New Books, September 2014

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  • Tom Standage, The Neptune File: A Story of Astronomical Rivalry and the Pioneers of Planet Hunting (2000) – In 1996, Peter Worthington and I went to the district science fair with a display about the orbits of Neptune and Pluto, complete with diorama. The fair was held at Guildford Mall, in the hallways after the stores had closed for the night. The night was especially strange because we’d spent the morning with our class in a sweatlodge in North Vancouver, off Dollarton Highway, on Tslei-Waututh land.
  • Dava Sobel, The Planets (2004) – “An incantatory serenade to the solar system.”
  • Medea Benjamin, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control (2013) – I bought a t-shirt that says “Drone Not Drones” and I end up talking about drones and drone all the time.
  • Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952) – “immediately hailed as a masterpiece” and free as the fifth book at Value Village.
  • Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Roseanna (1962) – My old employer Adrian insisted I read these books in November 2013. I’d bought The Man Who Went Up In Smoke in 2010 but read – and hated – a Henning Mankell book the same year so put it aside. I conflated them in my mind, which I regret. Roseanna is the first in the series.
  • Carol Shields, Dressing Up for the Carnival (2000) – 22 little stories; an average of about 10 pages each.
  • Tom Berger, To The Wedding (1995) – “A novel that is a vortex of community and compassion that somehow overcomes fate and death. Wherever I live in the world, I know I will have this book with me” says Michael Ondaatje. Wow.
  • Eric Ambler, The Levanter (1972) – I didn’t learn about the Levant until I read Blood-Dark Track by Joseph O’Neill in 2011. Geography and history and “a complex exploration of power, responsibility, and identity in the modern high-tech world.”
  • Anna Funder, All That I Am (2011) – It wouldn’t occur to me to read this book but Stasiland was marvelous enough that I’ll probably read anything she writes. A thick, serious book that reminds me in its heft of What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt.
  • Daniel Harris, Cute, Quaint, Hungry, and Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumerism (2000) – “A psychic voyage into the aesthetic unconscious of the consumer.”
  • Chad Harbach, The Art Of Fielding (2011) – A great big American novel about baseball.
  • Patricia Highsmith, People who Knock on the Door (1983)

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  • Patricia Highsmith, The Price of Salt (1952) – Long out of print and now being filmed as Carol by Todd Haynes, the only film director I follow. “The novel of a love society forbids.”
  • Herta Muller, The Land of Green Plums (1993) – A passing mention in a Globe Books interview about this novel set in Ceausescu’s Romania just as I was finishing The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning and looking for more fiction set in Romania, and I found this the next day at Russell Books.
  • Herta Muller, The Appointment (1997) – More Romania, more Ceausescu.
  • Jacqueline Susann, Valley of the Dolls (1966) – “The All-Time Pop-Culture Classic!”
  • Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake (2003)
  • Simon Garfield, On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks (2013)
  • Catherine Gildiner, After the Falls: Coming of Age in the Sixties (2009) – To measure against many books, but notably The Girl I Left Behind, which I read through too quickly in spring 2013.
  • Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin (1998)
  • Kim Bolan, Loss of Faith: How the Air India Bombers Got Away with Murder (2005)
  • Paul Dickson, Sputnik: The Launch of the Space Race (2001)
  • Buzz Hargrove, Labour of Love: The Fight to Create a More Humane Canada (1998)
  • Rosemary Speirs, Out of the Blue: The Fall of the Tory Dynasty in Ontario (1986)
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New Books, August 2014

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  • Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things To Me (2014)
  • Eva Hoffman, Exit Into History: A Journey Through the New Eastern Europe (1993)
  • Joel Bakan, The Corporation (2004)
  • Philip Kerr, If The Dead Rise Not (2009)
  • Alissa Nutting, Tampa (2013)
  • Noah Richler, What We Talk About When We Talk About War (2012)
  • Robert Wright, Our Man in Tehran: Ken Taylor, the CIA, and the Iran Hostage Crisis (2010)
  • Dean MacCannell, The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class (1976 2nd Ed. 1999)
  • John le Carre, A Delicate Truth (2013)
  • Joseph Kanon, Istanbul Passage (2012)
  • Chuck Sudetic, Blood and Vengeance: One Family’s Story of the War in Bosnia (1998)
  • Gordon Gibson, Bull of the Woods (1980, 2nd ed. 2000)
  • Lesley Gill, The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas (2004)
  • Peter Nichols, Sea Change: Alone Across the Atlantic in a Wooden Boat (1997)
  • Nadine Gordimer, July’s People (1981)
  • Joe Wiebe, Craft Beer Revolution (2013)
  • Mark Pendergast, Inside the Outbreaks: The Elite Medical Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (2010)
  • Anna Porter, The Storyteller: Memory, Secrets, Magic, and Lies (2000)
  • Jess Walter, The Financial Lives of the Poets (2009)
  • Josh Frank and Caryn Ganz, Fool the World: The Oral History of a Band Called Pixies (2006)
  • Mary Roach, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (2010)
  • Cathy Converse, Following the Curve of Time: The Legendary M. Wylie Blanchet (2008)
  • Dominique Lapierre and Javier Moro, Five Past Midnight in Bhopal: The Epic Story of the World’s Deadliest Industrial Disaster (2002)
  • Michael Azzerad, Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana (1993)
  • Russell R. Walker, Politicians of a Pioneering Province (1969)

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  • William Fiennes, The Snow Geese: A Story of Home (2002)
  • Joseph Boyden, Through Black Spruce (2008)
  • Chris Gudgeon, The Naked Truth: The Untold Story of Sex in Canada (2003)
  • Tim Leadem, Hiking the West Coast of Vancouver Island (2005, 2nd ed 2008)
  • Noel Baker, Hard Core Roadshow: A Screenwriter’s Diary (1997)
  • Grant Lawrence, Adventures in Solitude: What Not To Wear to a Nude Potluck and Other Stories from Desolation Sound (2010)
  • Jamie Dopp and Richard Harrison, Now is the Winter: Thinking About Hockey (2009)
  • Tom Hawthorn, Deadlines: Obits of Memorable British Columbians (2012)
  • Gordon Laird, The Price of a Bargain: The Quest for Cheap and the Death of Globalization (2009)
  • Strobe Talbott, The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy (2003)
  • Jimmy Pattison with Paul Grescoe, Jimmy: An Autobiography (1987)
  • Thomas Berger, One Man’s Justice: A Life in the Law (2002)
  • Tim Jackson, Inside Intel: Andy Grove and the Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Chip Company (1997)
  • Mark Kurlansky, The Last Fish Tale: The Fate of the Atlantic and Survival in Gloucester, America’s Oldest Fishing Port and Most Original Town (2008) – Free for the taking in the apartment laundry room.
  • Trevor Corson, The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favourite Crustacean (2004) –
  • Paul Hendrickson, The Living and the Dead: Robert MacNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War (1996)
  • Charles Cross, Heavier than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain (2001)
  • Dick Cannings, JoAnne Nelson, and Sydney Cannings, Geology of British Columbia, (1999; 2nd ed 2011)
  • Douglas Hunter, The Bubble and the Bear: How Nortel Burst the Canadian Dream (2002)
  • P. W. Singer, Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century (2009)
  • Grant Lawrence, The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie (2013)
  • Ian Brown, Man Overboard: True Adventures with North American Men (1993)
  • Tony Blair, A Journey (2010)
  • Jim Carlton, Apple: The Inside Story of Intrigue, Egomania, and Business Blunders (1997)

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What I Read in Summer, 2014

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May

  • John le Carre, The Looking Glass War (1965) – “A book of rare and great power” it says on the front. A bleak novel about bureaucrats.
  • John Banville, The Untouchable (1997) – I finished this in Port Angeles. The most beautiful spy book I’ve read and the book that’s compelled me to buy five more books by John Banville. A perfect novel.
  • Sheila Nickerson, Disappearance: A Map (1996) – Terrific, spooky book about Alaska; “a meditation on death and loss in the high latitudes” by a former state poet laureate. Memoir woven with disappearances, modern and past. Found in Port Angeles and read on the trip home.
  • Page Spencer, White Silk and Black Tar (1990) – I tried to read this in March 2013 when I was reading about the ocean; I finished it in May when I was reading about Alaska. This is a memoir of a National Park Service employee who worked, with her new husband, to coordinate the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill for two months in 1989. Alternately very boring (it’s just a day-to-day relatively unedited journal!) and very raw and intense (emotional introspection!). I found this at Left Bank Books in Seattle.
  • Dan O’Neill, The Firecracker Boys (1994) – The true story of the late-1950s attempts to preserve federal funding for nuclear weapons research in the face of imminent arms-limitation treaties. The loophole was created for ‘peaceable use’ and a little piece of Alaska was chosen as a demonstration site for the use of warheads to carve out bays, canals, or simply move an inconvenient mountain. Perfectly bizarre piece of history. Excellent book.

June

  • Georgette Gagnon and Dan Rath, Not Without Cause: David Peterson’s Fall from Grace (1991) – What better way to celebrate the Ontario election than read about David Peterson’s collapse in 1990. Brutal and gory campaign stories.
  • Madeline Sonik, Afflictions and Departures (2011) – I didn’t pick this up at BC Book Day but one of our interns left it behind and I read it before any of the books that I did pick up at Book Day. Terrific short memoir.
  • John Doyle, The World is a Ball: The Joy, Madness, and Meaning of Soccer (2010) – In trying to read along with current events, I read this when the World Cup games started up. I don’t know anything about soccer and after reading this I don’t know much more, technically. But this is a wonderful and genuine book about being a sports fan.
  • Dave Zirin, Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy (2014) – The other side of being a sports fan; critical examination of what it is that we’re endorsing and supporting when cheering for a team or a country. I ordered this direct from Haymarket Books and I’m glad I did, in time for the World Cup.
  • Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap (2008) – I’m always captivated by big new novels on the Munro’s discount shelves. This one won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize but I rushed through to finish it. Fun enough but inconsequential. I read this on the ferry, back and forth to Vancouver for something I’ve completely forgotten about.
  • Hugh Brody, Maps and Dreams: Indians and the British Columbia Frontier (1981; 2nd ed. 1988) – I read this in two days at Youbou. I think it stands up, 30 years later, as we continue to develop resources (what a euphemism) in the Treaty 8 lands.
  • Arno Kopecky, The Oil Man and the Sea: Navigating the Northern Gateway (2013) – An outsized Tyee feature piece that does not justify its length. A worthwhile artifact of our current historical moment.
  • John Vaillant, The Golden Spruce (2005) – Another book that I read in a day at Youbou, which was once a little forestry town. A colleague recommended this to me as a good perspective on the history of forestry in BC. I regret not spending more time with it, but will read it again, one day, someday.

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July

  • Carol Shaben, Into the Abyss (2012) – Wonderful narrative of the plane crash that killed Grant Notley in 1984, and the subsequent life stories of the survivors; written by the daughter of another politician, Larry Shaben, who was in the plane but survived.
  • Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985) – I’ve meant to read this since I saw piles of it at the SFU bookstore for an intro CMNS course. I wondered if I might be reading it as history – what did we think then? – but I think it’s all true today. I’ve read the introduction several times before: ‘what if Huxley, not Orwell, was right?’ And the rest is just as much fun to read.
  • William Gibson, Burning Chrome (1986) – Another book I’ve meant to read for years and years but only bought and read this summer. As good as I wanted it to be.
  • Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007) – I feel as though I’ve already read discrete books about each of the case studies here but this was a fun summer read nonetheless. I bought this four years ago at PulpFiction on Main.
  • Catherine Price, 101 Places Not to See Before You Die (2011) – Dumb fun; I think I read most of this in Beacon Hill Park while watching ducks. Effectively for free from the library book sale.
  • Philip Kerr, Berlin Noir – Three novels reprinted together in one volume. I read this too fast; three novels over three days at Youbou. I didn’t want to spend more than three days in 1930s Berlin but reading this so fast was brutally immersive. I bought this new at Munro’s after giving up on finding a nice used copy, after already buying three of the sequels, which I’ll read at a slower pace. It says on the back “taut, brutal, coarse” which is true. Meaner and tighter than Alan Furst.
    • March Violets (1989)
    • The Pale Criminal (1990)
    • A German Requiem (1991)
  • Charlotte Gill, Ladykiller (2005) – Another fast hot day at the lake in Youbou; another book from the Munro’s discount shelf. I would have loved this in 2004: short stories about Vancouver.
  • Helen MacInnes, Above Suspicion (1941) – Another day at Youbou. Even faster because I remembered the major plot points from reading this in high school. I’ve remembered all the scenes and settings and it was only the interstitial scenes and, oddly, the ending that I’d forgotten. The bit on the hillside and the bit in the bookshop and the bit on the cobblestones and there’s not much more although I remembered these as highlights from a broader narrative. A small little spy book and as much as it treats Nazi Germany as a light opponent I had to remember it was written in 1941, when anyone writing this book in Britain wouldn’t have known about what was actually going on in middle Europe.
  • Jerry Thompson, Cascadia’s Fault (2011) – All about the earthquake that will kill us all one day. I’ve known it all – the broad strokes at least – since I was a child but I can never stop reading more.
  • Joseph Boyden, Three Day Road (2005) – Two days at Youbou; modern Can-Lit myth-making.

August

  • Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919 (2001) – A present from my mother in 2006 although I guess everyone read it in 2002. A really terrific history.
  • Joseph Roth, The Radetzky March (1932) – I read this in October 2009. After Paris 1919, staying inside the end of the Austo-Hungarian empire. Big sad beautiful book.
  • Joseph Roth, The Emperor’s Tomb (1938) – I read this, in some ways a sequel, first as assigned for a European history course at SFU in July 2005.

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New Books, July 2014

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William Gibson, Burning Chrome (1986) – Short stories from 1981-1985. An alternate history of Vancouver? Not who we were but who we thought we couldn’t help but end up as?

John Doyle, A Great Feast of Light: Growing Up Irish in the Television Age (2005) – “As much post-McLuhan fable as Irish memoir”

Douglas Hunter, Double Double: How Tim Horton’s Became a Canadian Way of Life, One Cup at a Time (2012) – I’ve written before about Tim Horton’s at Kandahar, a perfect little synthesis of mythmaking. What a pile of garbage it all is.

James Gleick, What Just Happened: A Chronicle from the Information Frontier (2002) – Essays from The New York Times on computers from an amazing decade, 1992-2001. US History #1

William Gibson, Count Zero (1986)

Mark Leibovich, This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral – Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! – in America’s Gilded Capital (2013) – US History #2

David Aaronovitch, Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History (2010) – US History #3

Patrick Tyler, A World of Trouble: The White House and the Middle East – from the Cold War to the War on Terror (2010) – US History #4

Annie Jacobsen, Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base (2011) – US History #5 (and a counterpart to #3)

Steve Coll, The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century (2008) – US History #6

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New books, June 2014

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Jan Wong, A Comrade Lost and Found: A Beijing Memoir (2007) – Otherwise published and available everywhere as Beijing Confidential.

Michael Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War (2008)

Julian Barnes, Levels of Life (2013)

John Banville, Kepler (1981) – “A novelist’s truth and a lover’s prose” or “narrative art at a positively symphonic level”

John Banville, Eclipse, (2000) – “Magnetic” or “bracing”

John Banville, Shroud (2002) – “Transmuting the prose of the familiar world into the poetry of revelation and renewal.”

Michael Lewis, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (2003)

John le Carre, The Little Drummer Girl (1983)

Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera, All the Devils are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis (2010)

S. Bear Bergman, The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You (2009)

Earl Andersen, Hard Place to Do Time: The Story of Oakalla Prison 1912-1991 (1993) – A prison in the middle of Burnaby. I grew up with maps that listed Oakalla prison but I could never connect the name with the Burnaby I saw from the windows of the SkyTrain.

S. R. Gage, Forgotten Places of the North (2001) – York Factory, Herschel island, and the Mid-Canada Line.

Georgette Gagnon and Dan Rath, Not Without Cause: The Fall of David Peterson (1990) – Former Premier of Ontario, 1985-1990

Virginia Woolf, The Waves (1931) – Filed with To The Lighthouse which I’ve been meaning to read since 2009.

ed. Ian Cockfield, Exact Fare Only 2: Good, Bad, and Ugly Rides on Public Transit (2003)

Carol Shields, Swann (1987)

Colin Angus and Julie Angus, Rowed Trip: from Scotland to Syria by Oar (2009)

Benjamin Black, The Silver Swan (2008) – A novel.

Elizabeth Hay, Garbo Laughs (2003) – A novel.

Taras Grescoe, The End of Elsewhere: Travels Among the Tourists (2003) – Not to travel where no one has gone before, but to where everyone goes, all the time.

Madeline Sonik, Afflictions and Departures (2010) – Essays/memoir.

Myrna Kostash, Bloodlines: A Journey into Eastern Europe (1993)

Joe Upton, The Alaska Cruise Handbook: A Mile by Mile Guide (2005) – “Oh, are you going to Alaska?” No. I just like to read about Alaska, and I like a tourist lens, and cruise ships are crazy, and I can watch them leaving for Alaska from the dock just down the street from where I live, and there’s a map included, and it’s here at Value Village.

William Johnston, Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada (2006)

Eric Schlosser, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (2013) – I’d rather have a paperback, but it was $5 at Value Village.

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New Books, May 2014

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Sheila Nickerson, Disappearance: A Map (1996) – By a poet, about Alaska. From Port Angeles.

John R. Stilgoe, Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places (1998) – A nice paperback of a book I’ve had in hardcover for maybe eight years and never read.

Thurston Clarke, The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and the 82 Days that Inspired a Nation (2008)

Laton McCartney, The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country (2008)

Kevin Patterson and Jane Warren, Outside The Wire: The War in Afghanistan in the Words of Its Participants (2007)

David E. Hoffman, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy (2009)

Thomas Frank, One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy (2000)

Nick Bilton, I Live in the Future and Here’s How it Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain are being Creatively Disrupted (2010) – Free book from Value Village. A book to save and read in 10 years – not now.

Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express (1979) – from Massachusetts to Argentina, by train.

Christine Harold, OurSpace: Resisting the Corporate Control of Culture (2007)

Daniel Francis, National Dreams: Myth, Memory, and Canadian History (1997) – I’ve been meaning to read this since 2001.

Denise Kiernan, The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women who Helped Win World War II (2013) – Another book about Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Clark R. Mollenhoff, Atanasoff: Forgotten Father of the Computer (1988) – From the Goodwill in Port Angeles.

Carl Malamud, Exploring the Internet: A Technical Travelogue (1992) – A travelogue, around the world, to visit pieces and parts of the internet. “looks at people, laboratories, and institutions that illustrate the incredible scope and diversity of the Internet.”

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From the Times Colonist book sale at the Curling Club:

Derrick O’Keefe, Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil? (2011)

Bill McKibben, The Age of Missing Information (1992) – all about TV.

Alan Haig-Brown, Hell No, We Won’t Go: Vietnam Draft Resisters in Canada (1996)

Matt Taibbi, Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History (2011)

Michael Ondaatje, The Cat’s Table (2011) – A novel.

Richard Ford, The Lay of the Land (2006) – A novel.

William S. Burrows, This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age (2008)

Frederick Exley, A Fan’s Notes (1968) – A novel, I think.

Tim O’Brien, Going After Cacciato (1978) – A novel.

Alissa Quart, Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers (2003)

David Remnick, Resurrection: The Struggle for a New Russia (1998) – A sequel to Lenin’s Tomb, which I haven’t read.

Tom Wolfe, From Bauhaus to Our House (1981)

Steve Coll, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power (2012)

Mark Lisac, The Klein Revolution (1995)

Ross Crockford, Victoria: The Unknown City (2006)

Myrna Kostash, All of Baba’s Children (1977) – The Ukrainian diaspora in Canada.

Peter C. Newman, When the Gods Changed: The Death of Liberal Canada (2012)

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More from the Times Colonist book sale.

Michael Ignatieff, Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics (2013) – A memoir.

Tom Flanagan, Winning Power: Canadian Campaigning in the 21st Century (2014) – I have but haven’t read Waiting for the Wave and do not have Harper’s Team, of which I have never seen a copy. An interesting historian of the last 25 years.

Dennis Gruending, Promises to Keep: A Political Biography of Allan Blakeney (1990) – The author served as the MP fro Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar between November 1999 and October 2000, when he lost to Carol Skelton by just 68 votes.

Frank Dabbs, Preston Manning: The Roots of Reform (1997) – Another story of Reform, a story that seems less and less determinative every year.

Walter Stewart, M.J.: The Life and Times of M.J. Coldwell (2000) – Leader of the CCF from 1942 to 1960.

Alvin Armstrong, Flora MacDonald (1976) – written as Flora MacDonald ran for leader against Joe Clark.

S. P. Lewis, Grace: The Life of Grace MacInnis (1993) – MP for Vancouver-Kingsway from 1965-1974, when Simma Holt won a single term before losing to Ian Waddell in 1979, and the only woman elected in 1968. Daughter of J.S. Woodworth.

Kim Campbell, Time and Chance: The Political Memoirs of Canada’s First Woman Prime Minister (1996)

John English, Citizen of the World: The Life of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Volume One 1919-1968 (2006)

Robin Fisher, Duff Pattullo of British Columbia (1991) – A biography of Duff Pattullo, premier from 1933-1941

Patrick Martin, Allan Gregg, George Perlin, Contenders: The Tory Quest for Power (1983) – The story of the 1983 Tory leadership convention, where Mulroney beat Joe Clark, seven years after Joe Clark beat Claude Wagner and Brian Mulroney. We take this vote for granted, because Mulroney won and went on to win it all but in 1983 that was anything but certain.

Susan Mann Trofimenkoff, Stanley Knowles: The Man from Winnipeg North-Centre (1982)

Cameron Smith, Unfinished Journey: The Lewis Family (1988)

Derek Burney, Getting It Done (2005) – Mulroney’s chief of staff and ambassador to the US between 1987 and 1993.

Robert Fife, Kim Campbell: The Making of a Politician (1993) – The Kim Campbell story- up until June 1993, when she won the Tory leadership over Jean Charest. She signed it, “To Janet – don’t believe everything you read!”

David Thomas, Knights of the New Technology: The Inside Story of Canada’s Computer Elite (1983) – “Leads you through the corridors of power and adventure of the new technology in Canada.” Lots about Northern Telecom. Lots about IBM. One reference to Cupertino, California. Five references to Marshall McLuhan but unfortunately none to Harold Innis.

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What I Read in Spring, 2014

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January

  • David Vann, Caribou Island (2011) – I finished White Teeth on January 1 and read this the next day at Youbou. A bleak and awful little novel; Alaska as the end of the world.
  • Marshall N. Klimasewiski, The Cottagers (2006) – More bleak, more awful; now set in East Sooke. South from Alaska but just as cruel a landscape, and a remarkable setting for a writer based in Missouri. Not as effective as Caribou Island but notable for holding my interest despite resting almost entirely on dramatic irony – my least favourite literary device. I felt awful reading this, and that’s what I love in a novel, what I want in a novel – “the axe for the frozen sea.”
  • Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff (1979) – I nearly threw The Cottagers across the room and I nearly did the same with this “breathtaking epic.” I can’t stomach the description of “true heroism and courage of the first Americans to conquer space.” The problem is in the language – “heroism” and “courage” and “Americans” and “conquer;” I reject the heroism and the courage because these terms rely on context. I can imagine the courage to speak truth to power, to make a meaningful difference for justice in the course of human history – but not the ‘courage’ to indulge romanticized/fetishized garbage about military supremacy for the sake of sabre-rattling on the public dime in an unequal nation – which speaks to the clarity of Americans, Conquering, rather than Humans, Learning. BUT, that said: I still had to get past all the men being men all over this book and then I could read it as a really entertaining and wonderful history of a really bizarre time. Just 50 years ago, and amazing for that.
  • Mitchell Waldrop, The Dream Machine: J. C. R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal (2001) – I ducked downtown for an errand during the 2012 Victoria by-election and ducked again into the Russell’s technology section and found this heavy book – “not a casual read” as it says on the inside cover. An intellectual history of computing and its transformation from ponderous mainframe to personal and networked. The most exciting computer history I’ve read, for its breadth and rigour.
  • Andrew Blum, Tubes: A Journey to the Centre of the Internet (2012) – In comparison this was lacking – about half the length of The Dream Machine but a fifth of the heft. This could be a series of magazine features and not suffer but the story is still neat: what are the physical pieces of the internet that make it all work? Where are the joints, the joins, the splints, the rack and racks of cables and boxes that make up the physical infrastructure? But beyond how neat all that is, there’s not a lot to this book.

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February

  • Tom Standage, The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-line Pioneers (1998) – This was better! As much about how we managed to deal with the telegraph and learned how to use it as humans as how we actually learned how to build the thing in the first place. A fun and wonderful social history.
  • Hal Niedsviecki, Hello, I’m Special: How Individualism Became the New Conformity (2004) – This book is not good. Credit to Hal – this came out in the same year as The Rebel Sell so he may not have been able to read that first but surely an editor could have pushed him to read what those guys were reading (like something or anything by Thomas Frank to start, then further back, further back) and told him to spend a few more years thinking about capitalism and the forces at work behind his strange stunted construction of ‘individuality vs conformity.’ He’s putting together neat anecdotes without any framework and it’s simply inconsequential.
  • Renee Sarojini Saklikar, Children of Air India: Un/Authorized Exhibits and Interjections (2013) – My friend wrote this, over the years since we wrote NaNoWriMo together in 2008 and 2009, and I have been lucky enough to see her read from it twice. Last month it was named “best full-length English-language book of poems for adults by a Canadian writer” by the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry which means Poet of the Year. “Individual loss, situated within public trauma” – yes, the location of a story and a history within the structures we allot: the Queen of Oak Bay, the Legislative Library, an inquiry, a coroner’s report. The most important and wonderful way to tell history; arguably the only honest way to tell or to read history and to understand what has actually happened. I read this in Youbou, on Cowichan Lake, in the woods, outside Duncan, just west of the village Paldi.
  • Frederick Forsyth, The Day of the Jackal (1971) – The spy story as puzzle; as flow-chart. 400 exacting pages that I ended up enjoying more than I thought I might through the long drudge.
  • Len Deighton, The Ipcress File (1962) – As I leaf through this now, five months later, I can’t remember a thing about it. Maybe I never did understand what was happening over the week (two weeks?) that I spent reading, slowly, strangely. What a weird book.
  • Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books you Haven’t Read (2007) – The funniest and happiest book I’ve read in years – or ever? The ways of Not Reading (skimming, forgetting, hearing about a book, simply not knowing about a book); how to deal with Literary Confrontations (at a party, with a professor, with a lover, with the writer); and how to Behave. All about what books mean, and don’t mean.

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March

  • Jonathon Gatehouse, The Instigator: How Gary Bettman Remade the League and Changed the Game Forever (2012) – Rather than a story about Gary Bettman, a story about the big business of hockey using Gary Bettman as a frame. In freeing the business of hockey from the nationalism/nostalgia trap, has Bettman allowed that same trap to flourish in such a way that it’s as inescapable as ever? By draining the business end of sentiment, or ‘remaking the league’ I don’t know that the game has been changed, or if the marketing has merely revved up to compensate for the absent fluff in the front office. The most astute observation is that Bettman has made fans see the game as a business first. The salary cap makes a player’s salary and contract terms as interesting to a fan as the scoresheet. Is this the ownership society marching on – every fan’s an armchair labour arbitration officer? – or have we just turned labour economics into another game?
  • Ken Dryden, The Game (1980) – Next to The Instigator, this is the least sentimental book about hockey I’ve read. Or the most but the truest, for questioning and challenging the sentiment it admits. “The best hockey book ever written” it says, which is probably true.
  • Christina McCall Newman, Grits: An Intimate Portrait of the Liberal Party (1982) – From Canadian hockey in the ‘70s to Canadian politics in the ‘70s. Or: from one dynasty to another, Canadiens to Liberals.
  • Michael Azzerad, Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991 (2008) – From the business of a nation treated as summer camp to the stories of a bunch of rock bands treated as the business of a nation. The bands profiled tend to have a healthy sense of their place in the grander scheme but the author sees them on a higher plane. I remember seeing bands that way too, and I’m glad I read this book now, not then. Exhaustive, yes, and for that I am grateful and I enjoyed the book, but the hagiography over 500 pages is difficult.
  • Ethan de Seife, This Is Spinal Tap (2007) – I was a teenage Spinal Tap fan. In fact, I was a Spinal Tap fan before I’d ever listened to any rock music louder/goofier/heavier than Dire Straits. Spinal Tap was less of a lampoon than a fantasy on its own.

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April

  • Naomi Oreskes and Erik M Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2008) – The subtitle tells the story: doubt as an official product has been generated by some of the same scientists over the years. It’s all true! Decision-based evidence making.
  • Mike Doughty, The Book of Drugs (2011) – I was also a teenage Soul Coughing fan.
  • Ellen Ruppel Shell, Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture (2007)
  • Leslie T. Chang, Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China (2010) – Wonderful story of industrialization in China told through the people living through it all. Sensitive and not sensational; excellent and empathetic journalism.

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