You won’t find a better beer or a better gluten-free lemon-meringue tart than a local one. Same goes for books.
Whether you’re gift-shopping or just looking for something to help you recuperate from holiday combat, there’s a huge range of B.C.–rooted books that will work excellently. Here’s just a handful.
For the armchair hell-raiser
Perhaps you’re too young to remember a time when the unexpected arrival of dudes in mack jackets and Dayton boots meant that your little Vancouver house party was about to take a turn for the bloody. Even so, you’re bound to be fascinated by Aaron Chapman’s latest slice of local history.
The Last Gang in Town (Arsenal Pulp) chronicles a loose-knit group of brawlers and juvie-home veterans who ruled their East Van neighbourhood and took on near-mythic status throughout the city in the early 1970s, like long-haired phantoms.
Just as he did in Liquor, Lust and the Law, his 2013 history of the Penthouse Nightclub, Chapman seamlessly splices true crime and social history, this time to recount the exploits of the Clark Park Gang, which was dedicated not to illegal enterprise so much as to rumbling for its own sake.
You can almost smell the Old Style empties and the Player’s Filter smoke, and you’re left wondering at this city’s enduring gift for rioting and random violence.
For the mental traveller
Your iPhone might be telling you that we have it pretty much figured out: that we’re never at a loss, that our awareness is boundless, that all perspectives are instantly available to us as information-sodden consumers. And yet despite this confidence—or rather, because of it—we’re in the process of wiping out about half of the planet’s languages.
As illustrated by the piercing new volume Wade Davis: Photographs (Douglas & McIntyre), cultural diversity is under as much threat as biodiversity. Global forces of “modernization” are rapidly uprooting and discarding ancient ways of living and knowing the world.
But Davis, the famed author and UBC anthropology prof, doesn’t want to provoke despair with these 140 striking photographs he took in his travels, showing everything from Nepalese women winnowing barley to a Tuareg guide reading patterns in the Saharan sand. His goal for the images and their insightful captions was, as he explains in his introduction, “to identify stories that had deep metaphorical resonance, something universal to tell us about the nature of being alive”. And so to wake us from our electronic dreams in time to see the brilliance of what we’re losing.
For friends of the feathered
If your giftee is someone who wants to move beyond the level of marine-bird awareness that most of us here have (“That’s a seagull, that’s a duck, that’s, uh… I don’t know what that is”), Caroline Fox’s At Sea With the Marine Birds of the Raincoast (RMB) might be the place to start.
The Victoria-based conservation scientist has created a handsomely illustrated work that’s part memoir, part natural history, describing her voyages along the B.C. coast to document the region’s huge array of winged inhabitants, from pigeon guillemots and rhinoceros auklets to horned puffins, marbled murrelets, and short-tailed albatrosses.
Some of these are year-round residents, others are among the more than 300 species that travel the Pacific Flyway migration route from Tierra del Fuego to the high Arctic, creating an incredibly intricate and fragile living web. A fact which, inevitably, draws human activity into Fox’s picture, particularly as it plays out in one blindly destructive idea after another.
As the author remarks in her closing pages, whenever she hears of “the latest, crushing decision that ignores, denies and rejects” these astonishing, mysterious creatures, “they noisily shuffle their feathers next to me and fix me in their dark-eyed gaze. At times, I shut my eyes and follow them back to the sea.”
For the spoof-centric
Over the course of six seasons, CBC Radio’s This Is That has honed its stealthily funny satire of current-affairs programming—so close to the real thing that listeners are still often fooled into thinking the federal government is actually planning to place ads on our money, or that Stanley Park has been chosen to host a NASCAR race, or that new research shows Canada to be the most depressed country on the planet.
Think of it as Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds, only with delusional bureaucrats and fatuous artists in place of aliens, and delivered by Vancouverites Pat Kelly and Peter Oldring in that earnestly chipper, acoustic-guitar-flecked CBC Radio tone.
Their new book, This Is That Travel Guide to Canada (Tite Group), has plenty of this low-boil absurdity. (Sample, from a chapter titled “Is It Boring?”: “Historically, people came to Canada because they thought there would be things to see and do. And they weren’t wrong. From lookouts to cookouts, Canada’s seeing and doing infrastructure is well developed.”)
If the person on your list could use tips on what to wear on the Kamloops Riviera, or how to appreciate the architecture of the nation’s “breathtakingly straightforward condominiums”, or what to expect from a new food-truck-themed restaurant in Vancouver (complete with an indoor curb for seating), this is the book to buy.