Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Reader's Diary #958- Ryan Silke (collected by): High-Grade Tales

If you read a lot of history books about the Northwest Territories, you quickly realize that mining dominates the discussion. That's not a complaint as such. That would be like complaining that a history of Newfoundland is too fixated on the fishery. However, it's quite possible to dig through the available histories of the Northwest Territories and grow weary of mining stories long before you run out of ore.

Not to say that Silke's collection of NWT mining stories doesn't offer anything new. It does by way of lending real voices to the miners and mine staff of various mines from our past. It's certainly one of the more personable books I've read and it was nice to hear authentic stories by the men and women who lived the life. Plus, I have a thing for ghost towns and the closure of many of the mines featured here meant the death of the towns that had sprung up around them, so I quite enjoyed hearing about the stores, schools, Christmas concerts and so forth, in places that you can no longer find on a map.

A few quibbles. One, it's in a coffee table format, which as I've recently vented when I reviewed another Yellowknife book, Fran Hurcomb's Old Town, is not my favourite format. But whereas a case could be made for Hurcomb choosing to go that route— beautiful glossy photos look better bigger— I can't see the justification for a Silke going this route. It does have some photos, but they're all small and black and white. They'd fit as easily in a standard sized book. Maybe it's cheaper to print in 8.5 by 11?

Two, it seems to lack a focus. Sure it's about retired Northwest Territories mine employees, but their individual stories are not presented in any discernible way. They're interesting stories and all, but I wish Silke had chosen some sort of thesis to tie it all together. He does introduce the various characters, so I know Silke's writing was up to the challenge. It would have been nice to have some sort of unifying point to explore. Facts and quotes could have been gleaned from the stories and worked into some sort of essay, with the intact interviews left for an appendix.

All in all, High-Grade Tales is an intimate look at the rich mining heritage of the Northwest Territories, but it lacks refinement and quality publishing.

1 comment:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

It's almost as though the author ran out of steam before writing the unifying essay?