Vancity book review: Coupland's ode to Vancouver

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Douglas Coupland's City of Glass

To begin a series about Vancity books, City of Glass, a quirky chronicle of the city through the personal anecdotes of Canadian novelist Douglas Coupland, is the logical place to start.

City of Glass was so named for the enormous glass buildings iconic to the city it evokes. The book is part short essays, part fiction, and about half-full of pictures: Coupland lays his Vancouver out alphabetically, from the “abc…” of Vancouver terminology to “YVR”, “where Vancouver begins and ends”. Notable pieces in between include “Real Estate!” (with an exclamation point), “Grow-ops” and “Whales”. Each section captures part of what makes up the city in one or two pages of short narrative; they encompass personal story, interesting fact and Vancouverite in-joke.

Along with essays and pictures, City of Glass also includes two rather different pieces about life in Vancouver, both of which were previously published by Coupland in other anthologies. “My Hotel Year” explores the life of a narrator who “moved into a rent-by-the-week cold water downtown hotel room on Granville Street and had cut all my hair off, stopped shaving and had thorns tattooed on my right arm”. “Lions Gate” is a series of memories about the Lions Gate bridge, and it is to the landmark what City of Glass is to Vancouver. Both pieces are written out of love.

Aside from a couple of outdated references like Coupland’s skepticism over the one-day dream (in 2000) of a Sky Train line to Richmond, City of Glass reads like seeing parts of home through someone else’s eyes; familiar, yet different. One section, “Colours” of Vancouver, is a literal colour palate of the city, from the four different shades of green common here (cedar, fir, rhododendron and vine maple) to the plum blossoms (pink), the sky (grey) and the omnipresent glass that gave the book its name (grey? green? blue? glass… coloured?).

City of Glass doesn’t touch on every part of Vancouver (my excluded favourites are English Bay and Granville Island), or everything worth knowing about the city, but as a labour of love by one Vancouverite, that’s fitting. In a text where each section is somewhat of a departure from the previous one, the two fiction pieces, distinct from each other in tone as well as typeface, fit as well as everything else does. The overall effect is an entertaining read that’s a must for everyone calling this city home and for anyone else who’s just visiting.

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Sam Markham 

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