Talking to Canadians

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Rick Mercer
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Humour
Pub. Date: Nov. 2021 (read Nov. 2021 on Audible)

Last year I read Rick’s book Final Report and was a bit disappointed when I discovered it was just a collection of rants from throughout the years. Somehow it’s just not as interesting to listen to Rick rant about Stephen Harper 10 years later. But I was interested in Talking to Canadians when I learned it would be a proper memoir and decided to read on Audible.

Talking to Canadians definitely has a niche market, but I found it to be an interesting read. Rick goes pretty in depth about how he got his start in comedy and it covers everything up until he started doing the Mercer Report. There’s a lot about how he found comedy and acting in high school and his years on 22 minutes, which I did find pretty fascinating.

Of course, Rick makes for a great audiobook narrator and I would highly recommend doing the audio if you’re reading this book. I read it back to back with Mark Critch’s new book, which I also did with both comedians last year. Between Final Report and Son of a Critch, I’d give the edge to Critch, but overall I preferred Talking to Canadians to An Embarrassment of Critch’s, though they’re both great books. They actually make surprisingly complementary reads as well since both men have 22 minutes to thank for jumpstarting their careers. I read Critch’s book first, but if you’re going to read both, start with Talking to Canadians, it makes a bit more sense chronologically.

Overall a fun read if you like memoirs and funny Canadians!

An Embarrassment of Critches

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Michelle Good
Genres: Humour, Non-fiction, Memoir
Pub. Date: Oct. 2021 (read Nov. 2021 on Audible)

I read Mark’s first book last year as an audiobook. It was a bit of an impulse buy when I was doing a bunch of jigsaw puzzles and looking for some humour to get me through the pandemic. It was funny and I really enjoyed it. You could tell the stories were embellished, but Mark is an excellent storyteller so it didn’t bother me. 

I was more excited to read An Embarrassment of Critch’s and quickly bought a copy on Audible when it was released. Mark narrates both books and I highly recommend doing the audio for this reason. I love all the different voices and accents he uses throughout the book and it made me nostalgic for Newfoundland. 

In my opinion, this book is the perfect companion book to Son of a Critch and I kind of see it as an extension of his first book. I know his first book is centered on his childhood, but when I finished it last year, my one complaint was that I wanted to read more about how he got into comedy and his time on 22 Minutes. That is exactly what An Embarrassment of Critch’s delivers and I had a lot of fun reading it.

I’m currently reading Rick Mercer’s new book as well and it’s really hard not to compare the two. In terms of laughs, I would give the edge to Mark Critch, but there’s more of a sincerity to Rick’s memoir that I thought was missing from Mark’s. I think this is totally fine since the primary intent of Mark’s work is humour and storytelling, but he does tackle several more serious topics as well. While he tries to reflect and be contemplative about his experiences (thinking mostly of his recount of traveling to Afghanistan), I couldn’t help but think his recollections were somewhat surficial and portrayed through rose-tinted glasses. In some ways his essay selection reads more like a checklist of his accomplishments rather than a reflective look-back on his career. Although, he does talk about some of his mistakes over the years, but I felt like his exploration of these errors in judgement were included as more of a PR move rather than any meaningful contrition about them.

But really these are minor complaints. I enjoy his comedy and love watching his impressions and sketches on 22 Minutes. He is an excellent storyteller and I can pretty much guarantee I’ll be picking up any future books he may decide to write!

In My Own Moccasins

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Helen Knott
Genres: Memoir, Non-fiction
Pub. Date: Aug. 2019 (read Nov. 2021)

I picked this book up last summer when I was book shopping in Sidney on Vancouver Island (aka the book capital of the Island!). It’s been sitting on my shelf ever since taunting me. In an effort to finally read it, I put it on our book club voting list and it won as our December book pick. 

I was momentarily daunted when I first started the book because I thought it might be a dense read, but I was quickly pulled into Helen’s writing style and engaging storytelling. He holds nothing back in her book foreward, making it clear who she wrote this memoir for and that she doesn’t want your pity or judgement. It’s a sobering reminder that might be off-putting to some, but I thought it was so great because it set the tone upfront that Helen is the custodian of her own story and it is hers to share for her own means. Colonialism has taken enough from her and it is her turn to take something for herself.

I definitely don’t judge her and I hope I empathize with her rather than pity her. But mostly I admire her. Technically, this is well written and I was really impressed by her calibre of writing. She says she is a great lover of literature and self reflection and I definitely found both of these to be true. Memoirs can often be more about the story than the writing since we can’t expect everyone with a meaningful story to tell to necessarily also be a good writer. But Knott has both and it made the reading experience all the more enjoyable.

Emotionally, this book is a roller coaster. Knott splits her story into 3 parts: the dreamless void, the in-between, and the healing. The dreamless void is the longest part of the book and covers her struggles with all kinds of abuse, both from violent acts perpetrated against her, as well as her ensuing addictions to alcohol and drugs. It is the hardest section to read and very much like peeling back the layers of an onion. Her turbulent home-life and the many racial injustices she and her family face chip away at her self worth and she looks for relief in all the wrong places. However, where the right places would be, I really have no idea. 

Knott feels like a bit of an enigma to read about because through all her suffering and addiction, you still get glimpses of a very reflective and accomplished individual. She has pulled herself together on several occasions only to have it all fall apart again when she is unable to face her past trauma. What I admire her for are the in-between and the healing and these are the parts of her story that really stuck with me. She is able to identify the many ways in which colonialism and racism have worked against her and her family. She is able to pinpoint the long term impacts of residential schools while also not being afraid to look critically at herself. Many are unable to escape the cycle of abuse and addiction and I thought her incredibly courageous in being able to face her trauma head on and say, ‘no, I am worth something and I will not let this rule my life anymore.’

So while it is hard to read about the dreamless void, it is critical that we bear witness to it. Not, as Helen says, to educate ourselves or gain insight or humanize indigenous voices. But because these are voices we need to amplify and we have been silencing them for too long. We should be uncomfortable, but we should also be inspired. 

Crying in H Mart

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Michelle Zauner
Genres: Memoir, Non-fiction
Pub. Date: Apr. 2021 (read Sep. 2021 on Audible)

I’ve had a bunch of people asking me my thoughts on this one and it’s a book that has me really conflicted. I’ve heard so many great things about Crying in H Mart, and I would definitely not hesitate about recommending this book. But I was really on the fence about how to rate it. I decided on a 3 star rating because I had started to lose interest during the last third of the book, but after writing this review, I found a lot more arguments for why this was actually a really good book, so I decided to increase my rating to 4 stars. One of the reasons I love taking the time to actually write reviews is it forces me to meaningfully reflect on what I’ve read.

Crying in H Mart is a memoir about the author’s relationship with her mother, food, and how the two have become intertwined. It is a deeply personal book. The primary reason I would recommend this is because the author has such raw honesty, it really did blow me away. She lost her mother to cancer a few years ago and this book is very much a manifest of her grief. It is sad and moving to read – it almost feels wrong to rate it at all, even highly, because the author so clearly wrote this book for herself more than anyone else.

The story does have some ebbs and flows. Like I mentioned, I found the last third a bit slow moving because it focuses more on the author’s life after her mother’s death (which I found somewhat monotonous and not as interesting to read), whereas the first half is so shocking in its honesty that you become completely engrossed. But what makes it powerful is it’s not just about the author’s grief, instead it’s an in-depth look at her complicated relationship with her mother, her culture, and her mixed-race family. A lot of her observations about her mother are very unforgiving. She doesn’t remember all the good things about her mother, but rather, she remembers everything about her mother – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It takes so much courage to write that kind of memoir about grief, which is why I applaud the author and ultimately why I decided to bump my rating up to 4 stars.

Even though parts of this story were less compelling to me as a reader, I feel like Zauner is committed to the memory of her mother as she was and the exploration of her grief through and through. It doesn’t matter what path grief takes or how it looks to other people, it only matters how it feels for you. It’s kind of beautiful to think that our memories of our loved ones don’t have to be confined to one narrative. We are not only the good things or the bad things that we did, we are all of those things, and I can see how remembering it all, good and bad, could be cathartic.

Overall, I think I would recommend the paperback over the audiobook. The audiobook is read by the author, which I usually love, but she is very monotone and I think that may have contributed to my fatigue with the book.

Park Bagger

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Marlis Butcher
Genres: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pub. Date: Apr. 2021 (read May 2021)

Congratulations to Marlis Butcher for having visited every National Park in Canada! That is an amazing accomplishment and I very much enjoyed reading about it.

I really liked how the book is organized by region, with an entry for every National Park. It makes it easy to reference if you just want to read about a specific park or region, though it does make some sections a little bit tedious. I honestly had no idea how many national parks Canada has in the north of the country. It makes sense because many of the parks are dedicated to the preservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat. Many of the parks are difficult to access and in some cases, Marlis is one of a very limited number of visitors. A lot of the parks aren’t set up for tourism and Marlis brings a keen sense of adventure to every park she visits, many of which are not for the faint of heart!

I loved reading about these remote parks because each one was very much its own unique expedition for Marlis, with lots to write about it terms of gear, itinerary, terrain, wildlife, and activities. The many smaller parks of the provinces do start to blend together after a while though. Because of size and accessibility, her trips to many of these parks were shorter, leaving less of interest to write about, so I did find some of these sections a bit slow, but still enjoyed the opportunity to learn about every park.

Marlis is a good writer, she’s not a great writer, but I don’t expect her to be. The idea of this memoir is to share about her unique experience in our park system, so I never expected this to be a literary masterpiece and she does a good job. I would definitely recommend this to nature lovers and really enjoyed the experience of visiting every park in Canada through Marlis’ eyes!