Happily enough, I’ve had plenty of time to read while sitting on the train every day. I haven’t had much time to sit down and write, so instead here are a few mini reviews for books I’ve read in the last month!

 

Except the Dying

Except the Dying – Maureen Jennings

The Toronto-based Detective Murdoch series is the basis for the Canadian television show Murdoch MysteriesThis period novel focuses on Detective William Murdoch as he investigates the death of a servant girl. I enjoyed the feel of this novel, as it was darker and grittier than any historical fiction I’ve read – and certainly more grim than the show. The novel drives you to discover who is guilty, and I was pleased that I was guessing until the end.

Rating: 4 / 5

 

The Couple Next Door

The Couple Next Door – Shari Lapena 

A couple goes to a party next door, leaving their six-month-old daughter at home. When they come back to find her missing an extensive police investigation is launched. Soon, everyone is a suspect, and everyone is pointing fingers. The novel has plenty of plot twists and multiple bait and switch scenarios, but the characters seem distant, and I couldn’t connect with them or their actions. While I was curious to find out what happened, I was never quite shocked or surprised enough to really love the story.

Rating: 3 / 5

 

Bonds of Wire

Bonds of Wire: A Memoir – Kingsley Brown

This collection of memories comes from Kingsley Brown, a Canadian Royal Air Force pilot in WWII who became a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft III, the location of the Great Escape. Brown was part of the forgery committee for the Great Escape, but his stories don’t focus on that. Instead, Brown shares moments of laughter, friendship, and kindness, focusing on heartwarming memories that surface even during the darkest of times. Brown shows us moments of pure humanity, and the bonds that men can create behind the wire.

Rating: 4 / 5

 

And finally…

I Don’t Wanna Be Sad – Simple Plan

This is the song that has been getting me through the past few weeks and I just had to share it. Simple Plan is my favourite band, and they’re Canadian! This song always puts a big smile on my face. I love putting in my headphones and cranking this up while I’m at work to help power through those tough projects. And hey, my boss has only caught me dancing once!