Sunday, December 05, 2010

Phantom Limb

Saskatoon: Thistledown Press, c2007.
169 p.

I read this book of fifteen personal essays a few weeks ago, but originally received it quite a while ago thanks to author Theresa Kishkan and the Canadian Book Challenge. It's a slim set of meditative personal writings mostly about the author's life in British Columbia -- the land, the people and animals in her life, and her musings about meanings.

I really, really liked it.

I don't read a lot of personal essays -- not by design, they just don't generally catch my eye in my regular reading. But this was a great book to change up my reading habits a bit. The tone of the book is slow. By that I mean, it makes you slow down and really appreciate each word. Kishkan is talking about the natural world, and about the things she observes about the wild animals and the trees and plants all around her. She also talks about relationships, living and dying and everything in between. I was moved, and shaken out of my rapid, shallow appraisal of the world around us that we can so easily fall into in a busy, urban life.

Each essay is a complete work on its own; this would be a book you could read slowly between other works. Read one, think on it a bit, then read another. The writing itself is clear and memorable, bringing to life small acts of everyday living, moments that matter in their specific smallness. Kishkan doesn't say that the woods are autumnal; she says that the broadleaf maple and the salmonberry bushes are losing leaves. She ties together the natural world and family cycles; she ranges from astronomy to quilting; she has a lovely essay about her time living in Ireland as a young woman. Some parts made me cry, some made me feel deeply comforted. It is a beautiful, honest book and I would recommend it to anyone with a sense of the importance of paying attention in your life.

Read a lovely, in-depth review at, with links in their sidebar to three of the essays from the book originally published in Terrain which you can read yourself to get a taste of Kishkan's writing. Give yourself a moment of peace and personal quietude by exploring one of her essays.


  1. I have to admit, I'm not big on essays either, but your review makes me want to check this out; it sounds like something I would really enjoy. :) (Browsing blog rolls, stumbled across yours from I can't remember which blog :P)

  2. I love personal essays, and this one sounds intriguing. It sounds like a powerful book.


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