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Why We All Need Breathing Space

This is an excerpt from Kirsteen MacLeod's new book, In Praise of Retreat: Finding Sanctuary in the Modern World

I’m sitting on the old footbridge that leads to my cabin in the woods. Beaver Creek passes silently below. Ducks fly overhead. Ferns, cardinal flowers and moss grow amid grey rocks at the water’s edge. Spiders wander over my notebooks, which are spread out on the bridge’s rough planks, pages held open by stones.

This is the place that inspired In Praise of Retreat. By the creek and in the forest, I discovered a rich inner dimension I didn’t know existed. Far from my city life and work-obsessed routines, I began to see what gives my life meaning. I recognized the value of protecting a divine spark, though I’m not religious, and of amplifying the extraordinary—nature, spirit, art, creative thinking—in impoverished times. A retreat means removing yourself from society, to a quiet place where moments are strung like pearls, and after long days apart spent in inspiring surroundings, you return home refreshed and with a new sense of what you want to do with your life.

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Far from my city life and work-obsessed routines, I began to see what gives my life meaning.

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In the fraught modern era, you’d think our timeless human desire to retreat would fee …

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How to Die Like a Roman Emperor

Book Cover how to Think Like a Roman Emperor

Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was the last famous Stoic philosopher of the ancient world. The Meditations, his personal journal, survives to this day as one of the most loved self-help and spiritual classics of all time. In How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, cognitive psychotherapist Donald Robertson weaves the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius together seamlessly to provide a compelling modern-day guide to the Stoic wisdom followed by countless individuals throughout the centuries as a path to achieving greater fulfillment and emotional resilience.

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The year is 180 AD. As another long and difficult winter draws to a close on the northern frontier, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius lies dying in bed at his military camp in Vindobona (modern-day Vienna). Six days ago he was stricken with a fever, and the symptoms have been worsening rapidly. It’s clear to his physicians that he is finally about to succumb to the great Antonine Plague (probably a strain of smallpox) that has been ravaging the empire for the past fourteen years. Marcus is nearly sixty, physically frail, and all the signs show he’s unlikely to recover. However, to the physicians and courtiers present he seems strangely calm, almost indifferent. He has been preparing for this moment most of …

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The Chat with Kate Harris

Kate Harris

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A few years ago, Kate Harris hopped on a bike to travel the Silk Road with a friend, following the journey of Marco Polo. Her reflections on the journey and the life lessons she learned along the way are documented in Lands of Lost Borders, a memoir.

Pico Iyer famously blurbed the book, saying "Kate Harris packs more exuberant spirit, intrepid charm, wit, poetry and beauty into her every paragraph than most of us can manage in a lifetime.” In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews calls it “exemplary travel writing: inspiring, moving, heartfelt, and often breathtaking.”

Kate Harris is a writer and adventurer with a knack for getting lost. Named one of Canada's top modern-day explorers, her award-winning nature and travel writing has featured in The Walrus, Canadian Geographic Travel, Sidetracked and The Georgia Review, and cited in Best American Essays and Best American Travel Writing. She has degrees in science from MIT and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and in the history of science from Oxford, where she studied as a Rhodes schol …

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Liz Harmer: Books That Ask the Big Questions

The Amateurs is Liz Harmer's debut novel, set in a not-too-distant future where most of the human population has disappeared via Ports, doorways to other times and alternate universes from which travellers should theoretically be able to return—except that no one comes back. Are they unwilling to? Are they unable? Told from the perspective of a small group of people who've remained and created a community in the remains of the city of Hamilton, Ontario, and also from that of a man who has spent his career working for the massive corporate entity that built the Ports, The Amateurs grapples with questions like, "what are we here for?", "how do we know what's real and what isn't?", and "what exactly is the nature of love?". In this list, Harmer suggests other great reads that consider similar ideas.  

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This offbeat list of novels and one short story collection include a few speculative works like mine, a few dystopias, an interest in the nature of God and of the human, and, especially, most of them, lovingly rendered character and place.

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Salt Fish …

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