Your holiday food and drink menus are likely full of local ingredients—so why not your holiday reading list too?
Here’s just a sample of the fine homegrown writing you can give to others or use to create your own quiet breaks during this loud season.
For connoisseurs of wind and water
There’s no other place on Earth like Haida Gwaii, just as there’s no other writer like prolific B.C. poet-novelist-critic Susan Musgrave. And so Musgrave’s weighty new volume A Taste of Haida Gwaii: Food Gathering and Feasting at the Edge of the World (Whitecap)—the first cookbook on her long list of published works—is a one-of-a-kind, ocean-formed marvel from cover to cover. Musgrave has gathered the 90 recipes here during her four decades as a resident of the “Shining Islands” (the moniker she favours for the place), most recently as proprietor of the Copper Beech Guest House in Masset. So you can try your hand at such delicacies as Razor Clam Linguine, Beer Battered Zucchini Blossoms, Cranberry Relish Chutney, or Wild Rose Petal Ice Cream.
And while waiting for your seaweed lasagna to bake, you can savour the essays Musgrave has scattered throughout, on everything from foraging and scallop-shucking to the “Doritos spill of 2009” that brought a wave of the red-bagged snacks to shore from a passing cargo ship.
For the laugh-lorn
Comedy’s a bitch and then it dies—that’s one way of summing up a theme of Kliph Nesteroff’s blazing new book The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy (Grove). This is a swift-footed, anecdote-loaded survey of the last 100 years of professional attempts to make strangers laugh, ranging from vaudeville, burlesque, and the mob-run nightclub circuit to the advent of late-night talk shows and laugh tracks, and right on through to our own web-entangled environment. It’s packed with tales of the weirdness and chaos that have regularly descended on the lives of these performers, and touched by a sense of the oddly short shelf life that even some of the most brilliant and popular comedy has had, as tastes change with passing generations.
The B.C.–born Nesteroff is highly qualified to tell this story, not only as a well-known historian and archivist of classic comedy, but as a practitioner whose standup career got rolling right here in Vancouver under the alias Shecky Grey.
For those seeking new perspective
This year saw the Truth and Reconciliation Commission submit its findings, and then saw Stephen Harper chased out of office. So, at this fertile moment for change in the relationship between Canada’s indigenous and nonindigenous peoples, Lee Maracle’s new collection of oratories, Memory Serves (NeWest), takes on even greater significance. The book brings together 20 years’ worth of piercing lectures by the Coast Salish author and poet, showing how Sto:lo history, law, philosophy, and spirituality can dismantle old colonial machinery.
For the naturally diverse
Acclaimed Salt Spring Island writer Brian Brett blends memoir and natural history to create unique resonances in his latest work, Tuco: The Parrot, the Others, and a Scattershot World (Greystone). The pain and scorn Brett suffered while growing up as an androgyne, along with the insight and healing he gained from his 25-year friendship with the African grey parrot of the title (whom he describes as “an anarchistic outlaw biker with wings instead of wheels”), would easily be enough for a compelling story. But in Tuco, Brett uses these experiences as paths for exploring the way we routinely seal ourselves off from whatever we deem strange, including the natural world itself, much to our own detriment. The result is a heartfelt and humorous reflection on “the enormous, lush, thriving swamp that is life on this planet”.
For young readers
Wee kids between three and seven will be charmed by the enterprising reptiles in Crocs at Work… (Tradewind), the rhyming, rowdily colourful picture book from the Vancouverite duo of author Robert Heidbreder and illustrator Rae Maté. The big animals here may be running against their nature in their concern for following safety regulations as they go about their jobs as bus drivers, cooks, and house painters. Needless to say, though, they attack their tasks with toothy grins and untidy methods.
And just what is it with putting large, normally ferocious creatures behind the wheel of a bus? In the case of Are We There, Yeti? (Simon & Schuster), by locally raised artist and animator Ashlyn Anstee, the licensed party is the white-furred snow monster of myth. But in this boisterous debut for kids four to eight, Yeti is the picture of serenity as he takes a noisy group of human friends on a road trip to his mountain home.
For readers 12 and up who no longer need the world’s darker sides lightened for them, there’s Are You Seeing Me? (Orca), the celebrated novel by Australian-born Vancouver author Darren Groth. This tale of 19-year-old Justine and her twin brother, Perry, who has autism spectrum disorder and a love of sea monsters and Jackie Chan movies, brings young lives to a crossroads with such power that it was shortlisted for this year’s Governor General’s Award for children’s literature.
Reading B.C. online
If none of the books listed here works and you’d like about 8,493 other locally nurtured ideas, check out B.C. Books Online, the teeming website newly launched by the Association of Book Publishers of B.C. You might start with one of the curated reading lists (on, say, books from the North Coast, or aboriginal children’s and YA books) and then browse any of the 24 local publishers or dozens of subject categories, including everything from history, politics, and business to music, photography, performing arts, and gardening.
It’s an easy way to find a dead-on gift while throwing a little Yuletide support in the direction of hard-working people who’ve dedicated themselves to telling the province’s stories.