Patrick Friesen Recommends…


Patrick Friesen recommends three books to read this summer:

Into the Silence, by Wade Davis, is a beautiful interweaving of biography, history, and spiritual yearning as it tells the story of British climbers’ attempts on Everest in the early 1920s. The book moves slowly, deliberately, taking many side trips into things like the deep effects of WWI on the various climbers.  One sees the connections between the British imperialism of that war and the attitudes of some of the climbers in the Himalayas. What I loved most was Davis’s brief, necessary glances at Tibetan Buddhism, with its deeply spiritual understanding of the mountains, of the gods in the mountains, and of those who live in these isolated places.  This book has enough detail to serve academic purposes, too much detail in places, but it is also a wonderful read for anyone interested in not just the facts of Everest and those who pursue it, but in the geography, the rivers and vegetation, and the spiritual presence of the Himalayas.

At its best the focus on prizes in the past decade or so recognizes excellent poets and their books. At its worst it pushes literature into a kind of show biz competition that diminishes everyone. But, if recognition is to be given, why has George Amabile not been sufficiently recognized?  In Dancing, With Mirrors, Amabile once again proves himself one of Canada’s greatest poets. This book, a lyrical summing up of a career and a life, fuses prosey passages with poetry of the highest level. Amabile has always had a fabulous ear for other peoples’ work, but he has it for his own as well.  He brings a narrative perspective to a rich lyrical one.  Story is told, moments are celebrated. Motion and stillness move in and out of each other, seamlessly.

I recently read Reading My Father, by Alexandra Styron, primarily because I love William Styron’s prose.  He was one of the greatest writers to emerge from the USA during the last century.  It’s a beautifully written book; Alexandra Styron is clearly a very fine writer. It is a disconcerting book though.  I’d known, previously, that Styron was an obsessive writer, and thus not a very present father, and that he drank a lot of alcohol and suffered from depression. This all comes out in the book.  What is disconcerting is how mean the book feels at times, unnecessarily so. Points can be made without the extra dig, without the demeaning detail. I have the feeling of accounts being settled, unfairly as Styron can’t answer for himself anymore. Still, a fascinating read and a window into a great writer’s working life. To be read with some wariness.

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Patrick Friesen

Patrick Friesen's latest books are A Dark Boat (Anvil) and jumping in the asylum (Quattro), which won the 2012 ReLit award for poetry. Patrick's celebrated play, The Shunning, ran at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in 2011.