Nancy Richler (1957-2018)

Nancy Richler from Montreal was one of the first writers to depict Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and the plight of missing women when she published the first of her three novels, Throwaway Angels. FULL STORY

#48 ‘Tis the Season to be Shopping

December 14th, 2015

Every now and again it marvels me that any of us can manage to sleep at night. One-third of the people who need the food bank are children. Other people can’t afford to buy tomatoes or peppers or apples or peaches… while tons of ‘recycled’ food winds up at the dump, crushed by the tracks of bulldozers.

When you cannot sleep you lie there, probably curled on your side, and your unfettered mind wanders, a child-like free spirit. It would pick flowers if there were any. So many events bombard us daily, so much impinges on our brains, our minds, our very souls, that we are sometimes unable to sort them, process them, judge them; sometimes we can’t even understand them.

Last night I started thinking about when so-called Homeland Security wanted to track what books everyone was reading. I was amazed and unsettled by how placidly so many people accepted this fascist agenda. We really ought to have been out in the streets raising all manner of hell. I think it was the librarians who refused to cooperate, flat out.  That was that. Maybe Homeland Security realized they couldn’t afford to put a spy in every library.

But I have to admit, they were onto something. Literature is enormously powerful in terms of shaping our values.

I can vividly remember the most radicalizing thing I have ever read. My mom, Annie, gave me a copy of Tolstoy’s Stories for Children. I still have that book. In it there is a story called, ‘How Much Land Does A Man Need.’ It’s about a city man who is told by tribesmen that he can have as much land as he can visit from sunrise to sunset, and still make it back to where he started from. He sets off, thrilled. He rides furiously. But his greed is such that he can’t bring himself back by sunset. He gets nothing. He dies of exhaustion, having not stopped to drink. Something like that…

At age eight or nine, or however old I was, I totally understood. I might not have been able to explain it, but I got it. Now I see Tolstoy’s parable is an all-out assault on capitalism which—when you think of it—is much the same as greed.

The next radicalisation came from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I first considered it simply as the story of a girl named Francie Nolan who lived in a particular neighbourhood in ‘the States’.  I re-read it recently and I now see how it slices at the soft underbelly of a society increasingly obsessed with “success.”

Then there’s The Diviners by Margaret Laurence. Well, actually, pretty much everything written by her. She takes on racism, sexism, elitism, you name it. She remains one of my heroes.

I don’t bother with Hemingway, as far as I’m concerned the old man was crazy.  Full stop. But John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath deserves a re-reading, not only because it gives us insight into conditions and events of the recent past but because it’s a great example of what is staring us in the face in the near future.

California is running out of water; the Colorado River is reduced to a trickle. People are still driving to the car wash and diving into their private swimming pools and complaining bitterly about the skyrocketing price of broccolli and other vegetables which, until recently, grew on agri-farms just down the road.

So many crops are failing because of lack of water. And still we lose tons of perfectly good food because it has grown in what we think is misshapen form. It is marred if it’s not considered unblemished. A little scar on a tomato, where the fruit grew against a branch. Or indentation where a bug took one bite. If an apple isn’t perfectly formed or it’s too small, it is can’t be eaten. It is tossed away.

Now here comes the shopping sprees of Christmas, followed by a frenzy of shopping on Boxing Day… How Much Food Does A Man Need? How Many Gadgets Does A Man Need?

Anne Cameron grows pussywillows on the western edge of Vancouver Island. She received the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an outstanding literary career in British Columbia in 2010. Her 23 books include Daughters of Copper Woman, the bestselling work of fiction ever written about B.C. and published from within B.C. She has banished herself to Tahsis, a small town not far from Friendly Cove where the shenanigans called British Columbia all began.

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