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Book tour, part 1: Nostalgia

Anyone who knows me, or listens to the Starzology podcast, knows I read a lot of books. These days, it's mostly audiobooks from the library (shout out the Libby app!) so I can listen to them while I'm doing other things... skating, biking, shopping, working out or trying to fall asleep. But I also have a massive bookcase housing nearly 400 (yes, I counted!) books (yes, organized by color!) covering a wide range of topics from astrology to art and design, music, reference, politics, history, graphic novels, the very occasional fiction novel and a handful of books by my favorite authors, which I wanted to own in physical form.

My friend and fellow podcaster Alison Price recently suggested I catalog my "library" for the blog, so here is my first of several posts, starting from left to right (or white to black, as the case may be).

The White Shelf

  1. McSweeney's Volume 3

  2. Wisdom of your Face by Jean Hanner

  3. The Sense of Being Stared At by Rupert Sheldrake

  4. Phantoms in the Brain by V S. Ramachandran, MD, PhD and Sandra Blakeslee

  5. Person to Person Astrology by Stephen Arroyo

  6. Culture of Terrorism by Noam Chomsky

  7. The Astrology of Family Dynamics by Erin Sullivan

  8. The Development of the Personality by Liz Greene and Howard Sasportas

  9. Film by Ronald Bergan

  10. Quantum Psychology by Robert Anton Wilson

  11. The Exception to the Rulers by Amy Goodman

  12. White Rabbit: A Psychedelic Reader

  13. The Order of Things by Barbara Ann Kipfer

  14. Generation X by Douglas Coupland

  15. Living Rooms by Elle Decor

  16. Big Book of fashion illustration by Martin Dawber

Deep Dive: Generation X by Douglas Coupland

While to the rest of the world, he's best known as the author who affixed the label to Generation X, Vancouver's native son Douglas Coupland would rather think of himself as a multimedia artist, and in his hometown, he is allowed a great deal of latitude to exercise all the skills he honed studying art at Emily Carr University. In 2014, the Vancouver Art Gallery hosted a sprawling exhibition of his ironic slogan and Lego-based artwork.

The exhibition took up the entire first floor and every room was devoted to a different medium, theme or idea. In one room, a series of paintings in the style of his Alma Mater's namesake; in another room, a trio of papier mache hornets' nests. As visually interesting as they were, the rooms full of high-concept found object collages, Lego landscapes and walls patch-worked with thought-provoking, acerbic aphorisms only made me wish that the entire show was accompanied by an audio track narrated by the author, so you could drift from room to room with his voice in your head telling you stories about all the seemingly random collections of objects.

Maybe it was the bizarre "look what I can do" juxtaposition of styles, or maybe it was the perpetual evoking of nostalgia, which is his best-honed superpower, but I felt as though my consciousness was beamed back to the 90s—my years at art school, followed by a series of service industry jobs, and finally, finding myself at the heart of the "dotcom" boom, working for a microscopic startup as a junior web designer.

Before I talk about Generation X, let's talk about the first book I ever read by Douglas Coupland, Microserfs. I had just moved to Vancouver in 1996 and my first temporary job was working at an ad agency's interactive department. Between reading the classic daily screeds about popular culture at first thing every morning and reading Microserfs over my lunch breaks, it didn't take long before I'd completely brainwashed myself into an unshakable certainty that the tech industry was where I belonged. (It didn't occur to me until much later that where I really felt like I belonged was not in any particular field or industry, but rather in a Douglas Coupland novel.)

When my job at the ad agency interactive department ended in 1997, I went to work in a sterile suburban high rise in Metrotown. I went through a lot of books during my commute because it took me 30 minutes to get there by Sky Train and this was before the era of ubiquitous cell phones or even iPods. My work-best friend was a delightfully acerbic corporate veteran who had suddenly found herself relegated to temporary status, a level of administrative drudgery one step above contractors like myself. We bonded over long walks through the mall at lunch, drinking way too much break room coffee and, as it turned out, books.

I realized it was time to read Generation X when, after about her third reference to her "VFP," I finally broke down and asked what that meant, and she gave me a look of pity and disgust that suggested she suddenly realized she was dealing with a substandard intellect. "My veal-fattening pen," she enunciated carefully. "You know, my cubicle? The place where I sit and pretend to work all day while I'm emailing you?" By the following Monday, I was all up to speed. Veal-Fattening Pen. Just one of Douglas Coupland's many gifts to the English language.

After a year of pre-LinkedIn job hunting in my copious free time on the job, I finally traded in the ol' VFP for a small web design company downtown, walking distance from my apartment. You could say they were an early adopter of the "open office plan," with 15 desks crammed into a room smaller than my living room is now, sharing a mini-fridge and one telephone.

It was everything I'd yearned for... the nerd bonding rituals, the 5-to-1 boy-girl ratio, the 90% genuine divestment of corporate hierarchy, learning Photoshop and building websites, hearing about new disruptive technologies called Google and Napster before most of the world heard about them from my clued-in tech bro colleagues... who also provided free, unlimited, 24-hour a day non-derisive tech support (okay, minimally derisive).

I loved the late nights eating "family dinners" in the conference room and then loading Doom or Quake onto the network so we could play against each other; sitting at our desks with our backs to the room, yelling and swearing and hammering at our keyboards, trying to decipher which of the randomly shifting blobs of pixels was your shitty little 1997-era avatar while running around chaotically shooting at anything that moved, all the while thinking, Wow... if it hadn't been for Microserfs.

Over the years I've come to think of Douglas Coupland's characteristic style of jaded detachment combined with naive sentimentality as quintessentially Canadian, maybe even quintessentially Vancouver. Which brings me to City of Glass, the only other book of his that I actually own. I bought it at a used book store several years ago and I'm pretty sure I've read it cover to cover, but the only thing I can remember is the page where he lays out the definitive Vancouver color palette in Pantone swatches. It's things like that—the perfect, self-contained ideas you find floating on the surface throughout his work, little kernels of brilliance that give you a momentary shock of recognition and then embed themselves in your subconscious as if they'd somehow always been there, only you lacked the specific vocabulary (or Pantone Color System codes) to articulate them.

Tune in next week for my next "book tour" instalment, the Tan Shelf!

Order my Badass Goddesses book in paperback, hardback and Kindle/tablet formats.

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Alison Price
Alison Price
02 jun.

#VFP - I love it! 💛

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