12.31.2010

CITY OF GLASS - Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland has an unparalleled knack for seeing the familiar world around him with the eyes of a stranger. He is able to pick out parts of what we, in our common part of the world, see as “normal” and make them fascinating. In 1994 he made an entire book out of his observations of Vancouver, his hometown.
The west coast of Canada has a unique culture that is formed as much by the landscape as by the trademark, laid-back Canadian temperament. Existing as it does in a teeming metropolis that is bordered by mountain and sea, in Vancouver you are as likely to see a high-powered businessman or businesswoman wearing outdoor gear as fashion brands. We are a multicultural city that has embraced the provenance of its residents by forming districts dedicated to various ethnicities as well as sprouting up as many sushi restaurants as McDonald’s.
But in addition to these obvious elements of west coast living, Coupland explores some of the lesser-known, distasteful, strange and just plain ordinary elements of living here. Reading the book was like taking a walk through my own life and looking at my surroundings properly for the first time. It created a sense of nostalgia for the Vancouver I have known throughout my life, and for the parts of it that have changed. It’s like a homecoming without ever leaving, and evokes a sense of belonging for anyone who has ever called Vancouver home.
On the cover of the book, Coupland describes the book as deriving from “both love and laziness: love, because I spent my twenties scouring the globe thinking there had to be a better city out there, until it dawned on me that Vancouver is the best one going; and laziness, because I thought I was going to go mental explaining dim sum, the sulphur pits and Kitsilano for the umpteen-hundredth time.”
This is a sentiment many of us can relate to. Vancouver is, in many ways, indescribable. However, if there is anyone who stands a chance of doing so, it is Douglas Coupland. This book is a long-time favourite of mine, and I’m pleased to see that it has been expanded and updated. It’s also great timing: with the Olympics just ended, the world is looking to the 2010 Olympic City and seeing all the fancy new venues and bright lights that have been televised over the past month. This book is the one to read if you want to see the real Vancouver – not only the not-so-pretty parts, but also some of the wonderful yet understated elements of what makes all of us who live here proud Vancouverites.

12.14.2010

JULIET, NAKED - Nick Hornby

At some point in our lives most of us (if not all of us) have become infatuated with someone famous. We have collected all their albums or every movie they’ve ever been in – even the ones that weren’t very good. We’ve spent hours daydreaming about what it would be like to meet them and imagining what their life is like. We’ve followed their every move through the media and speculated as to whether their current relationship is true love or just a passing fancy. For most of us this happens during adolescence, and it passes as we grow up and realize that they’re all just people behind all the photoshopped media images and hyped up social engagements. For some of us, however, this fascination becomes an obsession that becomes a part of who we are. This book is the story of just such an obsession.
Tucker Crowe was a pretty famous musician in the mid-80s. Famous enough to go to parties with movie stars and to date (and occasionally marry) beautiful models. Then one fateful night during the tour for his popular new album, Juliet, he went to the bathroom in a bar in Minneapolis and when he came out everything had changed. No one quite knows what befell him in that bathroom (rumours include walking in on his girlfriend with another man and having an epiphany after a near-overdose), but when he came back out he cancelled the rest of the tour for Juliet and disappeared.
Twenty years later, with Tucker still M.I.A., an obsessed fan by the name of Duncan drags his girlfriend Annie on a tour of notable Tucker Crowe locations in America. Duncan and Annie are from the small British seaside town of Gooleness, a town that is notable for its lack of pretention and little else and is about as charming as its name would lead you to expect. Duncan is one of the world’s foremost “Crowologists,” a group of die-never fans of Tucker Crowe who are geographically scattered throughout the world but have been brought together by the world-shrinking power of the internet. Annie is the curator of a small local museum and has vicariously become something of an expert on Tucker Crowe due to nearly two decades of her partner’s obsession. But she is finally starting to run out of patience with not only Duncan’s obsession, but with Duncan himself.
Shortly after their return to Gooleness after their three week pilgrimage, a package arrives in the mail. In this package is an advance copy of Juliet, Naked, a collection of demo versions of every song on Juliet. Duncan heralds it as a work of sheer genius. Annie thinks it’s Juliet but not as good. For Duncan, Annie’s failure to see the obvious superiority of the album leads him to question her taste and feel a sense of betrayal and disappointment. For Annie, Duncan’s staunch defence of a clearly inferior album is just proof of his stubbornness and inability to step back and take in a larger view of reality. This small disagreement proves to be the catalyst for a chain of events so unexpected that it will render their lives unrecognizable.
The characters in Juliet, Naked brought to mind some of the characters in Nick Hornby’s earlier novels in a pleasing and friendly way. These are real people; people you meet every day, have a beer with after work, possibly even see when you look in the mirror. They are unassuming (even the famous rock star among them) and as lovely and damaged as the rest of us. The story is a pile-up of unlikely coincidences, but somehow it all rings true. Through these coincidences the characters are gently prodded into examination of their own lives and the things they value. It is a story of how we learn to accept the disappointments in our lives when we are no longer young, and what we do with the messes we’ve made. Juliet, Naked is a whimsical, charming book that has the perfect balance of nostalgia and witty dialogue to make it a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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