Shortlisted, Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Award
Warm, imaginative, and thoroughly original, this memoir intertwines the mysteries of trees with the defining moments in the life of novelist and essayist Theresa Kishkan. For Kishkan, trees are memory markers of life, and in this book she explores the presence of trees in nature, in culture and in her personal history. Naming each chapter for a particular tree — the Garry oak, the Ponderosa pine, the silver olive, the Plane tree, the Arbutus, and others — she draws on Pliny the Elder's Natural History, John Evelyn's Sylva, and strands of mythology from other classical and contemporary sources to blend scientific fact with natural history and the artifacts of human culture.
Never pedantic and always accessible, Mnemonic reveals — through one woman's relationship with the natural world — how all of us have roots that intertwine with the broader world, tapping deep into the rich well of universal themes. In the words of Pliny the Elder, "Hence it is right to follow the natural order, to speak about trees before other things. .."
Theresa Kishkan is the author of eleven books of poetry and prose. Her essays have appeared in Memewar, Dandelion, Lake, Contrary, The New Quarterly, Cerise, and many other magazines and have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the Relit Award, the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and the Hubert Evans Prize for Non-Fiction. Her collection of essays, Phantom Limb, won the first Readers' Choice Award from the Canadian Creative Non-Fiction Collective in 2009. An essay from Mnemonic won the 2010 Edna Staebler Personal Essay Prize.
"Mnemonic: A Book of Trees (Goose Lane), Kishkan's newest collection of essays, contains some of her best writing yet. . .. The essays in Mnemonic transcend their autobiographical origins as Kishkan uses the personal as a lens through which to explore a broad range of interests. . .. There's a wonderful sense of place throughout, and Kishkan's observant curiosity makes you think of Forster's exhortation in Howard's End: ‘Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted. ’ Mnemonic exalts. "
"Theresa Kishkan invites us into the company of her favourite trees, where memories perch lightly in the foliage. Her words are readied for flight, yet her stories have deep roots in the experience of a life well lived. Mnemonic will nourish your own heart wood. "
— Candace Savage
"Not since I first read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek have I encountered anything like this, any mind like this. These essays are challenging, rich and surprising, and well worth the close attention they demand from their reader. And lack of knowledge of about filbert catkins ceases to matter anyway, though Kishkan leaves you curious, but the point is to follow where she leads, her path through the woods, and there's no doubt you're in the hands of a most capable guide. "
— Kerry Clare
"An astonishing book, a tribute to the unique and patient genius of its author. . .. At once erotic, intellectually rigorous and beguiling, Mnemonic is cultural botany, memoir, arboreal ethnography and love story. It is a sublime and rare thing when writing so gracefully defies taxonomical classification. "
— Terry Glavin
"Mnemonic is a beautiful read. . .. Hers is a beautiful, personal memoir. "
"Theresa Kishkan's lyrical memoir, written in deliciously rhythmic and light-filled poetic prose, admirably fulfulls [David] Abram's instruction to ‘re-inhabit place’ in writing as a way of retrieving a sens of intimacy with nature and with the earth. . .. The memoir is organized in chapters named for prominent trees in the author's life and meanders between personal memories, philosophical reflections, and impressively researched and always vividly presented and beautifully relevant botanical and literary intertexts. . .. the book is a gorgeous read and contains breathtaking passages of associative brilliance. "
"Her beautiful, original, and meditative book is both a (partial) story of her own life, and a hymn of praise to the trees that have sheltered and nurtured her from girlhood to her present age. . .. The essay reaches its fullest flower in mature hands. Kishkan's are practiced and confident, and her prose, while fresh and smooth, also accommodates the knottiness of genuine thought. Mnemonic may seem an easy read, but it richly rewards revisiting. If this book were a tree, it would have deep and thirsty roots; broad and elegrant branches; its leaves would always be tipping toward the light; and its fruit would be tangy and sweet. "
"Whether discussing the olive trees of Knossos, Crete where she once lived or the displaced quercus virginiana she knew as a child growing up in BC, Kishkan's mnemonic exercise and the result — ie, this book — is the consequence of her own evolving, unfolding perspective, told in wonderfully unadorned prose. Like the trees she so loves, her book is a living work. "
— Chris Morgan
"Mnemonic is both tiny and astounding. Loss, life and love between two covers. I can't imagine I'll ever completely let it go. "
— Linda L. Richards