By Amy Reiswig, March 2014
Grant Hayter-Menzies’ biographies of women give readers a glimpse into fascinating lives.
Authentic cultural creation—to paraphrase Albert Camus—is a gift to the future. And so is cultural preservation. In Shadow Woman: The Extraordinary Career of Pauline Benton (McGill Queens, October 2013) Victoria biographer and historian Grant Hayter-Menzies pulls back the curtain on an exceptional artist practising, preserving and promoting an exceptional and threatened art. As a result, we are reminded that individual commitment remains the key to our cultural wealth.
By Amy Reiswig, February 2014
By Amy Reiswig, November 2013
Thelma Fayle has written an ode to Canada’s father of photojournalism,Ted Grant.
By Amy Reiswig, October 2013
Katherine Palmer Gordon’s latest book celebrates the stories, strength, and diversity of BC’s First Nations people.
One way to combat prejudice is to get personal. And one way to get personal—to find out what someone thinks and feels, what they’ve been through, what they hope and work for—is to simply ask them. That’s exactly what author Katherine Palmer Gordon does in her latest book We Are Born with the Songs Inside Us: Lives and Stories of First Nations People in British Columbia (Harbour, September 2013), and it’s a testament to the power of simple conversation.
By Amy Reiswig, September 2013
The journey to—and through—teenage alcoholism and racism is the focus of Monique Gray Smith’s new novel.
There is great power in gentleness. It can disrupt expectations and disarm with its humility, genuineness and generosity, and it therefore has the power to build strong bridges across the deepest waters.
Such is the approach in the new book Tilly: A Story of Hope and Resilience (SonoNis, July 2013) by writer, consultant and motivational speaker Monique Gray Smith. A woman of Scottish, Cree and Lakota heritage, Gray Smith offers a fictionalized yet still highly personal version of her own life’s journey. She guides us with grace across the turbulent water of alcohol addiction and the deep underlying currents of racism and Canada’s colonial history to solid ground of understanding.
By Amy Reiswig, July/August 2013
Friday night poetry gatherings have birthed a book reflecting life in the whole.
As backyard sun filters through amber liquid crowned by green leaves of mint, I think: poetry is a lot like making tea. Words, like herbs and flowers, are gathered carefully, thoughtfully, into compact packets and dropped into the often bland water of our daily lives, infusing minds and moments with new ideas, imaginings, observations, meditations, passions and perspectives. Depending on what we’re in the mood for, we can choose from a variety of forms and flavours—sip on an elegy, lyric, prose poem, sonnet or sestina; savour something on love, death, family, nature or art itself. And if Victoria’s Planet Earth Poetry reading series is anything to go by, poetry is also a good thing to gather over with friends.
By Amy Reiswig, June 2013
Growing food locally is a political act of community preservation.
Summer is a-comin’ and those not worshipping the sun at the beach might be found, as Victoria poet and food writer Rhona McAdam says, on their knees in their yards, doing their part to earn Victoria its reputation as the City of Gardens. But what kinds of gardens? Consider the aggregate acres of lawns, hedges and ornamental flowers; then consider that Vancouver Island only grows about five percent of its own food. Something has grown terribly wrong.
“But what can I do?” It’s a thought said often to one another and to ourselves in the face of Big Concerns demanding attention. Climate change, pollution, poverty and human rights, to name just a few, compete with issues like food security for the limited emotional energy and time we have for learning how to make a difference, whether in the wider world or our own communities.
By Amy Reiswig, May 2013
Long-slumbering memories are awakened and explored in George Szanto’s new book.
Gabriola Island writer George Szanto opens his new memoir with a quote from Thoreau’s Walden: “Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps.”
This epigraph stands as a good introduction not just to the book’s nature-writing aspect or to the bog Szanto lives and writes beside. It also introduces one of the fundamental elements of Bog Tender: Coming Home to Nature and Memory (Brindle & Glass, March 2013): attending respectfully to what many find unremarkable or even slightly fearful. Like a bog.
By Amy Reiswig, April 2013
A new book tells the story of how the public is denied information about the public’s business.
When a journalist sought two-months’ worth of records around the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s handling of the listeriosis outbreak in 2008, he was told the Agency would take a time extension of 555 days to complete the request. Unfortunately, as a recent book edited by UVic assistant professor of sociology Kevin Walby makes clear, such end-runs around Canada’s information access laws are far from unusual.
By Amy Reiswig, March 2013
The WordsThaw symposium brings writers together to discuss how writing and social consciousness coalesce.
An upcoming symposium reminds us that when it comes to the question of how we keep our communities—our families, our markets, even our minds—healthy and vibrant, the wealth we most need to tap into is each other.
Malahat Review editor and poet John Barton describes the March 23 “WordsThaw” event as “an intellectual icebreaker at the cusp of spring where readers and writers come together to exchange and encounter new ideas. Quite simply, words thaw and the writing we love comes to life.” Focus and the Victoria Writers Festival are helping sponsor the event. With three panels plus an evening of readings, the symposium serves up a full day of brain food and an opportunity to engage with local authors talking big topics.
By Amy Reiswig, February 2013
Susan Musgrave’s new novel illustrates our potential for endurance.
I started reading Susan Musgrave’s new novel Given on the day newspapers announced the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The book’s opening epigraph of “We lose our children not once, but over and over again” (Neil Gordon, The Company We Keep) was, on that day, particular indication that I was in for a heart-squeeze of a read.
Centred around a trio of women, one living and two dead, who met in prison after being convicted of killing their children, Musgrave’s book would be a punch in the gut no matter what was in the news. But the book’s dealing with so much love, loss and grief means it’s open, and benefits from being open, to the importation of each reader’s own emotional experience—threads we pull through the fiction like guide ropes in a dark forest.
By Amy Reiswig, January 2013
The Garry oak meadows of southern Vancouver Island were shaped by more than nature.
Typically, January is a time for contemplating little life changes, when the expression “turn over a new leaf” is heard. While the saying refers to pages of a book—perhaps a blank page to write a new story, a new chapter for oneself—it might equally refer to the fallen leaf of a tree you’ve seen a thousand times but never taken the time to really notice, a leaf you turn over in your hand to experience fully and freshly for the first time.
Both of these meanings are apt for writer and ecosystem restorationist Maleea Acker’s new book Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star Books, November 2012). In it she changes tack from a writer of poetry to non-fiction and explores a familiar and iconic local landscape that deserves a renewed look.
By Amy Reiswig, December 2012
Reality and imagination collide in Lorna Crozier’s latest book.
Dictionary: object of such adoration that a woman wraps her legs around it wishing she could say “My son, the dictionary.” Maintainer of comforting, “unbudgeable order,” it makes you younger, like a kid again, yet can also help one on to death like “the double-volumed Oxford that suicidal lexicographers rope around their waists before they walk into the ocean.”
By Amy Reiswig, November 2012
Poet and self-identified gay writer John Barton.
The very first line—“I’ve let you in.”— in John Barton’s new collection welcomes us into a poetic and personal world about broken boundaries, where the poet is vulnerable yet generous, blunt yet welcoming, and where he encourages us to see into ourselves while simultaneously taking us out of ourselves.
By Amy Reiswig, October 2012
In the Nuu-chah-nulth world view, life’s major purpose is the development of harmonious relationships between and among all lifeforms.
To make. Seemingly such a simple verb, it encompasses everything from the smallest humble action to the greatest work of genius. It is also the most literal meaning, I am told, of Umeek, the Nuu-chah-nulth name of hereditary chief, UVic associate adjunct professor and author E. Richard Atleo. “It is one of those words always lost in translation,” he explains by phone from Winnipeg, adding, “In our culture it is a chief’s name, so it means ‘chief’s work,’ which is to provide for his community.”
By Amy Reiswig, September 2012
How Canada’s cruel polices around immigrant Chinese workers affected one family.
Since 1885, Canada, and particularly British Columbia, has been faced with the problem of Oriental immigration.” So declared the Encyclopaedia of Canada, originally published in the mid-1930s and now cited in Victoria writer May Q. Wong’s family memoir A Cowherd in Paradise (Brindle & Glass, April 2012). Wong is the Montreal-born daughter of Chinese immigrants who were victims of Canada’s discriminatory head tax and restrictive immigration policies. In a work of diligent research, Wong reveals those policies to be the real “problem of Oriental immigration,” one that often tore families apart.
By Amy Reiswig, July/August 2012
Gregory Marchand has been searching for the meaning of his near-death—and recovery—for 14 years. Now, the book.
Former Focus writer Gregory Marchand admits it’s a little strange being on the other side of the notebook, as the interviewee for his first book Open Heart Runner: searching for meaning after my heart stopped (Agio Publishing House, May 2012). But over the last 14 years, Marchand’s life—and near death—has come to rest quite comfortably on reversals.
Victorians might remember the story of the 40-year-old Marchand who collapsed in cardiac arrest at the finish line of an eight-kilometre road race on January 11, 1998, and lay without a pulse for 20 minutes. Fellow runners took shifts performing CPR, trying to give him every chance to survive when there seemed no hope he would. But he did. That was reversal number one: essentially coming back from the dead.
By amy Reiswig, May 2012
The downside of medical screening tests is examined in Alan Cassels’ latest book.
You want to save your life, right? And if someone—particularly someone in our much-esteemed medical field—told you that you could do so simply by taking a test, well hallelujah for modern medicine! Or maybe not. While he’s not promising to save your life, as Alan Cassels notes in his latest book Seeking Sickness: Medical Screening and the Misguided Hunt for Disease (Greystone, April 2012), asking questions about screening tests, rather than blindly having them, can be a much healthier path.
By Amy Reiswig, April 2012
Yasuko Thanh writes stories about normal people in extreme situations.
"I KNOW HOW TO MAKE a poultice from the powdered marrow of tiger bones or the roughest part of a bear paw, how to pound it smooth until the sinews are supple.” These Vietnamese healer-woman’s words remarkably represent the powers and process executed by good writers: making potent compounds from unexpected elements. In that regard, it stands as an apt artist’s statement for the person who put them to paper: Victoria writer Yasuko Thanh.
By Amy Reiswig, March 2012
John Shields’ journey from priest to union leader to spiritual seeker.
How do you approach mystery? Do you suspend disbelief and assert with Hamlet that “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”? Or is your instinct to look behind the curtain—seek out the facts, test and prove? The seeming divide between faith and science has been the subject of debate for centuries, and their dynamic tension has led to rich exploration in many disciplines. In The Priest Who Left his Religion: In Pursuit of Cosmic Spirituality (Influence Publishing, Sept. 2011), Victoria’s John Shields—a former Catholic priest turned social worker and union activist—shares his own exploration and conclusions around “the potential of reuniting science and spirit into a unified way of knowing.”
By Amy Reiswig, March 2012
We begin our series on the everyday jobs that hold our community together.
When you think about the people who hold our community together through the work they do, where better to start than with those behind the wheel at BC Transit. Bus drivers ferry thousands of us—on average over 90,000 per weekday—to and fro on our daily adventures, be it for work, play, family events, medical appointments, job interviews, you name it. Whether going up the peninsula, through the heart of downtown or braving the crawl to the western communities, bus drivers are the pilots we trust, perhaps unconsciously, to get us to where we need to go safely, on schedule and with a smile. Given the ever-changing obstacle course that is their asphalt workplace, this sounds a lot easier than it really is.
By Amy Reiswig, February 2012
Coastal first peoples lived a life rich in technology, trade and ritual.
For cultures lacking the promise (or threat) of Valentine’s Day to keep hearts fluttering, February can have quite different connotations. To the Northern and Central Whaling People, for instance, this month is either ?Axhami?, bad weather, or ?Ita·mi?, false spawning, and to the Southern Whaling People it is the more specifically inauspicious Pa·kwischis saba?—canoe drifting up sideways. This is just one of the many eye- and mind-opening lessons in coastal First Nations life presented in the Royal BC Museum’s latest publication, The Whaling People of the West Coast of Vancouver Island and Cape Flattery (November 2011).
By Amy Reiswig, January 2012
Phyllis Serota often tells stories in her paintings. Now she tells the stories behind the paintings.
In chilly midwinter, golden monarch butterflies approach and even settle on Victoria artist Phyllis Serota’s father. This frozen imaginary moment lives in a large canvas in Serota’s sitting room and tells a very private story of reconciliation and forgiveness—a long-sought breakthrough regarding the man who, years ago, beat his daughter so regularly that the family joked about Daddy breaking her glasses every Tuesday night.
By Amy Reiswig, December 2011
In his new book, Daniel Griffin offers up disturbing and fascinating stories about impulse and control.
At the end of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, with one ear still ringing from setting off fireworks of dubious quality, Victoria writer Daniel Griffin somewhat magically appears, conjured out of the ether from India via the grainy screen of Skype. As I laugh nervously over the foreignness of a headset with volume I can’t manage to adjust—it’s my first time—the relaxed and expressive Griffin is patient and mercifully unmocking. Compassion, I learned even before asking him a question, is a big part of his anchoring stance in the world.
By Amy Reiswig, November 2011
First Nations writer Janet Rogers doesn’t mean to be confrontational—just honest.
Amid tables of cables, cords and screens at Victoria’s MediaNet office, multitalented Janet Rogers works on a radio commission for Toronto’s imagineNATIVE film and media arts festival, pulling together sound clips of music and poetry into a nine-minute piece. As she plays it for me, I realize again—as I did reading her latest book, Unearthed (Leaf Press, Sept 2011)—that Rogers is an artist of dynamic, enterprising vision who revels in the creation of meaning and structure where others might see mess.
By Amy Reiswig, October 2011
In her latest novel, Man Booker Prize finalist Esi Edugyan explores the world of jazz musicians during the rise of Nazism.
"Sightseeing ain’t but a waste of time ’less you know what you looking at.” So says Chip Jones, one of the main characters in Victoria novelist Esi Edugyan’s latest work, Half-Blood Blues (Thomas Allen, September 2011). Reading a novel is, in fact, a lot like being taken on a sightseeing tour: you settle in and put yourself in the hands of a guide you trust to lead you through an often foreign world. You therefore want that guide to be not just knowledgeable but a true animator—someone who with words can restore ruins, clothe ghosts with flesh and voice, and make that foreign world relevant and alive to every visitor. Edugyan is such a guide.
By Amy Reiswig, September 2011
Writer Gary Geddes’ most recent (of 40) books takes us to the heart of both justice and Africa.
A sunlit, partially glassed-in porch buzzed by rival hummingbirds looks out over the rising tide of Canoe Pass, what many call The Cut, between Thetis and Penelakut Islands. Here, political and humanist writer Gary Geddes shares stories of brutal atrocity as he discusses his most recent work Drink the Bitter Root: A Writer’s Search for Justice and Redemption in Africa (Douglas & McIntyre, September 2011). Geddes looks relaxed and peaceful against the greenery of the yard—this Thetis Island resting place he has come to after travel, in body and words, through five countries of conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. But his book reveals searing stories he will ever carry with him, even in this small slice of paradise he now calls home.
By Amy Reiswig, July 2011
Climate scientist Andrew Weaver’s new book is an appeal, partly on ethical and moral grounds, to young people.
Summer has finally returned to Victoria, and as people run to the sun they should stop and think, not just about the weather but about our overall changing climate. Or so says one Victorian who more than most knows what a changing climate means for the future, locally and around the world.
By Amy Reiswig, June 2011
Jack Hodgins’ latest novel explores ageing and how it’s never too late to take new risks.
We have all been taught not to judge a book by its cover. But in the case of Jack Hodgins’ The Master of Happy Endings, it is actually an apt introduction to one of the book’s major ideas. For the jacket presents you with the title, in bold yellow on red, and then together in their own black circle “Jack Hodgins A Novel,” as if the author is the real read here. This strange arrangement reminds us that the real story, the true epic, is on the inside of each one of us.
By Amy Reiswig, May 2011
Rosemary Neering’s latest book proves that even—or especially—in BC, life is pretty damned funny.
Think you know BC history? Are you up on the $5 million-a-year opium trade of the 1880s, complete with processing factory located behind today’s Victoria City Hall? Or how about how Richmond’s Lulu Island got its name, or that rogue camels once roamed Cadboro Bay, or that Russian anarchists ran a counterfeiting operation on Nootka Island?
By Amy Reiswig, April 2011
Michael Elcock on the hiding and finding of old things, the concealing and revealing of information.
Installed by the fireplace with a cup of tea, a tortoiseshell cat in my lap and the meandering magic of Philip Glass filling the room, I can’t imagine how Michael Elcock gets any of his many branches of work done.
Elcock, who grew up in both Scotland and West Africa, is a man of curiosity and action. With degrees in history and education, he has been Athletic Director at UVic (he describes cutting jogging trails with a machete back in the ’70s), taught mountain survival in the Scottish Highlands, headed Tourism Victoria, lived with his wife and daughter in Andalusia to work on Spain’s Expo ’92, travelled and published widely.
By Amy Reiswig, March 2011
Book writers and sellers discuss the self-publishing trend.
With ads promising to “Print Your Book in 2 Days” and websites pointing to Mark Twain as a successful self-publisher, many writers are turning to self-publishing as a vehicle for both self-expression and potential income. Even more encouragement arrived recently with CBC’s Canada Reads Contest: Terry Fallis’ book Best Laid Plans won. Originally self-published, it also won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour, before it was picked up by McLelland & Stewart.
Both Twain and now Fallis are good examples of the bootstrapping nature of self-publishing culture. Successful self-published authors—those who make some money from their books—tend to be entrepreneurial spirits. They are wily, tough, and maybe a little iconoclastic.
By Amy Reiswig, February 2011
Stephen Hume’s new book offers reflections on why we love this place.
Ah, February, when the minds of marketers turn to love. Often branded “V-month,” February can suffocate with its consumer focus—on candy, cards, roses, etc. But if you’re looking for something truly from the heart to nourish the heart, Stephen Hume’s recent collection of essays, A Walk With the Rainy Sisters: In Praise of British Columbia’s Places (Harbour Publishing, September 2010), offers one man’s deep, diverse and, ultimately, infectious love: of BC’s nature and people as well as a great and simple love of life itself.
By Amy Reiswig, January 2011
The civilizing influence of children on a gold rush.
As the year turns over and many of us look forward to keeping (or breaking) resolutions, I look eagerly forward to the new crop of books from Victoria’s writing community—as strong and vibrant as arbutus in winter. What better way to inaugurate the new literary year than talking to Victoria’s currently-crowned Butler Book Prize winner, Frances Backhouse?
by Sara Cassidy, January 2011
Fiction from here
My last running group was a disaster, but my girlfriend says I benefited from it, we benefited from it. So she’s forced me to sign up for another one. Running calmed me, she says. I’ll admit it mellowed me. I liked running under the wide leaves of the city parks, past happy couples with their dogs, the shangri-la amnesia of it. I even liked being sore the next day, actually feeling the red meat of my muscles somewhere inside my mass of blubber and gristle.
The meeting places were cool: “the stone bridge” in Beacon Hill Park or “the Terry Fox statue at Mile Zero.” It was like James Bond. We’d all materialize in place, our watches beeping the top of the hour.
By Amy Reiswig, December 2010
A new anthology offers an artful and therapeutic response to violence against women.
For many of us, December is a month of good cheer, a time for looking forward to celebration with friends and family. For others, however, it is a grim time of thinking back—to the suffering of friends and family and of how such suffering can be prevented in the future.
December 6 is National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in memory of the 14 women murdered at Montreal’s École Polytechnique in 1989. December also marks the anniversary of BC predator Robert Pickton’s life sentence. Being from Montreal, I will never forget media images of the Polytechnique dead just as I can now never forget the details of Pickton’s crimes and the sad fact of his even greater number of victims—all killed simply for being women.
by Amy Reiswig, November 2010
John Gould’s new novel blends humour and tragedy as it wrestles with some Big Questions.
We all want to cure disease. We want to cure disease so that people can live—our friends, family, even ourselves. But more people living longer means more consumption of resources, means more stress on the planet. So is curing disease really as good as it sounds?
This is the kind of tough question Victoria writer John Gould doesn’t shy away from in his new novel Seven Good Reasons Not to be Good (HarperCollins, August 2010). With a background in philosophy and environmental studies, Gould is well-girded for battle with existential issues, and it turns out that some of his most useful tools are things like irony, deflation and laughter. At once heady and humorous, this is a book contemplating what it is to be alive.
by Amy Reiswig, October 2010
Set in Bangladesh and Salt Spring Island, a debut novel takes us on a trip through world events and the psyche.
Walking the winding, autumn-spiderwebbed path to Peggy Herring’s front entrance, one passes a strange wooden door in the middle of the rocky garden. A hedonistic—and, in this residential neighbourhood, slightly scandalous—outdoor shower? “No,” says the resident. “My nine-year-old son asked if we could hang a door there. So I did,” she laughs, flashing the open and playful mind that makes this mother, traveller and writer a master craftsperson of unexpected doors.
by amy reiswig, september 2010
Dan Savard brings a detective’s passion to the treasure-chest of photos of early First Nations peoples.
Tucked away behind the lab coat and eyewash station, a blue-eyed detective sits at a desk belonging to TV gumshoes of old. Dim gooseneck lamps, industrial metal shelving and horizontal blinds closed over small windows—this is where some of the real sleuthing happens at the Royal BC Museum.
by Amy Reiswig, August 2010
Carolyn Herriot believes it’s best done in your own backyard.
From the parable of the mustard seed to salad days, gardening is a time-honoured source of symbols and stories. The issue of reaping what we sow, in both the literal and symbolic senses, underlies Carolyn Herriot’s new book on self-sufficient gardening. Alluding to the popular 100-mile diet concept, The Zero-Mile Diet: A Year-Round Guide to Growing Organic Food (Harbour Publishing, May 2010) provides month-by-month advice on bringing our food footprint even closer to home and examines what that means for us as a society.
By Amy Reiswig. Photo by Rob Skelly. July 2010
Melanie Siebert’s new book navigates the idea of place, both wild and urban.
Carrying a book in a Ziploc bag is a sure sign that you are very used to getting wet. It is also a sign of wanting to protect what is important to you. It’s appropriate, then, that writer and former river guide Melanie Siebert has brought her new book of poems, Deepwater Vee, so bagged, since the collection is all about honouring and protecting what she loves.