What I Read in Fall 2015

fall 2015 1


  • Elaine Dewar, Cloak of Green (1995) – A big terrific book: “the links between key environmental groups, government and big business.’ I retained almost no details due to reading this through the federal campaign but this book is a lot of fun. Elizabeth May, a bit player in the core story but consistently popping up in different guises, comes off very poorly and the book prompts the same question that came up during the Saanich all-candidate debates: does she even know she’s lying? And if she does know, does she care? This book is helpful in establishing that behaviour as a long-standing trait rather than an effect of her time in electoral politics. The most interesting theme of many is the interaction between Canadian environmental groups and the Kayapo people of the Brazilian rainforest, the former’s ostensible heroes but who come off as abstract mascots and far more sophisticated than their foreign boosters expect or can ultimately accommodate.
  • Paul Auster, The Brooklyn Follies (2006) – All I could ask for in a campaign novel.

fall 2015 2


  • Ian Fleming, Casino Royale (1953) – I read this before in September 2010 and read it again after we saw the new Casino Royale at the Vic Theatre.
  • Graham Fraser, Playing for Keeps: The Making of the Prime Minister, 1988 (1989) – Fantastic 450 pages on the 1988 campaign. Reaching the stage of the 2015 campaign where all I could read about is Canadian political history.
  • Brooke Jeffrey, Strange Bedfellows: October 1992 and the Defeat of the Powerbrokers (1993) – I meant to read this earlier in the year, during the Translink referendum in Vancouver, because I used the 1992 vote as a cautionary example, as it indeed turned out to be: every institution/elite buys in and the whole thing crashes nonetheless. But the most frustrating parallel turned out to be the overbearing doomsaying on the part of the Yes forces in each case. Almost 25 years after Charlottetown, Quebec has not signed on to the constitution and it doesn’t matter and nobody cares. Similarly, transit won’t get much better and it will, in fact, get a bit worse every year but the region will be the same, more-or-less, for a while until the logjam breaks.
  • Russell Smith, Confidence (2015) – The first book I read after the end of the campaign; short stories. I read most of this at the Northern Quarter, holding down a table for the Wednesday quiz.
  • Alan Furst, Kingdom of Shadows (2000) – Annual Alan Furst book. I read one every year.
  • Olivia Manning, The Levant Trilogy – The best example I know of an objectively very dull set of books gaining force and meaning through sheer weight. I read the first trilogy in 2014 and found this set both faster and more paced but also missing the ever-present doom of the first, set in Bucharest and Athens. These three are mostly in Cairo where the war is more clearly present but at the same time less threatening, now a sea away from the real German front.
    • The Danger Tree (1977)
    • The Battle Lost and Won (1978)
    • The Sum of Things (1980)

fall 2015 3


  • Sara Levine, Treasure Island!!! (2012) – The most fun I had all year. I bought this at Pulpfiction on Commercial and read it in Richmond the next day. “Hilarious and troubling” or else “deranged and marvellous.”
  • Michael Lewis, Trail Fever (1997) – Some of this is very good but reading Michael Lewis on politics is difficult; the light-hearted glib above-it-all vs. actual real world. 1996 Republican presidential nomination as carnival sideshow. Fascinating as a document of the last pre-Internet presidential campaign.
  • Elizabeth Drew, Whatever It Takes: The Real Struggle for Political Power in America (1997) – Terrific book about the 1996 congressional campaign, where Republicans abandoned Bob Dole, who won the nomination in Trail Fever, and kept their majorities in Congress by promising opposition to Clinton’s second term.
  • Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation (2014) – This book is a real trip. I read this on the way home from seeing the Ride reunion show in Vancouver. The more I read, year-over-year, the tougher I find science fiction. The answer may be in giving it more time; reading slowly. I would read old sci-fi short stories in-between textbook chapters at SFU and raced through. Those bad habits have become entrenched. I am in no rush to read parts two and three of this set but the longer I wait, the dimmer part one will become.
  • Margaret Atwood, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (2011) – Who could give up on science fiction with this collection at hand?
  • Jonathan Lethem, Gun, with Occasional Music (1994) – And is this science fiction? I loved it; perfect show-don’t-tell, no exposition. As good as Inherent Vice, almost, and equally ruining straight detective fiction.
  • Stevie Cameron, The Pickton File (2007) – The prelude to On The Farm, which I have but have not yet read, written while most of that material was still under a publication ban. I’ve read that this is a stop-gap, rushed to meet deadline while the court case dragged on under a surprise ban, which may be true but I think it is a valuable text. It’s a reporter’s notebook, the story of the story, the slow revelation, and a basic guide to life in Vancouver between 1998-2007 – the same slow civic revelation that is so easy to forget, Pickton locked up, all done, finished. But it’s not done, not finished, it keeps going.
  • John Darnielle, Wolf in White Van (2014) – The first book that I read for my first book club: three people reading two books over nine months.

fall 2015 4


  • Maggie de Vries, Missing Sarah: A Memoir of Loss (2003; 2nd ed. 2008) – A mirror of The Pickton File; or the inverse? From the reporter’s notebook to real life. Terrific important book; read it read it read it. The author’s sister lived in the Downtown Eastside, disappeared in 1998, and Pickton was found guilty of her murder.
  • Adrianne Harun, A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain (2014) – The story goes on and on; here, a novel drawn from women murdered and missing on Highway 16 in Northwest BC. Bizarre and intense fever dream. The basic terror of the rainforest.
  • Eden Robinson, Traplines (1996) – I read this 10 years ago, August 2005, and read it again; the basic terror of the rainforest, Northwest BC. I still don’t like the third story, ‘Contact Sports’, which was continued in Blood Sports, which I really didn’t like. The fourth story, continued in Monkey Beach, is one of the best of the province. From Kitimaat to East Vancouver and back again.
  • Eden Robinson, Monkey Beach (2000) – I read this before Traplines, in March 2005, in or on the way to or from Port Alberni. The basic terror of the rainforest. “Northern Gothic” it says on the back – a rich vein and one to explore on and on. I found a book this year titled Rainforest Macabre.
  • Alice Munro, The Moons of Jupiter (1982) – I read a book by Alice Munro every year but it was the wrong way to break the spell of the rainforest.
  • Mary Roach, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (2010) – Light, fun, sure. Post-rainforest daze. I read this after we saw The Martian at the IMAX.
  • Walter Shapiro, One-Car Caravan: The Amazing True Saga of the 2004 Democratic Race from its Humble Beginnings to the Boston Convention (2004) – A neat book, following the candidates from their initial announcements only until the first caucus in Iowa.
  • Joe Trippi, The Revolution will Not be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything (2004) – Joe Trippi ran Howard Dean’s campaign in 2004, which I followed at the time; the first real Internet campaign and the model for Bernie Sanders in basic outline. The difference is that the campaign, in Dean’s case, found the candidate, and they were never quite on the same page. Was Dean ever the candidate his legions believed he could be? The contextless ‘Dean scream’ is blamed for his downfall, split-second TV madness, but this book essentially argues that internal contradictions destined the whole enterprise to unravelling soon than later. I found this at a Book Warehouse long ago, on deep discount when they closed down the Yaletown shop.
  • Jane Rule, The Young in One Another’s Arms (1977) – A perfect little book of Old Vancouver. I read most of this while sick, up all night, up in the morning, watching the sunrise.
  • Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (1994) – I read this at Youbou at the end of the year. Some of it is so good, some of the best writing on reading I’ve ever known; other chapters have dated very badly over 22 years.
  • Peter Gzowski, The Game of our Lives (1981) – I read this over and over as a young hockey fan, nine and 10 years old, my father’s hardcover. Gretzky before he won; basic myth and national text.
  • Bruce Serafin, Colin’s Big Thing (2004) – Hooray Vancouver; a core text.
  • ed. Michael Hingston, Short Story Advent Calendar (2015) – Through the month we read a short story every day, picked and packaged by my friend Mike Hingston.

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