Canadians may be proprietors of the world’s second-largest land mass, the longest coastline on earth and the longest national highway anywhere, but living amid so much geography has not created a nation of world-class wanderers. Quite the opposite, in fact. When it comes to domestic holidays, four out of five Canadians like to stay close to home, according to the latest data available from Statistics Canada. They tend to make short trips, by car, to visit family or friends, or to spend a few days at a nearby cottage. As for activities, walking is the single most popular recreational pursuit—yet more than twice as many Canadians are more likely to go shopping. Ho-hum.
Canadian publishers, to judge from the adventure, travel and sports books they are releasing or distributing this season, are bigger risk takers. They’re gambling that as the typical vacationer heads for the beach or sinks into that Muskoka chair at the cottage, he or she may get an itch to read about the adventures of others. And they’ve offered a rich array of possibilities.
Among them, David Adams Richards’s Lines on the Water: A Fisherman’s Life on the Miramichi (Doubleday, $29.95), is a standout. The novelist from St. John, N.B., who moved to Toronto last year, begins his book with a moving testimonial to the famous New Brunswick salmon-fishing river. “I love my river,” he writes. “Each year there are days when the Miramichi shows its greatness— its true greatness—once again. And each year on the river... I will meet men and women with a fire of generosity in them ... that God required old prophets to have.”
In spare but elegant prose, Richards writes of his four decades on the Miramichi, beginning with childhood misadventures—a brother once ran a pitchfork through his foot while digging for worms—and ending last summer when he took his son fishing but returned emptyhanded. Along the way, he introduces memorable characters such as Henry the poacher, who once shot two moose in deer season and, on another occasion, killed two deer in moose season. And he brings his beloved waters to life. “The Miramichi is a multiple of rivers and streams,” Richards writes. “Although one place might remind you of another, all places are essentially different, have their own spirit attached to them.” Two other writers, one Canadian and the other American, have written cross-country fishing odysseys that are as different as minnows and muskies. In Consider the Fish: Fishing for Canada from Campbell River to Petty Harbour (Penguin, $29.99), Victoria author Chris Gudgeon declares himself head of a low-budget, one-man Royal Fishin’ Commission. In a rollicking style, he describes
contains two stories, his and Wallace’s, and the latter is more interesting.
Another Indonesian adventurer, Toronto writer Linda Spalding, re-creates her experiences in The Follow (Key Porter, $29.95). And, as in the case of Severin, Spalding was on the trail of another visitor. But her subject was a contemporary, Canadian Biruté Galdikas, an expert in orangutans. Spalding’s book chronicles three trips she made up a crocodile-infested river to the interior of Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo, in 1996 and 1997—the first with her two grown daughters. Galdikas proved to be much more elusive than the endangered orangutan. And Spalding discovered that the conservationist work of the Coquitlam, B.C.-based anthropologist, a disciple of the renowned Louis Leakey, was mired in controversy. That alone makes the book fascinating, but more engaging is Spalding’s journey into her own heart of light and darkness—as well as her radiant, insightful prose. “The orangutan’s stare is intrusive,” she writes. “Still, it is a stare without judgment, more like a photograph than a mirror. It is a stare developed over millions of years of looking for edibles in distant trees.” While Severin and Spalding plied equatorial waters, American writer Myron
retraces some of the travels of British naturalist Alfred Wallace, who spent 3V2 years during the 1850s on a series of remote islands, which are now part of Indonesia. Wallace wrote about his wanderings in The Malay Archipelago, and collected thousands of specimens of exotic insects and birds. Severin sets out in an indigenous vessel to see how much of this fabulous wildlife is still around 140 years later. Inevitably, Severin’s book
eight famous piscine locales, from the Grand Banks to Vancouver Island’s Campbell River. Maine-based journalist James Dodson uses the breakup of his 11-year marriage as the departure point for Faithful Travelers: A Father. His Daughter. A Fly-Fishing Journey of the Heart. (Bantam Books, $31.95). He and seven-year-old Maggie take a six-week, 13,000-km trip from Maine to Wyoming in search of good trout fishing. The result is a sparkling, occasionally wistful tale of recovery from personal misfortune.
New Hampshire-based travel writer Bill Bryson covered considerably less territory—1,400 km—to produce A Walk in the Woods (Doubleday, $32.95). But he did it on foot, and the result is an often hilarious account of his attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from northern Georgia to northern Maine (he managed only 40
per cent of its length). He was ........................
accompanied by an old highschool chum named Stephen Katz, a recovering alcoholic who is overweight and seriously out of shape. What makes a person undertake such a trip?
Bryson offers several lofty reasons, but he is a humorist who sensed the comic possibilities before he ever hoisted a 40-lb. pack. “I wanted a little of that swagger,” he writes, “that comes with being able to gaze at a far horizon through eyes of chipped granite and say with a slow, manly sniff, Yeah,
I’ve shit in the woods.’ ” Ireland-based adventurer Tim Severin has made a career of re-creating historic land and sea voyages, and writing books about his exploits. In his latest, The Spice Islands Voyage: In Search of Wallace (Fenn, $34.95), he
More hot nonfiction
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the SexDrugs-and-Rock ’n’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (Distican, $35). Written by Premiere magazine editor Peter Biskind, this book about the advent of Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Altman and Steven Spielberg in the 70s is a treasure trove of gossip and cultural insight.
Imagining Canadian Literature: The Selected Letters of Jack McClelland (Key Porter, $26.95). In this collection edited by Sam Solecki, the charismatic publisher praises, teases and feuds with Leonard Cohen, Farley Mowat, Mordecai Richler, among others, in elegant, hilarious, always entertaining missives.
The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Doubleday, $32.95). Mixing erudition and folksiness, Thomas Cahill explores the lasting impact of ancient Jewish history.
Streeters: Rants and Raves from This Hour Has 22 Minutes (Doubleday, $19.95). Famous for these irreverent social commentaries, Rick Mercer tickles the funny bone or raises blood pressure— depending on one’s political leanings.
Arms sailed from his Maryland home to the frigid Labrador Sea to search for signs of global warming. Arms explains at the outset of Riddle of the Ice: A Scientific Adventure into the Arctic (Bantam, $31.95) that he first ventured into these waters aboard his 15-m sailboat on a recreational cruise in the summer of 1991. Pack ice that stretched hundreds of miles beyond the northern tip of Newfoundland stopped his progress. Yet most of eastern North America was experiencing one of the hottest summers on record, leading Arms to wonder whether the ice was a sign of climate change. He spent the next three years talking to scientists, and in the summer of 1994 returned to the Labrador Sea hoping to find a definitive answer. The riddle remained unanswered. “Our knowledge about the mechanisms that drive the Earth’s climate is large,” he concludes, “but our ignorance of them is larger.” The most astute observer among this diverse collection of travellers, adventurers and outdoorsmen is Oregon writer Barry Lopez. In About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory (Random House, $32), he takes the reader to coral reefs off the Caribbean island of Bonaire and finds sea creatures “so strange to human senses, they seem extraplanetary.” He goes to Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, and visits a lake with water so clear that a person can see to a depth of 39 m. He has a deep respect for the earth, and is appalled at the average American’s ignorance of their nation’s wondrously diverse geography. “The more superficial a society’s knowledge of the land it occupies, the more vulnerable the land is to exploitation, to manipulation for shortterm gain,” he warns. “The land, virtually powerless before political and commercial entities, finds itself finally with no defenders.” Armchair athletes can sit back with two new anthologies on sports. A Passion for Golf (McClelland & Stewart, $33.99), edited by Schuyler Bishop, fleshes out the proposition that golf is a lot like life. Starting with an excerpt from Canadian Arnold Haultain’s 1908 treatise The Mystery of Golf, it includes writers ranging from Bob Hope to John Updike, who amuse, inform and discuss how the forces that transformed North American society, from civil rights to environmental protection, also changed the game. That sport-in-society theme can also be found in Bunts: Curt Flood, Camden Yards, Pete Rose and Other Reflections on Baseball (Distican, $35), a collection of columns written over the past 25 years by George E Will, a Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist and commentator. Will writes lovingly and knowledgeably, still excited by the confrontation between pitcher and catcher, yet wistful that, through labor strife, bad management and the changing landscape of the 1990s, baseball is no longer America’s pastime. But at least Will, like the other authors of the season’s best books about adventure and athleticism, ensures that books about lively pursuits will continue to be a going concern.
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