Bookmas! with Peter Darbyshire

Book­mas: when thoughts of good cheer are always accom­pa­nied with read­ings of good prose.

Today’s Not-so-secret Book­San­ta: Peter Dar­byshire

By day, Peter Dar­byshire is an edi­tor for Van­cou­ver news­pa­per The Province. By night, when he’s not busy fighting/causing crime, Peter is the acclaimed author of the nov­els The Warhol Gang and Please, win­ner of Canada’s ReLit Award for Best Alter­na­tive Nov­el and the Ontario Arts Council’s K.M. Hunter Award for Best New Book. Peter has also penned numer­ous short sto­ries, and also pub­lish­es the Cross series of super­nat­ur­al thrillers under the pen name Peter Roman, a series of which I am anx­ious­ly await­ing the sec­ond book.

What 2014-pub­lished fic­tion would you rec­om­mend?

The book that real­ly hit me this year was Jonathan Bennett’s The Colo­nial Hotel. I should point out that Jonathan is a friend of mine, but I hope peo­ple won’t hold that against him.

When Jonathan told me about the idea for his book over drinks some time ago, I thought he had lost his mind. We were drink­ing some love­ly Aus­tralian shi­raz and he start­ed talk­ing about adapt­ing a long poem he’d writ­ten of the Paris and Helen myth into a poet­ic nov­el. I made agree­able nois­es, as it was his wine, and kept my thoughts to myself. That’s Can­Lit for you.

I bought the book when it came out, as friends do. I even read it, as friends don’t always do. And I was absolute­ly stunned by it. It’s a slim, ele­gant vol­ume about a pair of aid workers/lovers who are torn apart when a civ­il war hits their part of the world. The prose is spare but poet­ic and absolute­ly loaded. It real­ly made me ques­tion my own assump­tions and even bias­es as a read­er — how many books do that? I can’t rec­om­mend this one enough. Good on ya, Jonathan.

What 2014-pub­lished non-fic­tion would you rec­om­mend?

I don’t read a lot of non-fic­tion because of my day job. I’m an edi­tor at The Province news­pa­per, and when I come home I just want to escape the luna­cy of real life by slip­ping into some fan­ta­sy and make-believe. That said, I am cur­rent­ly read­ing a bit about Vancouver’s past. I’m part­way through Eve Lazarus’s Sen­sa­tion­al Van­cou­ver, which offers glimpses into Vancouver’s crazy his­to­ry of opi­um dens, bank-rob­ber cops, haunt­ed hous­es, broth­els, boot­leg­gers — you know, all the stuff that made Van­cou­ver the great, world-class city it is today.

I’d also sug­gest a sim­i­lar book Anvil pub­lished in 2013: This Day in Van­cou­ver, by Jesse Don­ald­son. Both books are full of those sto­ries that make you think, “This can’t be true.” But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from news­pa­pers, it’s that real life is always stranger than fic­tion.

What 2014-pub­lished book to do feel needs more love?

Right now I’m read­ing Paul Vermeersch’s new poet­ry col­lec­tion Don’t Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Some­thing. I can’t get through it because I keep re-read­ing sec­tions. That’s par­tial­ly because I don’t under­stand poet­ry and par­tial­ly because they’re just so damned good. I read the first sec­tion of the book one night a lit­tle while ago, then imme­di­ate­ly went back and reread it again. Then I read it again the next day. It’s the sort of writ­ing that sinks down into the lit­tle nooks and cran­nies in your brain and bub­bles away there. Incred­i­ble stuff.

What book that you’ve read in 2014 (not nec­es­sar­i­ly a 2014 book) would you rec­om­mend?

Max Barry’s Lex­i­con. It’s about a secret agency of “poets” – spe­cial­ly trained peo­ple who learn to use words as weapons. Like most poets, they inevitably go to war with each oth­er. The sto­ry revolves around a cat­a­clysmic event in a small Aus­tralian town that invokes the spir­it of the Tow­er of Babel. I think it’s the first gen­uine lit­er­ary thriller I’ve read.

What ongo­ing series of books would you rec­om­mend?

The Johannes Cabal books by Jonathan L. Howard. They fol­low the mis­ad­ven­tures of the cranky but clever necro­mancer Johannes Cabal, who thinks noth­ing of mak­ing deals with the dev­il, ven­tur­ing into the Dream­lands or even hang­ing about with quirky vam­pires. They’re delight­ful­ly fun­ny books that invoke the dread and eeri­ness of Love­craft with­out the latter’s excess­es. I wish I’d thought of Johannes Cabal first!

What author would you rec­om­mend?

I am eager­ly await­ing the new Corey Redekop book. [ED.: You and me both, broth­er] While I wait, I’m read­ing Echoprax­ia by Peter Watts, the mad genius of sci-fi. I couldn’t pos­si­bly describe Watts’ books. All I can real­ly say is he saved sci­ence fic­tion for me.

What’s the one book you think every­one should read?

Ita­lo Calvino’s Invis­i­ble Cities. If you can’t enjoy this book, then I don’t know… It must be like see­ing the world in black and white and nev­er know­ing any­thing about colours.

Let’s go genre spe­cif­ic: what books would you rec­om­mend for

  1. The sci­ence-fic­tion fan: I already men­tioned Peter Watts’ Echoprax­ia, so I may as well pick Blind­sight by Watts as well. A first con­tact sto­ry with tru­ly alien aliens, an explo­ration of con­scious­ness, a bio­log­i­cal argu­ment for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of vam­pires, a pro­jec­tion of our obses­sion with vir­tu­al worlds – and so much more? Yes, please.
  2. The hor­ror fan: I’m look­ing for­ward to read­ing David Nickle’s new book, Knife Fight and Oth­er Strug­gles. David is a fel­low ChiZine author and a fel­low jour­nal­ist, so maybe there’s some con­flict of inter­est in me choos­ing this book. I don’t care. He’s a smart and scary writer with the right edge of insan­i­ty for me. I mean, this one fea­tures a may­or who gets into knife fights with oppo­nents. I’m in!
  3. The fan­ta­sy fan: I just fin­ished Sebastien de Castell’s Traitor’s Blade and loved it. It’s a nice alter­na­tive to the grim­dark sen­si­bil­i­ties dom­i­nat­ing the genre right now. It’s the sto­ry of a fall­en Great­coat — kind of a wan­der­ing judge — who’s been framed for a mur­der along with some friends. It’s great fun with some of the best action scenes I’ve ever read. If you like the sen­si­bil­i­ty of The Three Mus­ke­teers or even Fire­fly, then you’ll love Traitor’s Blade.
  4. The strict real­ism fan: Bet­ter Liv­ing Through Plas­tic Explo­sives by Zsuzsi Gart­ner. I’m a huge fan of Gartner’s writ­ing. I’d call it mag­ic real­ism, only the mag­ic is in the prose not the world. It’s real­ly kind of inde­scrib­able. Peo­ple who have read her under­stand. Peo­ple who haven’t read her are sleep­read­ing through life.
  5. The thriller/mystery fan: Come Bar­bar­ians by Todd Babi­ak. I kind of gave up on mys­ter­ies a while back because I found most of the acclaimed books in the genre painful­ly dull to read. If you can’t both­er to write a good line, why should I both­er try­ing to fig­ure our your mys­tery? Babi­ak made me care about the genre again. This one’s a great mix of mys­tery and inter­na­tion­al thriller, with a lit­er­ary sen­si­bil­i­ty. Babi­ak shows you how it should be done. I can’t wait for the sequel.
  6. The non-fic­tion fan: My Bright Abyss by Chris­t­ian Wiman. I think a good non-fic­tion book either tells you about some­thing you don’t know or makes you think about some­thing you do know in a dif­fer­ent way. I’ve had kind of a hate on for reli­gion most of my life for the usu­al rea­sons and the usu­al per­son­al asso­ci­a­tions. But Wiman’s book about redis­cov­er­ing his lost spir­i­tu­al­i­ty made me pause and look at people’s faith in a dif­fer­ent light. It’s Wiman grap­pling with the idea of faith at all in the mod­ern world — with­out reject­ing sci­ence or mod­ern thought — in the wake of a ter­mi­nal can­cer diag­no­sis. It’s chal­leng­ing, thought­ful and just plain beau­ti­ful — Wiman is a poet and the edi­tor of Poet­ry mag­a­zine. He looks at faith and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty through the lens of a poet, which is real­ly the ide­al way to do it. I was sur­prised at how much this book moved me. Poets. They’re always mess­ing with you.
  7. The British/German/Canadian blood­line fan: World War Z by Max Brooks. Because zom­bies are an inter­na­tion­al con­cern.
  8. The kidlit fan: For­tu­nate­ly, the Milk by Neil Gaiman. I’m read­ing a lot of kids’ books these days, on account of hav­ing a four-year-old boy who loves sto­ries. I took him to the local book and pil­low store recent­ly to buy some chap­ter books and picked this up on a whim. My boy wasn’t inter­est­ed, as it wasn’t Scoo­by-Doo or scary. But he end­ed up lov­ing it — as did I. It’s a great, fun sto­ry about a father who goes out to buy milk for his children’s break­fast and comes back with a sto­ry of being abduct­ed by aliens, time trav­el, pirates, wum­pires, a dinosaur pro­fes­sor and more. Real­ly fun and clever stuff. I hate Neil Gaiman for mak­ing it look so easy.

If, god for­bid, peo­ple couldn’t find any of your books, who else would you sug­gest they seek out for a sim­i­lar lit­er­ary fix?

What sort of future apoc­a­lypse are you imag­in­ing here? Is this a Handmaid’s Tale, where my books have been banned by the state? Or is this more of a Road sce­nario, where can­ni­bals use my books as kin­dling for their cook­ing fires? I sup­pose it doesn’t mat­ter. The future is always an apoc­a­lypse for some­one.

For my Peter Dar­byshire books, I’d sug­gest read­ing Shelf Mon­key by Corey Redekop. I think it mines the same vein of mad­ness run­ning under the sur­face of soci­ety. [ED.: I did not ask/beg/pay Peter for this rec­om­men­da­tion. How­ev­er, I did sleep with his image beneath my pil­low, hop­ing my dreams would reach his sub­con­cious. Dreamwish­es work!]

I’d also sug­gest Craig David­son. I’m not sure we have much in com­mon in terms of actu­al sto­ry, but I think we both embrace the same spir­it of craft and lit­er­ary exper­i­men­ta­tion. He writes lines so sharp they draw blood, and he can struc­ture a sto­ry so well he must have an archi­tec­ture degree. Real­ly, I’m just try­ing to asso­ciate myself with him in the hope that some con­fused read­er will buy my books along with his.

For my Peter Roman alter ego, I’d say Roger Zelazny because my Cross nov­els (The Mona Lisa Sac­ri­fice and the forth­com­ing The Dead Ham­lets) are real­ly my attempt to write the books that inspired me as a kid. Zelazny was the writer I read and re-read and then re-re-read. I still return to his works every few years. I’ve always been a nos­tal­gic soul.

If you want a writer who’s still alive, I’d say Steven Brust, whose Jhereg books about a charm­ing assas­sin in a fan­ta­sy land also had a major influ­ence on me. I’m a suck­er for charm­ing rogues. Which may explain why I’m gen­er­al­ly broke.

And final­ly, what would you rec­om­mend for the hol­i­days in a non-lit­er­ary con­text.

Hey, you can’t go wrong with a good game. I love all the usu­al games in fash­ion right now — Tick­et to Ride, Last Night on Earth, Gloom, Zom­bies!!! But I also love play­ing co-oper­a­tive games, as they’re less hard on my mar­riage. I was intro­duced to For­bid­den Island recent­ly, and I real­ly enjoyed it. I real­ly want to get the sequel, For­bid­den Desert. (I ini­tial­ly typed that out as For­bid­den Dessert….) Pan­dem­ic is also on my gift list.

If your loved one isn’t into games, then I don’t know… a good scotch to dull the pain?