Chase Enterprises, 2008
164 pages, Collection/Self-help
4 out of 5 stars
C.C. Bye proves that even a man who has been stationed at a remote outpost near the Arctic Ocean can live life to the fullest. The Contrary Canadian opens like an adventure novel that starts with two men who are searching for black crystals near the North Pole and decide to “take the road less traveled.” Instead of climbing the scarred mountain renowned for its crystals, they opt for the pristine peak beside it. They are rewarded with a “soul-touching” view of Greenland and the Arctic Ocean and what the author calls, “one of the perfect moments of my life.”
After that opening I was expecting Bye’s Canadian adventure/self-help book to be filled with inspiring anecdotes on “contrarianism” and how you can realize unexpected triumph by going against the norm but it ended up being a lot more than that. This collection of articles, essays and thoughtful observations is potpourri for the soul. Filled with insight on personal financial management to comments on the government, from hints on local trout fishing to reviews of his favorite restaurants in Canada this stuff is real. It’s pure. It’s from the author’s heart and uncontaminated by corporate marketing.
Bye’s stories of the Arctic could be their own book and the story about sipping cocktails cooled by million-year-old ice is especially charming. The strongest parts of the book by-far are Bye’s adventures. As he recounts tales of the Far North and the obscure nooks and crannies of Canada, Bye takes us to places where we have never been. His experiences in the Arctic read like an autobiography of an astronaut or a CIA agent who is letting us see a world only he has been lucky enough to see. The color photographs serve to enhance our imagination and make us wonder what exists beyond the frame of the picture.
Bye is a good writer and his prose is well-executed. Preachy at times, as most self-help books are, his voice remains friendly and likable, never condescending and always speaking to you as a peer. But his lessons make us wonder about his platform. Who is this person and why would we listen to him? He says he is successful and we believe him. His lessons are thoughtful and they make sense but where is the tangible proof? Throughout his surprisingly honest life story we are forced to take his word for it. Bye is dealing with something major but the book feels like its needs more of a bio, a subtitle perhaps: The Contrary Canadian: A Guide to Maximizing Every Aspect of Your Life. Let me articulate this a different way: if this book was sitting on the shelf next to Dr. Phil, what would make us give Bye a second look?
It’s a good book though and from the start you feel like the author is someone you know personally. Not like a close friend but as someone you were sociable with while standing in line; someone who was easy to talk to, who helped pass the time and shared a common purpose. Though the book never conjures any truly contrarian advice (the tips are quite conventional) we don’t mind because we are being constantly challenged. The book reads like a diary of one man’s constant pursuit of happiness. It is sad, emotional and inspiring with must-be-Canadian phrases like, “my dad paid a quarter of a moose for the truck” and begs you to ensure that you don’t die with the words “What if?” lingering on your tongue.
Strengths: well-written, one-of-kind anecdotes and adventures, honest writing from the heart, it has a few surprises
Opportunities: repetitive, lacking strong author authority
Will appeal to: casual travelers, casual readers, the self-help audience, outdoorsmen
The Contrary Canadian is available on paperback.
Reviewed by Mark McGinty, June 2009