A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor

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Reading Lists

We've invited a lot of really bright people along with us on the Prairie Home Cruise, including naturalists Natalie Springuel and Rich MacDonald and historian John Arrison. And they tell us they've been chatting amongst themselves and amongst their friends about the kinds of things folks should read before setting off on a cruise like ours. We figured you might want to take a look.

Scroll down to see it, or click on one of these links to go straight to the reading list you want to see:

Natalie and Rich's list
Canadian Maritimes | Maine and New England | Field Guides | Other | Periodicals

John's list
Short Stories | Poetry | Novels | Non-Fiction | History | Music

Natalie and Rich's List

While no list is ever complete, and this one is only scratches at the surface of the seas we will be traveling together, here are some books that we like, many of them enough to have in our own library, some of them quite well worn. These should give almost anyone something to chew on before, or during, the cruise and help them to get to know the region just a little bit better. These books should provide lots of fodder and inspiration for a great journey in the Maritimes and New England.

Enjoy reading,
-Natalie and Rich

Canadian Maritimes

  • Evangeline, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. First published in 1847. One of Canada's most cherished stories, Longfellow's tale tells of two lovers separated by the Acadian expulsion in 1755.

  • Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maude Montgomery. If there is a provincial tale for Prince Edward Island, this is it. Anne of Green Gables was a staple of Rich's youth during the two summers he spent on PEI as a youth, full of adventure and mystery. Today, it is a provincial industry, the basis for much of their tourism.

  • Best Maritime Short Stories, Edited by George Peabody, 1988.

  • Vanishing Lights, a Lightkeepers Fascination with a Disappearing Way of Like, by Chris Mills, 1992. The author has lived and worked at Seal, Cross, Machias Seal, and Gannet Rock lighthouses in Maritime Canada.

  • Atlantic Outposts, by Harry Thurston, 1990. A book about one man's experiences throughout Atlantic Canada, from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland.

  • Rockbound, by Frank Parker Day, First published in 1928. "The Classic Novel of Nova Scotia's South Shore."

  • The Americans are Coming, by Herb Curtis, 1989. "Garrison Keillor has Lake Wobegon, Mark Twain has the Mississippi, and Herb Curtis…has claimed the Dungarvon River [in New Brunswick]" (from the book's back jacket quoting the Daily News).

  • Three Hills Home, by Alfred Silver, 2001. One Acadian woman and her family's story in the "Grand Derangement," the Acadian expulsion from the Maritimes in 1755.

  • I'll Buy You an Ox, by Betty Boudreau Vaughan, 1997. "An Acadian daughter's bittersweet passage into womanhood."

  • Oak Island Secrets, by Mark Finnan, 1995. The story of the famed lost treasure on this Nova Scotia island. This is a story of mystery and intrigue: a booby-trapped mine-shaft that seemingly goes nowhere; tales of pirate treasure; intrigue; and history.

  • The First Nova Scotian, by Mark Finnan, 1997. "The story of William Alexander and his colony of Charlesfort, Nova Scotia's first English-speaking settlement."

  • Kelusultiek, original women's voices of Atlantic Canada, 1994. Testimonies from indigenous women

  • We Belong to the Sea, edited by Meddy Stanton, 2002. "A Nova Scotia Anthology"

  • Sea, Salt and Sweat, A Story of Nova Scotia and the vast Atlantic Fishery, by Murray Barnard, 1986. This book includes wonderful illustrations of boats, nets and other fishing technology over the ages.

  • Land of the Loyalist, Their Struggle to Shape the Maritimes, by Ronald Rees, 2000.

  • Life on the Tusket Islands, by Caroline B. Norwood, 1994. "Stories and Photos Showing Life on the Tusket Islands [Nova Scotia] Then and Now."

Maine and New England

  • The Weir, by Ruth Moore, first published in 1943, and any other Ruth Moore novel.
    Ruth Moore is well known and loved for her many novels about life on the Maine coast in the first half of the nineteenth century.

  • The Wooden Nickel, by William Carpenter, 2002. A vivid novel about a Maine lobsterman. Carpenter teaches at College of the Atlantic, located in Bar Harbor.

  • The Hungry Ocean, A Swordboat Captain's Journey, by Linda Greenlaw, 1999. A personal account of a swordfish captain life. What makes this different is the captain is female, but don't call her a fisherwoman. She is also well known to readers and viewers of The Perfect Storm. Other books by Greenlaw include Lobster Chronicles and All Fishermen are Liars.

  • The Perfect Storm, by Sebastian Junger, 1997. Also made into a major motion picture, this book tells the story of a fishing vessels caught in "the perfect storm."

  • The Lobster Gangs of Maine, by James Acheson, 1988. A well-researched and detailed account of the Maine lobsterman's way of life.

  • The Finest Kind, The Fishermen of Gloucester, by Kim Bartlett, 1977.

  • Against the Tide, the Fate of the New England Fisherman, by Richard Adams Carey, 1999.

  • Down East, a Maritime History of Maine, by Lincoln P. Paine, 2000.

  • Maine Lobsterboats; Builders and Lobstermen Speak of their Craft, by Virginia L. Thorndike.

  • Islands in Time by Philip W. Conkling, 1999. "A Natural and Cultural History of the Islands of the Gulf of Maine"

  • The Maine Islands, In Story and Legend, by Dorothy Simpson, 1987.

Field Guides

  • From Cape Cod to the Bay of Fundy, An Environmental Atlas of the Gulf of Maine, edited by Philip Conkling, 1995.

  • The Atlantic Coast, Cape Cod to Newfoundland, by Michael and Deborah Berrill, 1981.

  • A Sierra Club Naturalist's Guide.

  • National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America.

  • Birds of Atlantic Canada, by Roger Burrows, 2002.

  • Birds of Nova Scotia, by Robie Tufts, 1986.

  • Atlantic Seashore, Peterson Field Guides, by Kenned Gosner.

  • Seashores of the Maritimes, by Merrit Gibson, 2003.

  • Marine Life of the North Atlantic, Canada to New England, by Andrew J. Martinez, 1994.

  • The Last Billion Years, a Geological History of the Maritime Provinces of Canada, by Atlantic Geoscience Sociaty, 2001.

  • A Field Guide to Whales, Porpoises, and Seals, from Cape Cod to Newfoundland, by Steven Katona, Valerie Rough, and David Richardson, 1993.

  • Stellwagen Bank, A Guide to the Whales, Sea Brids, and Marine Life of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, by Nathalie Ward/Center for Coastal Studies, 1995. Stellwagen Bank is just east of Boston in the Gulf of Maine, beneath and surrounding the primary shipping lane.


  • Captains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling.
    A wonderful tale of the now defunct cod fishery, it pairs a young, privileged boy who falls off an ocean steamer, with a salty fisherman who helps shape him into the son his tycoon father always hoped he'd be. This story was adapted into a wonderful 1930s movie starring Spencer Tracy.

  • Any of the historical novels by Kenneth Roberts, but especially Oliver Wiswell. Most of Roberts' novels are set around the American Revolution. Oliver Wiswell tells the story of Wiswell as he confronts the politics of the American Revolution, supports the concept of American representation, but does not endorse violence. His Loyalist tendencies take him from his Boston home to England, to New York's Long Island, to Halifax, and eventually to New Brunswick. In Rich's opinion, one of the best stories told from the perspective of the Loyalists.

  • "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner," by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

  • Any book by Joseph Conrad, including The Mirror of the Sea.

  • Cod, A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, by Mark Kurlansky.

  • The Universe Below, Discovering the Secrets of the Deep Sea, by William J. Broad, 1997.

  • A Sea of Slaughter, and The Boat who Wouldn't Float, by Farley Mowat, This noted author from Nova Scotia, writes extensively about Atlantic Canada. He is also well known for his book made into the movie Never Cry Wolf which takes place in the Artic.

  • The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx, 1993. A novel. This gripping story takes place in Newfoundland and represents life in a small Atlantic Canada village. Also made into a movie (but the book was better…).

  • Longitude, The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, by Dava Sobel. 1995.

  • The Riddle of the Compass, by Amir D. Aczel. 2001.


  • Downeast Magazine

  • Maine Boats and Harbors

  • The Island Journal

  • Working Waterfront

  • Shunpiking

John's list

A partial list of Canadian maritmie and Maine readings, mostly related to the sea and maritime life, compiled by John Arrison, with suggestions and great help from a number of his friends.

Short Stories from the Canadian Maritimes

  • "The Boat," by Alistair MacLeod, in The Lost Salt Gift of Blood, Ontario Review Press, 1988.
    This is a really fine collection of stories and "The Boat" is one of MacLeod's best and most-published. MacLeod grew up in Nova Scotia and is Professor Emeritus of English at University of Windsor. His short stories are good at documenting the traditions and feelings of Canadian Maritimers and they deal with fallouts of economic change, including the general migration of Maritimers to the west and the influence of tourism on Maritime culture. In this book, I also like "The Road to Rankin's Point."

  • "The Tuning of Perfection," by Alistair MacLeod, in As Birds Bring Forth the Sun, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1986.
    This is a story of the preservation of Gaelic singing in a family and in Nova Scotia.

  • "Blind MacNair," by Thomas H. Raddall, in Tambour and Other Stories, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1945, originally in The Saturday Evening Post.
    This is a really nice story of a blind sailor who finds himself in a shantey and ballad singing competition on the Nova Scotia coast.

  • "Voyage Home 1910," by Robert Bruce, in Best Maritime Short Stories, Peabody, George, ed. Halifax: Formac Publishing Company Limited, 1988.


  • "Words are Never Enough" by Charles Bruce, (Nova Scotia) can be found by clicking here, and was published in, I believe, The Mulgrave Road, Toronto: Macmillan, 1951.

  • "Renascence" by Edna St. Vincent Millay, (Maine)

  • Philip E. Booth wrote a number of collections of poems that nicely describe aspects of Maine and the Maine coast.

  • Various writings by Milton Acorn. I have read little of Acorn and can't recommend or not recommend him. He was from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and died in 1986.


  • No Great Mischief, by Alistair MacLeod, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1999. MacLeod won many awards for this book, including the Dublin Literary Award. I haven't had a chance to read this one yet, but it carries through many of his themes, now in novel form.

  • The Nymph and the Lamp, by Thomas H. Raddall, Halifax: Nimbus Publishing Limited, 1994, a facsimile republication of the original McLelland and Stewart-published edition of 1950.
    This is a most unlikely but enjoyable romance that occurs in Halifax and on Sable Island, the 26-mile long sandspit of an island 90 miles southeast of Halifax. Raddall has written a number of novels, short stories, and non-fiction histories, including Halifax, Warden of the North. I wouldn't say he is as "deep" as MacLeod, but he has a good following among Nova Scotians.

  • The Country of the Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett, Houghton Mifflin, 1925, originally, but many editions since.
    An outsider's experience and view into the world of a small coastal Maine community.

  • Red Right Returning, by Charles B. McLane, Gardiner, Maine: Tilbury House, 2004.
    This is the first foray into fiction by a Dartmouth emeritus professor of government who has written many fine histories of the islands of the Maine coast. This work looks at life on a Maine island just after World War II, primarily seeing how island communities struggle to survive in a land-oriented society.

  • Rockbound, by Frank Parker Day, New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1928.
    I have not read this, but it recently won the Canada Reads 2005 competition, even though it was written more than 75 years ago. Recommended by a Nova Scotia friend.

  • Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, (Project Gutenburg full text).
    Her sequels include Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne's House of Dreams and The Golden Road. This is the most famous of Prince Edward Island literature.

Non-Fiction Stories

  • Following the Sea, by Benjamin Doane, Halifax: Nova Scotia Museum/Nimbus, 1987.
    The true adventure story of a young man from Barrington, N.S., who went on a whaling voyage to the Pacific in the 1840s.

  • One Man's Meat, by E.B. White, Gardiner, Maine: Tilbury House, 1997, though originally published in 1938.
    Also, while I'm at it, there are some great Maine-related essays in Essays of E. B. White, New York: Harper Perennial, 1992, though originally published in 1934.


  • Jack in Port: Sailortowns of Eastern Canada, by Judith Fingard, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982.
    A social/academic history that looks at sailors in the ports of Halifax, Saint John, and Quebec City. Fingard is a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

  • Down East: A Maritime History of Maine, by Lincoln P. Paine, Gardiner, Maine: Tilbury House, 2000.
    This is a light but reasonable maritime history of Maine. Certainly far from complete.

  • The Maritime History of Maine, by William Hutchinson Rowe, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1948.
    Though old and also not really complete, this is a fine "standard" for Maine maritime history.

  • Coastal Maine: A Maritime History, by Roger F. Duncan, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1992.
    This is a bigger history, with much information on the exploration of the coast through the present. A helpful text, but draws little on primary sources.

  • A Day's Work: A Sampler of Historic Maine Photographs, 1860-1920, by W.H. Bunting, Gardiner, Maine: Tilbury House, 1997 (Part I) and 2000 (Part II).
    Not only do these volumes have great photographs, but Bill Bunting is a master of historic photographic interpretation.

  • Wooden ships and iron men; the story of the square-rigged merchant marine of British North America, the ships, their builders and owners and the men who sailed them, by Frederick William Wallace, New York: George Sully and Company, 1924.
    Considered a standard for Canadian Maritime maritime history.

  • Inventing Acadia: Artists and Tourists at Mount Desert, by Pamely J. Belanger, Rockland, Maine: The Farnsworth Art Museum, 1999.
    An exhibition publication with a nice history of the art of Mount Desert Island.

  • The Story of Mount Desert Island, by Sameul Eliot Morison, Boston: Little, Brown, 1960.
    A classic short work on the island, including the battle between pronunciation schools: arid land vs. sweet after-dinner treat. Is it pronounced Desert or Dessert?

Sea Music and Music of the Maritimes

  • Roll and Go: Songs of the American Sailormen, by Joanna C. Colcord, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1924.
    Joanna was born at sea in 1882 aboard her father's ship in the South Pacific and grew up hearing these songs. She may have been the first to publish a collection of sea shanties with music and background information in the U. S. Her brother, Lincoln, also born at sea, was co-founder of Penobscot Marine Museum. The family was from Searsport, Maine.

  • Songs of the American Sailormen, by Joanna C. Colcord, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1938.
    This is essentially a second edition of Roll and Go.

  • Maritime Folk Songs, by Helen Creighton, Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1961 (and later editions in 1972 and 1979).
    Part of Canada's Atlantic Folklore/Folklife Series, Creighton might be considered an Anne Warner of the Maritimes.

  • Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia, Toronto and Vancouver, by Helen Creighton, J. M. Dent & Sons Limited, 1932, and New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1966.

  • Stan Rogers, various songs that may be found at www.stanrogers.net. Recommended songs include "Barrett's Privateers" and "Fisherman's Wharf".

Thanks to a friend, Jim Millinger, here are words to a few Stan Rogers songs that may be of interest:

Barrett's Privateers

Oh, the year was 1778
(How I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!)
A letter of marque came from the King
To the scummiest vessel I've ever seen.

God damn them all!
I was told we'd cruise the seas for American gold
We'd fire no guns! Shed no tears!
But I'm a broken man on a Halifax pier
The last of Barrett's Privateers.

Oh, Elcid Barrett cried the town
(How I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!)
For twenty brave men, all fishermen, who
Would make for him the Antelope's crew.


The Antelope sloop was a sickening sight
(How I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!)
She'd a list to the port and her sail in rags
And the cook in the scuppers with the staggers and jags.


On the King's birthday we put to sea
(How I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!)
We were ninety-one days to Montego Bay
Pumping like madmen all the way.


On the ninety-sixth day we sailed again
(How I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!)
When a bloody great Yankee hove in sight
With our cracked four-pounders we made to fight.


The Yankee lay low down with gold
(How I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!)
She was broad and fat and loose in stays
But to catch her took the Antelope two whole days.


Then at length we stood two cables away
(How I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!)
Our cracked four-pounders made an awful din
But with one fat ball the Yank stove us in.


The Antelope shook and pitched on her side
(How I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!)
Barrett was smashed like a bowl of eggs
And the main-truck carried off both me legs.


So here I lay in my twenty-third year
(How I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!)
It's been six years since we sailed away
And I just made Halifax yesterday.


Make and Break Harbour
How still lies the bay in the light Western airs
Which blow from the crimson horizon
Once more we tack home with a dry, empty hold
Saving gas with the breezes so fair
She's a kindly Cape Islander, old, but still sound
But so lost in the longliner's shadow
Make and break, and make do, but the fish are so few
That she won't be replaced should she founder.

It's hard not to think of before the big war
When the cod went so cheap but so plenty
Foreign trawlers go by now with long-seeing eyes
Taking all, where we seldom take any
And the young folk don't stay with the fisherman's way
Long ago, they all moved to the cities
And the ones left behind, old and tired and blind
Can't work for "a pound or a penny."

In Make and Break Harbour the boats are so few
Too many are pulled up and rotten
Most houses stand empty. Old nets hung to dry
Are blown away, lost and forgotten

Now I can see the big draggers have stirred up the bay
Leaving lobster traps smashed on the bottom
Can they think it don't pay to respect the old ways
That Make and Break men have not forgotten?
For we still keep our time to the turn of the tide
This boat that I built with my father
Still lifts to the sky! The one-lunger and I
Still talk like old friends on the water.

Finch's Complaint
Tom Finch turned to the waitress and said:
"Bring me another Alpine. I'll have one more before I go to tell Marie the news. Well boys, we're for it this time. The Plant is closed for good. Regan broke his promise, and we're all through. We're working men with no work left to do.

"I always thought I'd have a boat, just like my dad before me. You don't get rich, but with the boats you could always make do. But the boats gave way to trawlers, and packing turned to meal. Now that's all gone, and we're all for the dole. And the thought of that puts irons in my soul."

Tom Finch stood up and said goodbye with handshakes all around. Faces he'd grown up among, now with their eyes cast down.

Slow foot along familiar roads to the hills above the harbour. With a passing thought, "Now all this is through, and I wonder how Marie will take the news?"

The house had been so much of her, though it had hardly been a year. She'd done his father's house so proud, and held it all so dear. But there was hot tea on the table when Tom came through the door. And before he spoke, she smiled and said:

"I know. The Plant is gone. Now how soon do we go?"

"We won't take a cent. They can stuff all their money. We've put a little by. And thank God we've got no kids as yet, or I'd think I want to die.

"We Finches have been in this part of the world for near two hundred years, but I guess it's seen the last of us. Come on, Marie, we're going to Toronto..."

Fisherman's Wharf
It was in the Spring, this year of Grace, with new life pushing through
That I looked from the Citadel down to the Narrows
And asked what's it coming to
I saw Upper Canadian concrete and glass
Right down to the waterline
I've heard an old song down on Fisherman's Wharf
Can I sing it just one time?

With half-closed eyes against the sun, for the warm wind giving thanks
I dreamed of the years of the deep-laden schooners
Thrashing home from the Grand Banks
The last lies, done, in the harbor sun, with her picture on a dime
But I heard an old song down on Fisherman's Wharf
Can I sing it just one time? Can I sing it just one time?

Then "Haul way and heave her home!" This song is heard no more
No boats to sing it for. No sails to sing it for.
There rises now a single tide....
Of tourists...passing through.
We traded old ways for the new...old ways for the new...
Old ways for the new...for the new.

"Now" you ask "What's this Romantic boy who laments what's done
and gone? There was no romance on a cold winter ocean
And the gales sang an awful song."
But my fathers knew of wind and tide and my blood is Maritime
And I heard an old song down on Fisherman's Wharf
Can I sing it just one time? Can I sing it just one time?

Then "Haul way and sheet her home!" This song is heard no more
No boats to sing it for. No sails to sing it for.
There rises now a single tide....
Of tourists...passing through.
We traded old ways for the new...old ways for the new...old ways for the new...for the new.

So it was in the Spring, this year of Grace, with new life pushing through
That I looked from the Citadel down to the Narrows
And asked what's it coming to
I saw Upper Canadian concrete and glass
Right down to the waterline
I've heard an old song down on Fisherman's Wharf
Can I sing it just one time? Can I sing it just one time?
Can I sing it just one time? Can I sing it just one time?

Nova Scotia Coast

1) Oh, the sun was setting in the West
And birds were singing on every tree
All nature seemed inclined to rest
But still there was no rest for me.

Fare thee well to Nova Scotia, your sea-bound coast
Let your mountains dark and dreary be
And though I'm far away on that briny ocean toss'd
Will you never heave a sigh or a wish for me?

2) Oh I grieve to leave my native land
And grieve to leave my comrades all
And my aged parents that I love so dear
And the bonny bonny lass that I do adore.

3) Oh the drums do beat and the wars do alarm
The Captain calls and we must obey
Fare thee well, fare thee well to that Nova Scotia Coast
For its early in the morning, and I'm far away.

4) Oh I have three brothers and they are at rest
Their arms are folded on their breasts
But a poor simple sailor just like me
Must be tossed and driven on the dark blue sea.

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