Inspiration: What to read by the water (or on your way to it)

Inspiration: What to read by the water (or on your way to it)

If you plan to swim, camp, hike, or just relax by the Great Lakes, you’ll want a book or audiobook to take with you. Whether you’re in the car with the kids or you’re alone in the backcountry camping sites of Killarney, there is a Great Lakes-themed book for you.

Looking for inspiration for your first walk or hike?

The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson tells the true-life story of the Grandmother Josephine Mandamin with beautiful illustrations and a pronunciation guide for Anishinaabe words. An elder from Wikwemikong First Nation, Mandamin has walked around every Great Lake in an effort to raise awareness for nibi (water). She calls water “the Lifeblood of Mother Earth” and carried a copper pail of water more than 25,000 kilometres over 14 years before finishing her last walk in 2017. Mandamin’s walks will definitely inspire you to take your first steps on your own Great Lakes journey.

Looking to take a step back in time?

Jane Urquhart’s Away tells the story of an Irish family who came to Ontario in the 1840s. The book spans four generations of women. It begins with the departure of the family from Ireland, passes through Confederation and early-Canadian political intrigues, and describes the transformation of the Great Lakes region from wilderness to industrialized landscape. Water is a constant theme in the book, especially Lake Ontario. It is the dividing line between people from “here” and people from “away.” Away is a cross between historical fiction and magical realism, and will satisfy anyone looking for a poetic, landscape-driven read with strong female characters.

If true crime stories are your thing…

Try The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson. This is a book about one of America’s worst serial killers. It is gruesome and thrilling and also meticulously detailed. In addition to murder, Larson describes the famed Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and the draining and development of the wetlands near Chicago that shaped the region as we know it today.

If you have kids in the car and want to skip the murder and mayhem…

Check out the classic The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford. It’s the story of two dogs and a cat that journey through the Ontario wilderness to reach home. The movie remake called “Homeward Bound” moved the animal adventure to California, but the original book takes place here, in the Great Lakes region. It’s available in audiobook format for long car rides.

If you’re looking to leave reality behind

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a post-apocalyptic fictional story that starts in Toronto and ends elsewhere in the Great Lakes region (but don’t worry, we won’t spoil the ending for you). In it, a plague has wiped out most of humanity, with only a few people and a travelling circus left to roam the region in search of survival. Oh, and one of the main characters just happens to be a Hollywood star…

For short-story lovers…

Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson gets rave reviews. It takes you into the lives of Indigenous people and communities, exploring reserves, cities, waters, and contemporary social issues and experiences.

For non-fiction lovers

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan is one of the most recent non-fiction books about the region. A talented reporter, Egan’s writing style is very accessible. He explains how people have dramatically changed the lakes in the last two centuries and the environmental issues that the lakes face today. If you only read one book about environmental issues on the Great Lakes, Egan’s is the one.

If too much pollution talk makes you fear the lakes…

Solo Yet Never Alone by Laura Young will change your mind. This non-fiction book describes everyone who has swum across the Great Lakes, starting with Marilyn Bell’s first iconic swim in 1954. The stories tell of the hard work, drive, and sacrifices people made to tackle one of the world’s top-three open water swim challenges. You’ll learn about swimming, the lakes, perseverance, and the power of friends and family to keep you going. If you’re really inspired and love poetry, check out Arguments with the Lake by poet and Swim Drink Fish Ambassador, Tanis Rideout. This poetry collection imagines what Marilyn was thinking before and during her epic swim. It is an excellent companion to Young’s book and an inspiring collection for anyone tackling a great challenge in life.

For art lovers

One of the best books about Great Lakes art is called Before and after the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes, edited by David Penney. It’s full of images and information that showcase the beauty of Anishinaabe art. If you’re travelling to any of the many Great Lakes locations where pictographs can be found, this book also helps to explain some of the symbols and the stories they tell.

No matter what you read on your way to your destination or curled up inside your tent, spending time by the Great Lakes with a book about the region helps you to make the most of your journey.