The strange case of If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller

Once upon a time, based on the recommendation of my writer friend Jackie Windh, i put the book If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, by Italian writer Italo Calvino, on hold at the Tofino library. It’s a peculiar book, Jackie said — self-referentially a novel that starts off with a musing on the writing and reading of novels, then branches off tangentially (but rationally) with each new chapter into possibly new stories, each never completed.

I knew it would be at the Tofino library because Jackie had just returned it the day before. So i put a hold on it from VIRL’s on-line site, to keep it there. An automatic email arrived shortly from the VIRL system, saying the book was ready for pickup, and a few days later i went in to collect it.

It was nowhere to be found. Continue reading “The strange case of If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller”

Maggie says

Here are a few nuggets from the celebrated Margaret Atwood, who read in Tofino last Saturday from her new dystopic book, Year of the Flood. Still a lively and witty lady, and it was a good West Coast crowd that gathered to see her.

What most impressed me, though, was the co-reading given by her partner Graeme Gibson from his book, The Bedside Book of Beasts. What sounds from the title like a whimsical tour of the animal kingdom (real or imaginary) — and looks, at first blush, like a picture book of animals through the ages — is actually a meaty read, full of surprising thoughts and connections. There’s some deep thinking in it about the human characterizations of animals, and what that says about us. I came away wanting to buy a copy.

From my random, chicken-scratch notes of the evening:


Tree-hugger? Why not a tree-lover?!

Quoting someone: “The whole of Nature is a conjugation of the verb ‘to eat,’ in the active and the passive.”

“Forest bathing” (a.k.a. walking in the woods) … Nature Deficit Disorder…. Some interesting revelations about how time spent in wilderness eases behavioural disorders. People heal faster when they have a scenic view — even just a painting — as opposed to a relentless cityscape.

If you don’t have predators, you don’t have a forest. The predator-prey relationship informs everything about the forest.

Humans domesticate any number of other species, but we ourselves are the only evolved domesticate.

Some of Graeme’s recommended books: Thinking Like a Mountain (Otto Leopold); Last Child in the Woods (author?); Rogue Primate (John Livingston)


This is a book, and these are its covers. The advantage of a book is that you can close the covers and what’s in the book stays in the book. The job of everyone here today is to make sure what’s in the book doesn’t get out of the book.

Ecology as potential religion…? It’s here. Check out The Green Bible.

Once everything is owned by governments and corporations, there will be no neutral third party left to say “No, you aren’t allowed to do that.”

Do I have hope? Hope is built-in. Back in the paleolithic, if you were too bummed out to get out of bed in the morning to find something to eat, you weren’t around for long. We are evolved to hope.

Writing a book is a hopeful thing to do, in and of itself. You hope that you’ll finish it. You hope someone will publish it. You hope it will find readers, and you hope they’ll like it.

I want everyone here to make a pledge today. Coffee is the second most traded commodity worldwide, after oil. It has a huge impact. If you’re only going to do one thing, I want you to pledge that you’ll only drink shade-grown, organic, fair trade coffee from now on.

I’m about a third of the way through Year of the Flood. Tain’t timeless lit’ra’chure, but it’s interesting.



I finished (finally) the above book, which according to the blurb on the Long Beach Golf Course links page is “an e-novella by Mathew Stryanka that takes readers into the angst-ridden life of Roy Merck as he surfs across Canada, looking for a place to call home.” 

It’s always interesting to read a piece set in a place one knows — something that must be a common occurrence in celebrated places like New Yawk City or Paris, France, but is a rarity for WestCoast small towns. 

Mat’s book is not a Great Work of Art by any means, but i found it an interesting look into the struggles of, well, Mat himself to make sense of this senseless existence, and also the ins and outs of the WestCoast surfing life. Lots of checking out waves, metaphysical wonderings, paddling out to mysterious breaks, and intense philosophical conversations. 

Here’s my fave quote in the book is where Roy, sitting in a hot tub with his physicist friend discussing free will and the structure of the universe, says: Oneness isn’t separateness holding hands. It’s Oneness.

I downloaded the book last spring sometime from Mat’s website, which doesn’t seem to be active anymore. He offered the book as a free download, by donation. (Yes, i donated.) 


The format was new to me: a kind of on-screen booklet provided as a Windows .exe file by I’m not a fan of lengthy on-screen reading, but this made it fairly palatable with very short pages and a nifty page-turning feature. Less appealing was the lack of page numbers, which prevented me from knowing how long the book was or where i was in it. That made reading it a pretty much one-shot deal, which is one reason why it took me so long to get around to it. 

I’ve still got the file, which technically i paid for, so i suppose by analogy to a paperback i should be able to pass it on to anyone else who wants to read the book. First request gets it (you’ll need a Windows PC).

On a similar note, i ran across the $300 Sony Reader (at right) during my Stressmas shopping spree (one hour long, on Boxing Day). Seems like e-book readers are slowly getting to the point where i’d want to own one.

Atwood, free & easy

Margaret Atwood
Maggie's such a babe

While i think of it, this year’s Massey Lectures were delivered by Margaret Atwood, under the stunningly prescient title (given recent events) of Payback — Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. As the blurb says, it’s not about practical debt management or high finance. Rather, it is an investigation into the idea of debt as an ancient and central motif in religion, literature, and the structure of human societies.

I caught one lecture live on Ideas but couldn’t work the rest in. However, i now have them all as podcasts. The plan is to get together with a bunch of people, listen to them (one at a time) on subsequent evenings, and discuss. Let me know if you’re interested.

All five lectures can be downloaded as podcasts here, for a limited time, courtesy of the good old CBC — the best thing to happen to media in this benighted country since, well, ever.