At a time when it's never been easier to access writing from around the world, a new province-wide campaign is reminding readers about the importance of reading local works.
The first Read Local BC celebration, which runs until April 22, is shining the spotlight on B.C. literature, with bookstores, libraries, publishers, literary organizations, and community centres all getting on board.
Margaret Reynolds, executive director of the Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia, explained by phone the impetus for the campaign. After the first B.C. Book Day was held in the Legislature in 2014, which was designed to raise the book industry's profile and presence amongst MLAs in Victoria, they wanted to expand the event to include the public. At the same time, numerous B.C. independent book sellers were inspired by localvore campaigns in U.S. to do something similar here.
Throughout April, numerous literary events from Haida Gwaii to Fernie will be held, including readings, panel discussions, children's events, and food-related events. It will all culiminate with BC Book Day at the Legislative Assembly in Victoria on April 22.
Demand for local works remains encouraging—Reynolds said that their B.C. bestsellers list, which includes cookbooks from local restaurants or coastal history tomes, generates great interest from readers.
"Those books would not be published by the big five publishing companies," she pointed out. "They wouldn't know of the extent of interest in those kinds of titles and they wouldn't know the authors either."
Over her career in the industry, she's also noticed a marked growth of interest in several areas: pioneer stories about women, such as Caitlin Press' Gumboot Girls (published by Caitlin Press); alternate lifestyles, such as foraging for mushrooms and herbs; and urban-oriented books, with edgy, gritty, underbelly fiction and nonfiction content that delves into the darker side of city life.
Speaking of the city, former Vancouver poet laureate Evelyn Lau chatted with the Georgia Straight by phone about how she will be participating in a Read Local BC discussion about where the urban meets the rural and how Vancouver is transforming. At Roughing it in the Bush Revisited on April 15, she'll be joined by poets Jordan Abel, Ryan Fitzpatrick, W.H. New, Daphne Marlatt, George Stanley, and host Poetry Is Dead editor Daniel Zomparelli.
"As longterm Vancouverites, we all have our opinions and our experiences of how the city has changed," Lau said. "I think it's reflected in our work too. You can't help but have that influence, the work that you're creating."
Lau had always been cautious about locale having a strong presence in her fiction and poetry. Even though she admired how some writers like Karen Connelly had a deep connection to place, she didn't feel she had it in her own work.
Readers told her otherwise.
"People would say, 'Even if I didn't know you were from Vancouver, I would be able to guess from your work, just from the rains, the glass towers, the mountains, the ocean—that kind of thing," Lau said on the line from her home. "It just sort of permeates the backdrop. It permeates your writing.' "
Lau herself has lived in Yaletown for 20 years, in the second highrise built in that area. Since then, she said it's been 15 years of nonstop construction. She used to be able to see Granville Street Bridge from window. Now? She can barely see an inch of sky between buildings.
Yet Lau also sees how the city has improved.
Culturally, Lau said that over the course of her career (her first book, Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid, was published in 1989) she has lamented the loss of numerous bookstores but she has also seen a significant increase in social literary activities, such as festivals and reading series.
At the same time, she has come to appreciate what the city does have to offer, rather than looking for greener pastures.
"In my 20s, I was like, 'There must be a bigger life elsewhere.' There was never a sense that life was going to be here…. Certainly what I've noticed in the last few years in particular, it seems like anywhere we've gone, I've always thought, 'Actually you know, Vancouver is better in so many ways.' "
That gratitude for what is here, not just what is beyond, is what Read Local BC is all about.
"What I like about this whole campaign," Lau said, "is we've been hearing for so long now about shopping local and eating local and all of that, and of course it makes perfect sense to read the authors who are in your community and who are, in their work, in some way reflecting back the city or the town or whatever that you know in B.C."
Finding ourselves reflected in literary works is something Reynolds sees as essential to ourselves as citizens.
"I think it's important…that there be a Canadian publishing industry to publish those books that will not be best-sellers but will reflect who we are and what our values are. I think that's crucial….I think that familiarity gives you strength."
Read Local BC runs until April 22 throughout British Columbia. For a full list of events, visit the Association of Book Publishers of BC website.