Sunday, January 25, 2015
I was looking for another Irish writer after finishing the incomparable Tana French when I read Ian Rankin quoted as saying that Adrian Mckinty “blew my doors off.” That was good enough for me so I ordered Mckinty’s The Troubles Trilogy and enjoyed many cold January nights in the company of Sean Duffy, a Catholic cop working for the Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary in 80s Belfast. Not just a bit of cognitive dissonance here.
Mckinty blew Rankin’s doors off not just because he has to check under his car for explosives each time he drives but because he has created a complex, sophisticated loner (as all good detectives are) who is just trying to make the world a better place but keeps on stepping on the wrong toes.
And the wrong toes are everywhere in Northern Ireland in the 80s. There are so many factions, rules and regulations inside the terrorists (or shall we call them freedom fighters) that it makes Al-Qaeda and Isil (or is it Isis?) almost understandable. I realized very early on that I basically knew nothing about "The Troubles" and appreciated Mckinty’s fictional map of a very fractured land.
In The Cold Cold Ground (Book One) Duffy is tracking down a serial killer of gay men. Homosexuality was illegal in Northern Ireland then and a really big no no for the IRA. I Hear The Sirens in the Street (Book Two) finds Duffy investigating an IRA assassination with ripples in big business and in In The Morning I'll Be Gone (Book Three) Duffy has to find an escaped IRA master bomber who also happens to be an old school friend.
Duffy is a busy guy but when he’s taking time out he listens to opera and reads critical theory. His take on popular culture of the 80s also brings back lots of music and Margaret Thatcher things – very entertaining in hindsight. You’ll find your time with Sean very hard to resist!
Monday, January 19, 2015
In Montreal, in the summer of 2005, women were being attacked in my neighbourhood. It was the first time that this stuff that happens all the time was tangibly happening in a place I was. Young and naive (read: a dumb boy), this rash of specific, directed violence only showed up on my radar when it effected me. Walking home after hours, I'd sometimes fall behind a woman on an otherwise empty street. I was just some regular tipsy dude minding his own tipsy business, as the person in front of me was surely minding hers, but suddenly we were snared in a scenario, cast in roles. Behind someone, I felt immediately like a threat, felt perceived to be something I wasn't.
With everyone on high alert that summer, friends of mine were urging me to cross the street if I found myself coming up behind a woman alone. Anyone following them was a potential attacker. But then other friends would insist that, no, whenever a man scurried to the other side of the street, they worried the dude was flanking her. I was to stay where I was, but keep a safe, consistent distance. Whatever my behaviour, I imagined the woman in front of me tensing. I knew I wasn't a threat, but this person didn't. Or maybe she wasn't concerned at all, and the the worry (as it often is) was all just in my head. I was always tempted to call out "Don't worry! I'm one of the good ones!" Except isn't that what one of the ones who wasn't one of the good ones would call out?
Paranoia, whether it's justified or misplaced, has a way of turning a banal situation into a charged scenario, of turning a regular person in the world into a character in a book. Elisabeth de Mariaffi's The Devil You Know is a tense read, but what sets it apart from most taught thrillers is the nature of its core tension. About Evie Jones, a rookie reporter initially compiling a history of missing girls in Ontario on the cusp of the Bernardo case breaking, this first novel taps into and keeps a hold of the the real-life, palpable fear and doubt created by ambient, cultural paranoia.
A teenager when the Scarborough Rapist was active, Evie is no stranger to being on high alert. "You think about how scared you can make yourself at night on a dark, lonely street," she remembers about that time, when any girl was a possible victim. "There's a way of listening in the dark that's so intense for girls. You can feel the insides of your ears." As Evie begins to professionally explore the bottomless history of crimes against women, like feelings of being followed and observed begin to creep in. From a thriller narrative standpoint, de Mariaffi brings the alone-and-hearing-things-in-your-house feeling to a slow boil before shifting The Devil You Know into high gear, but -- more importantly -- she uses this build up to establish the reality of crime, of fear.
Early on in the book, Evie and her mother are browsing true crime books at a flea market and, picking up a copy of Helter Skelter, Evie points out: "Here's a stat for you... Women are voracious true crime readers. No word of a lie. Much more so than men." "So," her mother sorts, "the men are doing all the serial killing, but the women are reading about it." Later, mother prompts a conclusion that sits like a lump in the throat of The Devil You Know: "You know why women read that stuff... It's so we learn how to get away."
It's a gut-bothering ouroboros: sensationalism is based on reality, and we begin to experience and worry about reality based on those sensationalized versions, but then real life is irrefutably sensationalized when the worst kind of real life actually happens to you. This complexity at work in The Devil You Know is never didactic or annoying, but rather de Mariaffi puts such a sure finger on her subject matter that you might need to just lie down on the floor for a few minutes. As one character puts it: "It's an old story... And a sad one."
Of course, de Mariaffi seemingly paints herself into a bit of a corner. The visceral, sad fact of the world we live in -- or, rather, the world we're from time to time forced to inhabit, possibly by the person coming up behind us on an empty street -- is so effectively evoked that the idea of introducing a mystery runs the risk of cheapening or exploiting the real emotion. To go into exactly why this isn't the case would blow a great read, so I'll leave that for you to discover.
The timing might seem prime for the kind of eyes The Devil You Know looks at the world with. With 2014's Ghomeshi and Cosby revelations, and more recently the Dalhousie debacle, it seems like the log's been toed over and the gross, wriggling mess underneath has been exposed. But this misery is not news. Women being on the receiving end of such ceaseless-feeling repugnance is a fact, not news. Like the dummy 20-something I was when women, peers, were being attacked around the corner from me, it took me being even slightly effected to take notice. At the book's outset, Evie is tasked with using the history of damaged and deleted women in Ontario to prove that has been getting worse. "But I wasn't sure that was true," Evie admits. "I'd already learned that I could pick any year, any time, any place, and run a search that included the term 'missing girl' with good success. With the history of national news wide open before you, all you need to do is close your eyes and let your finger fall on a random date."
Sunday, January 4, 2015
In a 2010 piece for Wired, Patton Oswalt declares "I'm not a nerd. I used to be, 30 years ago when nerd meant something." Oswalt goes on to chart his own obsessions growing up, describes his interest in sci-fi and role playing games and the trappings that generally snare kids we think of — or thought of — as nerds. Interests that are not — and here he quotes Poe — "passions from a common spring." But by 2010, everyone was declaring themselves "nerds" and "geeks" and "otaku" — a Japanese word referring to "people who have obsessive, minute interests." Now everyone "considers themselves otaku about something—whether it’s the mythology of Lost or the minor intrigues of Top Chef. American Idol inspires—if not in depth, at least in length and passion—the same number of conversations as does The Wire."
Nerd or geek or otaku or — relevant to us here, as we are talking about Oswalt's new book — fiend are tricky appellations. It's not just the interest that garners the pre-2010 distinction, but the depth of interest. A nerd knows their chosen subjects more thoroughly than the creators. But then the question is begged: what sets a nerd apart from a highly regarded person who likewise fishes passions not from the so-called common stream?
Silver Screen Fiend is ostensibly an addiction memoir, detailing a period of 4 years in the late 90s where seeing as many movies as he could was all Oswalt was living for. But it's also, and fundamentally, a critical and creative coming-of-age story. A young Oswalt begins his addiction under the auspice of education. He'll become a filmmaker and the program at The New Beverly will be his syllabus. The idea is that consumption will eventually turn into production. I won't spoil the book for you, but you can check out the Writer and Director credits on IMDB. But these four years as a fiend also run alongside personal and professional maturation, with Oswalt's stand-up interests getting spun by a scene of "alternative" comedy in LA as well as getting his first job as a writer for MADtv. It's a period where the notion of responsibility begins to creep in — not in any civic sort of way, but creative and intellectual responsibility.
Compulsive consumption of culture can be like eating without tasting. "I... had to learn to look for the moments of substance and impact in the everyday," writes Oswalt, describing a personal pivot. "I was sitting in a minimall Subway having a sandwich one evening, on my way from work to go to Largo, when I read a quote by Italo Calvino: 'seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.'"
Here's the sad fact: when you eat without exercising, you just get fat. (This is a realization Oswalt makes a little too late, as his 4 years of devotion come to a close with the discovery of "shelves" of chub hammered into the wall of him.) Food has little purpose unless it's turned into energy. This is similar with entertainment and media. And perhaps this is when one officially stops being a nerd. What's the point of accruing knowledge for knowledge's sake? Silver Screen Fiend is ultimately about a young Oswalt's transition from a passive experiencer of culture into an active one. Patton burns his intake, turning it into energy as opposed to just hoarding it.
His written voice is recognizably Patton Oswalt here, but it's not a transcription of his stage delivery. On the page, there's a gentleness and earnestness to Oswalt's voice. Untethered from what's usually about five or seven minute bits, his prowess as a nuanced experiencer and long-game connector blossom. His previous book Zombie Spaceship Wasteland went a little ways to distinguish his stand-up from his prose, but Silver Screen Fiend makes some serious threats towards an autonomous career as a man of letters.
Thursday, January 1, 2015
Since 2003, The Eramosa Institute has been holding The Guelph Lecture - On Being Canadian, adding, they say, "a new voice to the ongoing conversation of what it means to be Canadian and what role our country could and should play in a changing world." Past speakers and contributors have included Lee Smolin, John Ralston Saul, Alexandre Trudeau, Tom King, M.G. Vassanji, Sheila Heti, and Eleanor Wachtel. This year's keynote lecture will be given by Janice Gross Stein and Brigitte Shim, with musical guest Basia Bulat and author Miriam Toews.
Amidst a flurry of holidays and last minute preparation for this year's installment on Friday January 9th at the River Run Centre, The Guelph Lecture - On Being Canadian Team (amalgamated responses from Douglas McMullen, Valerie Hall (President of Eramosa Institute), Shawn van Sluys, Michael Barnstijn, Marva Wisdom, Tarah Walsh, and Joy Roberts) took the time to field a few questions.
How was The Lecture hatched? And, in over 10 years, has it strayed from its animating intentions?
The Guelph Lecture - On Being Canadian was originally an attempt, by some of us who had just moved to this area (or moved back) and were thinking about how we wanted to live, to make a contribution to the aspects of this area that had attracted us here: its strong arts and culture offerings, its concern for a tolerant just society, and its openness to ideas. We thought we could showcase some of those strengths to other areas of the country and also make available outside influences to further inspire the mix here.
Now there is a large group of organizers, and new young volunteers, and I’d say the reasons for putting on the Lecture have stayed pretty much the same. If anything, there is a greater sense of urgency to keep the discussions alive in the face of increasing societal challenges.
What do you guys look for when choosing a Lecturer?
We look for people at the top of their fields. Then we look to see how well they can articulate what’s going on in that field and whether they can link it to the world around us. After that we see if they are approachable. If they have some name-recognition, that’s a bonus. But Guelph has come out for evenings where the participants were not well-known. The audience is just as much a risk-taking one as our organizing group is. Also, we try to cover a wide variety of fields. We are always learning ourselves as we plan and that’s personally rewarding to us as volunteers.
When choosing the year's full roster of participants, do you begin with a theme in mind, or do you let who you've chosen lead the way?
Our overarching theme, “On Being Canadian,” serves as a guide in our selection of speakers. We have given thought to having a “theme in mind” but it seemed to get too contrived. We have a lot of parts to the evening, so what if one didn’t fit the theme and looked out of place for no other reason than that? It seems more meaningful to us to choose each participant for what they have to offer and let them make the best contribution they feel capable of. It is often a bit nerve-wracking, but that’s really the thrill of the whole endeavour. There is the risk that comes with relinquishing control. Because no matter how many conversations we have with participants about the evening and what we hope to accomplish, someone invariably surprises us.
What's the importance of having more than one voice or one means of contribution on stage? Is there a curation at work when deciding who will be on stage? A specific conversation you hope to create?
As Alissa Firth-Eagland at Musagetes would say, as long as “curation” harkens back to its origin, meaning “to care for,” then we do curate. We try hard to put our own plans and ideas in the background once the participants are chosen and see what happens. Alissa quotes author Karen Love when she says curators “create and contribute to public dialogues about ideas and artistic strategies that address the world in all its complexities.” Because the world is complex and the important thing for deciding how one wants to live is to hear as many intelligent and informed voices as possible, to be inspired by the possibilities.
In your time with The Guelph Lecture, have you seen much aftermath? Have you seen the ideas raised live outside of the night itself?
We are really impressed with the media coverage of the evening, and that gets the ideas out to many more than the 500-700 who attend. It’s not that we get lots and lots of advertising, although we do get our fair share. What’s really rewarding to us is that the reporters who have covered the event actually thought about it and tried to get to the core of the messages. Sometimes that takes some doing!
We had one very dense keynote presentation, for example, and one literary participant who got a bit risque — might have been more appropriate to shock a junior high school audience into more tolerant views but seemed a bit over-the-top for the 500+ people in the audience –– anyway, we could have been massacred in the press and had all our work of years undone, but on both occasions, the reporter saw through to the intentions, found the nugget of inspiration, and combined it with the evening as a whole. The result is that what we offer on stage for those who can attend gets amplified in the community through honest, thoughtful coverage.
As for aftermath in a bigger society sense, well… as we always say, there are some powerful forces out there right now that seem to be polarizing issues, rather than bringing us to common ground so we can find a way forward together. We see anecdotal evidence of positive influences of the evening but clearly we can’t claim any responsibility for massive improvements! What we do see, that’s hopeful, is more conversation. People talk about the ideas, starting at the reception right after the event, which often goes quite late and is quite animated. They buy the speakers’ books and the musicians’ music. They stop us on the street to opine on our last effort or to suggest others for our stage. There does seem to be a life gathering around the event and integrating it into other actives as well. One final indication of the possibility that ideas may be living outside of the night itself is that in the past we had to explain what the event is; now we have many individuals and groups looking forward to the evening and inquiring about the speakers
Canadian's seem to be constantly striving towards self-definition - which in itself becomes a sort of definition, I think. As the Lectures build up, are we starting to get to the bottom of anything? Have you found yourself in the audience thinking, "Yep. This is who we are”?
Yes! We are people who don’t mind bombastic titles and goals but we defy attempts at specific details around those. Although some of our audience members object, and some of our speakers ignore our suggestions, we don’t ask, or even want, anyone to address directly what it means to be Canadian. Those on stage should just demonstrate who they are and how our society looks from their point of view. Then we, as audience members, can ponder these many situations, and the values that create them, decide what we want for ourselves and our communities.
There are quite divergent views around the organizing table, but one thing unites everyone who has been involved in the Guelph Lecture - On Being Canadian: we all think Canada’s links with the rest of the world are our most important feature.
Any stand out memories from past Lectures?
Oh, definitely. Some for good reasons, some not so. For the latter, I’m thinking of the episodes I mentioned earlier. The positive are myriad:
- the Gordon Foundation in Toronto sponsoring then-Mayor Madeleine Redfern’s very expensive travel here from Iqaluit
- Lee Smolin, maybe our next Einstein (although he would object to that title), backstage trying to play with the musicians
- Sacha Trudeau jumping in his Volkswagen and driving here from Montreal, crashing in one of the volunteer’s guest room, and really mentoring another young participant who needed the help
- an author who wouldn’t let his publisher cancel his visit to Guelph just because another offer came in that might have sold more books
- all the participants who win major awards between the time we invite them and the time they come to Guelph, and who don’t try to renegotiate for a fee
- our first sponsorship, which came from Knar Jewellery, and they have given every year since.
- Peter Mansbridge popping in from the theatre next door where he was doing election coverage to say “hello” and “what a great event."
- all the participants who are in touch after to say nice things about how Guelph treated them and how meaningful the evening was for them, in spite of their being on stage for only a portion of the evening.
Any hint of what attendees can hope from this year's?
All we organizers have are hints right now too. A couple of our volunteers have met with the speakers, Janice Stein and Brigitte Shim, who indicate that they are excited to be on stage together. That’s our first big relief. They’ve pointed out that the condo boom in Toronto is going to be the site of our next slums. That’s pretty provocative so we are sure there will be lots of discussion. Basia Bulat and Miriam Toews have both been winning awards. We are hearing comments that indicate this “will be the best yet.” So we are hopeful! But there will be those surprises…. As one repeat audience member says, “I always buy a ticket and just sit there to see what will happen!”
For ticket info, contact the River Run Centre.
Sunday, December 28, 2014
An act of holiday generosity during our busiest days of the year moved Barb to verse:
'Twas the day before Christmas,
And from noon until night
Double lines in the bookstore,
What a wondrous sight!
A curly-haired redhead,
Of perhaps fifteen or so,
Took his turn at the counter
And he seemed not to glow
Looking harried and nervous,
He reached into his coat
Bringing out crumpled money,
Scarcely like legal note
Nine dollars in cash
For a bill of twenty one
Try the rest on my bank card,
Hoping there was some
I tried once, I tried twice
In decreasing amounts
His cupboard was bare,
Nothing in his accounts
I saw his discomfort,
Also the burgeoning line
My lips formed this thought
You can get us next time
Then the strangest thing happened,
The woman behind
Had a ten in her hand
And a smile that was kind
Offered Here please take this!
That moment was fine!
And so thanks, dear, sweet lady
On behalf of us all,
That gesture was huge
Even if it was small
Monday, December 22, 2014
The risk with reverence and legacy is that something happens to our willingness to engage. The work is transformed from an organic thing into a stolid, matte monolith that so many readers will just monkey up to and cautiously touch before scampering away again. The idea of David Foster Wallace is much more daunting than the work itself, which is loving and curious, and so thoroughly alive.
Six years after his death, The David Foster Wallace Reader arrives as a somewhat complicated tome. At first blush, it feels like a looming, lifeless statue, a memorial, securing DFW's legacy as a giant of literature. But getting inside and jumping around in it, this sampler of a three decade career feels somewhat like crawling through the veins of living whale: though mind-boggling and huge, the work of DFW is a blown up version of our own mechanics. Hopefully, the Reader will prove to the leery or the over-reverent readers just how readable, how accessible DFW is. Hopefully it make those giant veins less intimidating.
For those already comfy with DFW's career, there's not much in the Reader that you won't already have in your library. There is "The Planet Trillaphon as It Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing," DFW's first published story from 1984 - a hard to read story about a young guy struggling with being altered by anti-depressants - as well as a section of Teaching Materials that one might want more of and with more context.
Beyond the obvious loss and tragedy, one selfish lingering bummer regarding the death of DFW was he was becoming more and more readable. Consider The Lobster, DFW's final collection of non-fiction, reads like a complicated person finally starting to learn how to express the enormity of his thoughts and feelings to anyone who'll listen. "Good teachers," writes DFW's mother, Sally Foster Wallace, in the introduction to Teaching Materials, "are those who so love their subject that they try with all their might and main to help students love them, too, forever." And I would use this quote to help calm anyone dreading what they see as the task of engaging with the work of DFW. It's all love, you guys. Love and the joy and confusion and hurt that results from loving anything so much.
Sunday, December 21, 2014
Stephen A. Royle, Professor of Island Geography at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland has written a number of academic explorations of the historical origins and geographical features of islands. His latest book, Islands: Nature and Culture (Reaktion Books) is a comprehensive excursion to the generally more buoyant destinations of popular science and culture. By no means a lightweight conveyance, this inviting volume covers a lot of water-hemmed ground over its 224 pages. Dr. Royle expertly circumnavigates the topographies, ecosystems, stories, politics, and challenges of a farflung constellation of islands - interspersing brief case studies, personal anecdotes, and colorful photographs to coordinate the Galapagosian variety with a sense of trajectory and coherency. A lifelong admirer of islands and islanders, I doggy-paddled into the great grey ocean of the Internet (to awkwardly refloat a turbid phrase of Harold Bloom’s) for more answers.
- Brad de Roo, who grew up across the river from an island which has alternately been known as: Tecumsh’s headquarters during the War of 1812, an amusement park which delighted many from 1898-1993, a transit point for Americans fleeing the Vietnam War draft into Canada, and the faltering McMansion development once home to one of Tim Allen’s homes
BdR Is there an isolated moment you can remember departing the mainland? In clearer words, when and how did you decide that islands were for you?
It was when we were on holiday to Ireland from our then home in England in 1974, where I was a PhD student in geography. We went to the end of the Beara peninsula and there was Dursey Island connected by a cable car. We went over to find an almost completely deserted village. I climbed into a windowless house and there was a 40 year old newspaper lying amidst the other detritus, this presumably dating its abandonment. On climbing out I vividly recall saying to my wife that I was fascinated by this scene of decline and I wondered if it had anything to do with it being an island. A little later we moved to Ireland when I got a lectureship at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland and I found some rare historical documents about the Aran Islands Co Galway, which I wrote up and I was off.
Do you carry a short working definition of an island along with you in your academic satchel?
An island is a body of land completely surrounded by water; I think that is the OED definition rather than mine. So it’s simple, but then of course we can add complexities. What if it is bridged? Is Manhattan an island? Is PEI now after the Confederation Bridge? You try telling an Islander there (and, yes, tradition uses the upper case ‘I’) that they live on a functional peninsular. What if it is periodic, can you have an island that you can occasionally walk to? What about ‘islands’ connected by more solid but geomorphologically ephemeral features such as a tombolo? Just how many islands can one count for the Iles de la Madeleine in Quebec? And then we come to the use of ‘island’ as a metaphor. Medics, biologists, planners, kitchen designers, sociologists, psychologists all have island metaphors. Remember that ‘no man is an iland’ (the s was later than Donne’s time).
How many islands have you set foot on? What is the most incredible thing you have seen on these travels?
I have been to 807 islands. I keep a list of course, what obsessive doesn’t. Highlights have been the quarry on Easter Island where all the moai were carved and the first sight of St Helena breaking the horizon after 4 days at sea (an airport is only now being built). The most incredible experience was to witness a boat launching ceremony carried out amongst the Tau (or Yami) people of Pongso no Tau (Orchid Island) off Taiwan. This was not commodified, but authentic.
|Orchid Island boat launch.|
The most despairing?
Despair? Abandoned islands, empty with just the ruins of houses where a once vibrant community lived. I have been to many of these especially off Ireland where scores of islands have lost all their people. The most despairing was probably Great Blasket because of the knowledge we have of that dead society thanks to the three wonderful autobiographies.
You outline an alarming number of factors threatening vibrant island lives. Globalism, tourism, colonialism, and global warming are some of the oversized issues in action. Is it possible to prioritize one of these? Or is it more a question of addressing the surrounding pressures in a synchronistic yet idiosyncratic manner?
You put it well with your ‘surrounding pressures’. It’s geography (well I would say that, but it is true). On Mallorca a major problem (and yet a great boon) is tourism; on South Tarawa, Kiribati it is sea level rise and other phenomenon such as increased storminess with dangerous storm surges all associated with climate change/global warming.
Colonialism did blight islanders’ lives including death from introduced disease, slavery, destruction of cultures and the environment but look at the places still in a colonial type relationship now and they don’t want to leave it, notwithstanding identity issues. Sub-national jurisdiction is enough for ‘colonies’ like Bermuda and Cayman Islands to become wealthy from financial services. Elsewhere the presence of the metropolitan power provides financial support (St Helena) or military comfort (Falkland Islands). In Scotland on the island of Great Britain in the September independence referendum there was huge play on the ‘Braveheart’ issue and the English are generally heartily disliked; nonetheless there was a 55%-45% vote for no, it is thought largely for financial reasons.
There are charters, declarations, yes. At the 2014 conference of the International Small Islands Studies Association in the Penghu Islands was published the Penghu Declaration; that followed on from others from the organization when we met on Jeju, Maui, Kinmen and Mauritius in earlier years. More significant are associations for mutual support such as the Alliance of Small Island States, which does look at sustainability issues amongst others.
You mention many representations of islands in various media such as music, photography, radio, television, and film. What about the internet? In what ways has an increasingly connected digital world affected how islanders see themselves and how they are seen? Is connectivity increasing emigration or attracting more immigrants? Are islanders forming archipelagos of solidarity?
Islands in literature goes back centuries; the other media in your list joined in often for the same reasons as islands featured in literature: a setting, a stage, a device to constrain the cast list, the dramatic possibilities of isolation, etc. The internet, too. One nice site is The Island Review. Connectivity is hugely important, it overcomes the tyranny of distance; as long as you don’t have to make a living from scarce island resources, you can now live on a small island and make your living via distance if you have the skills and the connectivity. That is for incomers; for traditional islanders the internet shows them what they don’t have and might stir up resentment. I think Majuro in the Marshall Islands, which is in the American sphere of influence but which cannot provide its people with an American standard life style is one of the unhappiest places I have been.
As to archipelagos of solidarity, absolutely. The small Irish islands all banded together to press government for their common needs from the 1980s as just one example. There is an edited book by Godfrey Baldacchino imminently appearing, Archipelago Tourism.
As a Canadian, I’d be nationalistically irresponsible if I didn’t ask your opinion on some of our islands. We’ve got a lot of them, no? You discuss aspects of Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. I’ve grown up mostly familiar with the islands of the Great Lakes. But I have recently become fascinated by the big Arctic islands like Baffin, Victoria, and Ellesmere. Are there any surprising features or traits I should know about the Islands of Canada?
I have written a book on the Hudson Bay Company period on Vancouver Island so I would say that that is fascinating. I developed a respect for the HBC manager and colonial governor James Douglas so many of whose dispatches I read. I have been to PEI numerous times to work with, sometimes for, the university teaching island studies. Cape Breton and Newfoundland are fascinating for their economic stories and for the resilience of some of the islanders. As to the Arctic Islands, I was once involved in an abortive study (we failed to get the grant) and did background work on Qikiqtaq (King William Island). The HBC were there in the 1920s and the post managers were so rude and dismissive about the local people, it was embarrassing to read the post journals. Now climate change is stirring things up, making access easier and the Northwest Passage more navigable and Canada more of an archipelago than a continental country. I would like to think the changes that will inevitably occur will not be to the detriment of the indigenous people there, but I think my hopes will be dashed. The ‘surprise’ I suppose is just how many of these islands there are and how big they are. Three of the ten largest islands are up there; 18 of the top 100; Devon Island is the largest unpopulated island and is in 27th place.
If you were stranded on a desert island, which also happened to be a spatially flexible utopia for consistency’s sake, what eight islands would you bring (excluding the aforementioned utopia, of course), and why?
The 8 islands I would take (this is a different version of Desert Island Discs!) are:
St Helena: So remote (pre-airport) thus it is very special to get there. So insular. Because it is the setting of the book I enjoyed writing most, The Company’s Island
East Falkland: I have been to the Falklands 3 times and have seen them develop away from the awful experiences in 1982. The wonderful light and the fabulous bird life, but that dreadful constant westerly wind does detract!
Easter Island: The moai, what else
Great Blasket: A special place given the autobiographies. As a geographer I suppose I am sensitized to place and space and you can see where it all happened and also appreciate why the place was abandoned.
Norfolk Island: A fascinating history and landscape
Sado Island, Japan: An interesting place with its gold mine, the story of the cranes and the fabulous drumming set up, Kodo. When I was there, there was an outer islands music festival; can I take that to my desert island?
Prince Edward Island: I have been to PEI many times to research and teach at the university’s Institute of Island Studies. It is a familiar and comfortable place for me.
Tristan da Cunha: Perhaps the ultimate island; I have always wanted to go but it is really difficult to get there now and I don’t suppose I will ever see it. So I will take it to my desert island and study it at leisure.
Lastly, at the risk of being a bit of a mainlander, would it be fair to say that the earth is one big island and that all of our water-locked landforms are excellent indicators of our collective health in the grand laboratory of space-enveloped life?
Absolutely. An island is a body of land surrounded by water, so the Eurasian-African landmass is an island and it is only convention that says this island is actually three continents; or that Australia is not an island but Greenland is. And think back to the famous blue marble pictures from Apollo spacecraft, the earth as an island in space. It’s all we’ve got, would that we looked after it better!