Archive for the ‘Houston, James’ Category

Confessions of an Igloo Dweller by James Houston ~ 1995. This edition: McClelland and Stewart, 1996. Softcover. ISBN: 0-7710-4286-8. 320 pages.

My rating: 9/10. Enjoyable start to finish. Canadian by birth, the far-travelling Houston (1921-2005) was a great writer and storyteller, as well as an accomplished artist.


Around here, I can tell if a book is really good because it often will disappear before I finish it. The usual culprits are my husband and my 18-year-old son. If it’s my son, no worries – he’s a speedy reader and I usually get it back in a day or two, but my husband has less free (meaning reading) time and he also tends to read a little more slowly, plus he also has a tendency to “hide” his current read (so he can find it again – he says we “move things” on him) – so, if he has the book, kiss it goodbye until he’s done.

I’ve been bugging him to let me have this one back for a few weeks now, as I wasn’t quite finished when he snuck it away from my reading pile.  He’s been working his way through it steadfastly, occasionally calling me to come and listen, and reading bits out loud. Something about this memoir really appealed to him, which is understandable, because it’s quite fascinating and very well written.

In 1948, 27-year-old James Houston managed to hitch a ride on a plane going on an urgent medical call from Moose Factory, Ontario to Canso Bay in northern Quebec. An experienced and talented artist, Houston had a keen interest in native peoples, and was in Moose Factory sketching and painting the local Indians. He had long wanted to travel further north into the Arctic, and he seized the chance when it came, staying behind in Canso Bay when the plane left to return to Montreal with the badly injured Inuit child it had come to evacuate.

This was the start of Houston’s fourteen or so years of Inuit artistic involvement. He had a keen eye for indigenous crafts, and was instrumental in the popularization of Inuit carvings for the southern markets, as well as introducing Japanese-style print-making to the Inuit, which was readily adopted as a new mode of expression for Inuit artistic vision.

Confessions of an Igloo Dweller is roughly chronological, and consists of personal anecdotes interspersed with vignettes from high Arctic life, and stories told to him during his travels.

Houston also wrote quite a number of novels for children as well as adults, most set in the Arctic or the far northern Canadian forests. Confessions reads like a novel, flowing seamlessly along from high point to high point. Houston was opinionated and extremely sure of himself; these qualities come through loud and clear, making for an especially strong narrative voice. The book is saved from shameless self-promotion by Houston’s ability to tell a humbling story on himself, and by his keen sense of humour.

We all liked it. Highly recommended.

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