On Biblical Coupling, Local Literary Tendencies, and “Slow Growth” with Arrogant and Crow – Al-Kashafa Magazine

Zoe Grams and Ian Gill are the co-founders of Upstart & Crow, a cozy community center on Granville Island and a “haven” for book lovers of all ilk. The bookstore recently celebrated its third anniversary on August 26, which seemed like the perfect opportunity for the bookish duo to meet up – along with Creative Operations Director, Robyn Smith – to reflect and chat (and get a bunch of book recommendations, from the course)…

Three years is not easy! Let’s go over some of the highlights from the past few years (and tell us what you’re excited about next year)…

Robin: My favorite was Top Shelf, an evening of cocktails and books hosted by three brilliant women in the creative community: Lizzie Karp, Megan Lau, and Michelle Sica. We dimmed the lights, played some soothing tunes, and served delicious drinks that matched books with a similar “mood” — for example, Jin Sookfong Lee’s coming-of-age memoir, Great follower, paired with dark gamay juice. It was great.

Ian: Three years, three highlights. One was when the late Harold R. johnston (Peace and good order) came to visit, and we became instant friends. I miss him. Another was when Tuutahkʷiisnupšiƛ Joe Martin (Chabots made) Bring a canoe to the store to celebrate the importance of art in remembering and honoring Indigenous women. And I absolutely loved the conversation we had with Hugh Brodie at the launch of his wonderful anniversary, Landscapes of silence.

Robin: I also love every time an author comes to the studio to sign books or just have a look around. They are my rock stars. I feel confused. Two writers I was lucky to meet this year, Billy Ray Belcourt and Stuart Ross, are wonderful writers and wonderful people, and readers, too. Precious stones!

Zoe: Yes! Although some of my most valuable moments so far are small and almost invisible, they are interactions and meanings that do not indicate accomplishment but are about human connection. Find that perfect recommendation for someone; Receiving a nod of understanding from someone you like, hearing a young man enthusiastically cheering on his friends as he enters the space; all of that. As for next year…more art in the studio, more programming, more translated literature, more surprises!

Fall is traditionally a good time for new books. What title are you looking forward to diving into next month?

Zoe: delinquency, written by Peter Reilly, completely captivated me when I first found it at Daunt Books in London earlier this year. Now, it’s being released in Canada next October, and we couldn’t be more excited to hand-sell it — or to host an online event with the author. It is a strange, inventive, and interesting exploration of mental health, environmental values, and late-stage capitalism told through a profound obsession with stranded whales. Seems a little different? Oh, it’s so cool of him. And bowels By Magogodi Uwamfela Makeni is next on my list – a first collection of relatable stories about Soweto residents living under apartheid and beyond. It looks cool and devastating.

Robin: I’m trying to read more poetry, and there’s a lot of it coming out this fall – Jess Hosty, an amazing writer from the Heiltsuk Nation, has her collection Crushed wild mint in October. I also want to read Susan Musgrave’s book Acquittal liliesAnd Hanaa Al-Shafi’i People you know, places you’ve been.

Ian: I can’t wait to get my hands on it Right Story, Wrong Story: Adventures in Indigenous Thinking. I just finished reading Tyson Yunkaporta’s book Sand Talk For the third time, I’m relishing the opportunity to delve deeper into his new series of thought experiments that are, as he puts it, “crowd-sourced narratives where everyone’s contribution to the story, no matter how contradictory, is honored and included… the closest thing I can find to world to the indigenous collective process of what we call “spinning.” It is genius.

Do you have a local beer/wine/cocktail/drink recommendation to accompany your book recommendation, that you suggest?

Robin: Oh yeah, you definitely need to drink while reading poetry. Well at least I do. I’ll drink the Odd Fellows spell with everything.

Zoe: I’m in love with Persephone Brewing’s new Honey – refreshing, different, and, as the days go by, perhaps a lovely reminder of summer.

Ian: A cup of hot peppermint tea and water mint tea from Washington State’s Willamette Valley, courtesy of Granville Island Tea Company.

What book has made the biggest impression on you historically?

Robin: Yikes, what a question. Zoe, help!

Zoe: It is not necessarily the book that affected me the most, but I do remember reading the play Angels in AmericaBy Tony Kushner When he was a teenager and was completely fascinated by his bold depictions of angels, God, humanity, suffering and the universe, he thought: “You can do that with language?” In fact, such texts are my favorite works – often found in the “Literary Magic” section of our studio: works that not only immerse you in the story, but make you marvel at its form and techniques.

Robin: Nice – good. When I think of books that have left a magical impression, I think back to my younger years when reading seemed more vital. Philip Pullman His dark materials The trilogy stands out. She is still obsessed with demons.

Ian: As for the books I read in my younger years that influenced me, it’s a bit of a hoopla Tin drumby Günter Grass, and The good soldier is healedWritten by Jaroslav Hašek.

What book is considered the best depiction of British Columbia literature?

Robin: I’m not sure there is a perfect BC book, but when someone comes asking about local writers, I generally point them towards Eden Robinson and Brian Britt.

Zoe: I moved to BC about 13 years ago from Scotland. It includes some of the first books I read here that helped me start to understand this place and continue to stay with me Jade peonyWritten by Wayson Choi, Medicine walkWritten by Richard Wagamese, poetry by Evelyn Lau, Daphne Marlatt, and Mac Farrant. In Rubin’s view, the breadth of stories in this vast region continually challenges a sense that might have previously existed of what “BC” means in terms of art. It’s a very exciting time for this reason.

Ian: Time curve, M. Wylie Blanchet’s 1960s memoir about exploring British Columbia’s inland waterways with her children would probably be classified as quaint these days. I classify it as a classic.

Which local author (Vancouver, BC or Canadian) interests you most, and would you recommend reading?

Robin: As a journalist, I usually love everything John Vaillant writes. I also loved it Kissing the red stairsMarsha Lederman’s memoir about the Holocaust and intergenerational trauma. and the first novel by Emi Sasagawa, the atomic weight! There are so many great local writers, don’t make me do this!

Zoe: Oh, this is so hard and I think I need to take a different path. One of the most exciting parts of Vancouver, for me, is the community of writers it fosters. At the recent book launch, it was a pleasure to see different generations of writers connecting with each other; Some build on the work of others but have never met; Others are close friends and mentors whose creative lives are symbiotic if not intertwined. I think that feeling of collaboration is the most exciting.

Ian: Richard Wagamese, for his beautiful mind. Eden Robinson for her boldness. Edith Iglauer to pluck. Yes, and that guy Vaillant can make a good, weird sentence, but don’t tell him I said that.

“I see our mission, not just as booksellers, but as engaged citizens in a fractured world, as pushing the imaginative boundaries of what is possible.”

Finally, let’s end with a weightier question: Book readers seem to be a rare, but resilient, breed these days. Interest in reading and buying books saw a resurgence during Covid times, when Upstart & Crow opened… How has engagement with readers (new and brave) evolved over the past three years? What challenges and changes do you anticipate for the future, for example, the next three years? How do Upstart & Crow intend to “roll with the punches”?

Robin: It’s been a tough few years, and the painful times continue with global climate collapse well underway. What can a bookstore do? We try to be ethical and service-focused in our business – we pay a living wage to our staff, offer paid accommodation for writers in the upstairs mezzanine, and, this fall, are organizing a climate writers series, with direct action being a key part of the program.

Zoe: I like to think that we have big ambitions and realistic views, and I think that helps us get through difficult times. Focusing on a bigger, bold vision knowing that day after day, week after week, we do what we need to to grow, build, or weather.

Robin: Yes, slow growth seems to be the way to go these days. Basically, we just want to make reading fun and accessible, because it’s the greatest escape from reality we’ve ever found.

Ian: I see it as our job, not just as booksellers, but as participating citizens of a fractured world, to push the imaginative boundaries of what is possible. I actually disagree that book readers are a rare breed, even though there is a lot of competition for people’s attention. I am actually delighted by the curiosity of young people in particular, and their thirst for innovative ideas.

Zoe: I think we’ll continue to see a push toward more convenience, more distillation of information, more distraction over depth. I see our role as reminding people of the benefits of resisting these trends, and more than that, providing a place – both physically and mentally – to enjoy the joys of doing so. As for rolling with the punches… When we first opened, we weren’t sure what to expect. I would like us to continue to feel this way.

Ian: what did she say.

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