Home grown books

🕔Dec 03, 2008

Books books books. Still one of the best technologies out there – little flat portable packages, no batteries to recharge, no software incompatibilities. Works with just about any platform: brown eyes, blue, green eyes, hazel, gray, even cats, I bet, read when they get a chance. Mine likes to sit on any book left lying around, absorbing poetic niceties through the soft belly flaps spread comfortably across the open pages. I like books so much, I write the damn things. When Northword (this large floppy format sort of book) asked me to write an article about new local publications people might want to read or buy for Christmas presents, I thought about typing in a large font: READ MINE READ MINE with lots of exclamation marks. But you’ll see I resisted.
Why should we read (and buy) local books? I’ve been teaching English at Northwest Community College for a couple of decades now and I’ve never had such buy-in from students as when they read Monkey Beach, a novel by Haisla writer Eden Robinson about a young girl growing up in Kitimat. Young, older, Wet’suwet’en, Tahltan, Christian, atheist, men, women, you name it. With few exceptions, they love reading about growing up in a northern town much like theirs. (The Sasquatch angle helps too).
When we (Creekstone Press) published In the Land of the Red Goat by Bob Henderson, a book about Henderson’s years flying and guiding in the north, women kept telling us that their husbands, brothers and fathers, men who rarely cracked a book, read it from cover to cover. One man picked it up from his kitchen table and was still standing there an hour later, reading. He’d found someone who was speaking to him about a life he recognized.
If you read one of Gillian Wigmore’s crackling poems, from her award-winning Soft Geography (Caitlin 2007), about helping her veterinarian father pull a calf, you know she’s breathing the same air as you and I do, she’s driving Highway 16 and turning off onto the back roads, gravel spitting out from under her tires. And she’s not one of those trash talking first person New York narrators like Edward Hoagland who has offended his northern hosts once again by publishing, forty years after the fact, the whinging record of his 1968 visit, Early in the Season: a British Columbia Journal (D&M 2008).
Meow. It’s the cat coming out in me – and don’t say any word about those soft belly flaps, please. So vitriol aside, what’s new (or newish) out there in the 1000 mile Highway 16 book diet this year?

For the kids:

• Susan Juby has a new book, her second book since she finished the Alice series. She’s aiming for a younger audience with Getting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance & Cookery (Harper 2008). Its nerdy hero, grade nine Sherman Mack, takes on the high school defamers to save the reputation of a girl he particularly likes. It has received teen blogging raves along with her Another Kind of Cowboy (Harper 2007) which came out last year.
• Niwechihaw / I Help (Groundwood 2008), written, illustrated and translated by Caitlin (not the publisher) Dale Nicholson, whose children are Tahltan, and Leona Morin-Neilson, who is Cree, tells, in Cree and English, a classic story of a young boy’s relationship with his grandmother or kôhkom. The colourful illustrations bring their walk in the bush to pick rosehips to vivid life.
• Patrick Williston and Facundo Gastiazoro invite small children for an enchanting walk along Muckaboo Creek (self published 2007).
• And like the long-awaited gentleman caller, we have (or soon will) Hans Saefkow’s book, King of Rome (Simply Read 2008). We’ve seen Saefkow’s illustrations, his theatre sets, his cartoons for over twenty years; in this, his first book, he brings to poignant life the lyrics of Dave Sudbury’s folksong about a racing pigeon finding its way home to England from Rome.
CBC Prince George news reporter (and former Northword columnist) Betsy Trumpener’s first book of stories, The Butcher of Penetang, has just been released by the renewed Caitlin Press. I remember hearing Betsy read the title story a few years ago – about a canoeing injury that needs to be repaired by, quite literally, the butcher of Penetang. Trumpener’s prose reminds me of Wigmore’s poetry – it sparks with the kind of electric intensity that transmits great stories. They don’t last long, so you have to pay attention, go back and have another look. They’re brilliant.


Poetry is not everyone’s cup of proverbial tea, but the books are usually small and fit though the little plastic slot at the post office that means mailing them won’t cost more than buying them.

• Ken Belford has published his fifth book of poetry Lan(d)guage (Caitlin 2008), a collection of untitled poems rooted in his years fish guiding in the Damdochax.
• Rocksalt, an anthology of BC poets (Mothertongue 2008), has just been released. Many northern poets are represented in this collection: Laisha Rosnau, Leanne Boschman, Al Rempel, Donna Kane, Carla Funk, and meemeemeemee.
• Books & Company in Prince George carries an eclectic selection of chapbooks by local poets – give them a look when you’re passing through.
• Broken Arrow: America’s First Lost Nuclear Weapon by Norman S. Leash (Red Deer Press 2008) is a popular history that tells the story of the 1950s crash of an American B-36 bomber and the mystery and intrigue surrounding its subsequent recovery from the crash site north of Hazelton.
• Searching for the April Moon by Nancy Robertson (Creekstone 2008) tells the story of the Prince Rupert writer’s journey with her parents through the last years of their lives. It’s a beautifully-written book that speaks eloquently to anyone caring for ageing parents.
• Skeena River: Fish and their Habitat by Allen S. Gottesfeld and Ken A Rabnett (Ecotrust and Skeena Fisheries Commission 2008) draws together the interconnected history and ecology of the entire Skeena watershed with detailed maps, statistics, and stories about the fish and where they live. Technical as it is, the book also contains highly readable descriptions of the life cycle of individual species, cultural history, and wonderful historical photographs.

Museums, historical societies, and residents publish books of special interest to their communities. Look for these at your local bookstores and museums – some recent ones include Frank M. Dockrill Sr.:A Telkwa Pioneer’s Story, Such…is Life by Terrace’s Willy W. Schneider, a history of Anyox by Peggy Youden, Notes from the North: A Story of Novice Teachers Who Headed North for Their First Years Teaching by Alice Chiko, and William W. Gilgan’s books on the early days around Burns Lake.
Books to watch for in 2009:
• Einar and Andrew Blix are putting the finishing touches on a third edition of their hiking classic Trails to Timberline, which includes mostly day hikes accessible from Highway 16 between Terrace and Houston.
• The Mountain Knows No Expert (Dundurn 2009) is Mike Nash’s biography of George Evanoff, who was killed by a grizzly 1998 while hiking on a mountain ridge near his home in Prince George.
• Annick Press is re-issuing Brenda Silsbe’s The Bears We Know with a new illustrator and in a larger format.

I know I’ve missed lots of books; you don’t have to go far into the back list to find some great options from poets like Robert Budde, Barry McKinnon, Leslie Barnwell, and Jacqueline Baldwin; from histories like June Wood’s Nechako Country: In the Footsteps of Bert Ervine, Prince Rupert’s Phyllis Bowman books, and Haida Gwaii’s histories by Kathleen Dalziel. Check out the websites for Caitlin www.caitlin-press.com and Creekstone www.creekstonepress.com. When you’ve done that, struggle out of the comfy chair and head down to your local bookstores, giftshops, and museums to search out these and more.