This has been a year worth celebrating for Vancouver-area writers. As a result, there’s no shortage of terrific books to recommend for the voracious readers on your holiday-shopping list.
Vancouver’s David Chariandy took home the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize—and the $50,000 that comes with it—for his second novel, Brother, a critically acclaimed tale of two siblings and their love of music.
The Straight’s Alexander Varty described it as “slim but perfectly proportioned” and as “a kind of literary alchemy, creating a believable world in just 180 pages”.
Two other Vancouver writers, Anosh Irani and Jen Sookfong Lee, were nominated for next year’s International Dublin Literary Award. Lee’s Downtown Eastside–based crime story, The Conjoined, which came out last year, was also a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize; Irani’s The Parcel, about a transgender sex worker, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and last year’s Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.
Another nominee for next year’s Dublin Literary Award is former Vancouverite Madeleine Thien. She continues racking up honours for her phenomenally successful 2016 novel about musicians in China, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, which won the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the 2016 Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction. Thien’s novel was nominated for the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the 2017 Rathbones Folio Prize.
One of the great local historians, North Vancouver writer Daniel Francis, also won a big prize this year—the Governor General’s History Award for Popular Media: The Pierre Berton Award. Francis has written for Harbour Publishing (Where Mountains Meet the Sea: An Illustrated History of the District of North Vancouver, Trucking in British Columbia: An Illustrated History, and Far West: The Story of British Columbia) and Arsenal Pulp Press (Seeing Reds: The Red Scare of 1918-19, Canada’s First War on Terror; The Imaginary Indian; and LD: Mayor Louis Taylor and the Rise of Vancouver). It’s rather fitting that Francis would win an award named after Berton, because both have written compulsively readable books about Canadian history.
This has also been an exciting year for current and former Georgia Straight writers. In September, Rocky Mountain Books released The Georgia Straight: A 50th Anniversary Celebration, which was written by publisher Dan McLeod and writer Doug Sarti. It includes penetrating and revealing essays on the history of the Straight and the city by former music editor Bob Geldof, former staff writer and environmentalist Paul Watson, former mayor and premier Mike Harcourt, and musician and I, Bificus author Bif Naked. The coffee-table book features more than 100 exceptional Straight covers from the past 50 years, supplemented with Sarti’s crisp descriptions of what was taking place in the city at that time.
Then, in November, Arsenal Pulp Press released Straight writer Travis Lupick’s Fighting for Space: How a Group of Drug Users Transformed One City’s Struggle With Addiction. A rollicking good read, it offers page upon page of astonishing revelations about the history of Vancouver’s harm-reduction movement. One section on former mayor Philip Owen’s travels with long-time addict Dean Wilson, filmmaker Nettie Wild, and harm-reduction advocate Ann Livingston is supremely memorable. But perhaps the most noteworthy sections involve imaginative street protests, often orchestrated by Mark Townsend when he was one of the leaders of the Portland Hotel Society.
Former Straight editor Ian Hanington and Straight.com contributor David Suzuki cowrote Just Cool It!: The Climate Crisis and What We Can Do, which offers sensible prescriptions for saving the planet. A former Straight proofreader, Alisa Smith, came out with a new novel, Speakeasy. According to Straight contributor George Fetherling, the title isn’t about U.S. Prohibition, but “refers instead to the anguish that sometimes results from having to keep dark secrets”.
“This first novel is a remarkable leap for a writer who often gets awards for journalism but whose only previous book (the winner of multiple prizes) was The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating,” Fetherling wrote.
Another well-regarded novel about that era is John MacLachlan Gray’s The White Angel. It offers a fictitious look into the sensational real-life murder of 22-year-old nursemaid Janet Smith in Shaughnessy in 1924. A Chinese domestic worker was fingered as the suspect and was later tortured by the local Ku Klux Klan.
Gray, father of the Zolas’ frontman Zachary Gray, is perhaps best known as the cowriter and composer of the Broadway musical Billy Bishop Goes to War. He’s also had a distinguished career as a novelist, newspaper columnist, and theatre, TV, and stage performer.
B.C. has long been a hothouse for environmental books and this year was no exception. Victoria writer Thom Henley’s autobiographical Raven Walks Around the World: Life of a Wandering Activist includes tales of kayaking in Haida Gwaii, working with Indigenous and non-Indigenous youths on a wilderness program, and meeting then prime minister Pierre Trudeau and his five-year-old son Justin.
Another fascinating environmental book is The Clean Money Revolution: Reinventing Power, Purpose, and Capitalism, by Joel Solomon with Tyee Bridge. Solomon is one of Canada’s most influential green capitalists, and in this book, readers learn about his solitary stay at OrcaLab, discrimination meted out against him and his Jewish father in Tennessee, and his $100-trillion vision to save civilization by 2050.
Here's a hint: it involves marshalling the wealth of multimillionaires and billionaires to invest in environmentally sustainable foods and other products. And it's centred on the fact that around $50 trillion will be transferred from baby boomers to millennials by the middle of this century, which offers the prospect of remaking the world around new values.
There were several other environmentally inclined books by B.C. writers. But if there's one that really stands out among the pack, it's David Boyd’s The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution That Could Save the World. The title says it all, and those of a greenish bent should put it under the tree for any judges and lawyers on their list. They'll never look at flora and fauna the same way again.
I'll close with a book for those with a keen interest in public policy: Reflections of Canada: Illuminating Our Opportunities and Challenges at 150+ Years. Published by UBC's Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, it's a collection of essays by leading Canadian thinkers on a wide range of topics.
UBC Peter A. Allard School of Law professor Margot Young, PWIAS director Philippe Tortell, and UBC Sauder School of Business professor emeritus Peter Nemetz edited the book, which offers deep insights into the greatest challenges facing Canada on the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Pick it up. You won't be disappointed.
Looking for more gift ideas? Check out the Georgia Straight's 2017 holiday gift guide here.More