Monday, January 28, 2013

Grant Buday, Stranger on a Strange Island

How do you understand where YOU live?

In British Columbia, if you're interested in escaping the gravitational pull of Vancouver (and Victoria), there shouldn't be much doubt: we should all be reading the full Transmontanus series of books, edited by the complicated Terry Glavin and published by New Star. Sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes nostalgic, sometimes academic, Transmontanus volumes are unpredictable and uneven and essential reading.

My most recent dip into the Transmontanus catalogue brought me Grant Buday's Stranger on a Strange Island by Grant Buday, with the (previous paragraph notwithstanding) Vancouver-centric subtitle From Main Street to Mayne Island. It's an essay collection, and like most entries in the series, it's just long enough to make you want more of it. To some extent, the series is like a print version of the Kindle singles: Wired saw those two years ago as the salvation of long-form journalism, and the New York Times apparently still loves them, though expectations have tempered somewhat in some circles.

If you want an excerpt, you can find one at The Tyee, but honestly, buy the damn book. The separate essays here cover a lot of ground, from chainsaw love as a measure of masculinity, through sanctioned boat theft, to the typically mixed success of whale-watching. What links them, simply, is that BC lives in this book. It's not everything about this province, it's not everyone's BC, but who cares? It's one version of it, a weird and marginal and comforting version, and this province has suffered for a long time from something like a tourist-industry drive for a single organizing narrative. It's a weird place, like every other place is weird, and Grant Buday does a really great job of letting us visit Mayne Island.

Also: I was glad to see the National Post pay this book some attention, but frankly Philip Marchand's review gives away most of the content, but making it sound disjointed (rather than an essay collection) and somehow mocking the book while claiming to appreciate it. No hyperlink for you, Post: it's terrific that you keep giving us the idosyncratic genius of Robert Wiersema's reviews, but this one ain't all that.

If you'd rather, there's always the damning with faint praise option: if you don't know the Transmontanus mode, you'll call all these books "slight." Pay attention, people. They're awesome. (Well, except for the ones that aren't. This one is.)

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