ARMCHAIR BOOK CLUB: Celebrating B.C.’s best authors

Penticton columnist reviews the B.C. Book Prizes, now in their 29th year, that celebrate the best of our province’s writers.

The best books from B.C. will be selected at a gala event next month. The B.C. Book Prizes, now in their 29th year, celebrate the best of our province’s writers.

Most of the seven categories are traditional — giving awards for the best work of fiction, poetry, non-fiction, children’s literature (illustrated), and children’s literature (non-illustrated).  But, B.C. books also includes two unique categories: a regional prize, which recognizes the author of a book that most contributes to the enjoyment and understanding of B.C., and the Bookseller’s Choice award for the book with the broadest public appeal.

This year the Okanagan is represented in the fiction category by Anne Fleming, who teaches at the University of BC in Kelowna, and is nominated for her intriguingly-titled novel Gay Dwarves of America. Also connected to the Okanagan is George Bowering, who grew up in Oliver, and is nominated for his memoir Pinboy. Readers may recognize Bowering from the recent Okanagan Reads valley-wide book club, which featured his 2008 novel, Shoot!.

The BC Book Prizes include other familiar names such as Bill Gaston, who has been twice-nominated. This time around he is nominated for his grandly-named novel The World. In this quirky read, newly divorced and freshly retired school teacher Stuart Price cashes in his pension to pay off his house. To celebrate his last mortgage payment, he burns the bank papers on his back deck. Falling asleep before the fire is completely out, Price wakes to find himself suddenly homeless and near penniless. Gaston sends Price on a hilarious journey of discovery, just managing to keep Price’s ridiculous antics this side of believable.

The list of 35 finalists is eclectic and broad-ranging, featuring something for just about any reader. The stack contains a new B.C. atlas, the history of B.C. trucking, the history of an infamous Vancouver nightclub, a book about the life of P.K. Page, a story about a high-profile mountain plane crash, and an overview of 100 years of the Vancouver Sun. The B.C. Book Prizes will be awarded in Victoria, but with tours planned for every part of the province, most British Columbians will get to hear the voices of some of the authors. The tour planners intentionally send authors to regions far from their own homes, as a way to for both authors and readers to make new connections.

This year in the Interior, illustrator Stefan Czernecki will showcase his book Rainbow Shoes, and Evelyn Lau will read from her new book of poetry A Grain of Rice. The closest stop on their tour will be in Princeton on May 3. For event details, to read the complete list of contenders, or follow the B.C. book tour blog, visit www.bcbookprizes.ca.

Heather Allen is a reader and writer living in Penticton.