The Canadian Reading Challenge: Alberta

Although my original selection for Alberta didn’t turn out as planned, there was no doubt that my next choice would fit the bill, since the front cover promises “A novel of strange adventure in the Alberta Badlands.”

I don’t read many adventures, but the back cover description appealed to me, and I could envision the setting, having visited Badlands National Park in South Dakota some years back.

Badlands is the tale of William Dawe, a man who sets out to look for dinosaur bones in 1916 along with a motley crew of companions: McBride, a family man who bails on the expedition fairly quickly; Web, a horny young man who was afraid of nothing; Grizzly, the Chinese cook (referred to as “the chinaman” because that’s the way people talked back then); and Tune, a teenager who worships the ground that Dawe walks on. Anna Yellowbird is a young Indian girl (or should I say “Native woman” to be politically correct?) who keeps showing up and ends up playing a key role. In fact, Dawe’s daughter , who narrates parts of the novel, is named after her.

Robert Kroetsch tells the story in a way that’s both humorous and exciting, and I think it would make a good movie. I don’t suppose that’s likely to happen, but I was pleased to discover that a new edition of the book was published last year, incorporating black-and-white photographs by George Webber who, as a young boy, lived in the Alberta Badlands and shared Dawe’s fascination with dinosaurs. 

It’s a bit surprising that I’d never heard of Robert Kroetsch before, as he wrote nine novels as well short stories, poetry, and many other works before his death in a car accident in 2011. But isn’t that the point of a reading challenge — to expose oneself to new authors and explore different genres?

I liked Badlands more than person who gave it only one star on Amazon, but not so much that I’m eager to read any of Kroetsch’s other books. On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind seeing George Webber’s photography in Badlands: An Illustrated Tribute.

As an aspiring photographer, I’m intrigued by the thought of taking photos to illustrate one of my favourite books. I can’t even imagine what book I would choose or how I would go about it, but the possibilities are endless. While reading, it could be fun to imagine not just how a certain scene would appear, but how I might capture it in a photograph.

If you were going to undertake such a project, what book would you choose?


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