“The Chuck Davis History of Vancouver”

By Chuck Davis

ISBN No. 978-1-55017-533-2

Vancouver is hot – in realty, on TV and on the bookshelves. Homes are worth $1 million, hit TV shows are filmed on our sidewalks, and not one but two – that’s TWO! – major books about the city are being released this season. The first, another book of photographs by Fred Herzog, should be the heavyweight. Famous for his heartbreaking Technicolor shots of Vancouver in the 50s and 60s (when everyone else was shooting in black-and-white) his new book is wisely called simply “Photographs” because only a few of the shots are of Vancouver – and they were included in his first book. That disappointing double-dip makes Harbour Press’ blockbuster-sized “The Chuck Davis History of Vancouver” the real thing this season – and then some; it’s an elegiac last work by the late “folk historian”, and a majestic valentine to the city he loved.

And there’s a lot here to love.

There’s the news piece about how the first badges for the Vancouver City Police were made of American silver dollars and a story about the Hallelujah Lassies – four ladies who launched what became the Salvation Army in 1887. There’s the factoid about how the fire department hauled their own engines to and from the fires until they got horses in 1889, and an article about the fire that destroyed ALL of Vancouver…in just 45 minutes. This is one book where the stories are share-with-a-friend-worthy and the words are as fascinating as the haunting black-and-white pictures that accompany them. And certainly there’s the poignancy of Davis’ death to put a thoughtful period (literally) on the project. In an age where old homes in Vancouver are going for a million dollars and being turned into generic monster houses worth twice that, “The Chuck Davis History of Vancouver” is more than just a publishing event. It’s a document that’ll be studied decades from now to find out what kind of people we were.


“West Coast Wrecks & Other Maritime Tales”

By Rick James

ISBN No. 978-1-55017-545-5

www.harbourpublishing .com 

Herman Melville ends “Moby-Dick” with a line about a shipwreck at sea where suddenly everything falls in on itself, is swallowed by the water, and the sea rolls on as it had for 5,000 years.  Wow…

There’s a mystery in the idea of a shipwreck that transcends the TV punchline of people stranded on, and voting each other off, a deserted island. Of course, there’s the cruise ship/paradise aspect of the sea, and all that “Pirates of the Caribbean” silliness for the ADD generation. And unless you’re running for Republican office the sea is that primordial pool from which all life – even sushi! - came. Archaeologist Rick James knows all this and he unpacks an engrossing – that’s right! – treasure trove of 140+ years of maritime disasters, sailing folklore, and finally, definitively explains why British Columbia’s nudist retreat is named Wreck Beach.  The book is like a baker’s dozen of Titanics and is as addictive as TV’s “The Deadliest Catch.” The black-and-white pictures are appropriate for the eras (late 1800s and early 1900s) and amp up the little asides that’ll roll around your head for days after reading (like when evacuating a burning ship was hindered because the Chinese employees didn’t speak English). 

36 Strolls 


By John Lee

ISBN No. 978-1-894974-90-5

Have you ever given a stranger directions and thought later on that you could have done it better? Well, John Lee’s book is ALL directions. And not the wussy directions given by most guidebooks (a description of a place accompanied by a pin dot on a map), but real “turn left here and then turn right there” directions. This book really wants to show you Vancouver. It’s like the author is walking right beside you, talking right into your ear.

Subtitled “36 strolls to dynamic neighbourhoods, hip hangouts, and spectacular waterfronts” the book cleverly grids and defines Vancouver into the essence of each of its areas. The book is designed for maximum user-friendliness with lots of easy-to-read maps and even a “Points of Interest” and “Route Summary” at the end of each “stroll” for wanna-get-going powerwalkers. Oddly – especially since Lee is the author of 14 Lonely Planet guidebooks - the only colour pictures in “WalkingVancouver” are on the book’s jacket. All the pictures inside the book are black and white; kind of like Woody Allen’s view of New York in “Manhattan.”

Considering that Lee lives in Vancouver and he’s basically telling his neighbours how posh, kitschy or rundown their homes are, this book could be a very personal and risky undertaking for him. Because defining, pigeonholing and labelling - like any Top Ten or Best Of list - is totally debatable and sometimes downright fist-fight-worthy. I don’t think anybody’s going to get violent over “WalkingVancouver” (unless they take Stroll No. 5 into Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside - which Lee rightly calls “Canada’s poorest postal district”), but seeing your lifestyle crunched down to a term like “vivid” is certainly phone-a-friend funny. For foreigners, “WalkingVancouver” is kind of like Google Street View – but with whispers of local gossip and folklore. It also might emerge as a Vancouverite’s survival guide. With roads slowly, eventually evolving into bicycle lanes and 2010 Olympic road closures ensuring that they’ll be walking EVERYWHERE, “WalkingVancouver” won’t be just a topical book; it’ll be required reading.


Tweet Travel 

"Lonely Planet’s 1000 Ultimate Experiences"

ISBN No. 978-1-74179-945-3


If Workman Publishing’s 1,000 Places to See Before You Die wall calendar is the version of travel (nice colour picture + today’s date + enough of a box for you to remind yourself it’s garbage day) then “Lonely Planet’s 1000 Ultimate Experiences” is the tweet version of global travel in an internet age.

It was bound to happen and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. In our big Bandwidth, 500-TV channel universe the audience for pretty much anything has become so fractured and fragmented that the old definitions of “experience” (education, sexual, career) no longer hold. Today people go to online schools, explore kink and telecommute from home. Now, everyone has the power to take roads less travelled – although we wouldn’t mind having someone along the way to point out the potholes for us.

And that’s where this very cleverly titled book comes in. 1000 Ultimate Experiences? 1000? No way! It’s both boast and dare; top ten list and checklist; a litmus test to figure out if you’re getting enough out of your life - or not. Man, you just gotta have a peek and see what you’re missing…

 Given LP’s history for exhaustive researching there really is something for everyone here and it’s all neatly broken down into intriguing sections with titles like “Strangest Museums,” “Greatest Little-Known Neighbourhoods,” and “Top Tourist Traps Worth the Crowds.” The book then smartly levels off its lightweight short paragraph premise with heavy, luxurious paper stock and grand glossy pictures. It’s a potent combo: suddenly all the experiences sound both wildly exotic as well as teasingly accessible.

Whether they’re talking about having steamed dumplings in Shanghai or seeing works of engineering genius, the coverage is pretty much the same: a short, sweet paragraph that sums it up so perfectly and succinctly that they should be required reading for anyone writing their online personal ad. I’m not kidding. Word-wise the LP entries are an education in picking just the right words for economical yet maximum evocation. Voice-wise they’re even better: they’re a master lesson in how to make any reader feel like they’re reading a postcard from a best friend.


I Dream of Maui


Hawai’i: The Big Island

ISBN No. 978-1-74104-715-8


ISBN No. 978-1-74104-714-1


Both published by


How’s this for counterprogramming? Instead of reviewing those timely tomes about entertaining for the holidays why not think about yourself this year? Why not consider getting away from all of those people the other books want you to entertain?

Yes, I know there are grander beaches out there and more exotic ruins to be seen if you’re willing to fly for a dozen hours or so. But in our freefalling economy a vacation in the most obvious and cheapest tropical destination makes increasingly perfect sense. (For those of you thinking “hey, Mexico is cheaper”, full disclosure: I’m limiting my review to tropical places where your murder will be solved within a year.)

Simply put, these guides to Hawai’i and its little brother, Maui, are paradise in themselves – for readers, armchair travellers and those who actually have time to travel this winter season. Even better, these guides have more colour pictures than before.

Yes, there was a bit of a scandal when it was alleged by a former contributor that LP’s writers – gasp! – might not visit each and every single place they write about. Now, as a former editor of Adbusters let me say that: Yes, making it up is bad and, yes, faking it is morally wrong. But our jails are already full so let’s move on. Because I used LP’s guides to Beijing and Shanghai during a working visit to China and I thought they were spot-on when it came to summing up the sights and quoting the RMB. Hell, even The Temple of Heaven was EXACTLY WHERE THEY SAID IT WOULD BE!!! To which their Hawai’i and Maui guides face a special challenge: writing about that most westernized of tropical paradises in ways that respect the natives and inform the foreigners. Thankfully, their Hawai’i and Maui guides read like they were written by the natives themselves; natives who actually LIKE foreigners. Did the writers visit each and every sight they wrote about in the books? I don’t know. I can’t tell. The results are THAT polished and readable and… man, will you look at those glossy pictures!  But they sure make you want to go and see Hawai’i and Maui for yourself. 


“A Year of Festivals: A Guide to Having the Time of Your Life”

ISBN No. 978-1-74179-049-8


 How’s this for the perfect back-to-school book? Lonely Planet has catalogued all the parties going on year-round in the global village. 

The best thing about the book is the sense that the world really is open all night; that there’s a party always going on somewhere on the planet. The second best thing about the book is that each festival reveals religious and cultural insights in a smart edutaining way. You read. You smile. You learn.

For instance, if you lived in Morocco you wouldn’t be lining up to buy overpriced books tomorrow; you’d be celebrating the Imilchil Wedding Moussem. It’s a three day welcoming back of herders who’ve spent the summer parking their meal tickets in far away grazing grounds. But the fest also “gives singletons the chance to sing, dance and flirt,” says the book. (Dress code: available men wear white turbans; women show off the family silver.) Mass weddings are expected to follow the hook-ups.

And if you’re already dreaming about that Spring break kegger wait until you read about the holiday of Holi in Northern India and Nepal. Holi happens three days around the full moon in March. The rules: you say ‘goodbye’ to winter and ‘hi’ to spring by taking to the streets and dusting yourself and others with a rainbow of day-glo powders. “Authorities urge the use of natural dyes, so they can be easily cleaned off,” the book says. “But you could be a mobile colour chart for days or weeks after.”

The book is full of whole calendars of these festivals, each one nicely summed up in economical pictures and text; each one turning the dry semantics of geography and political science into almost the hottest invite on Saturday night.  





“1,000 Places to See Before You Die”

By Patricia Schultz

ISBN No. 978-0-7611-4937-8


“365 Days in Ireland

Text by Colum McCann; Photographs by Peter Matthews

ISBN No. 978-0-7611-4882-1


Both available at


And if you’re STILL dreaming about being somewhere – anywhere – else other than a classroom then check out these two new “Picture-a-Day” wall calendars for 2009.

“1,000 Places to See Before You Die” is adapted from the book of the same name and to say turning it into a calendar was a genius move is an understatement. Love lists? Travel? Photography? They’re all here, wrapped up with some lovely sentiments about making each day count and taking some roads less travelled for your next vacation. And while the pictures are impressive make sure you read the text. Schultz has a nice travel-companion friendly way with the factoids.

As for the Ireland Page-a-Day calendar, well, I’ve been to Ireland and considering you can drive around the whole island in one very long single day a calendar celebrating 365 WHOLE days IN Ireland is a challenge. (Indeed, the tiny you-are-here map in the upper corner of each new month’s location correctly crunches down the “foreign-ness” of Ireland into a very small, manageable island - but it also amps up the history: you’ll be shaking your head over how an isle this small can have so much history – or pubs.) But what I love about this calendar is that it’s a reference guide of signifiers; all those little totems that define a place. Some months have big signifiers (The Cliffs of Moher was really big in the 08 calendar) but most of them are small asides; touches that give you as much a lesson in the historical particulars of a community as a quick education in art direction in movies set in Ireland. It’s lovely, day-dreamy stuff.

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