Friday, October 16, 2009


By John Lee
ISBN No. 978-1-894974-90-5

Have you ever given a stranger directions and thought later on that you could have done it better? Well, John Lee’s book is ALL directions. And not the wussy directions given by most guidebooks (a description of a place accompanied by a pin dot on a map), but real “turn left here and then turn right there” directions. This book really wants to show you Vancouver. It’s like the author is walking right beside you, talking right into your ear.
Subtitled “36 strolls to dynamic neighbourhoods, hip hangouts, and spectacular waterfronts” the book cleverly grids and defines Vancouver into the essence of each of its areas. The book is designed for maximum user-friendliness with lots of easy-to-read maps and even a “Points of Interest” and “Route Summary” at the end of each “stroll” for wanna-get-going powerwalkers. Oddly – especially since Lee is the author of 14 Lonely Planet guidebooks - the only colour pictures in “WalkingVancouver” are on the book’s jacket. All the pictures inside the book are black and white; kind of like Woody Allen’s view of New York in “Manhattan.”
Considering that Lee lives in Vancouver and he’s basically telling his neighbours how posh, kitschy or rundown their homes are, this book could be a very personal and risky undertaking for him. Because defining, pigeonholing and labelling - like any Top Ten or Best Of list - is totally debatable and sometimes downright fist-fight-worthy. I don’t think anybody’s going to get violent over “WalkingVancouver” (unless they take Stroll No. 5 into Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside - which Lee rightly calls “Canada’s poorest postal district”), but seeing your lifestyle crunched down to a term like “vivid” is certainly phone-a-friend funny. For foreigners, “WalkingVancouver” is kind of like Google Street View – but with whispers of local gossip and folklore. It also might emerge as a Vancouverite’s survival guide. With roads slowly, eventually evolving into bicycle lanes and 2010 Olympic road closures ensuring that they’ll be walking EVERYWHERE, “WalkingVancouver” won’t be just a topical book; it’ll be required reading.


By Maurice Gee
ISBN No. 978-1-55469-209-5

You’d think that after the glut of “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” books and movies that any young adult fiction series of books with supernatural overtones would pale in comparison to “Twilight” and “Harry Potter.” But after the aforementioned glut of “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” books and movies any young adult fiction with supernatural overtones is a breath of fresh air simply because it ISN’T a “Twilight” or “Harry Potter” book or movie. Still, “Salt” has a bit of an uphill battle re-thinking pre-conceived notions born in a “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” world (romance, danger, the showdown between good and evil) but it also has a nice way of making the required devices of youth fiction sound fresh and inventive. For starters, “Salt” is more fantastical than the “Twilight” books and darker than the “Harry Potter” ones. It’s the story of Hari, a young man who really can talk to the animals, trying to free his dad, Tarl, after the latter has been captured and enslaved by a sinister corporation called “Company” and banished to the hellish working prison of Deep Salt. Along the way he meets an aristocratic young woman fleeing an arranged marriage with help from her gifted maid named Tealeaf. Then things get weird… Perhaps the best thing about “Salt” is it doesn’t remind me of “Twilight” or “Harry Potter” at all. While I was reading “Salt” I was transported back to the 1980s and all those Piers Anthony novels I used to read back then. Like those books “Salt” creates a wholly unique and timeless universe of weapons like fizzing rings and fingertip bolts while keeping character motivations firmly grounded in that’s-what-I’d-do territory. It’s certainly an adventure of a read. My only nitpick is the chaotic writing of the action sequences where necessary description is sacrificed for breakneck pacing.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tweet Travel

Lonely Planet’s 1000 Ultimate Experiences
ISBN No. 978-1-74179-945-3

If Workman Publishing’s 1,000 Places to See Before You Die wall calendar is the version of travel (nice colour picture + today’s date + enough of a box for you to remind yourself it’s garbage day) then “Lonely Planet’s 1000 Ultimate Experiences” is the tweet version of global travel in an internet age.
It was bound to happen and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. In our big Bandwidth, 500-TV channel universe the audience for pretty much anything has become so fractured and fragmented that the old definitions of “experience” (education, sexual, career) no longer hold. Today people go to online schools, explore kink and telecommute from home. Now, everyone has the power to take roads less travelled – although we wouldn’t mind having someone along the way to point out the potholes for us.
And that’s where this very cleverly titled book comes in. 1000 Ultimate Experiences? 1000? No way! It’s both boast and dare; top ten list and checklist; a litmus test to figure out if you’re getting enough out of your life - or not. Man, you just gotta have a peek and see what you’re missing…
Given LP’s history for exhaustive researching there really is something for everyone here and it’s all neatly broken down into intriguing sections with titles like “Strangest Museums,” “Greatest Little-Known Neighbourhoods,” and “Top Tourist Traps Worth the Crowds.” The book then smartly levels off its lightweight short paragraph premise with heavy, luxurious paper stock and grand glossy pictures. It’s a potent combo: suddenly all the experiences sound both wildly exotic as well as teasingly accessible.
Whether they’re talking about having steamed dumplings in Shanghai or seeing works of engineering genius, the coverage is pretty much the same: a short, sweet paragraph that sums it up so perfectly and succinctly that they should be required reading for anyone writing their online personal ad. I’m not kidding. Word-wise the LP entries are an education in picking just the right words for economical yet maximum evocation. Voice-wise they’re even better: they’re a master lesson in how to make any reader feel like they’re reading a postcard from a best friend.