Monday, February 15, 2016

Five Book Reviews: Banda, Olfert, Draper, Banman,Gareau

“Pursuing Growth: Practical Marketing Tips for Business Owners”
by Brent Banda
Published by Mile 84 Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$30.00  ISBN 9-780973-136913
The back cover blurb on Brent Banda’s Pursuing Growth: Practical Marketing Tips for Business Owners” makes a grand claim: “The insights in this book will help you increase revenue and profit in your business.” Inside, a dozen business people also herald Banda’s marketing acumen. Joe Pulizzi says “If you are an entrepreneur or small business owner, this is the type of blocking and tackling information you need to stay on top of customer needs and demands.” Christian L. Braid, president of Braid Flooring & Windows, says “If you have the slightest of aspirations to improve your business, 10 minutes with this book will send that feeling into hyper drive.” With commendations like these, I not only want to read the book, I’m also a smidge inclined to believe I could learn enough to start my own successful business!

Banda - the Saskatoon-based force behind Banda Marketing Group - is a marketing strategy consultant who’s helped “almost two hundred companies” improve their businesses over the last twenty years. Aside from coaching business owner-managers, he’s also taught Advertising, Professional Sales, and Marketing Management at St. Frances Xavier University, and now he’s marketing his own knowledge in this handsomely–packaged and well-organized softcover.

Anyone who reads a lot will quickly appreciate the high production values here: snow white paper, adequate line spacing, a comprehensive Contents page, and ample titles and subtitles. Banda also provides a diverse collection of motivational quotes from well-known individuals – including JFK, B.B. King, Warren Buffet, and Einstein - to launch each of his chapters.

The author\consultant offers suggestions for many of the challenges faced by owner-managers, ie: where best to allocate time and money; how to increase profitability through market penetration; the role of social media in marketing; the importance of customer dialogue; and the special concerns involved in a family business. His advice is often supported by relatable examples, ie: regarding “Push Versus Pull Marketing,” he uses the children’s toy Tickle Me Elmo to illustrate how pull marketing was used: when the product became unexpectedly popular in 1996, retailers were able to radically raise its price from the original $28.99 into the hundreds, and “Some reports suggest that the toy fetched as much as $1500.” He also points to how technology has changed how consumers now buy cars (presently they often arrive at a dealership after having already having completed much internet research), and how this has changed the role of automobile salespeople.

Banda’s well-written material goes well beyond common sense, and I expect this is why he’s proven a popular consultant since 1997. Again regarding social media and marketing, he writes “ … the relevance of social media is rooted in the human need to build relationships.” How interesting, and not something I’d considered before. I also learned some new terms from Banda, ie: “the floor” is “the lowest price you can charge without losing money.”

Chock-full of clear, valuable, no-nonsense information from an industry expert, this book’s a good investment for anyone operating an owner-managed company. See


“And It Was Very Good: Everyday Moments of Awe”
by Ed Olfert
Published by DriverWorks Ink
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$19.95  ISBN 9-781927-570227

I must begin this review with a disclaimer: I was hesitant to read and review this book, based on the recognizable Biblical quote in its title. I expected that within Ed Olfert’s pages I’d be subjected to Christian proselytizing, and I’m not particularly receptive to preaching of any kind. The quote, from Genesis 1:31, refers to God observing creation then stating “And it was very good.” Well, you know what they say about judging a book by its cover. (And in this case, the cover’s a particularly attractive photograph of what appears to be a Saskatchewan lake). I’m delighted to share that within just a few pages, my hesitancy vanished and I realized I was in for a darn good read.

Firstly, the Laird, SK author comes to the page rich with life experience. He’s from a “grease under the fingernails” Mennonite family, and his work experience includes mining, welding, truck driving, and “ministering a church”. He’s a father, a proud and connected grandfather, and a volunteer who has worked in Haiti, and he often works with the homeless and downtrodden locally. As Darryl Mills, managing editor of the Prince Albert Daily Herald – where these stories first appeared in Olfert’s column - writes, [Olfert offers] a regular invitation for readers to really ponder their world a little more fully.” Yes. That’s it exactly. And Olfert’s rose-coloured glasses are welcome in a world where “a sea of pessimism” seems to be the norm.

When a writer includes why they’ve written a book, I listen. Olfert explains that his point was to “identify glimpses [of God]” and “to savour those moments as powerful gifts.” He adds that there’s “Nothing earth-shattering, momentous, revolutionary” here, but I’ll argue that simplicity does not preclude profundity.

The book’s filled with short anecdotes about people society-in-general might not consider extraordinary, yet Olfert finds that through their surprising words and deeds, they are indeed awesome, and can teach us all how to be better humans. Take Bill, a convicted sex offender, whom Olfert met though his work with Circle of Support and Accountability. The author’s story illustrates how Bill inspired him, and how “a hurting spirit rose above its woundedness.”

Evident in story after story, Olfert’s habitual non-judgement is ultra-inspiring. He recognizes that life can be difficult (indeed, he confesses that he suffers from depression and takes anti-depressants), and asks us to consider some challenging questions, ie: “What are we prepared to do for the grandchildren of our enemies?” He sees holiness in unusual places: “in sharing a single life jacket,” for example, and in a vandal with FASD who destroyed the church’s grand piano, and in a “dusty warehouse”.

What a gift to be able to see the good in others, rather than the foibles. I’m in awe of Olfert’s gift, and grateful that he’s shared it in this book … a book that I’d prejudged before I’d read a single word.

I read these moving stories a handful at a time, and they were very good.   



“More Prairie Doctor”
by Lewis Draper
Published by High Hill House Publishers
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$23.75  ISBN 978-0-9809669-3-0

Lewis Draper, a medical doctor and one-time NDP MLA for Assiniboia-Gravelbourg, enjoys telling stories about his colourful life, and he does not mince words when he picks up the pen. One patient he refers to in his self-published book, More Prairie Doctor, puts it succinctly: “You have a reputation for speaking your mind, Doc, and telling folks how many beans make five.’” It’s true: the man is not meek.

In this new title, which follows Draper’s three previously-published books, he anecdotally shares thoughts and experiences on a wide range of subjects, including his blatant disillusion with the NDP government that closed fifty-one rural Saskatchewan hospitals; pilot training; pet tales (including raccoons); his globetrotting eldest daughter’s adventures; the purchase of a Rolls Royce, carpets, a hotel in Moose Jaw; his involvement in civic and provincial politics; abortion; and, perhaps most importantly, he introduces us to several of the prairie people he came to know and help both medically and otherwise during his twenty years as a dedicated GP living and practicing in Gravelbourg.

One learns much about the author in his opening “Apology”. He writes: “I believe these narratives are an important record of what rural, solo physicians working in isolated areas sometimes hundreds of miles from expert advice can accomplish, even in a blizzard in the depths of Winter using ‘a bent nail and a sharp penny’”. He also maintains that “It is equally important to inform a newly nascent generation of city-bred politicians, bureaucrats, and administrators what their grandparents and great-grandparents had to face in their efforts to build our New Jerusalem in Saskatchewan’s Green and Pleasant Land – pace Tommy Douglas.”

After his medical training in Glasgow, Draper and family settled in Canada and he began his practice at Lafleche Union Hospital, but that “union” was to be short-lived: the family was ordered to “get [their] horses out of town immediately,” or leave. The Drapers did the latter and moved to Gravelbourg, where the bulk of the stories in this book are based. The doctor – who was sometimes even called upon to treat animals - eventually became a council member, then the town’s mayor, before being elected to the SK Legislature.

Draper’s distinctive voice is evident in the following excerpts. Upon completing his flight-training circuits: “As with everything, after a successful first time it’s a doddle – even sex!” Words about “city bureaucrats”: “ … they lead blinkered lives that can only see the bottom line in a warped system of bookkeeping that treats us all as if we were factory-made widgets.” After treating a local teen who’d hit a barbed-wire fence on her snowmobile and required several facial stitches: “Any old fool can check blood-pressures. This is the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding of medical practice.”

Draper’s array of topics, political passion, jocularity, and tendency to leap between wildly diverse subjects call to mind a spirited Saskatchewan “coffee row”. Whether you agree with him or not, one thing is certain: you will be entertained by this outspoken prairie doctor.  

 “Don’t Lick the Flagpole: A Spiritual Quest for Meaning, Identity & Purpose”
by David Banman
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$19.95  ISBN 978-1-927756-46-1
David Banman’s inspirational book, Don’t Lick the Flagpole: A Spiritual Quest for Meaning, Identity & Purpose, delves into the glory and mystery of God – whom he also refers to as the “Designer/Creator” – and it also fervently delivers the author’s treatise on why he’s a Christian but remains ardently anti-religion. The Manitoba-born author and longtime primary school teacher makes several strong claims regarding God’s purpose and kingdom, humanity’s purpose, personal beliefs about Jesus, and why the writer’s so wary of “religion” – aka “the contemporary church” - in his first book.

This is tricky territory, no doubt about it, and it will not rest easy on all ears. Even Banman’s reference to God as “Him” and the use of words like “mankind” (rather than “humankind”) will undoubtedly deter some potential readers, but for those interested in the God vs. religion debate, the writer – who also possesses a Master’s in philosophy – presents some interesting ideas, and often uses Biblical passages to support his arguments.   

The book is well-written. The writer’s style includes the regular use of asking questions, which engages readers and makes them feel as if they’re in conversation, ie: “Are you content to simply survive, or are you ready to cast aside religious mediocrity and embrace your true identity and purpose?”

Banman frequently addresses the “dichotomy between the kingdom of heaven Jesus came to bring and what religion can often be seem to promote: personal and corporate agendas hinged on manipulation and control”. The softcover is peppered with startling convictions, sometimes succinctly, ie: “Satan loves religion,” “The church has taken a mistress and her name is religion,” and “Religion is a foreign concept to Jesus’s mandate,” and sometimes via more detail, ie: “religion is the process whereby we invite God to abandon His good and perfect will in order to make real our own wishes and desires” and “The contemporary church has become extremely proficient at ‘doing church’ to the extent that the presence of God is no longer required or desired.”

Banman believes that individuals must repent and establish a personal relationship with God by inviting the Holy Spirit into their lives. He challenges readers to wholly surrender to God’s will and “operate with the authority of the Holy Spirit” if he or she is to experience the true joy (not happiness) that comes with knowing one’s “God-given identity and purpose.” For Banman, Christianity is not exclusively a Sunday morning enterprise. “Stop trying to get to heaven; instead invite heaven into every thought, word, and action,” he writes. 

The most compelling section comes in Banman’s personal testimony, where he shares the tragedy of his son Carl’s death, and his own premonition that his son was lost to the surging Dead Horse Creek. How anyone can continue after such a loss is one thing, but to carry on in “peace and joy” demonstrates that divinity and grace are alive in this man’s life, and that’s something we should all accept with open hearts and minds.     

For more author information see

 “Revue Historique: Special Bilingual Edition”
Editor: Laurier Gareau
Published by La Société historique
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$12.50  ISSN 1188-5890
My overview of Revue Historique: Special Bilingual Edition marks three personal firsts as a longtime reviewer: the first time I’ve reviewed a magazine; the first time (if memory serves) I’ve reviewed a bilingual French-English publication; and the first time I’ve reviewed text that was not at least semi-recently published. This full-colour glossy magazine, published tri-annually by La Société historique de la Saskatchewan, hit the shelves in 2012 - a significant year, I learned, as it marked the 100-year anniversary of the gathering of approximately 400 Franco-Canadians in Duck Lake to create an association that would represent the “French-speaking Catholic people of the province”. The Saskatchewan government saluted this auspicious centenary by declaring 2012 to be the Year of the Fransaskois. 

In seventy-four pages of text, photographs, and advertisements (this is a magazine, after all), I received a fairly thorough education about Saskatchewan’s French-speaking immigrants: where they arrived from; where they settled to farm; the importance of French-speaking catholic clergy in recruitment and some of the major players involved in that pursuit; and how factors like the Dominion Lands Act, radio stations, schools, the Ku Klux Klan (crosses were burned in some Francophone communities), Pierre Trudeau, and the arts and culture (with nods to the Conseil culturel Fransaskois) all impacted on the lives of the Fransaskois. Add a “Fransasquiz,” a book review of Willow Bunch’s Le géant Beaupré, and a section of readers’ letters, and what you have is an interesting, fact-filled, and enjoyable read, with numerous photographs to study.

I enjoyed the large black and white photo of the Gravelbourg Band in 1921-1922, and imagined the lives of the boys and men behind those serious expressions. Reading this magazine gave me some valuable insight into those who came before them, and the thousands of Fransaskois who’ve followed.         

The writers here, including editor Laurier Gareau and Stéphane Rémillard, don’t shy away from the fact that turmoil has existed between the various groups who – like early Vonda priest Father Bérubé - desired to ensure the growth and preservation of the French-language, religion, and traditions. Father Bérubé was a missionary-colonizer and first to conceive of a provincial organization that would foster protection of Saskatchewan Francophones’ religious and language rights. Eventually “War broke out between players in the Fransaskois community,” Laurier writes. Rémillard explains that this was due in part to the “chronic funding gap between regional and provincial organizations,” and in 1999 the eighty-seven-year-old Association culturelle franco-canadienne de la Saskatchewan (ACFC) became l’Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise (ACF): the “new government of the Fransaskois”.

Growing pains aside, the stories of Saskatchewan’s many French-speaking communities – including Gravelbourg, Delmas, Prud’homme, Domremy, Viscount, Duck Lake, Cut Knife, Montmartre, and Zenon Park, to name just a few – can only be considered successes, perhaps because they take good care of their own, including their youth and seniors. Contributor Alexandre Daubisse observes that “not only has the Fransaskois community survived, not only has it resisted assimilation, but it has succeeded and prospered in creating and developing its own unique culture.” Fantastique!