Reading – & Now: 2023

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A love affair with books

Appetizer:

"I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness."
– Max Planck, theoretical physicist and the originator of quantum theory, which revolutionized human understanding of atomic and subatomic processes, from an interview in The Observer, Jan 25, 1931.

Rolf Dobelli, The Art of Thinking Clearly

The audiobook cover of The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli displaying the title in the center in large black text, except for the word Thinking, which is red and upside down.Translated by Nicky Griffin; narrated by Eric Conger

Swiss author Dobelli discusses 98 cognitive errors we are all susceptible to make, providing illuminating examples of each, at times sobering, at others quite humorous.

The failure to think clearly, or what experts call a "cognitive error," is a systematic deviation from logic—from optimal, rational, reasonable thought and behavior. By "systematic," I mean that these are not just occasional errors in judgment but rather routine mistakes, barriers to logic we stumble over time and again, repeating patterns through generations and through the centuries.

One example is the Social Proof error, which is caused by individuals feeling they are behaving correctly when they act the same as other people, a mistake I think has been vastly multiplied by social media.

If 50 million people say something foolish, it's still foolish.
– W. Somerset Maugham

(For a glimpse of this, see: Jordan Klepper Crashes Trump's First 2024 Campaign "Rally"⩘ , The Daily Show, Feb 1, 2023.)

I wasn't always convinced by Dobelli's examples. I think he sometimes oversimplifies, glossing over nuance. Other times, I think he's a bit too certain of his own opinion. (Of course, I could be making cognitive errors in my evaluation.) Still, I think listening to the book was worthwhile, though there's no way I'm ever going to remember these 98 cognitive traps!

There is one takeaway conclusion I came to that I will remember: it's worth it to always maintain a healthy dose of skepticism as we're interacting with the world as well as about our initial interpretation of those interactions.

One of my favorite humorous stories is from the chapter discussing the Chauffeur Knowledge error, our tendency to overvalue knowledge from people who have learned to put on a good show (like news anchors):

After receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918, Max Planck went on tour across Germany. Wherever he was invited, he delivered the same lecture on new quantum mechanics. Over time, his chauffeur grew to know it by heart: "It has to be boring giving the same speech each time, Professor Planck. How about I do it for you in Munich? You can sit in the front row and wear my chauffeur's cap. That'd give us both a bit of variety." Planck liked the idea, so that evening the driver held a long lecture on quantum mechanics in front of a distinguished audience. Later, a physics professor stood up with a question. The driver recoiled: "Never would I have thought that someone from such an advanced city as Munich would ask such a simple question! My chauffeur will answer it."

In my opinion, one of the most frightening cognitive errors discussed is the Sleeper Effect, especially given today's political environment in the U.S.:

   If [propaganda] strikes a chord with someone, this influence will only increase over time. Why? Psychologist Carl Hovland … named this phenomenon the sleeper effect. To date, the best explanation is that, in our memories, the source of the argument fades faster than the argument. In other words, your brain quickly forgets where the information came from…. Meanwhile, the message itself … fades only slowly or even endures. Therefore, any knowledge that stems from an untrustworthy source gains credibility over time. The discrediting force melts away faster than the message does.
   In the United States, elections increasingly revolve around nasty advertisements, in which candidates seek to tarnish one another's record or reputation. However, by law, each political ad must disclose its sponsor at the end so that it is clearly distinguishable as an electioneering message. However, countless studies show that the sleeper effect does its job here, too, especially among undecided voters. The messenger fades from memory; the ugly accusations persevere.

Harper, 2013; audiobook: HarperAudio, 2013; IndieBound⩘ 

See also: The Ultimate Guide to your most common Thinking errors - Part I⩘  and Part II⩘ , Escaping Ordinary, Jan 2023.

Iris Yamashita, City Under One Roof

Cover of City Under One Roof by Iris Yamashita showing a distant multi-story building across the ice of a bay with mountains beyond. There is a hole in the ice with cracks radiating out from it.Well narrated by Aspen Vincent, Shannon Tyo, and Anna Caputo

A fun debut novel by screenwriter Iris Yamashita. The "closed-room" mystery takes place in an unusual town in Alaska that has a beautiful bay and is surrounded by mountains. When the bay is frozen in the winter, the only way into the city is through a long tunnel through the mountains that is vulnerable to closure when there are a large snowfalls and avalanches, as happens during the story. All the year-round residents, a couple hundred folks, live in one large condominium.

One really fun aspect of the story is that the town is based on a actual town in Alaska very similar to the one described in the novel. It's name is Whittier, and it really has a single condominium in which all the town's year-round residents live. Real life really can be as crazy as fiction!

Author's website: Iris Yamashita⩘ 

Berkley, 2023; audiobook: Penguin Audio, 2023; IndieBound⩘ 

Related: Here's a photo of the condo and links to a couple articles about Whittier. It's fun to read the articles after the novel. You may even recognize the reflection of some of the novel's characters in the descriptions and photos.

The Begich Tower, a 14-story building with an array of boats parked in front and mountains rising behind.
The Begich Tower; screen capture from Google Maps

Heriberto Araujo, Masters of the Lost Land: The Untold Story of the Amazon and the Violent Fight for the World's Last Frontier

Audiobook of Masters of the Lost Land by Heriberto Araujo showing a view of burning Amazon rainforest with the sky above full of smoke.Well narrated by Rebecca Mozo

I write about two kinds of books: those I most enjoy and those I most appreciate. I definitely didn't enjoy this book, but I certainly appreciate it. It makes the story of deforestation of the Amazon rainforest personal by sharing detailed stories of a few individuals living in a region in rural Brazil, the area around Rondon do Pará, which is on the forefront of the destruction.

It is a story of greed, violence, corruption, land grabs, organized crime, murders, human rights abuse, and a near total disregard for the forest itself, the Indigenous people who originally lived there, and the law. It also is a story of a few courageous people who have stood up and are standing up to lead the opposition to fazendeiros (land barons) and to advocate on behalf of landless and exploited people. Some of those people became martyrs to the cause; others are carrying forward the struggle at great risks to their lives.

As the case of Maria Joel shows, when the people accused are wealthy and powerful, policemen and judges often treat them with extreme leniency. This has real consequences for the Amazon and for the people who fight to protect it. Since I began to investigate this book in 2017, about 180 land and environmental activists have been murdered in Brazil. The number of homicides and the degree of brutality is appalling.

This story also helped me to understand at least part of the political fight between Jair Bolsonaro, under whom rainforest destruction greatly accelerated, and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has promised to fight the deforestation.

Will the activists prevail? I have my doubts. Much of the impetus for the deforestation is the world's voracious appetite for the soybeans and meat produced on the cleared lands. China, the U.S., and Europe are the leading consumers of these exports. We are directly responsible for the destruction.

From the PDF accompanying the audiobook, a photo the Amazon in Pará state:

An ariel view showing vast tracks of rainforest bisected by a huge muddy river and many tributaries, with a town visible on the banks of one of the tributaries.

Mariner Books, 2023; audiobook: HarperAudio, 2023; IndieBound⩘ 

See also:

Maria Ressa, How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for Our Future

Audiobook cover of How to Stand Up to a Dictator by Maria Ressa showing the book title in front of a black and white image of Maria Ressa standing in front of a street of multi-story building with smoke rising between Ressa and the buildings.Forward by Amal Clooney; Narrated by Maria Ressa and Rebecca Mozo

A critically important book written by a courageous and inspiring individual, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Maria Ressa.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I started listening to this, but what I discovered is a very personal sharing of the experiences that shaped her life, led her to discover her passion for journalism, and enabled her to find a deep well of inner strength. FDR once said, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear." Ressa has certainly lived that as she has faced the ongoing harassment of the current and previous authoritarian presidents of the Philippines, including the very real threat that she may live the rest of her life in prison for reporting the truth.

One thing that surprised me is the way Ressa and the online news site she founded, Rappler, have been at the forefront of exposing the extensive negative mental, civic, and public health damage caused by Mark Zuckerberg and his social media company Facebook. As internal documents shared by whistleblowers have revealed, Zuckerberg and Facebook have consistently put profit above individual and social well being. Given that the people of the Philippines have one of the highest rates of social media use in the world, this has a particularly strong negative impact on them, but we certainly feel this impact here in the U.S. as well.

One thing I want to remember: after Ressa was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 2021 alongside Dmitry Muratov of the Russian Federation "for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace," they jointly published a "10-Point Plan to Address the Information Crisis." It begins:

We call for a world in which technology is built in service of humanity and where our global public square protects human rights above profits. Those in power must do their part to build a world that puts human rights, dignity, and security first, including by safeguarding scientific and journalistic methods and tested knowledge.

I think it's highly worthwhile to read and advocate for the entire plan: 10-Point Plan to Address the Information Crisis⩘ .

Harper, 2022; audiobook: HarperAudio, 2022; IndieBound⩘ 

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses

Audiobook cover of Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer showing paintings of a variety of mosses on a granular tan background and surrounding the book title in the center.Well narrated by the author

If I were ever to be banished to a life of solitude and allowed to take one book with me, it likely would be Braiding Sweetgrass by forest biologist and ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer. This book, written by her a decade earlier, is similarly good, but shorter and a bit more focused on biology. Fortunately, I love moss, so her stories kept me engaged as she invited me into the amazing small world in which mosses contribute their ancient gift of abundance to the well-being of our planet.

While most of her stories helped me grow my deep appreciation of the natural world, one anecdote she shares left me a bit nauseous and quite angry. She was hired to do a short consulting job focused on mosses. It was a bit of a mysterious assignment, but turned out to be helping a young horticulturist fresh out of college who had the job of creating the gardens for a new mansion a very wealthy man was having built on a large rural piece of property. The owner wanted everything to look like it had been there for a century, so for example, huge trees were being dug up far away and trucked in to be transplanted, and the mansion itself was being constructed in a manner that made it look like an aged manor.

The owner wanted instant gardens of moss on the boulders surrounding one of the patios, and Kimmerer was brought in to advise on this. She tried to explain that moss isn't like a perennial flower you pop into the ground for instant gratification, that it grows only where it wants to grow, and that even then it can take decades to establish itself. The young horticulturist wasn't satisfied with this and pressed her for any methods she could share that would enable them to quickly grow moss where they wanted it. So she shared one "recipe" she had read about, a milkshake made of the right kind of moss and buttermilk that might create an environment on the boulders that was more conducive to moss colonies establishing themselves, but cautioned that even if it worked, and she was skeptical, it would still take years or decades for the moss to become fully established.

At the end of the day, the horticulturist took on her on a little tour of one portion of the property far from the manor to show her a large rock outcropping that was covered with gorgeous mosses. Then she left to write her report.

Sometime later, she was asked to come back for one more day of consulting. The owner wasn't willing to wait for his moss garden, so he had hired a team of stonecutters and explosives experts from Italy to fly over and carefully blast off portions of the moss-covered rock face of that beautiful rock outcropping and move them to the boulder garden surrounding the patio by the house. They were carefully drilling and setting up small charges to separate the portions of the rock face, then covering them with wet burlap to prepare for transport to the patio. The problem was that the moss began dying shortly after the blasting. So they had set up a "field hospital", a large tent with a sprinkler system to try to rejuvenate the moss, but it continued to die. So they brought Kimmerer in to see if she could advise them as to how to revive it. She was, of course, heartbroken and disgusted.

   Blowing up a cliff to steal the mosses is a crime, but it's not against the law, because he "owns" those rocks. It would be easy to call the abduction an act of vandalism. And yet, this is also a man who imports a team of experts for the gentle wrapping of mossy rocks. The Owner is a man who loves mosses. And the exercise of power. I have no doubts of his sincerity in wishing to protect them from harm, once they conformed to his landscape design. But I think you cannot own a thing and love it at the same time. Owning diminishes the innate sovereignty of a thing, enriching the possessor and reducing the possessed. If he truly loved mosses more than control, he would have left them alone and walked each day to see them.…
   I was dropped back at the staging area with the coolness reserved for a team member who won't play the game.

We all have the possibility to be assholes, but the wealthy have the capacity to supersize their fucking assholeness, as in this instance.

On a happier note, here's a photo I took a few years ago while out walking in the foothills after some nourishing rains had fallen over the previous weeks. For the record, we left the mosses there, only bringing their beauty home in our hearts.

A variety of mosses, from light green to dark green, growing on a steep hillside, interspersed with fallen Ponderosa needles.

I also enjoyed one moment of levity that Kimmerer shares from something she noticed while traveling:

If you fear change,
leave it here.
– Sign on a tip jar

Oregon State University Press, 2003; audiobook: Tantor Media, 2018; IndieBound⩘ 

See also my previous review of Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer⩘ .

Laurent Richard & Sandrine Rigaud, Pegasus: How a Spy in Your Pocket Threatens the End of Privacy, Dignity, and Democracy

Book cover of Pegasus by Laurent Richard & Sandrine Rigaud showing an abstract eye over the title; the pupil is black, the iris is comprised of rings of light blue zeros and ones that become narrower as they get further out until they become rays of blue shooting outwards; behind all of this are thin fragments of bright multi-colored bands of light (red, yellow, blue, orange, green) running horizontally across a black background.Introduction by Rachel Maddow; narrated by Andrew Wehrlen & Rachel Perry

An important story sharing the journey the authors, two investigative reporters with Forbidden Stories, went through—in partnership with Amnesty International and leading a consortium of other media organizations and journalists—to reveal the illegal use that the Pegasus spyware tool sold by the NSO Group was being put to. A dire threat to all of us.

Thanks to an unprecedented data leak, the international investigation revealed the existence of more than 50,000 potential victims of Pegasus, a sophisticated spyware tool sold by Israeli company NSO Group. Among the victims were journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, politicians, academics, businesspeople, and even members of royal families and heads of state, including French President Emmanuel Macron.
Pegasus Project: what has happened since the revelations?⩘  by Karine Pfenniger, Forbidden Stories, Jul 18, 2022 (one year after the story broke).

While early portions of the story get way down into the weeds of the grinding work investigative reporters go through, the later portions are at times absolutely nail biting as the team gets closer to publication and begins to experience the hair-raising risks they were exposing themselves and their source to.

Henry Holt, 2023; audiobook: Macmillan Audio, 2023; IndieBound⩘ 

See also:

Stephen Markley, The Deluge

Book cover of The Deluge by Stephen Markley showing sunlit blue sky with a few whispy clouds and a big rip running down the top half of the sky.Incredibly well narrated by Corey Brill, Danny Campbell, Gibson Frazier, Stephen Graybill, Soneela Nankani, Joy Osmanski, Melissa Redmond, Aida Reluzco, André Santana, Neil Shah, Aven Shore, Shakira Shute, Pete Simonelli & Shaun Taylor-Corbett.

Amazing novel, certainly among the very best I've come across.

The story revolves around climate change, told through the experiences of a fairly large cast of characters who have seven very different points of view.

The story begins in 2013 and progresses through the late 2030s, weaving between moments of the mundanity of everyday life, soaring descriptions of exquisite poetic vision, deep explorations of the science of climate change, passages of impassioned activism, sections of stomach churning political machinations, and segments of sheer heart-stopping terror. It paints a bleak, though I think entirely realistic picture of what we are heading toward in the coming years. Even amongst the vividly described devastation of earth-shattering natural calamities, the extreme violence perpetrated by both terrorists and governments, and the dire life threatening climate challenges that all but the very rich are forced to try to cope with, the story ultimately has the hopeful message that even if it looks nearly impossible, it is possible that we can come together and tackle this existential crisis that we have created and continue to cause to accelerate.

Even if we succeed, it'll be generations before the emergency ends. I think we have to be at peace with that.

The Deluge inspired me to write the longest review I've ever produced, which is posted on its own page: Extended review of The Deluge by Stephen Markley⩘ .

Simon & Schuster, 2023; audiobook: Simon & Schuster Audio, 2023; IndieBound⩘ 

Michael Bennett, Better the Blood

The book cover of Better the Blood by Michael Bennett featuring a koru—an inward-turning spiral that is used in Tā Moko, traditional Māori tattoos—drawn in blood red on a black background.Well narrated by Miriama McDowell and Richard Te Are

This story kept me riveted from start to finish. It also gave me a couple of gifts I deeply appreciate: it took me places I've never previously been and taught me things I hadn't previously known.

The story revolves around Senior Sargent Hana Westerman, a hard-charging Māori police detective in Aukland who faces an accelerating series of nearly impossible to resolve moral quandaries as she races to solve what begins as a very unusual murder.

The perpetrator leaves a mark behind that Hana discovers by following an intuitive hunch she has, something she is well known for. Drawn in the victim's blood is an inward-turning spiral resembling a koru, a design based on the appearance of an unfurling silver fern frond that is used in Tā Moko, traditional Māori tattoos.

The book includes a short but powerful addendum discussing the settings for the novel, Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) and Aotearoa (New Zealand). It's a novel, but it's rooted in sacred soil soaked in blood.

The wounds of colonization remain raw and unhealed. The past is not the past and we cannot let it be.

I can pay this story my personal highest compliment: I'll be returning to it again.

Michael Te Arawa Bennett (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Whakaue) is an award-winning screenwriter, director and author.

See also: Tā Moko: Traditional Māori Tattoo⩘  and Wikipedia: Tā Moko⩘ 

A closeup from the book cover of Better the Blood by Michael Bennett of a koru—an inward-turning spiral that is used in Tā Moko, traditional Māori tattoos—drawn in blood red on a black background..

Atlantic Monthly Press, 2023; audiobook: Recorded Books, 2023; IndieBound⩘ 

Alan Weisman, The World Without Us

The cover of The World Without Us by Alan Weisman showing in the top half a city of skyscrapers shown in dark gray against a polluted-looking tan sky that transitions to white above, with the words THE WORLD in white over the dark gray of the cityscape. The bottom half is an upside forest, as if a reflection of the skyscrapers above, shown in dark green against a background of pale green transitioning to white below, with the words WITHOUT US in white over the dark green of the forest.Well narrated by Adam Grupper

Interesting book. Though 15 years old, it remains totally relevant, painfully so.

Weisman begins by speculating on what would happen to New York City should all humans on Earth disappear tomorrow, and how the rest of the natural world would respond. Talking with experts, he charts the breakdown of massive infrastructure like subways and subterranean water and wastewater systems, bridges, and skyscrapers. In a surprisingly short period of time, the city would begin to crumble. Within decades, major sections would be gone. Within a century, very little would be left for any observer to see. Within a millennium, almost no traces would be left.

Then he goes back to the beginning of humankind and traces how we have altered our planet over the millennia. Finally, he visits various major examples of our impact and describes both how they have changed our planet and what their disintegration would look like, for example farming, oil refineries (for me, the most appalling and frightening chapters in the book), the Panama Canal, plastics, infrastructure and artwork made from various metals we have created, nuclear power plants and nuclear waste, the immense amount of carbon we have pumped into the atmosphere, the electrical grid (in the U.S. alone, there is enough wire hanging in the transmission lines that crisscross the country to reach from the earth to the moon, back to the earth, and nearly back to the moon again!).

One thing is crystal clear: we have really screwed things up!

More crucial to us still here on Earth right now is whether we humans can make it through what many scientists call this planet's latest great extinction, make it through and bring the rest of life with us rather than tear it down. The natural history lessons we read in both the fossil and the living records suggest that we can't go it alone for very long.

Thomas Dunne Books, 2007; audiobook: Audio Renaissance, 2007; IndieBound⩘ 

Oscar Hokeah, Calling for a Blanket Dance

The cover of Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah. According to the author, the cover is an "image that conveys perfectly the post-modern fracture experienced by the main character, Ever Geimausaddle, and his resilient trek through the process of decolonization." It shows a Native American man's head. The head is hollow and the face is broken away from the rest of the head in two pieces: the right eye and forehead is one piece, and the left eye, nose, mouth, and chin is the other piece. Out of the top of the head emerge crumpled dollar bills. Again from the author: "Those of us who engage in traditional gourd dances know that a crumpled dollar bill dropped at the feet of a dancer signifies a process of honoring." There is a sash of the colors that Kiowa (red) and Comanche (navy blue) dancers wear coming out of the head, the tassled ends of which, one blue and one red, hang behind and below the head. From the author: "With the sash coming down, I knew this honor was inextricably tied to his family and his community." The background is a bold orange beneath a grid of dark orange dots representing one of the quilts in the story.Well narrated by Oscar Hokeah & Rainy Fields; cover design by Christopher Moisan based on an original sketch by Christin Apodaca⩘ 

Oscar Hokeah's powerful novel features a series of stories about the life of Ever Geimausaddle, who like the author has a mother who is Kiowa and Cherokee, and a father who is Mexican. The stories begin when Ever is a baby and share glimpses of his life as he grows and becomes a father himself. They are told from his own point of view, as well as the points of view of several other people from his extended family.

The stories explore the extraordinary challenges Native American and Hispanic peoples face, as well as the deep well of strength that can be found in their families and tribal communities. Some of the stories are incredibly frightening, others are inspiring, painful, heartwarming, heartbreaking, and uplifting.

From the author's website⩘ :

Oscar Hokeah is a regionalist Native American writer of literary fiction, interested in capturing intertribal, transnational, and multicultural aspects within two tribally specific communities: Tahlequah and Lawton, Oklahoma.  He was raised inside these tribal circles and continues to reside there today. He is a citizen of Cherokee Nation and the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma from his mother (Hokeah and Stopp families), and he has Mexican heritage from his father (Chavez family) who emigrated from Aldama, Chihuahua, Mexico.

See especially these two articles of his on his website:

Algonquin Books, 2022; audiobook: Hachette Audio, 2022; IndieBound⩘ 

Mini Aodla Freeman, Life Among the Qallunaat

The book cover of Life Among the Qallunaat by Mini Aodla Freeman featuring a colorful stylized painting of three thin multi-story building, one yellow, one light blue, one dark blue, with a bunch of colorful cars driving back and forth in front of the buildings.Edited by Keavy Martin & Julie Rak; well narrated by Taqralik Partridge

This is a very gentle book. In it, Mini Aodla Freeman, a James Bay Inuit born in 1936 on the Cape Hope Islands located in Nunavut, tells her story. She shares what might be considered mundane details about her everyday life, except that she has lived an extraordinary life. She begins by describing what it was like when as a young woman, after having grown up in the rural environs of the far north of what is now Canada, she found herself in Ottawa working as a translator. She reveals to the reader how culturally confusing it was to have come from a very caring environment with clearly defined norms to then be among people who had little understanding of who she was and who lived in an entirely different and often callous or ignorantly uncaring manner.

Then she takes the reader back to her childhood, sharing the experience of what is was like to grow up with her nomadic family and within a strongly bonded community. Later, she was separated from her family and taken to a residential school, a painful experience for her during which she missed her family immensely. During those years, she became multilingual. Her life was pretty much put on hold due to a severe and long bout of tuberculous, but as she recovered, her multilingual talent led to her becoming a staff member at the sanatorium as a translator, where she then began to study to be a nurse. Her studies were interrupted when her family asked her to return home to be with them. However, after a short while, she left again to avoid an arranged marriage, and began working as a nanny. During all of this, she was a determined but very quiet, almost painfully shy person, keenly, if silently, observing the world around her. At the end of that period of her life, she became a primary school teacher, and it was then that she began to blossom into the incredibly strong woman she became.

She was then recruited by the federal Ministry on Northern Affairs and Natural Resources in Ottawa to work as a translator. Later, she was manager of the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation, was a cultural counsellor for Inuit and First Nations inmates in Alberta, and served as a cultural adviser to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, National Film Board of Canada, the Canadian National Museum of Civilization (now Canadian Museum of History), the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburg. In addition to being an author, she is a playwright, an activist, and a proponent of the Inuit voice.

A more recent photo of Mini Aodla Freeman sitting a table, perhaps in a meeting, and looking upward with a nice smile on her face and in her eyes.
Photo from the article Freeman, Minnie Aodla⩘ , Inuit Literatures.

University of Manitoba Press, 2019 (originally published 1978); audiobook: University of Manitoba Press, 2019; IndieBound⩘ 

See also: Minnie Freeman⩘ , The People and the Text.

Paul Seesequasis, Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun
Portraits of Everyday Life in Eight Indigenous Communities

Book cover of Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun by Paul Seesequasis showing two Indigenous women, one wearing a shawl made of red Tartan material in which she is carrying her child in the front of her, the other wearing a white woolen coat with a large hood trimmed in black fur in which she is carrying her child on her back.

A beautiful and deeply touching book of photographs depicting the everyday lives of Indigenous peoples in what is now Canada. Primarily taken during the 1950s through 1970s, the photos are accompanied by stories that are insightful, often exhilarating, and sometimes tragic. From the author's Introduction:

   One might call Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun a collection of Indigenous photographs. To be more precise, it is a book of photographs of Indigenous peoples, taken for the most part by non-Indigenous photographers, primarily in what is now Canada. There were not just any photographers but those who, through various circumstances, became embedded in a community long enough for their lens to not be as obtrusive as a tourist's, for the camera to be accepted enough that what is framed is not staged or phony. Alongside these photos appear those of the first generation of Indigenous photographers, among them Peter Pitseolak and George Johnson, who in th mid-twentieth century became pioneers within Indigenous photography.

Paul Seesequasis also shares photos via social media, including via his Mastodon social media account: @indigneousphoto@mstdn.social⩘ . There also are numerous articles and interviews published online that share more about his inspiration for this book and the process that led to it.

   This book began from a comment my mother made to me when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was happening. She is a residential school survivor. She felt that she wasn't hearing anything on the news that reflected the strength of our families, our kinships and our relations with each other through the hardest of times.
   I was looking for photos that reflected kinship, strength and families' relationship with the land. It's the idea that previous generations, even going through the hardest times of forced relocations or residential schools, had strength that enabled today's resurgence of languages and culture of so many great artists, writers and filmmakers that we see today.
   – From an article in CBC Books⩘ , Jul 30, 2019

From the book's back flap: Paul Seesequasis is a nîpisîhkopâwiyiniw (Willow Cree) writer, journalist, cultural advocate and commentator currently residing in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Since 2015, he has curated the Indigenous Archival Photo Project, an online and physical exhibition of archival Indigenous photographs that explores history, identity and the process of visual reclamation.

Knopf Canada, 2019; IndieBound⩘ 

On a related note: Are You An Indian?": On Life As An Urban NDN⩘ " by Steve Dragswolf, who is Hidatsa and Arikara from the Three Affiliated tribes of North Dakota, otherwise known as the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, Prayer for Words, Jan 2, 2023.

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