Do you have a favourite Vancouver/Lower Mainland writer?
Too many! Seriously. At least thirty. This area is rich with literary minds. I don’t want to start listing or I’ll obsess over who I’m forgetting.
What books have changed your life?
I’m convinced that my life would be very different if I hadn’t grown up with Hans Christian Andersen stories. I’m especially blessed because I got the real deal – the unadulterated Danish stories. For North American readers who might be more familiar with Disney versions or poor translations, it’s a real gift to get a proper translation. In most English versions of The Ugly Duckling, for example, the duckling realizes he is a beautiful swan and there is some resolution. In the original, two children point at the beautiful swan and he is confused and looks around him to see the swan and does not recognize that they are talking about him. No redemption. That’s a Danish thing.
What is the most cherished item in your library?
Two dictionaries. One is English to Danish. The other is Danish to English. It’s a set that my dad bought for me when I started translating. The books are massive, like the Oxford English Dictionary. He bought them in Copenhagen and then hauled them all over Denmark and then across the Atlantic. He cursed and sweat the whole time, I’m sure. It’s easily one of the sweetest things anyone has ever done for me.
Do you have a favourite story set in Vancouver?
I’d have to say Sky Lee’s Disappearing Moon Cafe is up there. So is Joy Kogawa’s Obasan. The Vancouver part of Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson. Rolf Knight’s Along the No. 20 Line. Skids by Cathleen With. The Man Game by Lee Henderson. All of these books capture unique glimpses of this city past and present.
If it’s sunny, or grey but not raining, I like to find a spot down by the water. Sunset Beach is always beautiful. If it’s raining, I like Melriche’s on Davie or the Arbutus cafe at Arbutus and 6th or Rhizome on Broadway. Vancouver has some great spots.
The one book you always recommend is…?
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I recommend this in all of my classes at Langara. For many writers who are just starting out, it is a valuable tool in terms of personal growth. So much of writing is about battling inner demons and that book provides budding creative people with some very powerful questions to ask themselves.
Which writer excites you right now?
Right now, I’m reading Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning. Frankl was a psychologist prior to WWII. The Nazis put him in a concentration camp. He documents his experiences alongside his observations of the other prisoners and explores what people live for – what keeps some people going in the face of such atrocity. After being stripped of everything – his home, belongings, clothing, the manuscript he was writing before the war and even his body hair, which they shave off upon his arrival in the camp – he explores what he continues to live for. This book is a beautiful paradox. It captures horrific human ugliness and alongside it a reverent love of humanity.
What writer would you love to see read their work?
Right now, Victor Frankl. Thanks to youtube, that is possible. Imagine what it would be like to have the privilege of attending one of his lectures. This is brilliant: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fD1512_XJEw
If you could ask any author anything, who would it be and what would you ask her/him?
I have a lot of questions for the writers of The Bible, not Jesus or the apostles so much but the actual writers. I’d really like to hear about that process. How much fighting was there over who remembered what and who said this or that. There has been so much strife over those stories, so much weight on stories that came from an oral tradition that were written down at least fifty years after Jesus died. I’d be really interested in hearing from the unnamed people who actually penned the words. How did they decide what to write down? How did they deal with differences? I’d also like to know if there was consensus on any of the stories and, if so, which one(s). Putting aside all issues of belief, I’m totally fascinated by how the book was written.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Joan Didion. I admire her so much. She can string together a sentence like nobody’s business.
What’s next on your reading list?
Breathing the Page by Betsy Warland, a thoughtful sounding book on writing. Also, Blue Nights by Joan Didion. It’s going to be a great December.