Vancouver Special by Charles Demers


Charles Demers is the first to admit that if you haven’t read Douglas Coupland’s “ABC book” on Vancouver, City Of Glass, of which I have personally sung praises for on this very blog, then you should probably start with it before reading Charles’ latest book. And while there is the undeniable truth that Doug’s is more easily digestible, appealing to pretty much anyone looking to learn about this awesome city of ours, Demers’ self-deprecating distinction between his book and the legendary Vancouver art-star’s might be based largely on respect for Mr Coupland, because Demers’ new book is seriously next level. In this review I cited City of Glass as being “the most authentic, authoritative and real book about our city sitting on the bookshelves”, a title which I am today revoking and giving to my new favourite book about Vancouver: Vancouver Special, written by Charles Demers and published by Arsenal Pulp Press.

One of the things that I like the most about it is that Charles has not only done a boatload of research on the history of this city (referencing many other books, blogs, essays, newspaper and magazine articles etc), but that he didn’t even really have to in the first place; he’s filled it’s pages with thoughtful and humourous (he is a comedian by trade after all) essays that combine real, fact-based, history stuff with his personal memories and thoughts on growing up here, delivering an incredibly endearing personal touch.

A self professed “left wing political radical”, he and his book are not typically the kind of subjects you’d find on this little blog of ours where we talk about happy, fluffy, lighthearted things that have to do with Vancouver arts and culture. But while we don’t get too serious here with the discourse we have always encouraged you to keep up on the real news, which this book delivers, exploring the “rich legacies of both good and bad decisions here, positive and negative social traditions that we perpetuate”.

If you’re not into politics and you have to Wikipedia what being “left wing” even means, or you don’t know what “Foucauldian panopticon” means, don’t worry; I assure you that as a citizen of this city you’ll get the joke. Laughing along through stories about our neighbourhoods, people, and culture, you will get to know this place (and all of it’s beauty and ugliness) a lot better by the end of it. I almost feel like if you live here you have an obligation to read this book… and that you’ll most likely enjoy fulfilling that obligation.

Thank you, Charles, for taking the time to put together such an incredible piece of work on the city that you obviously love so much. In my view from afar it would seem that the career roadblock you were handed last week when the CityNews List was canceled might serve as an opportunity to hit the keys again, and I doubt I’m the only one who is anxiously awaiting your next book project.

As an aside to our readers: You can win a signed copy of this book! Right here. Or just go down to any good bookstore in the city and buy one.

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Bob is our founder and Editor-in-Chief. A family man and outdoors enthusiast in his 3rd decade of publishing, he steers the V.I.A. ship, hosts our 'BC Was Awesome' history TV show and co-hosts our weekly podcast.