Summer books: Warm weather brings titles for the times

Works by Bob Joseph, Jen Currin, David Chariandy, and Charles Demers offer new perspectives on everything from racism to real estate

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      Admittedly, none of the titles below count as vacation-style fluff. But maybe we should save the fluff for when all the Trumps and Fords are finally gone from public office.

      21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act

      (By Bob Joseph. Indigenous Relations Press)

      “My personal quest is to change the world, one person at a time,” Bob Joseph writes at the outset of this concise, forceful look at the laws and official attitudes that have flattened the lives of Indigenous peoples in Canada since the creation of the Indian Act in 1876. With decades of experience as a trainer in Indigenous and Aboriginal relations, Joseph has often been surprised at the number of non-Indigenous Canadians who seem hungry for knowledge of this legal scaffolding and its bleak legacy, and he wants to show how dismantling it will benefit all. But doing so first requires seeing clearly how the Indian Act—which once, not so long ago, encouraged government officials to speak in terms of “a final solution of our Indian Problem”—still rules the day. “This book is for people who want to walk with informed minds and hearts along the path to reconciliation,” the author and member of the Gwawaenuk nation on B.C.’s central coast asserts in his introduction. What better way to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21 than to sit with this short, piercing, ultimately optimistic work?

      Hider/Seeker: Stories

      (By Jen Currin. Anvil Press)

      You can tell that this debut short-story collection by New Westminster’s Jen Currin is the work of an experienced poet. The prose is spare and alive, phrased by someone accustomed to expression that is both open and exact. Meanings are elusive and multiple. Why do horned angels appear in a woman’s apartment one night to put coffee and records on? At what point does memory fade into hallucination as an older woman ruminates over wine? There are 20 stories here, one of them as short as a single page, many focusing on LGBT characters. In their disparate ways, they show people searching along winding roads for a sense of peace.

      I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You

      (By David Chariandy. McClelland & Stewart)

      It’s a normal part of parenting to have to explain to a young child some instance of adult-world cruelty. But how to explain the cruelty of racism—to spell out to the child that she will likely face hostility merely for the fact of existing? Vancouver author David Chariandy follows up two celebrated novels with this blend of essay and memoir in the form of a letter to his daughter. She was just three years old when she was baffled by the sight of her father—a Canadian-born man of black and South Asian descent—being pushed aside at a grocery store by a well-dressed white woman who declared, “I belong here.” Now, as the book opens, she turns 13 only a couple of days before the U.S. presidential inauguration of “yet another spoiled and loudly boastful man” willing to reopen centuries-old wounds for political gain. Chariandy reflects on what is worse for his daughter than it was for him as a child, what is better, and where to look for hope.

      Property Values

      (By Charles Demers. Arsenal Pulp Press)

      Crime novels run on greed and desperation—and in Vancouver, greed and desperation run on real estate. So it’ll be no surprise if one day this town becomes known for its own subgenre of crime fiction about insane housing prices. Charles Demers’s new novel may be one of the founding texts. It’s the story of a hapless young renter who hatches a plan to drive down the value of a house he covets by staging a drive-by shooting out front—and winds up tangling with criminals who do the real thing for a living. Because it’s by an author acclaimed for the sharp, politically charged wit of such books as The Horrors and Vancouver Special, this descent into noir is also outright funny. “The most immediately obvious way that young members of the putative middle class are on a downwardly mobile trajectory,” Demers said in a recent Q&A, remarking on the urban setting of Property Values, “is that they can’t afford to stay where they are from.” A crime in its own right, wouldn’t you say?