Field Notes on Listening by Kit Dobson

Kit Dobson’s Field Notes on Listening is one of those rare titles that selected itself from the bookstore shelf. Being on a road trip with no agenda to keep, I pulled from the Trans-Canada Highway into Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter, an inviting clump of retail stores on angled, well-treed streets. In Windowseat Books I visited with shop owner Andrée and perused new titles. It was then, remarkably, Dobson’s memoir on listening whispered to me, saying something I couldn’t quite decipher but considered relevant. Imperative even. And with that, the book decided to be my next read. For which I’m grateful.

This is how the publisher describes the book:

Field Notes on Listening is a response to our lack of connection to the land we call home, the difficult history of how many of us came to be here and what we could discover if we listened deeply to the world around us. Written in brief, elegant sections, Field Notes on Listening starts at Dobson’s kitchen table, a family heirloom, and wends through time and space, looking at his family’s lost farm, the slow violence of climate change, loss of habitat, the tensions of living in late-stage capitalism and through careful listening strives to find a way through it all, returning, in the end, to home and the same table.”

Immediately readers understand we’re no longer referring to mere auditory stimulation or hearing but rather the proactive art of intense listening, engaging with the world we inhabit, and every sensory connection that level of engagement entails.

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If I wasn’t yet sold on Dobson’s timelessly timely work, multiple references to literary mentors such as Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, reaffirmed I was holding a book created by a likeminded individual, one who treasures the natural world, coveting the privileged position of every writer. That being the role in which one can hammer home environmental truths, shed new light on essential topics, and pose questions in a manner that not only provoke and stimulate, but leave answers dangling enticingly, served up with a warm, Socratic smile. This is not someone I’d want to debate. But it is someone I want to read. And reread. A passion for poetry comes through in this writer’s elegant, metered prose. Word use is judicious and utterly meaningful. Like reading the lyrics of Cohen. Passages that may at first seem brief have in fact been painstakingly crafted, allowing us as readers to savour something truly special. To learn and be inspired as we go.

I recommend Kit Dobson’s Field Notes on Listening for a range of reasons, but perhaps most importantly it’s simply a sincere and beautiful read.

Kit Dobson lives and works in Calgary / Treaty 7 territory in southern Alberta. His previous books include Malled: Deciphering Shopping in Canada and he is a professor in the Department of English at the University of Calgary. He grew up in many places across Canada, but returned again and again to the landscapes of northern Alberta where his family members settled – and that continues to animate his thinking.

  • Title: Field Notes on Listening
  • Author: Kit Dobson
  • Publisher: Wolsak & Wynn, 2022
  • ISBN: 978-1-989496-54-1
  • Pgs: 156

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Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of the Gone Viking travel memoirs (Gone Viking: A Travel SagaGone Viking II: Beyond BoundariesGone Viking III: The Holy Grail) and A Season on Vancouver Island. He’s won numerous book awards and received a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.