Lately I’ve been reading a number of books that might not have crossed my threshold. I blame it on the evils of mandatory History and Political Science/Civics courses. After spending a bazillion $$ on textbooks and custom course packs (CanCopy fees mostly) someone in the class invariably recommends a book. I’m finding myself spending time arranging to get my hot little hands on them. Sometimes through a library. Sometimes it’s on loan from a friend. Other times I haunt second hand bookstores or use up my Chapter’s gift certificates.
Since I’ve always been a fan of science fiction and fantasy, getting me to read a non-fiction book tends to involve school, grades, or pulling teeth. Thus, it should come as no surprise to anyone that most of the books I’ve been reading lately may never have made their way onto my nightstand without the poking and prodding of friends or fellow classmates.
This week I’ve been reading Mark Steyn’s America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It wherein western society is doomed to fall to the wayside in favour of nation-states based on Islamic law through a lack of breeding (demographics) and a post-judeo-christian ethos. Or so I think. I’m only about 1/2 through the book at the moment.
Last week I was reading Patrick O’Donnell’s We Were One. One of the ex-army guys in our neighbourhood recommended it after many, many beers. It follows members of 3/1 Lima company (part of the US Marines Thundering Third) through the battle of Fallujah. Perhaps it’s a hold-over from my smallish sense of nationalism and patriotism but my reaction to this book is not the same as my reaction to Blatchford’s Fifteen Days. When I was reading Blatchford’s book I never felt sorry for the troops we sent to Afghanistan. I never had a sense that those who choose to serve in the Canadian Forces may not have had any other options open to them. Perhaps it’s the difference in age of many of the soldiers Blatchford wrote about. Maybe it’s the difference in the average education level of our “grunts” as opposed to Marine “grunts”. Perhaps I’m blinded by my own bias. Most of the time reading We Were One was spent feeling extremely sorry for the soldiers O’Donnell followed during his journey. I had a sense that no one in this group of soldiers would ask questions. They wouldn’t balk at commands or suggest alternate ways of approaching a situation. They would simply die without ever really understanding why they were there.
Heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time, Christie Blatchford’s Fifteen Days has become one of my new favourite books. Like O’Donnell, Blatchford spent time with many of the soldier’s she writes about. She also makes every effort to “tell it like it is”. While appearing more sparingly in Blatchford’s book than in O’Donnell’s (not all that difficult actually) cursing does appear prominently in a number of the pages. Oral histories and reflections are gathered. And yet, Blatchford’s writing seems more genuine than O’Donnell’s. While O’Donnell’s book focuses mostly on the soliders and provides little back history, Blatchford tells the soldier’s story from a number of vantage points. We learn who they were before, during, and after battles. Family and friends play a prominent role in the stories of those who were injured or died. And the soldiers themselves are more articulate. They are their best public relations machine; able to explain the roles they are filling and why (from a personal and professional standpoint). I wish I could explain it better but words seem to be failing me today. I just know that while I may have laughed and cried during the reading of both Blatchford and O’Donnell’s books my end reaction to both was significantly different.
Carol Off’s The Ghosts of Medak Pocket has been the victim of “pick it up, put it down” reading behaviours for the past few weeks. She’s an excellent author and I’m finding her book both fascinating and incredibly frustrating. Mostly it’s in reaction to the blind eye (or outright ignorance) of most Canadians to the political interference hyphenated Canadians play in other nations. More than Steyn’s book, Off’s presents a strong argument (wittingly or not) regarding the abject failure of multi-culturalism and pluralism in Canadian immigrant society.
Sometime this week I’m expecting Kevin Patterson’s Outside The Wire to arrive from Chapters. I understand that it’s the Canadian equivalent of We Were One in so far as it’s a collection of oral histories from individuals serving in combat situations. In true Canadian fashion the book isn’t limited to telling only the soldier’s side of the story. It is said to also contain copies of letters home and interviews/text from non-governmental organizations (NGO) representatives.
No wonder I barely have time to do my required readings for courses!
While I’m on the subject of books – I’m really not impressed with the government’s allocation of tax credits for textbooks and expenses for part-time students. I (thankfully) don’t qualify for student loans anymore because I’m working full-time. We’re bearing the costs of my return to the hallowed halls with grimace firmly in place. As a part-time student I get to claim 120$ a month while I’m in school, as opposed to full-time students who (more likely to qualify for loans and less likely to be working a full-time job) receive a 400$ a month tax credit. Full-time students can claim 65$ a month for textbooks while, as a part-time student, I’m limited to 20$ a month. Those with student loans also get the “added benefit” of a tax credit for the interest paid when they repay their loans.
Do you realize how depressing it is to pay between 150$-300$ for textbooks in a course (I’m finding most courses have very expensive custom course packs as opposed to books you could find elsewhere or purchase used) and only be able to claim 20$ a month for the duration of the courses. Of course most of these are core courses – which means I don’t have the ability to opt not to take them. If I don’t complete my core courses I don’t qualify for the pretty little degree at the end of the process. Let’s not do the math or I might start crying in my coffee mug. Just remember that in an average semester I take 2 courses and am enrolled year round (one week break between semesters). Tuition is approx 515$ a course (x6/year). Textbooks for the courses range between 150$-300$ per class.
Apparently part-time students’ (without student loans) mortgage payments, utilities, transportation, food, vet bills, etc., aren’t significant enough to warrant a more equal footing for calculating tax credits.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to be eligable for student loans. Been there/done that the first time I went through university. Took me far too many years to pay off. I just miss the tuition and textbook re-imbursement program the evil mega-corp I used to work for offered. It helped me pay for the program of studies I completed at the U of A a few years back. As long as my grades were C or better the costs were re-imbursed up to a capped dollar amount each year. Passing one course meant I could afford to pay for the next.
At the college there’s no tuition re-imbursement or academic upgrading programs in place for non-Faculty members. Which is one of the reasons I got into this return to school yet again situation in the first place. I can’t get a Faculty position without a Masters and I can’t a into grad school without first finishing a shiny BA in a related field. Are you dizzy yet?
Have I mentioned that I’m not even sure what I want to be when I grow up?