BC book maven Alan Twigg has just released a book that is sure to raise many hackles in literary circles this fall. Called The Essentials, it purports to list the 150 most significant books published in BC since the beginning of time. This is territory where angels fear to tread, so Twigg doesn't even try to be politic; it's Twigg's version all the way and you can like it or lump it. Twigg anticipates the critics by posing the question himself, "Where is Andreas Schroeder...Michael Turner, Patrick Lane, Lorna Crozier..Marilyn Bowering, John Gray, Robert Harlow, R.M. Patterson and all the others whose names would fill two pages?"
Indeed. And one can make the picture seem even more alarming to devotees of postmodern poetry by adding some of the names he does include: Margaret Trudeau, Jack James (for Divorce Guide for BC), Dude Lavington (for Nine Lives of a Cowboy), Rick Hansen (whose book was actually written by Jim Taylor), Leonard Frank (who never touched pen to paper either), the Witte sisters, Alfred G. Davy (for The Gilly: A Flyfisher's Guide to BC), Tom Thurston (Tom who?)
But as Twigg goes on to explain, his method has not been as arbitrary as the mere examination of the list would make it seem. He has used sociological and historical criteria as much as literary ones. And he has included books that were important quite apart from their authors' reputation or their literary quality if they were connected to important events, regions or communities. Thus the US anthropologist Clellan Ford gets in for ghosting the great Kwakiutl memoir, Smoke from their Fires; Thom Henley gets in for editing the book that helped create Gwaii Hanaas National Park; and the redoubtable Mr. Thurston makes it in for having penned a book about homespun weightlifter Doug Hepburn, whose life was amazing, even if the book isn't.
Okay, so it is a little arbitrary. Nevermind, Alan Twigg's grasp of the entire landscape of BC writing from the time of Juan Perez to the time of Ivan E. Coyote is unmatched by anyone alive and his opinions on which 150 books best map out the full range and character of that landscape are as educational as they are provocative.