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Notes from Revelstoke

In the summer, the Trans Canada from Calgary to Revelstoke is a long river of tourists. The highway is a near constant roar of vehicles. By comparison, the route around Lake Superior afforded stretches of silence save for birdsong.

But the hills in Ontario are often impossibly steep. Many times it was wiser for me to dismount and walk rather than risk an injury from straining my hamstrings. Less energy expended and not really much slower than grinding uphill in the saddle.

Whereas the hills in western Alberta and in British Columbia are generally engineered to a manageable gradient. Sometimes the highway, the railway, and the river run closely parallel through the mountains. Cycling, you can settle into a low gear and just enjoy the scenery. Not much more strenuous than briskly jogging. It’s slow and it can wear you down. But what goes up...

The ride from Rogers Pass to Revelstoke is mostly downhill. And though I was slowed by the occasional headwind, it was easy cycling. I’m now enjoying a rest day and looking forward to a visit from Lynn and Paul – friends since my university days.

Stretched out in my tent I was reflecting on my recent visit to Café Books in Canmore, Alberta. It was by far the busiest bookstore I have visited on my journey. Many locals, of course, but lots of tourists, as well. It is gratifying to know that a few copies of Little Brudders are on there way to Europe with overseas visitors with whom I chatted.

Surprisingly, the final two copies I signed were purchased by teenagers.

The first was a sixteen-year-old girl from England. I spoke with her father, who remarked that, in his youth, he had emigrated from India to Los Angeles to London – where his daughter was born. I explained that the book had content more appropriate to adult readers. But his daughter seemed really keen to read the novel and he assured me that she was mature beyond her years. After she mentioned that she’d read American Psycho I figured my book would do her no harm.

Then Sadie’s sister arrived with two girlfriends. Sadie is a new employee at Café Books and just learning the ropes. I got the impression that her sister had dropped in to offer a little encouragement. Sadie pointed to me – the visiting author – and faced with three smiling teenagers, I was briefly transported back to my teaching days.

Typically, when I introduce myself and someone expresses an interest in the book, I explain the premise and the basic structure of the story and pitch it as a dark comedy. Maybe a little off-beat. I was a little taken aback when these three girls (recent high school grads) stepped aside to confer. After a moment, they were all digging through their purses. It became apparent that they were going to split the cost and read the book in turns. They seemed genuinely excited, as if meeting an author and getting a signed copy were some wonderful new adventure.

It was really among my favourite moments since leaving Montréal.

And now I am reflecting on my own youthful reading. I recall, as a boy, reading Illustrated Bible Stories for Children. A gift from my grandparents and the source of my early delusion that characters from that revered tome were all white folks, like me, albeit bearded.

I know my personal library largely comprised the collected works of Franklin W. Dixon, the pen name used by Canadian writer, Leslie McFarlane (among others) – author(s) of the popular Hardy Boys series.

I have vivid memories of all my school libraries where my reading leaned toward wilderness adventure and later to historical romance. In my mind’s eye I can still see myself reaching up in the Colwood Regional Library and plucking Milton’s Paradise Lost from the shelf. As a boy, I was both conventional and a little odd.

I got to thinking about my own novel. It’s likely in a few libraries by now. So I searched the Vancouver Public Library. The online catalogue. One copy available at the Firehall Branch. One copy... what?

Not available at this time. CHECKED OUT. Due Aug 19, 2022.

I know there are millions of writers in the world. And billions (maybe trillions) of books. Most books sell in the hundreds. A few in the thousands. Only a handful in the millions. But it is strangely unimaginable, to me, that my book is in a library and someone – maybe a complete stranger to me – might be sharing a connection for a few hours.

I have friends who have been featured in films or television shows that, perhaps, millions of people have watched. There are those whose songs have had countless plays over the radio. Billions, I suppose, have stood transfixed, gazing up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Even the theatre productions I directed for secondary school students are likely to have reached a larger audience than will Little Brudders.

But there is something intensely intimate about imagining one’s first novel sitting on a nightstand next to a stranger. With a lot of luck – a few hundred or a few thousand strangers.

I suppose one gets this sense of intimacy from knowing that many forms of art can, potentially, be passively experienced. It is hard to passively experience a novel. Reading fiction must be an imaginative collaboration. An intensely personal exchange between author and reader.

All arts have, I think, that potential for intimacy. But a story on the page...

Perhaps I’m overstating my case. Let’s just say I’ve been pedalling for a long time. My whole life, I suppose. Metaphorically. Heading somewhere.

But knowing a sixteen-year-old girl may be reading my book on the plane home to England. That three girls in Canmore may have a little discussion about Spence and Thierry one day. That someone reached for it and pulled it from the shelf of a library overflowing with books...

I can tell you that is both a little unsettling and a bit of a thrill.

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28. Aug. 2022

Nice book exchange box! My favourite English Canadian author: Robertson Davies. 😁

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