The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service

cremation

 “There are strange things done/in the midnight sun/By the men who moil for gold/The Arctic trails have their secret tales/That would make your blood run cold/The Northern Lights/ have seen queer sights/But the queerest they ever did see/Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge/I cremated Sam McGee.”

Robert Service was a mild-mannered bank clerk in real life, but the way this poem makes the Arctic come alive, you’d think the man was a veteran of the Klondike. It’s funny; the version of Sam McGee I remember from my childhood conjures up images of grinning corpses, lonely cold, and complete silence, save for the sound of a lone sled’s runners slicing eerily through the snow. Bleak, strange, wildness…all surrounded by devastating, enveloping cold. When I pulled it off the shelves today and gave it a quick re-read, I was surprised (and delighted) to find that not only does it still have all that wildness, it’s funny, too. There is definite humour in these pages – the unnamed speaker of the poem lends some definite snark to the situation.

What a great tale. Each time I read this poem, I get chills. There are poems that have the ability to completely transport us to a specific time and place, and Robert Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee remains one of the best. Brrrrrrr!

P.S. Bonus Canadian points go to this edition because it’s illustrated by Ted Harrison. (Submitted by Veronica)

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Beartown by Fredrik Backman

beartownIt’s been awhile since I’ve really loved a good book. Perhaps Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park was the last book that I finished and just wanted to hug. With Fredrik Backman’s Beartown, every page and every word, completely broke my heart into a million pieces.

Beartown is the name of a fictional small-town whose residents all pin their hopes and dreams on the local junior boys hockey team. We have Kevin, the team’s star player, who shoulders much of the pressure from his distant parents and all the citizens of Beartown. His best friend, Benji, is the boy with the sad eyes and a wild heart who tries to protect Kevin from anything that tries to break through their hockey bubble. Amat, whose mother Fatima works as a janitor at the ice rink, is the runty but speedy up and comer who has to battle being seen as a foreigner as well as deal with Bobo, the school bully. Then we have the coaches who constantly face the balancing act of taking care of their players and being forced to put the hockey club first. All of this buckles into a storm of emotions and events that eventually leads one teenager to raise a gun to the head of another and pull the trigger.

Beartown is filled with unforgettable characters that you will cry for, champion, be enraged at, and be inspired by. I could not put this book down, and I didn’t want it to end! A breathtaking fable of ambition, hope, and courage. (Submitted by Alan)

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