South Okanagan author stirs readers’ passions

Penticton writer and reader Heather Allen discusses Okanagan Reads book Shoot! written by George Bowering.

The Okanagan Regional Library invites valley readers to join together and read one book. For this literary challenge — Okanagan Reads — librarians have chosen a book that highlights all things local.

”We tossed around a lot of titles, and then came up with a committee to pick just the right book,” says librarian Fern Teleglow. “Shoot! is an engaging novel set right here in the Thompson Okanagan.”

Its author, George Bowering, was Canada’s first poet laureate and is an award-winning and prolific Canadian novelist, poet, historian and biographer. Although now living on the coast, he was born in Penticton and grew up in Oliver.

Like any good book, Shoot! has stirred up readers’ passions.

“The reactions have been a love/hate kind of thing,” says Teleglow. “Many just love it, saying it’s a real man’s book. But I’ve talked to some people, including librarians, who can’t finish it. One couldn’t get past the first three pages.”

If you make it past the first pages, this historical novel soon develops into a riveting tale about the McLean Gang — three young brothers and a friend who terrorize the Kamloops area in the late 1800s.

The McLeans are known as “breeds” (mixed Scottish and First Nations blood) which makes them outcasts in both cultures and destined to be outlaws. They beat up strangers, rustle cattle and break into homes. After murdering two men, they wind up sentenced to death in a New Westminster prison.

Okanagan Reads is a first for the Okanagan Regional Library. But the idea of one city, area or even country joining together to read one book isn’t a new concept. Literacy projects such as this one were first popularized in the 1990s by the now well-known Seattle librarian, Nancy Pearl. “In fact she’s so famous in library circles that she has her own action figure,” says Teleglow. Pearl’s idea of reading together has since spread around the globe.

As a part of the Okanagan’s valley-wide literacy project, the ORL has organized readings with Bowering, film screenings, cowboy poetry readings and historical talks up and down the valley. “Okanagan Reads is getting us noticed,” says Teleglow. “We’ve got a lot to offer the community.”

TV celebrity Mike Roberts hosts a discussion panel at noon on March 8 at the Kelowna Library. Panelists will be debating some of the biggest questions arising from the book: How much of it is true or based on true events? How well does Bowering’s imagination stack up against historical accounts of the era?

Although Okanagan Reads events are winding down, Teleglow encourages readers to pick up the book to read, discuss and connect. To view or add your comments about the book visit: okanaganreads.ca. The Okanagan Regional Library has 200 copies of Shoot! to lend. The Penticton Public Library, which isn’t affiliated with the ORL, has acquired one copy which is now available for loan.

Heather Allen is a reader and writer living in Penticton.

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