What has been your favorite or most unusual experience at a reading or a literary festival?
During the 2003 Vancouver Writers Fest, I met a burley Scottish writer named David R. Ross who’d just suffered a mild heart attack and was reluctant to drink or otherwise have fun. As it happened, I was reading Sherwin B. Nuland’s How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter, and happened to have the book with me. So I read him Nuland’s graphic description of what happens when a person dies of a heart attack. The clearly frightened Scottish writer’s face turned white, and he left the room a few minutes later and went for a 4 hour walk. When he returned we had a long conversation about living and dying, and then we went off to a party together, where I noticed that he was eating and drinking with considerable gusto. I guess he’d made some sort of fundamental decision that living and dying were different things, and that he’d best have as much fun as possible while he could. (Ross lasted another seven years, and died of, you guessed it, a heart attack.)
If someone loves your latest book, what would you recommend they read next?
My latest book is The Last of the Lumbermen. I can’t think of another book that’s like it, so I’d recommend that if they really enjoyed it, they should either read my own Virtual Clearcut, Or, The Way Things Are in my Home Town, which offers the documentary background for the novel. They could also rent the movie, Slapshot, to which The Last of the Lumbermen has a few parallels, particularly when it comes to slapstick comedy.
What books might we be surprised to find on your bookshelf?
Probably the percentage of serious science books, or the complete works of Italian writer Primo Levi, who is the writer I most admire, and am, by both temperament and life experience, the least able to emulate.
What are you most looking forward to in coming to this year’s Vancouver Writers Fest?
I lived in Vancouver for 26 years, and because I was an urban planner there for a decade, I have a pretty intimate knowledge of the city and it’s infrastructure. Whenever I’m there, I enjoy wandering around and cataloguing the changes. I also have a large number of old friends to visit, including four ex-wives. In 2003, after one of my events, I spent 10 minutes talking to an attractive stranger before I realized it was one of my ex-wives.