Adrian Dix Christmas Book List 2015 Features Fine Pairings This Year
"The criteria is simple: books that I have read or re-read in 2015 and want to recommend."
A Christmas tradition continues at The Huffington Post B.C. as Vancouver-Kingsway MLA and former B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix shares his picks for great reads, or fantastic gifts for the reader in your life.
I am happy to present my book list for Christmas 2015. These are not necessarily books published this year or even recent books. The criteria is simple: books that I have read or re-read in 2015 and want to recommend.
I note that the remarkable Vancouver writer Wayde Compton and poet Renee Saklikar (yes! Shameless plug) edited The Revolving City this year — a collection of poems from SFU’s Lunch Poems series.
The book pairs poems with short essays about how they were created by dozens of B.C.’s best poets. The poems are great and for anyone who writes or aspires to write about anything, the insight into the creative process is of great value.
In this spirit, for 2015, I will pair favourite books that have things in common, ideas that lead to more ideas. That makes nine pairings, or 18 books. This is a list not a ranking. Number one is in not necessarily the best book — just the first one listed.
Frank White, Milk Spills and One-Log Loads and Sandy Shreve, Waiting for the Albatross
Frank White worked as a logger, bulldozer operator, truck driver, gas station owner and many other things in the course of his first 100 years. This book and its sequel (That Went by Fast published at 100) tells a story of B.C. rarely heard, through the world of war. Truly entertaining, it introduces you to a different time and place, one that is still British Columbia. Frank, alas, passed away this fall, but he lives on in these wonderful books and in many people’s hearts.
Also about the world of work, B.C. poet Sandy Shreve’s book is a series of “found poems” from her father’s diaries from a five month trip he took as a merchant seaman in 1936. Life at sea, living in the Depression, a Canadian encountering the world, a great story and because it’s Sandy Shreve, all reconfigured in artful poetic form. This is a poetry book that will be enjoyed whether you read poetry or not.
Kamel Daoud, The Meursault Investigation and Viet Tranh Nguyen, The Sympathizer
Albert Camus’ The Stranger is one of the most influential books of the 20th century, read by just about everyone who speaks or tries to learn French. Daoud re-tells the celebrated story from the point of view of the brother of the anonymous “Arab” murdered by Camus’ lead characer. Daoud puts Algeria and the “victim of crime” at the centre of the story, not as a plot point. The effect is stunning, if anything extending the greatness of Camus’ work, by rejecting its focus on the colonizer. It is also a warm, remarkable book that is a necessary read in the context of current events from Paris to Algiers to homes everywhere.
Viet Tranh Nguyen’s book is a revelation, alternatively hilarious and tragic. We have all read books or seen movies about the Vietnam War from "Apocalypse Now" to the The Quiet American — where the Vietnamese themselves are extras. Here, the Vietnam War and its aftermath is centred on the Vietnamese and those who fled Vietnam after the war to go to the U.S. Like the Meursault Investigation , it takes us to a new place, to see events that are familiar through new eyes.
Meredith Quartermain, I, Bartleby and Helen Phillips, The Beautiful Bureaucrat
I, Bartleby is a collection of “short” short stories about writing and its trials by an outstanding B.C. writer. Reflection about the relationship between author and subject yes, but the short stories are also easily consumed and fun. A deep dive into the everyday.
The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a short absurdist story, also about the everyday nature of modern work and its effect on the individual. A funny and chilling work (think of The Trial or 1984 but set in the present, in the modern urban workplace) about the impact of the computerized workplace on the individual and on relationships.
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy, A Story of Justice and Redemption and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
Two calls to action and reflection on race, justice, society and the nature of mercy in the United States. Stevenson writes of his work for prisoners, young offenders and the poor mostly in the Southern United States. It will make you want to practice law.
Coates writes a letter to his son in the wake of acts of racialized violence by the police against young black Americans. Both books have had significant influence on the debate about race in the United States, but will hold you in rapt attention.
Am Johal, Ecological Metapolitics: Badiou and the Anthropocene and Charlie Demers, The Horrors
Why are these two books paired? Because I think both Charlie and Am would find the pairing hilarious. Both B.C. writers… but books with not much in common really. Charlie’s book is a comedic take on the horrors of our time. Would Mr. Demers be upset if I called it the best bathroom reading since Carrie Fisher’s Delusions of Grandma or Jim Bouton’s Ball Four? Johal’s book is about as current as it could be, addressing how we deal as human beings about ecological issues in a time when the destructive impact of human activity on the planet is so evident. And yes, about a French philosopher as well. Definitely living room reading.
Rita Wong, Undercurrent, and Kathryn Mockler, The Purpose Pitch
When you are married to an amazing poet, you read and listen to lots of poetry. And as I have discovered, not all of it rhymes. B.C. poet Rita Wong and Ontario poet Kathryn Mockler have written two kick-ass books of poetry here that you can happily buy or give during the holiday season. Books of engagement, great writing, humanity, and humour (particularly Mockler’s poetry that has LOL moments).
Andrew MacLeod, A Better Place on Earth, The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia and Anthony Atkinson, Inequality: What can be done?
Atkinson has been writing brilliant books on inequality for decades and here, he focuses on solutions, a program for real change. If you interested in political economy or just trying to make your community better, two rich sources to read and reflect on.
Geoffrey Robertson, An Inconvenient Genocide and Tim Pat Coogan’s The Famine Plot
April 24, 2015 marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, and renowned lawyer Robertson takes us through the facts of the “first genocide of the 20th century.” Not easy reading, but a necessary look at a still underreported history.
Coogan’s book is a good way to start 2016, the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rebellion. He takes us further back to 1840 and the Irish Famine in an incendiary condemnation of English culpability.
Jean-Claude Izzo, Total Chaos, The Marseilles Trilogy and Dan Ephron, The Assasination of Yithzak Rabin and the Re-making of Israel
You like mystery books? Izzo’s three book “Fabio Montale” mystery series is not just great mystery writing, but great writing period. These books are from the 1990s but I found them this year, and can’t believe it took so long. Izzo takes you to his “Marseilles” (not that of Marie-Marechal Le Pen) and will leave you fascinated. If you read Total Chaos, it is certain you will read the rest.
And finally, sadly, Ephron’s book takes us to Israel in non-fiction form, telling the story from all sides of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by an Israeli extremist as he pursued his peace agreement with the Palestinians. The death of Rabin was catastrophic for the peace process he led in the Middle East. This book evokes what “might have been” and the profound effect of individual violence on modern history.
Finally, this year, two great B.C. writers Jamie Reid and Peter Culley passed away. We miss them but they live on in some great writing. Find it, enjoy it and celebrate their memory.
This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Canada.
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