A Life in Essays

by Susan Olding

September 2008
5.5 x 8.5 paper 272 pages
ISBN: 978-1-55111-930-4
CDN $23.95 | US $23.95

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An “Top 100 Canadian Books to Read in a Lifetime”
Winner of the 2010 Creative Nonfiction Collective’s Readers’ Choice Award
Longlisted for the BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
Longlisted for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction
Longlisted for Canada Also Reads, 2009!

“In simple terms, pathology is the scientific study of the way things go wrong.”

In these fifteen searingly honest personal essays, debut author Susan Olding takes us on an unforgettable journey into the complex heart of being human. Each essay dissects an aspect of Olding’s life experience—from her vexed relationship with her father to her tricky dealings with her female peers; from her work as a counsellor and teacher to her persistent desire, despite struggles with infertility, to have children of her own. In a suite of essays forming the emotional climax of the book, Olding bravely recounts the adoption of her daughter, Maia, from an orphanage in China, and tells us the story of Maia’s difficult adaptation to the unfamiliar state of being loved.

Written with as much lyricism, detail, and artfulness as the best short stories, the essays in Pathologies provide all the pleasures of fiction combined with the enrichment derived from the careful presentation of fact. Susan Olding is indisputably one of Canada’s finest new writers, one who has taken the challenging, much-underused form of the literary essay and made it her own.

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“Susan Olding’s work combines the visceral force of lived experience with the nuance and narrative drive of the best fiction. These essays are much more than essays, tracing the path from our pathologies to our deepest mysteries and fears and our most cherished hopes.”
—Nino Ricci

“Susan Olding’s father was a pathologist, a man who studied the nature of disease, the essence of it—a man who brought home a human heart. In these superbly written personal essays, Olding too is going for the essential, going straight to the human heart. We could call her warm, wise, funny, honest, sincere, and open—and she is—but what she has done here is even better than that. Pathology is built from the Greek roots pathos and logos—suffering and the word. Writing is Olding’s science; her words clarify pain. As she was changed by her experience, by writing about it, we are changed by reading her words. Her father once laid human organ tissue on a counter and challenged her: “Go ahead, Susie… You’ve had a good look… Name it.” She has.”
—Keith Maillard


“Push-Me-Pull-You” describes the almost impossible balancing act that the mother of an emotionally damaged child must perform every day… It is both tough and loving. I can’t imagine a finer piece on this subject. ”
—Mark Abley, Prairie Fire Non-fiction Contest judge

“Pathology” tells the story of a painful father-daughter relationship without falling into self-pity, nor being taken over by anger… here is a writer who has a strong sense of the necessary shape of her piece. ”
—Sharon Butala, Event Creative Non-fiction Contest judge

“At Lingyin Si” compels raptness from the reader. It is fluid, intense, and suffused with magic.”
—Ross Laird, Event Creative Non-fiction Contest judge