Maybe we can attribute it to the pandemic, which has kept writers at home for longer periods. But for whatever reason, there’s been an onslaught of intriguing books from B.C. publishers in advance of the holiday season.
That makes things a little easier for those looking for gifts for people who would rather keep their noses in a novel than guzzle booze, make use of new cookware, or listen to the latest box sets from the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.
In this article, the focus is on the printed word and, in the case of Anvil Press’s Heroines Revisited, some controversial photographs. And for climate keeners, there’s a feature article posted today about how rising greenhouse-gas emissions are disrupting hydrological cycles, leading to massive floods.
This topic came to our attention via Victoria-based Rocky Mountain Books, which has been publishing the works of water expert Robert William Sandford for many years. It’s not the first Georgia Straight cover story that has been inspired by a book, and it most certainly won’t be the last.
With all of that in mind, here are some worthwhile B.C. books listed in no particular order. It's the first in a series of articles that we'll be running on Straight.com in the final month of 2021.
Vancouver Vice: Crime and Spectacle in the City's West End
by Aaron Chapman, Arsenal Pulp Press
Vancouver’s West End was once one of Canada’s sex-trade capitals until local residents, including a future councillor named Gordon Price, decided that wasn’t how they wanted their neighbourhood to evolve. In Vancouver Vice, Aaron Chapman delves into a colourful history of the thriving prostitution scene, uncovering secrets along the way about a controversial “chicken book” allegedly kept by a high-profile local resident named John Michael Lewis. It’s a rollicking read populated by well-known Vancouverites, just like Chapman’s other books.
Heroines Revisited: Photographs by Lincoln Clarkes
by Lincoln Clarkes, Anvil Press
Vancouver photographer Lincoln Clarkes caused a huge stir with his original photographic series Heroines, which was released in book form by Anvil Press in 2002. These portraits of marginalized women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside were criticized by some as exploitive and celebrated by others for drawing attention to deep inequalities in the city. In this new edition, Anvil Press has included essays by two academics and one journalist that offer context while not resolving the controversy. The photos are memorable, in part because Clarkes insisted that his subjects, including some who later went missing, look directly into the camera. But it’s the essays that define why these images remain an important chapter in the history of the Downtown Eastside.
Bramah and the Beggar Boy
by Renée Sarojini Saklikar, Nightwood Editions
This is a book unlike anything else available in British Columbia: an epic fantasy in verse about a female locksmith and an orphan beggar boy who are helping survivors of the climate breakdown. Ten years in the making, Renée Sarojini Saklikar’s work is the first in her THOT J BAP series, which is inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey, the Sanskrit epic The Mahabharata, and One Thousand and One Nights, a.k.a. The Arabian Nights. Bramah and the Beggar Boy is not for those in a rush to read one book before moving on to the next. The text needs to be savoured and appreciated—and reread a second or third time to find deeper meanings.
Standoff: Why Reconciliation Fails Indigenous People and How to Fix It
by Bruce McIvor, Nightwood Editions
This collection of essays by noted lawyer Bruce McIvor is a must-read for anyone trying to figure why it’s imperative for B.C. to come to terms with its failure to respect Indigenous land rights. He helps readers understand the crucial differences between Indigenous traditional governance and the elected chiefs and councils that are a product of the Indian Act. Systemic racism and treaty rights are both covered along with his experience growing up Métis in Manitoba. Standoff has received rave reviews from Price Paid author Bev Sellars and UBC Peter A. Allard School of Law professor Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond (Aki-Kwe), which should give anyone a great deal of confidence if they’re considering buying this book for a friend or loved one.
Always Pack a Candle: A Nurse in the Cariboo-Chilcotin
by Marion McKinnon Crook, Heritage House Publishing
Health-care workers have become our modern-day saints, given the courage that so many of them demonstrated in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. But they haven’t always been so admired. Marion McKinnon Crook’s memoir describes what it was like travelling around the B.C. Interior as a public-health nurse in the 1960s. She immunized scores of kids and also dealt with difficult patients and arrogant doctors. If you want to know what frontline healthcare looked like in this province more than 50 years ago, this is the book for you (or for the health worker on your holiday shopping list.) It’s been on the B.C. bestseller list for 26 consecutive weeks.
Deep, Dark and Dangerous: The Story of British Columbia’s World-Class Undersea Tech Industry
by Vickie Jensen, Harbour Publishing
This is a great book about a subject that’s rarely talked about in the media these days. Near the start of Deep, Dark and Dangerous, Vickie Jensen shares the incredible story of Newt Suit inventor Phil Nuytten. He dove into Burrard Inlet after the collapse of the Second Narrows Bridge on June 17, 1958, hoping to save ironworkers who had fallen into the water. From there, the author serves up a cast of mavericks who set B.C. on a course to becoming a leader in undersea technology. Jensen, editor of Westcoast Mariner, is an old hand at writing sea stories—and it shows in her latest book.
Mushrooms of British Columbia
by Andy MacKinnon and Kem Luther, Royal B.C. Museum
This amazing reference book by two mushroom experts features gorgeous photographs and illuminating write-ups of many species of fungi in B.C. It’s ideal for amateur mushroom pickers because it just might prevent them from scooping up the poisonous ones. B.C. lawyer Michael Doherty summed it up this way in a message to the Straight: “If you’re the kind of person who goes to a guidebook when you see a bird, or an animal, or a tree that you don’t recognize, well, now you can do the same with mushrooms.”