Monday, April 29, 2013

The best 100

In 2014, Touchwood Editions plans to release a book about books – specifically, BC’s greatest 100 books.


Since their criteria defining a BC book seemed pretty open-ended, I devised my own. 

My key consideration? Would the work be essentially different if the book’s BC-related elements happened someplace else?

Consider for example Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend in a Coma.Weather (specifically, in North Vancouver and West Van) plays a huge role in the overall atmosphere of the book. It would be nowhere as haunting if it were set in a place where the sun doesn’t seem like such a rare commodity. Fog, soggy lawns, abundant winter greenery – all contribute to the novel, almost serve as one of the book’s characters in furthering the story.

I’ll admit, I’ve pushed the BC boundary with a few, but only with books too good to ignore. Besides, in these instances, the authors (LeonaGom and Howard O’Hagan) have each spent a considerable part of their life in British Columbia.

And in one case, I’ve included a book strictly on its one-of-a-kind-ness, coupled with the fact the author, Mark Harris, was a longtime BC resident who must not be forgotten. He knew more about cinema than any other British Columbian ever has, and likely ever will. 

Many of the books on my list have already been granted awards and honours. But I like to think there might be a few here that have flown under the radar by mistake or oversight. 

One such nominee, by local writer Margo Bates, is the funny and sad (and oh-so-real) P.S. Don’t Tell Your Mother.

And wouldn’t you know, there’s one that I can’t fix a title to. I’m remembering a small (and beautifully produced) book of essays that tracks the seasons of the year by using the device of 13 moons. Each month’s moon has a name (e.g. Hunter’s Moon, Harvest Moon) and the seasons reveal themselves through beautiful word sketches. I’ve poked around and even asked a few writers if they remember this book, but no one seems to. Who knows, maybe I dreamed it.

For what it’s worth, here, in no particular order, is my current list.

Joy Kogawa, Obasan
Howard O’Hagan, Tay John
Ethel Wilson, Swamp Angel
Douglas Coupland, Girlfriend in a Coma
Daniel Francis, ed. Encyclopedia of British Columbia
John Armstrong, Wages
Bill Gaston, The World
Emily Carr, Klee Wyck
George McWhirter, ed. A Verse Map of Vancouver
Brian Brett, Trauma Farm
Al Purdy, Cariboo Horses
Gurjinder Basran, Everything was Goodbye
Brian Fawcett, Virtual Clearcut
John Gould, Kilter: 55 Fictions
June Hutton, Underground
Grant Buday, Stranger on a Strange Island [or White Lung]
William Gibson, Neuromancer [the complete Cyberspace trilogy; failing that, this book]
Leona Gom, The Y Chromosome
Charlotte Gill, Eating Dirt
Paul St. Pierre, Breaking Smith’s Quarter Horse
Gary Geddes, ed. Skookum Wawa
Mark Harris, Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood
Susan Juby, Alice, I think
Maggie deVries, Missing Sarah
Evelyn Lau, Runaway
Anne Cameron, Daughters of Copper Woman
Margo Bates, P.S. Don’t Tell Your Mother
Alan Twigg, First Invaders: Literary Origins of British Columbia
Susan Musgrave, Origami Dove
Steven Price, Into that Darkness
George Ryga, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe
Stephen Hume, Bush Telegraph
Malcolm Lowry, October Ferry to Gabriola
Kate Braid, To this Cedar Fountain
Betty Lambert, Crossings
Audrey Thomas, Intertidal Life
Howard White, Writing in the Rain

Not up to 100 yet. Which books would you add?

Monday, April 22, 2013

A face for Earth Day

For a glimpse at some other faces appropriate to Earth Day, even if not as happy, click here. Or, better yet, get yourself outside today and put one foot in front of the other. Walk lightly on the Earth.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Not a trilogy...

…more of a hat trick.

I’ve been lucky enough to have work selected for three new anthologies. The tricky bit has been the fact that launch events for all of them have been over the course of the last week. Exhausting? Yes. Nonetheless, exciting, that’s for sure.

One of the books, Jack Layton: Art in Action, commemorates Jack Layton, the best prime minister Canada never got the chance to have. The other two – Force Field and Alive at the Center – are strictly poetry, a most appropriate way to observe National Poetry Month, a celebration that takes place throughout the month of April, not only here in Canada, but also in the U.S.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a poet, take some time to appreciate the beauty this month brings. In case some words of wonder whisper themselves in your ear, write ’em down. Who knows, you may find that they turn themselves into a poem. 

Monday, April 08, 2013

A courage of nettles

As with just about every plant and weather phenomenon, superstitions are part of the lore of nettles. Gathering nettles has become a spring ritual for us. When the nettles are ‘just right’ it’s a sure sign that winter is behind us. Although seeking courage wasn't part of our quest (nor was protection from lightning, though that sounds like a good thing), the word 'courage' seemed like a good collective noun for a bunch of them. 

We looked for nettles in early March, and though we found a few, they weren’t quite tall enough for picking. About 8 inches seems best – with plenty of leaf, but easy enough to cut without harming the plant.

Then, in early April, we decided to try again. And yes, they were the right height – and abundant.

Picking three bags (ordinary, shopping-type bags) left us with two bags once the leaves had all been stripped from the stems.

Then, eight pots of water later, eight little bags were lightly steamed and ready for the freezer. Best of all, once they’ve been blanched, their nasty sting (which Hans Christian Andersen's courageous princess endured) is gone.

I’ll use these throughout the year – sometimes in combination with spinach, sometimes on their own – in lasagnas, cannelloni or spanakopita. 

Iron-rich and flavourful, they’re a forager’s dream. 

Monday, April 01, 2013

Coconut dreams

If we weren't home from our holiday, this is where I’d be today – attending the Coconut Fest on the east end of Grand Bahama Island.

The palms on last week’s post are the same kind used to decorate the bandstand pictured here. And yes, they go all the way around.

Among treats we’ll be missing are coconut tarts. For the camera’s sake, a half of one survived long enough for this shot. And somewhat weirdly, this was exactly the shape of the moon in this morning's pre-dawn sky.

If there’s ever another time for the Bahamas, I’d like to try to make a point of being there for Easter Monday, as that’s the date for this annual festival that celebrates the bounty of the coconut. Coconut tarts, coconut buns, and something called a coconut 'jimmy' -- these sound like a doughy concoction with coconut between its layers.

Oh, and just in case you need a better look than the peek provided in the photo above, this is the beach. Crowded, eh…