Merle Massie: Recommended Reading List

Every writer builds on the stories told by others, and I am no exception. In thinking my way through Forest Prairie Edge: Place History in Saskatchewan, I held a few books in my mind as guides. They are, in no particular order:

Wallace Stegner, Wolf Willow: A History, a Story and a Memory of the Last Prairie frontier (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1955). Stegner’s lyrical, beautifully crafted book gifts its readers with a bit of history, a few personal memories, and some local stories from the Eastend/Whitemud region of Saskatchewan. Stegner spent his boyhood there on a homestead, soaking up sunshine and prairie culture in equal measure. A fantastic mix of fiction and non-fiction, Wolf Willow is storytelling at its best.

David C. Jones, Empire of Dust: Settling and Abandoning the Prairie Dry Belt (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2002; first published 1987). This book is dedicated to the people of Carlstadt, who grew ashamed of their German-sounding town name during WWI and promptly changed it to Alderson. Alderson is now a ghost town. Once an up-and-coming booming prairie town halfway between Brooks and Medicine Hat, Alderson is gone. Built from nothing, it grew fast, but was smashed by the prairie “Dryland Disaster”: the “long catastrophe” of deprivation and drought between 1914 and 1939.

Bill Waiser, Saskatchewan’s Playground: A History of Prince Albert National Park (Saskatoon: Fifth House Publishers, 1989). Bill Waiser offers an excellent coffee-table book that combines photographs and stories, maps and history. For someone like me who appreciates both connections to a particular landscape and change over time, Waiser’s book explores Prince Albert’s back yard as well as the creation and promotion of its iconic national park. I see the park as Saskatchewan’s statement: We are more than prairie. We are beautiful.

Frances W. Kaye, Goodlands: A Meditation and history on the Great Plains (Athabasca University Press, 2011). Goodlands considers and connects stories from across the 49th parallel, linking the Great Plains as a whole. I recommend this book not because I agree with it, but because it makes me uncomfortable, it makes me excited, and it helps me better see the cultural and physical landscape in which I live. I find myself yelling at the book, writing in the margins, and rereading passages in appreciation and in horror. It’s magnificent.