What I read and didn’t read in Spring 2011

In my real life I read books and in my other life I work in politics. I said at the end of our 100-day campaign that I’d forgotten how to read and that was true. I am learning again now how to read, how to take a book and really read it.

This belief that I hold: that reading a novel is in itself a creative act, that we all take in a different text rewritten by what we bring into a novel from our own lives. And if I have no creative energy left to give, nothing left to put out then I can only stare at a page, I can read the words but there are no sentences, no paragraphs, no shape or arc or structure. I saved the pile of books that I tried to read, books that I started at and stared at. Books that I’ll come back to, one day, maybe soon. It’s not them; it’s me.

Last night I described campaign work, my entire 2011 to date, as clear, narrow, focus, a ‘singularity of purpose.’ The world is a three-block radius in which you get every meal from among the same three or four restaurants every day. All year we used military metaphors: civilians, shore leave, tour of duty, trenches. And when I described my life last summer, I joked that I was entering my ascetic year, I would be a monk at 8th and Fraser. Sometimes circumstances take care of these things, and I held a pilgrimage every day to New Westminster, SkyTrain stations as milemarkers. Monks, on a phone bank, reciting devotions to strangers and recording responses in code.

The question: what is the ‘take home’ from a speech, from an event or experience. What do you take away and what is the entry point to a set of memories. And my take home is what a 100-day campaign meant to my ability to read a book.



  • John Heileman and Mark Halperin, Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime (2010) – I put down The Honourable Schoolboy for several days and went right through this. Go go go.
  • John le Carre, The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) – I read this on the ferry to Victoria and back on New Year’s Eve, December 31 2011, and then again after Game Change.
  • Ian Fleming, Diamonds Are Forever (1956) – I read this fast but I can’t remember a thing about it. I do remember this reading over lunch at the Vietnamese place at Broadway and Guelph.
  • Elizabeth Hay, A Student of Weather (2000) – This is it, the first book I remember having out with me in New Westminster.
  • Joan Didion, Miami (1987) – First I would get off at Columbia Station and go to the Starbucks to use up the three gift cards I had collected and never used. Man did I ever feel like a doofus waiting in the Starbucks for my coffee. When the gift cards ran out I would get off at New Westminster Station and go to the Waves, then walk up Columbia.


  • Tom Zytaruk, Like A Rock: The Chuck Cadman Story (2008) – We were already starting to lose people to federal campaigns, and I lost several friend to Surrey North. It’s all the same fight, and I grew up just north of Whalley anyway. Unfortunately, I moved to Vancouver before I had the chance to vote against Chuck Cadman in 2004, but I did hand out flyers for the NDP against him in 1997.
  • Artyom Borovik, The Hidden War: A Russian Journalist’s Account of the Soviet War in Afghanistan(1990) – I read Like A Rock in between the first and second sections of this, written respectively in 1987 and 1989.
  • Janice Gross Stein and Eugene Lang, The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar (2007) – This book was a real downer.
  • Russell Smith, Girl Crazy (2010) – This book was also a real downer. I read it in just a few days. No. 1 most depressing author I read, somehow.


  • VS Naipaul, In A Free State (1971) – This book was also a real downer. No. 2 most depressing author I read, somehow.
  • Paul Auster, Moon Palace (1989) – The only novel that held my attention. I came in one day, a weekend morning, and no one else was in, maybe there was an event or I was early and I had 10 pages left and I sat down at my desk and read to the end. More Paul Auster please.
  • Preston Manning, Think Big: My Adventures in Life and Democracy (2002) – This is me declaring defeat, a truce, no more, I’m done. For another month of campaign, I’ll just read campaign. How did we get to this place in Canadian politics? Let’s go back, way back, to the Reform Party of Canada, 1987.


  • Trevor Harrison, Requiem For A Lightweight: Stockwell Day and the Rise of Image Politics (2002) – I went to a rally in high school, early fall of 2000, at the Hyatt downtown, against Stockwell Day; the button I took home read DoomsDay for Canada. I read this before, in 2004.
  • Susan Delacourt, Juggernaut: Paul Martin’s Campaign for Jean Chretien’s Crown (2004) – No. 1 most pathetic tale of hubris in Canadian history. I could read this book over and over.
  • Paul Wells, Right Side Up: The Fall of Paul Martin and the Rise of Stephen Harper’s New Conservatives  (2006) – I read this before too, after the first time I read Juggernaut, in 2006. At this point, my capacity to take in new information was severely limited.

1 Comment

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One response to “What I read and didn’t read in Spring 2011

  1. AvB

    this is great.

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