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Whistler Reads Mounts Its First Book Discussion: Rockbound

abstract:rockbound_coverWhistler Reads is the citywide (make that, village-wide) reading group launched this month by founder, Paula Shackleton. The inaugural book is appropriately, the 2005 Canada Reads selection, Rockbound by Frank Parker Day. Attendees heartily agreed what a fascinating read the book was, providing ample discussion points into hereto little known (to us) segment of Nova Scotia history, with wonderfully written characters and the chance to delve into the interesting biography of the author himself.

This work had a peripatetic publishing track record as well: it was released to the public in 1928 by Doubleday amidst a minor scandal as members of the Lunenburg community, who recognized themselves and their way of life profiled so accurately, they felt embarrassed and betrayed with the apparent deception of Parker-Day living and writing in their midst, quietly studying their ways, dialectic speech and frontier ethics. When the book fell out of print it was picked up by University of Toronto Press in 1978 and again, dropped back onto the backlist. Finally upon winning the Canada Reads 2005 contest Rockbound was catapulted (by Canadian publishing standards) into popular interest, and re-printed three more times with sales surpassing 30,000 copies.

Set in the 1920′s in a remote corner of Nova Scotia, Canada the book deals with the true-grit realism and immigrant experience of a community of subsistence fisherman and farmers who battle against the classic forces of nature and the human drama of love, loneliness, ambition, jealousy and greed. Parker creates realistic, yet archetypal characters.

Frank Parker Day was fascinating to research


March 23, 2005
— a dying breed of Canadian men who were intellectuals, fought for their country and provided leadership through their own examples of personal fortitude and accomplishment. He was a Rhodes scholar, an Oxford-Cambridge heavy weight-boxing champion, a Mount A University varsity football and baseball athlete, as well as editor-in-chief of the The Argosy.

After graduating with his MA in English in 1908 from Oxford and post grad studies at the U of Berlin and the U of Bristol, he returned to a series of appointments at the University of New Brunswick, the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, ultimately serving as Head of the English Department. He saw active duty in WWI. He was a Second Lieutenant in The King Edward Light Horses overseas and became Major upon return to Canada in the newly formed 28th New Brunswick Dragoons where he later took command of the 185th Cape Breton Highlanders. He served in France with battle promotions at Amiens.

A life-long fisherman whose father was an itinerant preacher and took him all over the province in his youth he always returned to Nova Scotia to fish in summers. The book is rife with fishing life and terminology and superstitions and re-telling of genuine shipwrecks.

Each chapter has a forward taken from the Canterbury Tales, which uses Middle English to provide a clue to the ensuing theme. Chaucer wrote the CTs in the final years of his life. It was structured so that each pilgrim would tell four tales, leading to a total of over one hundred tales. However, Chaucer only completed 24 tales not even one per pilgrim. It is one of the few works of Middle English literature with continuous publication.

Our discussions of the book centred on: Recounting the characters of the book:David (pg. 1), Uriah (pg. 44), Gresham, the sons of Uriah: Joseph (pg. 45,46), Casper (pg. 54): the women in the novel: Fanny, Mary & Anapest.

We talked about the use of archetypes: true hero, tragic hero, matriarch, etc., and who those were and famous literature that compares. We talked about the themes of man against nature; man against man; man against himself; unrequited love and jealousy; religion, superstition and the devil; practical morality; education versus ignorance.

We read our favourite passages aloud, enjoying the sound of the Lunenburg accent in the passages with dialogue.

Thank you to everyone who participated, bought books and coffee from the participating coffee shop venues and added their own life experiences and knowledge of literature. &emdash; Whistler Reads Founder,Paula Shackleton



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