Let’s start, dear reader, with clarifying terminology. To my mind, “beach read” does not signify a light or inconsequential read whose main purpose is to expedite the passage of time.
Some beach reads have so much to offer that they can be best appreciated only in these glorious days when North Americans have the luxury of light, warmth and time. Beach reads are replete with wit and rife with content so deeply gripping it never leaves us. Beach reads leave us curiously altered, expand our world view and may cause us to take action.
As a Canadian literature scholar and teacher long ago transplanted from southwestern Ontario to the British Columbia Interior, I want to share some ideas for summer reads connected with B.C.
Damage Done by the Storm (2004)
Damage Done by the Storm by Jack Hodgins, a book of short stories largely set on Vancouver Island, explores recurrent Hodgins’ themes like the inescapability of home and the insularity of the islands. His take on British Columbia occasionally veers into the sometimes comic B.C. propensity for myth-making and self-reinvention.
Damage Done by the Storm should enlighten you about life at a geographical edge; it might also stimulate reflection on the precarity of individual consciousness.
The Rule of Stephens (2018)
A global city, Vancouver proves an ideal setting to scrutinize contemporary issues like environmental devastation and late capitalism as writers like Douglas Coupland, Zsuzsi Gartner and Timothy Taylor have done. Taylor details Vancouver so much in The Rule of Stephens that it functions as a character. The Rule of Stephens is about a biotech start-up CEO, Catherine Bach, who confronts both the machinations of the high-tech world and inner turmoil arising from being one of the few survivors of a tragic airplane crash. This novel may move readers to shake up their sense of personal and universal order.
The White Angel (2017)
A witty suspense story, The White Angel by John Gray set in 1920s Vancouver, probes the death of Janet Smith, a young Scottish maid. Infused with Gray’s characteristic incisive eye for the ironic, it is equally a portrait of a loose-at-the seams Vancouver and a dissection of the historic crime. A commentary on vice and class disparity, The White Angel has considerable contemporary relevance. This novels may trigger our critical faculties to analyze current urban woes.
Where the Blood Mixes (2009) and The Unnatural and Accidental Women (2000)
Let’s move to the B.C. Interior and shift genres — to the play script. Kevin Loring’s Where the Blood Mixes is worth revisiting. Loring, the Nlaka'pamux playwright and inaugural artistic director of Indigenous theatre at the National Arts Centre, won a Governor-General’s-Award for this play. The play provides both a disturbing look at the intergenerational effects of residential schools and a fascinating overview of Nlaka'pamux culture.
Set in Lytton, B.C., Loring’s play evokes laughter because of dialogue to which everyone can relate. I recommend this play as a beach read because it is usually helpful to read a script before one sees the play and Where the Blood Mixes will be staged this fall in Ottawa.
Another play scheduled on the national stage this fall is: The Unnatural and Accidental Women by Vancouver’s Marie Clements (Métis).
Both these plays are models of how harrowing stories can be even more compelling when augmented by humour.
Breth/ th treez uv lunaria (2019)
Bill bissett’s collection of poetry is playful,laugh-out-loud funny, and a scathing indictment of Western political, cultural and social systems. Bissett’s poetry has caused several generations of English students to re-think the conventions of poetry, and with this selection from over six decades, he is, as the Toronto Star reporter Mike Doherty writes, “still cownturculchural, still compelling.”.
Bissett’s connection to the west coast is substantial: he lived in Vancouver and the Cariboo region for several decades. Sample some works in Breth as you soak up rays, and you are very likely to find yourself questioning the conventions of spelling and language — and the forces which govern us. You may find yourself transported to another planet — the lunaria of the subtitle.
Trickster Drift (2018)
More magic beckons us on B.C.’s north coast. The second novel in the Trickster trilogy of Eden Robinson (Haisla and Heiltsuk), Trickster Drift is on my summer list. Like its predecessor, Son of a Trickster, it features protagonist Jared is a wild blend of the supernatural, tragedy, humour and nail-biting tension.
How will Jared handle the move from familiar Kitimat to alien Vancouver? Here is more inducement to take Robinson’s novels to the beach: CBC is adapting Robinson’s fiction with an Indigenous film making group, — the first time CBC has worked with an Indigenous author in this way — for a (2020) television series. The Trickster series will startle you out of any summer complacency.
Should the impetus of the summer reads carry you into autumn, try another play script: the indomitable Kim Senklip Harvey’s Kamloopa (slated for an October release) traces the magical journey of a powerful trio of Indigenous matriarchs from Vancouver to the Kamloops’ powpow.
The Vancouver production of Kamloopa has garnered eight Jessie Richardson Theatre Award nominations Kim Senklip Harvey (Harvey is Syilx, Tsilhqot'in, Ktunaxa and Dakelh) lives up to her self-designated moniker of “Fire Creator” and even in autumn, Kamloopa is guaranteed to fuel inner blazes.
Dear reader, I wish you light, warmth and leisure enough to enjoy these Left Coast beach books — and many more from across Canada. Summer is a superlative time for personal growth. What better way to evolve than through a gripping read?