Category Archives: Opinion

Book Review: Player One: What is To Become of Us, A Novel in Five Hours by Douglas Coupland

When I came across Douglas Coupland’s Player One in our Literature section, I was certain it was a mistake. I only knew Coupland for his science-fiction works, and was completely unaware that he had a CBC Massey Lectures side to him. It was this shocking (to me, at least) departure from his most popular genre that lead me to purchase Player One.

A novel in five hours, Player One is a real-time story taking place within a seedy airport cocktail-lounge. Inside the lounge are 5 vastly different people, and outside the lounge, the world is ending. This story proposes that our world, which has taken millennia to evolve, devolves almost completely in just 5 hours. For these 5 desperate people, these hours will prove to be the most enlightening hours of their lives. While the world around them comes to an end, the characters of Coupland’s story slowly reveal the truth about themselves and how they see the world.

It would be impossible to not identify in some way or another with at least one of the 5 voices in Player One. Whether you see yourself in Karen, the single mother looking to find love; Rick, the beaten-down airport cocktail-lounge bartender who is desperately searching for a way to make himself new again; Luke, the pastor who lost his faith and became a fugitive; Rachel, the beautiful girl who is incapable of true human contact; or finally, the mysterious and omniscient voice of Player One, you will see more of yourself in this story than you would have thought possible. It is this personal sense of identification that fully hammers home the realizations that Player One brings you to.

Coupland’s voice is one reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut’s, and any fan of Slaughterhouse-Five will feel right at home in Player One’s universe. Just as Vonnegut so aptly managed to, Douglas Coupland forces his reader to examine the modern crises of our time, our society, and our own humanity. This novel posed more questions than it answered, which was sometimes frustrating, but oddly, the challenge simply became part of the reading experience.

Player One opened my eyes to what the back of the book suggests is “a new phases of existence as a species” and left me believing, without a doubt, “that there is no turning back.”

Reviewed by Jordan Stewart

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Books & Co wants to suggest some books for Dads this Father’s Day

Father’s Day is next weekend and if you’re like me, you find Mother’s Day a much easier holiday.  It’s not that I don’t love my Dad, I do, I really, really do.  He’s the most patient man on the face of the planet, creative, thoughtful and he can fix any problem big or small, but it’s just much easier for me to get presents for my mom, probably because Mom and I like the same kinds of things.  I like some to the same thinks my Dad does (golf, gardening, hockey) but I just have to think a little bit harder about how to celebrate Father’s Day.  To that end, I polled the other booksters here at Books & Co, and went through our shelves for Father’s Day ideas so we all have an easier time celebrating our wonderful Dads!

For dads that like the outdoors we’ve got lots of great books about hunting, fishing, camping and more. I pulled a couple of books off the shelf to give you an idea of what’s out there. A book I frequently recommend is Fly Fishing BC’s Interior: A Fly Fisher’s Guide to the Central Interior and North Cariboo Waters by Brian Smith.  It’s got more than 80 custom fly patterns and fly tying could be a fun activity to try with your dad.  I also flipped through Ralph and Judy Maida’s The Stories Behind the Dinners: Big Game Hunting Stories and Wild Game Cooking Recipes and this combination of wild hunting stories and recipes is exactly what it says it is.  It’s filled with stories about hunting everything from bear to moose and recipes – including roast beaver, grouse stroganoff and barbequed black bear – to cook it all.  And of course, if your dad doesn’t have a copy of Mike Nash’s Outdoor Safety and Survival, you should pick one up.  It’s full of useful information and captivating anecdotes and it could save his life.

If your dad is more of a do-it-yourself, Mr. Fix-it type guy, we’ve got books for that too. There are multiple books about carving, for beginners to experts looking for new techniques, and some very interesting project books, like Building with Secondhand Stuff: How to re-claim, re-vamp, re-purpose & re-use salvaged & leftover building materials by Chris Peterson.  From where to find salvaged materials, including wood, metal, stone, glass and architectural accents, to how to strip old varnish and remove grime without damaging the reclaimed item, this book is an excellent resource.  It also has projects, and includes safety tips, and general information about working with each type of material.  Handmade Music Factory: The Ultimate Guide to Making Foot-Stompin’-Good Instruments by Mike Orr is a really interesting project book, too.  It’s got some fascinating projects including how to make a cookie tin guitar and a one string washtub bass and includes information on how to electrify your homemade instruments.  This is the perfect book for a folk music loving, handcrafting dad.  

Not every dad has the time or inclination to be making stuff from scratch though.  For the overworked dad who just needs a break, there are some funny, fascinating and fabulous books too.  Jordan gave her dad Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern (we reviewed his new book I Suck at Girls recently, too) and he laughed until he cried at Justin’s Dad’s hilarious quips.  Or, if your dad is slightly quirky, how about giving him The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks (author of the fascinating zombie apocalypse novel World War Z).  It’s funny, scary and perfect if your dad is just a little bit convinced zombies are inevitable (or if he just likes HBO’s The Walking Dead).  We’ve also got some very good books of interesting questions and answers.  What Did We Use Before Toilet Paper: 200 Curious Questions & Intriguing Answers by Andrew Thompson is an excellent resource if you want to know things like “what’s the difference between an ocean and a sea?” or “why don’t igloos melt on the inside?”

We’ve also got some great books for dads who just like to read! If your dad is interest in aviation or BC’s remote wilderness communities, Atlin’s Anguish by Brendan Lillis is a great choice.  It tells the story of the aftermath of one tragic plane crash for a pilot and her tiny community and gives extensive insight into aviation in the most remote parts of British Columbia.  Robert W. Mackay’s Soldier of the Horse is another great book.  It’s a novel that fictionalizes the true story of the last great Canadian cavalry regiment, Lord Strathcona’s Horse.  And, perennial favorite Guy Vanderhaeghe’s newest novel A Good Man is also an excellent choice if your dad likes historical fiction, westerns or just a really good read. Set at the end of the Wild West and crossing the American/Canadian border, A Good Man is peopled with memorable characters and complexity.  It’s a great choice for dads with some time to read this summer.

And of course, you can always just drop in and get some advice from our fantastic booksters.  We’ve all got personal favorites in the various sections around the store and can help you find the book that is perfect for your dad.

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Book Review: I Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern

Justin Halpern is funny.  It’s that simple.  And fans of Justin Halpern’s Sh*t My Dad Says will be happy to have another book in the same vein.  I Suck at Girls is a self-deprecating memoir of his experience with women from the first girl he liked – and tormented – at age seven to the day he proposed to his wife Amanda.

Unlike Sh*t My Dad Says, I Suck at Girls focuses solely on Justin, and only includes a few of his Dad’s classic bon mots (“do you realize I’m a crazy son of bitch who owns a shotgun and hates shadowy figures walking around in his fucking house?”) but that shouldn’t dissuade readers.  In fact, the longer, more in depth recollections are hilarious and touching and give an insight into one man’s struggle to understand women and his relationship to them, which until he met Amanda was usually terrible.  I Suck at Girls makes it clear that Halpern does not need to rely on his father’s one liners to get a laugh and that his own life, and his willingness to expose its most embarrassing elements, is enough to keep readers entertained.

I Suck at Girls is not high art.  It’s not going to go down in history as one of the classics of English literature, but not every book needs to be an emotionally complex, angst filled literary masterpiece.  It’s funny, really funny and that’s enough to make it one of the best books in the Humour Section here at Books & Company and one of the funniest memoirs in the Biography Section.

Nicole Larson

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It’s the beginning of Wedding Season 2012 and Books & Co has a few unconventional gift suggestions…

With May comes spring and nicer weather and inevitably that also – in our winter dominated city and country – means wedding season begins.  A few years ago, it felt like I had a wedding a week, as if all of my friends and family were getting married all at once and it was hard to figure out imaginative gifts for each couple (Travis and Carrie wanted a gravy boat, right? Who doesn’t want a gravy boat?).  Sure I could have found something on their registries (if I hadn’t left it to the last minute and everything except a cork screw and a $500 bbq) but for a lot of weddings I wanted to give something personal that said I actually knew something about the bride and groom and had thought about what they as a couple would like or need as their lives became more entwined.

To that end, Books & Co wants to help you pick out some unconventional, thoughtful and unexpected but practical wedding presents as wedding season 2012 gets into full swing.  We’ve compiled a list of gifts that probably won’t appear on any wedding registries, but which will probably end up used and loved throughout the lives of the bride and groom.

1)    A copy of a cookbook you use a lot yourself.  Some people swear by The Joy of Cooking, others couldn’t live without The Silver Spoon and still others find themselves referring to Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking whenever they need to make something extra special.  So, think about the cookbook you regularly turn to and give the couple a copy of that.  Include a gift card to a grocery store, or wrap it in a basket with some wine and delicacies you know the couple likes.

2)    A journal or scrapbook they can use to record the highlights of the first year of their marriage.  Like a baby book, a journal dedicated to that first year will be something the couple will look back on fondly for years to come.   Include notes and suggestions on which landmarks to write about (on our honeymoon we…, moving in was…) and make it personal to the couple.  You can even start it for them by pasting in a wedding invitation, save the date card or a copy of the engagement announcement from the newspaper.

3)    A collection of do-it-yourself books, home repair manuals and a housekeeping hints book, especially if the couple is moving into their own home for the first time.  Include a Home Depot or Canadian Tire gift card and wrap with a tool box outfitted with your standard hammer, screw driver set and duct tape (you can’t go wrong with duct tape).

4)    For your friends that met in Bible college, how about a nice family Bible that they can record important events in.  It’s old fashioned, but an ornamental family Bible where births and marriage can be recorded is a lovely gift for a couple who are serious about their commitment to each other and to God.

5)    If your friends are of a poetic bent, how about a collection of love poetry?  Shakespeare’s sonnets, or a collection of Emily Dickinson, or a more general anthology of love poetry.  You can include tickets to the theatre, or a gift card to a restaurant and wrap it in a picnic basket or with a nice set of sheets.

6)    A travel book for your hometown with notes suggesting they take mini-vacations and play tourist at home once their honeymoon abroad is over.  The type of travel book is up to you, maybe one highlighting hikes and mountain bike trails, or perhaps a guide that includes restaurant reviews. Include a gift card for a local restaurant, or tickets to some local attractions and wrap it in “I love x-city” t-shirts (or custom t-shirts of your choice).

Only you will know what’s appropriate for each couple, but looking beyond the registry and the traditional gifts of linen and china will make sure your present stands out.  And like any gift, they can always return it.

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Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare

According to the best guesses available, it’s William Shakespeare’s birthday today. We know he was baptized on April 26, 1564, but the exact date of his birth isn’t known so today is as good a guess as any (it’s also the date of his death in 1616, but that’s more depressing so we’re going to go with Happy Birthday, Will!).  But, what is the legacy of the English language’s best known playwright (and poet, he was also a great poet) nearly 450 years after his birth?  That seems like a silly question.  His plays are still being produced around the world, nearly every English speaking person in the world has read at least one of his plays (whether they wanted to or not) and I’m willing to bet if you stopped a random person on the street she could name one (or probably more) or his plays.  A new movie based on a Shakespearian play (some very loosely based) seems to come out at least once a year (Coriolanus, anyone?) and loads of books and movies are have Shakespeare as a character (one of my recent favorites is Mr. Shakespeare’s Bastard by Richard B. Wright). Those are the obvious impacts, but what about some of Shakespeare’s other legacies?

People complain about Shakespearian language being incomprehensible but they don’t realize that Shakespearian language is the language we use every day.  Shakespeare coined 1700 words, many, many of which are in common usage today. Without Shakespeare we’d have no “accommodation” or “amazement.” The “apostrophe” would not exist (which for people who use it incorrectly might be a blessing).  There would be no “assassination”s, and no one could “castigate” you about your “courtship.”  There would be no “critical” “critics” and the difference between “frugal” and “generous” would be unknown.  It would take ages to go through the whole list, but you can “submerge” yourself in it below (borrowed from nosweatshakespere.com).

But coining words wasn’t enough.  We’ve taken complete phrases and adopted them into everyday usage. Without Shakespeare, we’d never know that “all that glitters isn’t gold” and there’d be no “foregone conclusions.”   Nobody would have any “elbowroom,” be “fancy-free” or have a “heart of gold.” There’d be no “method in his madness” or “pitched battle[s].” We quote Shakespeare whenever we complain about a “barefaced” liar or say someone has displayed “disgraceful conduct.”

So, while the obvious impacts of Shakespeare’s plays live on in theatre productions, adaptations and (to the chagrin of “disheartened” high school students) classrooms, so do the less obvious impacts.  The next time you tell someone they are “laughable” or “majestic” or are “suspicious” of someone being “obscene” or “sanctimonious” you’ll be quoting Shakespeare.  His legacy lives on in everyday language.

  • accommodation
  • aerial
  • amazement
  • apostrophe
  • assassination
  • auspicious
  • baseless
  • bloody
  • bump
  • castigate
  • changeful
  • clangor
  • control (noun)
  • countless
  • courtship
  • critic
  • critical
  • dexterously
  • dishearten
  • dislocate
  • dwindle
  • eventful
  • exposure
  • fitful
  • frugal
  • generous
  • gloomy
  • gnarled
  • hurry
  • impartial
  • inauspicious
  • indistinguishable
  • invulnerable
  • lapse
  • laughable
  • lonely
  • majestic
  • misplaced
  • monumental
  • multitudinous
  • obscene
  • palmy
  • perusal
  • pious
  • premeditated
  • radiance
  • reliance
  • road
  • sanctimonious
  • seamy
  • sportive
  • submerge
  • suspicious

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Why Not a Katniss Barbie?

 

“It’s hard to imagine little kids reenacting the bloody combat of the Hunger Games in Barbie’s Malibu dream house.”  – Crushable

The Hunger Games is the biggest trend in books right now, at Books & Co and seemingly all over the world (Kim G’s wonderful review gets loads of hits from places as far flung as Singapore and Hungary everyday) and there have been stories about Hunger Games themed weddings (three bridesmaids enter…) and the branded merchandise ranges from Peeta pillowcases to “bird bud” Mockingjay themed earphones.  Putting aside how much Katniss herself would hate all of the hoopla and themed bedspreads – there are light bulbs, knee socks and replica bows so why not a Barbie?

I take exception to Crushable’s claim that “it’s hard to imagine little kids reenacting the bloody combat of the Hunger Games in Barbie’s Malibu dream house.” As a woman who had her Barbies do all kinds of things they weren’t designed for, usually in a fluffy, peach cocktail dress, I can easily imagine little kids using their Katniss Barbies to kick some action figure ass.  Sure there are little girls – and little boys – who only use their Barbies in the way they were originally intended – as fashion dolls you dress up, whose hair you brush and then you’re done – but there are far, far more kids who’s Barbies are both the heroes and the villains in their own private wars.  There is nothing better watching a 6 year old use her Barbie to save another Barbie dangling over a pool of sharks.

Anyone thinking that just because Barbie is pretty she can’t, or won’t, be used in bloody combat to the death has never watched kids play together.  And to suggest that the best Katniss Barbie is a “Girl on Fire Dress” Barbie is false.  The young girls and boys who love Katniss love her for her strength and resourcefulness and they’re going to want her with a bow in clothes she can fight in.  Suggesting that just because she’s Barbie brand, kids aren’t going to want Katniss to be Katniss is simply false.  Kids’ imaginations are always going to be larger than adult expectations.

So, why not a Katniss Barbie?  Why does that seem ludicrous? If pretty girls’ can’t be tough then Katniss wouldn’t exist.  The reasons people love Katniss are many and varied, but for the most part, they love her because she is a rounded, complex character and to suggest that a Katniss Barbie is any crazier than the rest of the Hunger Games merchandise is false.  And even without a Katniss Barbie, kids are going to be having their dolls fight to the death. So, bring on Katniss Barbie.  I think she’d look really good swinging down from the dream house to help Skipper save Midge from ninjas.

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National Siblings Day and Books about Brothers and Sisters and Sisters and Brothers

Today is National Siblings Day!  Who knew that was even a day, but it’s trending widely on Twitter (I knew Twitter was good for something besides wasting time and inciting revolution) and a quick Google search confirms that it is indeed a “legitimate” day.  According to the Siblings Day Foundation (siblingsday.org) “you can celebrate by sending your siblings a card, gift or phone call; making a dinner invitation; performing a good deed, favor or errand or chore; and in cases of deceased siblings consciously holding them in [your] memory.”
National Sibling Day got me thinking about literary siblings and how the sibling relationship can be and has been written.  The first few books that leapt out to mind were books from my childhood. For me, Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume are the queens of the sibling relationship in literature.  Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books (Ramona and Beezus, Ramona the Pest, Ramona the Brave etc) and Judy Blume’s Fudge books (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Superfudge, Fudge-a-mania etc) are both beautiful examples of sibling interaction complete with rivalry and jealousy.  But other, more recent books for kids and young adults also have interesting and complex sibling relationships, from Katniss’s decision to take Prim’s place in the Hunger Games to the whole Series of Unfortunate Events, sibling bonds seem to be important parts of lots of kid and YA lit.
But what about books about adult siblings?  Which books best describe the relationship between adult brothers and sisters?  For that fewer novels leapt to mind.  Of course, Patrick deWitt’s award winning and fantastic novel The Sisters Brothers is about grown brothers and Jane Austen is always good if you want to read about sisters, and Jonathan Franzen’s The Commitments is also good, but it seems like literary brothers and sisters take a sideline once adulthood takes over a novel. Lovers and friends, even parents, seem to be more prevalent than a sister or a brother and that’s a shame because the relationship between adult siblings is as rich and complex as any other relationship in adult life.  A shared childhood is a deep bond and, in the hands of the right author, its influence can have interesting and layered consequences.  Tana French’s Faithful Place is centred on a complex sibling relationship and is all the richer for it and her upcoming novel Broken Harbour (watch for a review of it coming soon to this blog) is also deeply influenced by sibling relationships.
So, on National Siblings Day, take some time out to have a chat with your brother or sister or brothers and sisters and maybe some time to read about the complex and interesting relationships between adult siblings.

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