By Amy Reiswig, September 2016
Kathy Page’s new collection of short stories explores the transformative power of one-to-one encounters.
IN THE GLOBAL VILLAGE, our world has grown so big. Our care and concern is called on by people from around the planet, and we are mentally and emotionally stretched in endless different directions. Locally, too, as Focus showcases, there’s no shortage of capital “B” Big issues to be aware of and involved in. Being engaged is one of the great parts of living in a vibrant community like Victoria, but it’s sometimes easy to lose one’s boundaries and bearings amid the tide of so much outward pull.
By Amy Reiswig, July 2016
James Hoggan’s new book makes us look at our own communication practices, including our critical thinking, compassion and integrity.
WHEN I WAS YOUNG, trolls were merely fearsome fictions hidden beneath bridges. Today they lurk under virtually every online news story, find their way into Twitter feeds and Facebook conversations, heaving insulting and ignorant comments, even rape and death threats into people’s personal space. They are no longer hiding, and the narrative world they inhabit is not safely contained by the covers of a book but is the story of our own daily lives.
By Amy Reiswig, May 2016
Andrew Nikiforuk writes about one woman’s battle to protect her water from fracking and our lives from corporate lies.
NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE on this planet, society needs a few key things in order to work. Water is one. Trust is another. When both become corrupted—actually going up in flames—for industrial profit, one has to wonder where we’re headed, not just environmentally, but morally.
By Amy Reiswig, March 1, 2016
Set in a US community in conflict over civil rights and the Viet Nam war, Tricia Dower’s novel explores the essential fight for self-expression.
IN SOME WAYS, being authentically oneself should be the easiest thing in the world. But as most of us know, it’s rarely that simple. Whether dealing with peer and parental pressure, cultural expectations, shifting social values or traumatic events that can strike hard at a sense of justice, safety and even self-worth, we all navigate our little ships through treacherous waters that threaten to swamp us. How can we keep our courses true, our captain’s hats on tight?
By Amy Reiswig, February 2016
The Climate Nexus calls for a transformative discussion on adapting our life-support systems to climate change.
MOST PEOPLE I KNOW would never say “I support ocean acidification” or “I support soil degradation” or “I support drought and food price increases.” Many of us pledge to fight these and other effects of carbon emissions—as if we can, like Superman, step out on the tracks and stop the runaway train. Yet often, through our actions, we unknowingly support the very things we say we stand against.
By Amy Reiswig, January 2016
Guy Dauncey’s new novel envisions an urban ecotopia.
The new 2016 calendar seems a good time for a story of possibility. And, following the Paris climate conference, for a tale of not just personal but planetary possibility. In his novel Journey to the Future: A Better World is Possible, launching this month, BC Sustainable Energy Association founder and award-winning author Guy Dauncey doesn’t just talk about ways to fight climate change; he shows us a vision of what our lives could look like if we work together to make change happen.
By Amy Reiswig, December 2015
45 Years of Fooling Around with A. Banana: a book and an exhibit.
The recent federal election refocused our attention on the mighty concept of democracy. At its root, the word doesn’t just mean rule by the people but also strength or power of the people. While we often associate that power with politics, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s new book Anna Banana: 45 Years of Fooling Around with A. Banana shows us the surprising and mighty effects of the democratic principle at play in art.
By Amy Reiswig, November 2015
Arleen Paré explores tiny but sometimes momentous moments of intersection, where we connect unexpectedly.
Questions can be a strange weight. From early insistent childhood, we ask in wonderment: Why? How? As we get older and are initiated into life’s more painful realities—like loss, loneliness, injustice—those simple questions become more heavily freighted, as frustration and even anger mix in with our lingering awe at the world. In her new collection He Leaves His Face in the Funeral Car (Caitlin Press), Governor General Award winner Arleen Paré shows us how seemingly small packets of poetry, with language that is at once filament flexible and titanium tough, can receive and help carry the weight of those questions.
By Amy Reiswig, October 2015
Briony Penn’s new biography of beloved BC conservation hero Ian McTaggart Cowan.
A friendly, knowledgeable voice, perhaps somewhat mysterious, encourages you to explore deep secrets in hidden places. For a child, it’s the stuff of dreams and adventure—an invitation to Wonderland. Such was the young Briony Penn’s first meeting, in words, with BC biologist-naturalist Ian McTaggart Cowan (1910-2010) who, in his influential 1956 handbook The Mammals of British Columbia, invited us to join him in “unraveling the innermost secrets of the lives of mammals.”
By Amy Reiswig, September 2015
From Madrona Farm in the Blenkinsop Valley, a new book by Nathalie Chambers, Robin Alys Roberts and Sophie Wooding explores a global vision rooted in the earth.
IN A 20-MINUTE bike ride—the same time it takes to walk to three chain grocery stores—the Lochside Trail delivers me into the bucolic Blenkinsop Valley and to the humble little farmstand fronting the community-building powerhouse that is Madrona Farm. The stand is piled with just-picked produce. Stacks of carrots, like heaps of orange treasure, are deliciously new and sweet, even still a little dirty. But as Madrona farmer Nathalie Chambers will tell you, that dirt is the real gold.
By Amy Reiswig, July/August 2015
Two books expand the conversation on how, together, indigenous and settler people can create a new story.
When summer thoughts turn to books for the beach, cottage or exotic destinations, most readers don’t instinctively reach for academic authors. But like any other genre of good writing, scholarly texts take you places you wouldn’t otherwise go.
By Amy Reiswig, June 2015
A visual and literary homage to Tod Inlet, its history, nature, and people.
Here in the capital region we hear a lot about land value. Whether it’s changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve, provincial government surplus asset sales, or residential real estate, the conversation often revolves around what land is worth—dollars paid, dollars made. But as Brentwood Bay artist Gwen Curry shows in her new book about the natural and cultural history of Tod Inlet, some of our land’s greatest value lies precisely in qualities that cannot be measured or monetized.
By Amy Reiswig, May 2015
The complexities of our relations with other animals are explored in a new anthology.
The recent Oak Bay deer cull, as Focus readers will know, provoked intense and conflicting reactions—reactions from both head and heart. In the recent anthology In the Company of Animals (Nimbus, September 2014), editor Pam Chamberlain writes in her introduction about the distinction between feeling and thinking about animals, and the need to do both. She decided to bring together 37 voices from across Canada, including 6 Vancouver Islanders, to recount remarkable animal encounters from various perspectives—environmentalist, hunter, farmer, artist, veterinarian, game warden and more.
By Amy Reiswig, April 2015
Through statistics and personal stories, Andrew MacLeod delves into the realities and costs of poverty in BC.
By Amy Reiwig, March 2015
Jordan Stratford’s feminist adventure story helps girls reboot their own reality.
I first met Salt Spring Island writer Jordan Stratford in 2011, when he organized the Victoria Steampunk Expo at Craigdarroch Castle. Nestled in the musician’s alcove, my brother and I were doing a theremin demo, awed at how Stratford, in his be-goggled top hat and mechanized wrist bracer, had wrangled a motley group of vendors, artists, performers and costumed patrons into this wondrous creation of a new-old, retro-futuristic world within the castle walls.
By Amy Reiswig, February 2015
In her most recent book, Sylvia Olsen tells stories of knitting relationships as well as wool.
February finds many of us curled up in a cosy sweater with a good story. For writer and longtime knitter Sylvia Olsen, one isn’t so different from the other. In her latest work, Knitting Stories (Sono Nis, November 2014), the award-winning historian and expert on the famous Cowichan sweater shows how knitting is about much more than techniques and materials. In a series of personal essays, Olsen takes us through her own 45-year journey in woolworking to reveal how an ancient art provides opportunities to learn, listen and, in its own humble way, shape relationships between individuals and cultures.
By Amy Reiswig, January 2015
Ian McAllister’s latest book immerses readers in the magic of the Great Bear Rainforest, as well as the threats to its health.
As rain drives sideways against my bedroom window, I burrow deeper under the covers and think somewhat enviously of the bruins cozily hibernating in their eponymous Great Bear Rainforest. And I think, not enviously but with awe, of conservationists like Ian McAllister who, while the bears snooze through the cold, is heading out for another weeks-long research and diving trip to explore the rough, winter-clear waters of the north-central BC coast. If just for that, he’s a hero in my books.
By Amy Reiswig, December, 2014
A poet explores the tar sands through the eyes of its workers.
The Alberta tar sands trigger a lot of emotion in the public consciousness, mostly around environmental, economic and political concerns. No one I know would associate the bitumen boom with things like music, beauty or poetry. But in his Governor-General’s-nominated collection Prologue for the Age of Consequence (Anansi, April 2014), Victoria poet Garth Martens gives the rarer view: of the often unseen tradespeople employed in heavy construction, which he has been, on and off, for almost 10 years. It’s not a romanticized vision, but it is revelatory—of crude and complex people who in their strengths, vulnerabilities and particular voices are a source of gritty and even mythic mystery.
By Amy Reiswig, November 2014
Elizabeth May’s new book is a call to take back Canada.
Our November 15 municipal elections can be seen as a test of the candidates: their platforms, priorities, even personalities. But equally important, elections also test the electorate. How informed are we? How determined to help shape our collective future? Elections are not just an opportunity to participate in democracy but are a way for us to reveal our values as individuals and determine the direction of our communities. They allow us to both express and define who we are.
By Amy Reiswig, October 2014
A family and an ecosystem in crisis is the subject of Ann Eriksson’s latest novel.
"You know, Ruby, understanding a human being is as difficult as studying a killer whale. Every once in a while, you see a dorsal fin or the whale heaves itself above the surface, but where the whale goes when underwater, what it does, or thinks are anyone’s guess.” So says one of the whale researchers in High Clear Bell of Morning (Douglas & McIntyre, April 2014), the fourth novel by Thetis Island author and biologist Ann Eriksson.
By Amy Reiswig, September 2014
Pat Bovey’s new book on the life of Pat Martin Bates, and the transformative power of her art.
The term “local luminary” usually means someone who shines in the community, but in the case of Victoria artist Pat Martin Bates and art historian Pat Bovey, it can also mean people who illuminate. These two women are both stars in their respective fields who also shine light on the importance of art in society through dedicated community involvement and a deep desire to share their sense of wonder and possibility.
Bovey is currently shining a light on PMB (as Bates is often referred to) in the new book Pat Martin Bates: Balancing on a Thread (Frontenac House, April 2014). Born in New Brunswick and a Victoria resident since 1963, PMB is an internationally-celebrated printmaker, sculptor, painter and, as Bovey shows us, overall boundary-pusher.
By Amy Reiswig, July/August 2014
Robert Budd and Roy Henry Vickers collaborate on a story about the people of the Skeena.
Some say humanity’s uniqueness is our capacity to create; others, that it’s our capacity to destroy. In fact, various terms have tried to identify our distinctiveness: homo sapiens for knowledge or wisdom, homo faber for creation, homo ludens for love of play. But a descriptor that captures one of the most elemental and uniting human drives is Yann Martel’s observation that “We are story animals.”
By Amy Reiswig, June 2014
Nancy Turner’s monumental new work explores humanity’s multi-faceted relationship to plants.
When she was nine years old, Nancy J. Turner was involved with the junior wing of the Victoria Natural History Society and spent Saturdays hiking, observing, and talking about discoveries. Now in her 60s, she’s still doing much the same thing, but as one of Canada’s leading ethnobotanists, a Distinguished Professor in Environmental Studies at UVic, holder of the Hakai Chair in Ethnoecology, member of the Order of BC and the Order of Canada, and an award-winning author. And her passion for the natural world remains undiminished.
By Amy Reiswig, May 2014
The need for a nourishing habitat is a common theme in Andrea Routley’s new collection of short stories.
They say home is where the heart is. But if your heart is in turmoil, how do you feel at home, whether in your house, at work or just standing still, anywhere, in your own self? The issue of belonging, of having a safe and nurturing place to be—and to become—is one most of us have dealt with. Almost everyone has been that awkward teenager navigating a confusing social circle. Others have felt judged or, worse, condemned over sexual orientation. And anyone with a few relationships behind them knows how what starts as a partnership can quickly strand you somewhere unfamiliar—like finding myself freshly divorced in a new town living on my own for the first time at age 35.
By Amy Reiswig, April 2014
Displacement—whether by prostate cancer or hydro development—is the powerful, subterranean theme of Aaron Shepard’s new novel.
Sometimes it’s easy to ignore what you can’t see. Out of sight, out of mind. But the unseen can still exert tremendous force. Take, for instance, grief, anxiety, memory, hope. Such unseens can wrench us out of all comfort, safety, even sense of self. In his debut novel, When is a Man (Brindle and Glass, April 2014), Victoria writer Aaron Shepard explores how you grapple and adapt when much of what you’re wrestling with is hidden from view, below the surface.
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 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
Focus takes the economic pulse of our community by talking with people in the bellwether sectors.
Hey, how’s it going? We hear and use this phrase many times a day, usually receiving or providing a polite and perfunctory answer. But the global economic downturn of the past two years makes it a question worth seeking deeper answers to in order to get a read on the health of Victoria’s economy and our community.
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.