Douglas Coupland has an unparalleled knack for seeing the familiar world around him with the eyes of a stranger. He is able to pick out parts of what we, in our common part of the world, see as “normal” and make them fascinating. In 1994 he made an entire book out of his observations of Vancouver, his hometown.
The west coast of Canada has a unique culture that is formed as much by the landscape as by the trademark, laid-back Canadian temperament. Existing as it does in a teeming metropolis that is bordered by mountain and sea, in Vancouver you are as likely to see a high-powered businessman or businesswoman wearing outdoor gear as fashion brands. We are a multicultural city that has embraced the provenance of its residents by forming districts dedicated to various ethnicities as well as sprouting up as many sushi restaurants as McDonald’s.
But in addition to these obvious elements of west coast living, Coupland explores some of the lesser-known, distasteful, strange and just plain ordinary elements of living here. Reading the book was like taking a walk through my own life and looking at my surroundings properly for the first time. It created a sense of nostalgia for the Vancouver I have known throughout my life, and for the parts of it that have changed. It’s like a homecoming without ever leaving, and evokes a sense of belonging for anyone who has ever called Vancouver home.
On the cover of the book, Coupland describes the book as deriving from “both love and laziness: love, because I spent my twenties scouring the globe thinking there had to be a better city out there, until it dawned on me that Vancouver is the best one going; and laziness, because I thought I was going to go mental explaining dim sum, the sulphur pits and Kitsilano for the umpteen-hundredth time.”
This is a sentiment many of us can relate to. Vancouver is, in many ways, indescribable. However, if there is anyone who stands a chance of doing so, it is Douglas Coupland. This book is a long-time favourite of mine, and I’m pleased to see that it has been expanded and updated. It’s also great timing: with the Olympics just ended, the world is looking to the 2010 Olympic City and seeing all the fancy new venues and bright lights that have been televised over the past month. This book is the one to read if you want to see the real Vancouver – not only the not-so-pretty parts, but also some of the wonderful yet understated elements of what makes all of us who live here proud Vancouverites.