Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Surprising Bounty of Books . . .

Part of my to-be-read books

Interested in the fur trading era in Canada and the Great Pacific Nor'West?

This week's mail brought a surprising bounty of books to mull over.

The first pairing of books takes me sideways to Manitoba's historic Red River, which flows through the middle of Winnipeg today. Carol Matas wrote Footsteps in the Snow, The Red River Diary of Isobel Scott, Rupert's Land, 1815, for the Dear Canada series. Technically, this is a little before the 1840s, but captures beautifully those impressions of a young girl who's just arrived from England with her family to start life anew.

Anthony Dalton's River Rough, River Smooth: Adventures on Manitoba's Historic Hayes River, presents travel notes of his modern recreation of traveling by York boat from Norway House to Hudson's Bay on the Hayes River. The River runs north, which means Dalton had a wild ride downstream over and/or around some 45 rapids for about 375 miles. While well over 100 years has passed between Dalton's journey and my novel, his book helps me visualize more completely what it might have been like to live on the river.

But my characters traveled upstream, from York Factory to Norway House, making portage as needed. Folks in my writer's group said this feat was impossible. But those oarsmen really did pole through shallow marsh, bugged by clouds of mosquitoes, and paddle like crazy against the current, that is in the late summer, after the annual ship from England had landed, and before the Hayes shut down, frozen solid.

The second pair of books are a bit more academic: Daniel Francis and Toby Morantz wrote Partners in Furs: A History of the Fur Trade in Eastern James Bay 1600-1870 (McGill-Queen's University Press, 1983). And Richard I. Ruggles wrote A Country So Interesting: The Hudson's Bay Company and Two Centuries of Mapping, 1670-1870 (also McGill-Queen's University Press, 1991). Both books present fascinating stories, collections of maps, photos, and drawings of the fur trade era. Both are drool-worthy.

A final surprise this week: Earlier this year, I joined an informal book exchange. We were to send our favorite, most treasured books to the next name on the list. I did send my book off, a collection of poetry by Mary Olliver, but heard nothing and received nothing -- until this week. Mailed from England in May, these two books are both ones I've never read: G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown (tiny, tiny print), and Alexander McCall Smith's The Cleverness of Ladies (part of the series, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, (much larger print),set in Botswana.

My to-be-read stack of books is close to toppling over with these new additions, but luckily I have time and energy enough to read, and hubby's a bookworm too. I still remember the time we took my aunt to a bookstore with us. She vowed she would never, ever again go to a bookstore with us for "we spent far too long."

May you be blessed in the coming year with books that enrich your reading.