by Grady Mitchell | A short story collection is a tough enough test for a new writer, but author Michael Christie added to the challenge by centering much of his first book, The Beggar’s Garden, around the Downtown Eastside, where he had worked at an emergency shelter for six years. ”It was a place where you paid with a bad story,” Christie says. Nobody who came up to the counter was ever having a peachy day. The stories he encountered there inspired the book.
The dichotomies at play in this city make for rich storytelling. “What’s the difference between Vancouver and Victorian England?” the author asks. “Not much. We’ve got the highest echelons of society bumping right up to the lowest. It’s such a dramatic situation, and I realized I wanted to write about it.” Spinning nine different (but interrelated) stories with as many protagonists – from a Riverview patient with delusions of royalty to a computer programmer struggling in the dating world – allowed him to explore the shared traits among all facets of society, no matter how dissimilar.
“Literature can level the playing field and humanize everyone. I wanted to portray people on all levels of society struggling, being lost and trying to find connection with one another. That’s what I love about literature: it can encompass larger ideas than a simple view of poverty, or a simple view of class.”
Christie’s empathetic approach is key. He never finger-wags at his characters, nor does he romanticize their plight. While a disgruntled banker and a struggling addict face very different day-to-day challenges, they still grapple with the same issues of connection. The author tackles the intricacies of the neighbourhood with eloquence, tact, and enough skill to get the book long-listed for the 2011 Giller Prize, alongside writers like Michael Ondaatje.
Before he was a writer, Christie was a professional skateboarder. Although they seem worlds apart, he sees writing and skateboarding as similar activities. “Skateboarding is totally self-directed; there’s no coach. It’s just you, your skateboard, and the city,” he says. “Writing’s the same thing. No one tells me what I should do next.”
Although at first he faced skepticism as a skater-turned-writer, he won a spot at UBC’s MFA program, where he wrote The Beggar’s Garden as his thesis. “Now I’m a working writer,” he says. “I know it’s a luxury, and I try to remind myself everyday.”
His followup book, a novel titled If I Fall, I Die, is now done and awaiting release in January. It centers on the lives of an agoraphobic woman and her ten-year-old son, following the boy as he leaves home for the first time ever and gets enmeshed in the long-cold mystery of another missing child. To learn more, visit Mike’s website.
Local writer Stevie Wilson, the very same who pens the popular DIG IT and YOU SHOULD KNOW columns on Scout, has been busy contributing to a new book of local history called Vancouver Confidential. It’s a “collaboration of artists and writers who plumb the shadows of civic memory looking for the stories that don’t fit into mainstream narratives …. [shining] a light on the lives of Vancouverites that have for so long been ignored.” Within its pages, you’ll read…
Tom Carter on Vancouver’s Entertainment Czars, Aaron Chapman on Vancouver’s WWII Towers and our “Fear of the Outside World”; Jesse Donaldson explores the case of the Lovers’ Lane Marauder, James Johnstone revisits old Strathcona through the eyes of long-time resident Lucille Mars; Lani Russwurm investigates the “Red Shadows” and the 1930s communist scare with a spy’s eye view of Vancouver; Eve Lazarus probes the 1928 Lennie Commission into police corruption and all of its ensuing ramifications; Diane Purvey addresses the strange case of Viola Woolridge and how the mores and legal system of 1947 resulted in Viola (or at least her character) being put on trial for her own murder; Catherine Rose takes us back to the Dirty ’30s and shines a light on the “unholy trinity” of Police Chief John Cameron and gangsters Joe Celona and Shue Moy; Rosanne Sia looks at a 1931 Pender Street café murder/suicide that resulted in a ban on the hiring of white waitresses in Chinatown restaurants; Jason Vanderhill reveals the little-known story of Joseph Kennedy Ltd. and the liquor interest in 1920s Vancouver; Stevie Wilson on the staggering unemployment, relief camps, and Hobo Jungles of 1931; Will Woods on Mayor Gerry McGeer’s transformation from iron moulder and labour activist to controversial mayor and reader of the Riot Act; Terry Watada on Etsuji Morii, the “Al Capone of the Japanese community,” and the Black Dragon Society of Japantown, and John Belshaw pays tribute to early Vancouver street photography and the work of James Crookall.
Vancouver Confidential was made available at bookstores on Monday, September 15th. The official launch goes down at 6pm this Sunday, September 21st at the Emerald Supper Club in Chinatown.
(via) The Library: A World History, is a new book from Thames & Hudson by architecture historian James W.P. Campbell and photographer Will Pryce. From CNN: “When Dr. James Campbell of Cambridge University could not find a book that traced the history of library buildings through the ages, he decided to write one himself.” From the publishers: “Ambitious and wide-ranging, this is the first single volume to tell the story of libraries around ?the world, from the beginnings of writing to the present day.” The 320 page hardcover tome features over 292 images of libraries from around the world and from different eras, from ancient Mesopotamia to modern China. We’ve not yet seen a copy in Vancouver to date (although we haven’t looked that hard), but copies are selling for $60 or so online.
A few weeks ago I watched a fascinating documentary about the reclusive American writer, J.D. Salinger (he of The Catcher In The Rye fame). The very end of the film was a shocker for me (watch the trailer above), because it came with the revelation that Salinger, who died in 2010, had never stopped writing (even though he hadn’t published a work since 1965), and that he had left instructions for five hitherto unknown new books of his to be released between 2015 and 2020. These include a World War II novel (Salinger was a veteran) and a sequel to The Catcher In The Rye.
As we await those diamonds to drop, there are other infamous Salinger works that have been known to exist but have stayed unpublished. Several of these have long been in possession of the Princeton Library, with Salinger stipulating that they couldn’t be published until 50 years after his death.
Which brings us to today’s shocking news. The library’s security was just breached and a manuscript – Three Stories – has been leaked to an invite-only file-sharing site. It has since found its way to the public net and pirated “first edition” copies are already being uploaded to eBay. Read it and weep.
by George Giannakos and Robyn Yager | Slowing down a little and breaking out a good book is never a bad idea. But what to read? You could walk into any bookstore and roll the dice on a recent release, but here’s another option: pick up a book that you last put down 5, 10, or 20 years ago. For the next book in Scout’s Read It (Again) series, we’ve picked Ray Bradbury’s master work, Fahrenheit 451.
Why You Should Read It Again | Fahrenheit 451 is considered one of the greatest dystopian novels of all time, tackling censorship, the suppression of ideas, and propaganda. Bradbury once stated that the book was about “the dangers of an illiterate society infatuated with mass media,” which is amazingly prescient since it was published 50 years ago, almost to the day. Clearly the dangers have yet to pass! More importantly, the book encourages resistance to passivity and apathy. It tells us to not be so caught up in our own concerns; to look around once in a while and taste the rain. Cheers to that!
Pair It With | A drink with heat. We would suggest something along the lines of Mezcal. The obvious venue for that is La Mezcaleria on Commercial Drive, and the obvious drink is their Lucia’s Garden. The fiery burn of its chipotle-infused Mezcal combined with the freshness of mint and the sweetness of agave makes it the perfect match for Ray Bradbury’s darkly balanced tale of censorship and liberation.
by George Giannakos and Robyn Yager | Slowing down a little and breaking out a good book is never a bad idea. But what to read? You could walk into any bookstore and roll the dice on a recent release, but here’s another option: pick up a book that you last put down 5, 10, or 20 years ago. For the next book in Scout’s Read It (Again) series, we’ve picked Vladimir Nabokov’s scandalous 1955 novel, Lolita.
Why You Should Read It Again | Although widely considered to be an “erotic novel”, Lolita is just as widely celebrated as one of the best books of the 20th century. Despite its highly controversial theme (a middle-aged literature professor becomes obsessed and then sexually involved with 12-year-old Dolores, nicknamed “Lolita”), Nabokov’s writing has been compared to the prose of James Joyce. Read it again because its literary pastiche deserves as least two or three reads; you’re bound to find something new in every read.
Pair It With | Coincidentally, The Cinematheque and the Vancouver Art Gallery have collaborated on a collection of film screenings in honour of the gallery’s current exhibition, Grand Hotel. This week, the film centre is showing the 1962 Stanley Kubrick adaptation of the novel (featuring a brilliant performance by Peter Sellers), so why not brush up on the storyline prior to attending the film? Thumb its pages at the West End’s appropriately named Lolita’s for a spicy chilli margarita before catching before catching the show.
by George Giannakos and Robyn Yager | Slowing down a little and breaking out a good book is never a bad idea. But what to read? You could walk into any bookstore and roll the dice on a recent release, but here’s another option: pick up a book that you last put down 5, 10, or 20 years ago. For the next book in Scout’s Read It (Again) series, we’ve picked Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Steinbeck’s 1952 novel, East of Eden.
Why You Should Read It Again: It is Steinbeck’s ode to the Salinas Valley, also known as the “salad bowl of the world”. He wrote the book to describe the agriculturally rich region (think broccoli, celery, spinach, cauliflower, tomatoes, strawberries) to his two young sons while adding his own life experiences to the tale. Considered Steinbeck’s greatest work, East of Eden was inspired by the fourth chapter of Genesis; aka the story of Cain and Abel. In the thick of this sticky summer heat, I can’t think of a better time to read about lush California valleys and the complicated relationship between the Trask and Hamilton family.
Pair it With: Something fresh with a kick, like the Mirror Lake cocktail at The Acorn on Main. Made of ginger, bourbon, mint, lime, ginger beer and bitters, the drink is refreshing and satisfying, just like a Steinbeck story.
by George Giannakos and Robyn Yager | Slowing down a little and breaking out a good book is never a bad idea. But what to read? You could walk into any bookstore and roll the dice on a recent release, but here’s another option: pick up a book that you last put down 5, 10, or 20 years ago. For the next book in Scout’s Read It (Again) series, we’ve picked Douglas Adams’ cult novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
Why You Should Read It Again: Published in 1979 from a series of Radio Shows, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is the first novel in a 5 part saga. It’s about a huge number of things. Among these are space travel, the end of the world, the fabrication of planets, the quest for answers to the ultimate questions of life, the universe, and everything. It’s a very easy read.
Pair it With: A pint of bitter at the Alibi Room (157 Alexander in Gastown) whilst channelling the main character, a hapless Englishman named Arthur Dent (preferably in a dressing gown). But be quick about it. Because the world is about to end in order to make way for a hyperspace bypass.
by George Giannakos and Robyn Yager | Slowing down a little and breaking out a good book is never a bad idea. But what to read? You could walk into any bookstore and roll the dice on a recent release, but here’s another option: pick up a book that you last put down 5, 10, or 20 years ago. For the next book in Scout’s Read It (Again) series, we’ve picked Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.
Why You Should Read It Again: Two words. Atticus Finch. Also, it serves as one of the most beloved novels ever written, and one of the first to ever tackle the theme of tolerance. The story is told through the eyes of a young, appropriately named girl called Scout who – together with brother Jem and friend Dill – finds herself for the first time witnessing social injustice as her father, the great Atticus Finch, defends a man wrongly accused of rape. It’s a solid, uplifting reminder that there are still some pretty rad people in the world who fight for what’s right, and a welcome change from all the novels that leave us drained and heartbroken.
Pair it With: The main characters in this book are either too younger to drink or they type to happily pass. So we’ll give you a couple of options here. First, the perfect drink to sip on while stalking Boo Radley from the front porch in the sticky heat of Southern summer is a Spanish Fly from Chambar (orange-infused vermouth, Campari, sherry, house made cherry syrup, and whiskey bitters). Second, Atticus Finch seems like the kind of man to never let a day go by without a good cup of coffee. We therefore suggest a visit to the beautiful Matchstick Coffee Roasters over on Fraser Street. Grab one of their delicious coffees, a croissant, and a chair and get to reading.
Duthies | Place | Much has been said about the cultural health of Vancouver – a place that puts jogging the seawall in yoga pants way above, say, going to see live theatre. Duthies Books is a casualty of that imbalance. Founded in 1957, the company flourishing, eventually growing to 8 locations in all. With the arrival of online booksellers and giants like Chapters, however, it slowly languished and died. The last store shuttered in 2010.
Usage: “Duthies was an institution.”
by George Giannakos and Robyn Yager | Slowing down a little and breaking out a good book is never a bad idea. But what to read? You could walk into any bookstore and roll the dice on a recent release, but here’s another option: pick up a book that you last put down 5, 10, or 20 years ago. For the next book in Scout’s Read It (Again) series, we’ve picked Ernest Hemingway’s 1929 novel, A Farewell To Arms.
Why You Should Read It (Again) | Hemingway gives us everything he’s got in this bestseller. It’s a classic of love and war with just the right dose of both. The story follows Frederic “Tenente” Henry, an American serving in the Italian Red Cross in World War I, and his affections for a nurse named Catherine Barkley. Parts of it are obviously autobiographical, which makes it all the more enjoyable.
Pair It With | There were 40 occasions in which someone takes a drink in this book, of either grappa, brandy, whisky, Cognac, vermouth, gin or wine. While they’re all tempting choices, we’re thinking a quiet corner in The Shebeen would suit these pages perfectly. Choose a sipper from their ridiculously extensive whisky list and ease into it…
‘What are you thinking, darling?’
‘What about whiskey?’
‘About how nice it is.’
Catherine made a face. ‘All right,’ she said.
Go ahead and order two.
by Claudia Chan | Looking for some good books to curl up with in this cold and rainy Fall weather? The Vancouver Public Library is having a massive book sale and its already started. Books were going for 75 cents to $2.50 today and the awesomeness continues over the weekend (Saturday 10am-6pm and Sunday 12pm – 5pm). They have thousands of bargains and treasures worth rummaging through, but don’t forget to bring your pockets full of change because it’s cash only!
Alice MacKay Room | Lower Level | Central Library | 350 West Georgia Street
by George Giannakos and Robyn Yager | Slowing down a little and breaking out a good book is never a bad idea. But what to read? You could walk into any bookstore and roll the dice on a recent release, but here’s another option: pick up a book that you last put down 5, 10, or 20 years ago. For the next book in Scout’s Read It (Again) series, we’ve picked John Steinbeck’s 1937 classic, Of Mice And Men.
Why You Should Read It Again: Though it’s heavy in content and theme, this 75 year old story is still only a novella no thicker than an iPhone 4S. It traces the fates of George Milton and Lennie Small, two opposites both physically and mentally, who are out looking for work in California during the Great Depression with the shared hope of having a place of their own someday. It’s still required reading for most English classes in North America (and for anyone wanting to understand American aspirationalism), and justly so.
Pair It With: A stiff, classic drink composed of Whiskey, Dry Vermouth and Campari called an Old Pal. It should provide a (false?) sense of security with which you can brace against Fall. The drink was invented in the ’20s and would have been well known during Steinbeck’s long reign of fiction, its popularity contemporary with the misadventures of “old pals” George and Lennie. Any of Vancouver’s better cocktail joints should be able to take care of you with one of these.
by George Giannakos and Robyn Yager | Slowing down a little and breaking out a good book is never a bad idea. But what to read? You could walk into any bookstore and roll the dice on a recent release, but here’s another option: pick up a book that you last put down 5, 10, or 20 years ago. For the next book in Scout’s Read It (Again) series, we’ve picked Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s 1969 anti-war satire, Slaughterhouse Five.
Why You Should Read It Again: “All this happened, more or less…” so Kurt Vonnegut Jr. opens his cult, World War 2 classic. After the famous line it’s just go go go with protagonist Billy Pilgrim. It’s a light read – both physically and mentally – and it’s pretty hilarious, albeit in a really dark, war-seriously-sucks kinda way. And if aliens (ahem, Tralfamadorians) and time travel (to both the past and the future) don’t make you want to pick up the book again – perhaps this link with multiple pages of the novel’s take away phrase “So it goes” tattooed on people will.
Pair It With: The book has no direct mention of any particular drink, so one must get a little more creative. Considering how it’s the end of summer and Slaughterhouse Five blends comedy and tragedy seamlessly, I think it’s only appropriate to take a stool at the long bar of Hasting’s Save-On-Meats and grab yourself a thick and boozy Bacon Bourbon Chocolate Milkshake. If that isn’t a blend of comedy and tragedy, then I really don’t want to know what is.