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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Reader's Diary #15- Leslie Bella: Newfoundlanders Home and Away (Chapter 1, page 10)



I have to admit, I chose this book not because I was once a Newfoundlander living away (I lived for four years in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut) but because of an egotistical need to have a book that mentioned me in whatever small, pathetic way. You see, as I was browsing through The Book Worm in Gander, I saw this book on the shelf and remembered that for a very brief period in University I had worked a MUCEP job for Dr. Leslie Bella and wondered if it was the same one (I vaguely remembered working on the stats for some Newfoundlander topic). So I picked it up and immediately saw my name in the acknowledgements. I was proud at first, but then realized that maybe I should read the book first. So I bought it.
Since this is the first time I've blogged about a non-fiction book, I'm not quite sure how to go about it. Should I focus on the material within the book? The quality of writing? Or both? For now, I'm focusing on both (and a little more besides- I'll get into that later) but if these postings become too long, maybe I'll reconsider.
I should note that despite my egocentric reason for buying this book in the first place, I did have a slight interest in the topic because I had, as mentioned above, lived away for a few years. And the book has kept my interest thus far. It starts off with an eloquent introduction by Bella discussing our need as Newfoundlanders to "locate" people, not in the physical sense that we are looking for lost ones, but in the sense that we want to know "where you're from". A great opener.
The book then goes into the various theoretical approaches to studying migration. Basically, this is a comprehensive literature study of global research about the reasons people migrate, how they cope, and so on. Some of these references are silly and without taking the time to check out each and every source (should we be expected to? ), they are just distractions in an otherwise interesting book. One article in particular that she quotes from states that a particular percentage of Canadians in the 70s were "extremely racist". Without more detail on the article, it comes across as subjective and I think it destroys much of the credibility in the book. And speaking of credibility, Bella is careful to point out that her research was done through surveys distributed by The Downhomer Magazine and MUN's Luminus Magazine. This of course, means a biased, unrandom, small sample and if you ask me, that's an awfully big grain of salt. Still, these problems haven't (yet anyway) made me dislike the book.
It is very interesting to how very un-unique we are in our migration patterns, reasons we leave, ways we cope, etc. In those ways, we have things in common with many of the other immigrants to Canada: Italians, Jews, Carribeans, and others. However, comparing us to immigrants from other provinces, I'd guess we're still unique. Apparently, from the early 70s to late 90s over a third of a million of us left Newfoundland-a quarter of a million returned- and there's still a heck of a lot of us scattered across Canada. I once heard of a contest to name the largest center in Canada without a Tim Horton's franchise (Iqaluit?), well I'd like to issue a challenge: find any town of over a 100 people in Canada that doesn't have a Newfoundlander. I'm pretty sure there aren't any other provinces that can compete with our emigration numbers.
Speaking of uniqueness, I was a little taken back by how common I was in terms of the others that have left. In Newfoundland, I've never thought of myself as typical (but then again, I suppose, who does?), but I left for work the same as most others, I listened to Great Big Sea when I was away, and I never closed the door on returning. All very typical. Oddly enough, I found myself acting more the role of stereotypical Newfie when I was away (cringe at the term "Newfie" all you want). I fried toutons, brought an ugly stick to a staff party, and told anyone who'd listen about mummering. Like I do any of these things now that I'm back. Very strange. But, I'm not all typical. Bella points out that most Newfoundlanders come from a "high context" culture and find "low context" cultures such as Toronto, too fast and too anonymous. While I can't say for sure because I moved to a small town in the North, I think I'd like the anonymity of a larger center. Small town nosiness can be a drag.
So I've talked about the details, my perceptions of the quality of the book, but there's still more to discuss. Feel free to go and get yourself a coffee at this time.
I don't feel the publishers did a good job with book. Before I get into this I should note, Bella analyzes her Downhomer and MUN Alumni/Alumnae samples by age and level of education, so I'm basing a lot of what I'm going to say next on that- not just on personal beliefs.
Newfoundlanders: Home and Away seems to have been marketed toward Downhomer-esque readers but written for Luminus readers (MUN's Alumni magazine). Downhomer readers (at least those that took the time to fill out the survey) tend to be older and less educated than the Alumni crowd. The book is published with a painting by Shonda Brown called "Fadin' Memories" on the cover. To me, this is an attempt to appeal to an older reader, both by title and theme of the picture itself. I think dropping the "Dr." from Leslie Bella's name was also an attempt not to scare off the less educated reader- making it appear more of a friendly read than say a dissertation. However, the text itself doesn't follow the same rules. As I mentioned earlier it begins with a very lengthy section of literature references regarding migration. The length, number of references, and even the insanely tiny font are not what I think most older, high school graduates would care for (correct me if I'm wrong). It seemed to me, much like papers I had to read for university courses. And all of this was even before making it to chapter one. Chapter One does offer an occasional anecdote from interviews Bella carried out and I think these are more of a Downhomer style (yes, I read the Downhomer, so I can make that judgment). However, these are offset by more statistical data, references and again I think not in synch with the market the publishers were going for. This is all unfortunate because I think it could have been a bigger seller if it had been aimed at whom it would most likely appeal.
On a side note, when I had worked for Dr. Bella I had no idea of her legal troubles (not related to this book!). Since then there have been national news programs covering her story, but still I was oblivious to her role. It is only through doing a little background research for this blog, that I came across the details. Irregardless, I wish her all the best.

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