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Vancouver Special

by Charles Demers

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essays & travelogues, western provinces
list price: $24.95
category: Travel
published: 2009
publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
  • Short-listed, BC Book Prize
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Shortlisted for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize


Excerpted in the Vancouver Sun

Vancouver is at a crossroads in its history--host to the 2010 Winter Olympics and home to the poorest neighbourhood in Canada; a young, multicultural city with a vibrant surface and a violent undercoat; a savvy urban centre with an inferiority complex.

In Vancouver Special, writer and performer Charles Demers examines the who, what, where, when, why, and how of Vancouver, shedding light on the various strategies and influences that have made the city what it is today (as well as what it should be). From a history of anti-Asian racism to a deconstruction of the city's urban sprawl; from an examination of local food trends to a survey of the city's politically radical past, Vancouver Special is a love letter to the city, taking a no-holds-barred look at Lotusland with verve, wit, and insight.

The book features stunning black-and-white photographs by Emmanuel Buenviaje throughout.

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Editorial Reviews

A gem.... Vancouverites and non-Vancouverites alike will learn something from the smart and witty essays in Vancouver Special. Locals will appreciate seeing their lifestyles reflected back, and both them and foreigners will get a glimpse into what makes Vancouverites tick.

— Discorder

I wish Charles Demers' Vancouver Special had existed when I arrived in this city 10 years ago.... It's the type of tourist guide I appreciate, showing equal parts enthusiasm and incisors.... From making peace with the cliche of unsavory Surrey jokes to challenging existing social policies, Demers' inherent love for a city he hopes "never to have to leave for too long" is more than obvious.
-Vancouver Review

— Vancouver Review

Vancouver Special maps the city and navigates its more contentious points with comic wit.... Demers explores the multiplicity of Vancouver so well that even his fellow locals will learn things they didn't know about themselves.
-Canadian Geographic

— Canadian Geographic

A witty, observant, and very personal guide to the city and surrounding suburbs.... Charles Demers, the local comedian, novelist, and activist, provides a refreshing take on Vancouver's history, culture, and geography.
-Georgia Straight ("Best of Vancouver" issue, in naming Vancouver Special the "Best Insider's Guide to the City")

— Georgia Straight

An entertaining and intelligent collection of essays. Demers writes with impressive erudition and wit about everything from the distinctive and graceless Vancouver residential design that gives the book its title to the city's approaches to racism, pot, anarchism, rich people and the homeless.
-The Globe and Mail

— The Globe and Mail

Demers covers it all. His sharp social criticism paired with punchy and painfully true comedy makes for a read that is both thought provoking and entertaining. Vancouver Special is an honest and enjoyable dissection of the city and its people.... If you haven't fallen in love with Vancouver yet, you just might after reading this book.
-re:place Magazine

— re:place Magazine

Unlike, Douglas Coupland's City of Glass---which was more of an instruction manual to the inside jokes that populate our city---or Vancouver Matters---the city seen through urban planning and architectural choices---Demers has written a mesh of personal and cultural history that aims to dig a bit deeper. Where Coupland was all wit and gloss, Demers isn't afraid to expose the grit and grime of the city he so obviously loves, pointing out the glaring hypocrisies, inequalities, and insecurities.
-Beyond Robson (beyondrobson.com)

— Beyond Robson

It's only fitting that a city with so many unlikely facets--its conspicuous wealth and conspicuously ignored poverty, its inscrutable WASPiness and inscrutable Asian-ness, its left-wing face and right-wing heart--should be both celebrated and excoriated by a writer with such multifarious abilities. Taking Vancouver on one neighbourhood at a time, Charles Demers examines his hometown from both the tender filter of personal history and a wider, socio-historical point-of-view. A comedian, political activist, and novelist, Demers writes so well about Vancouver because his essays are like the city at its best: open-minded, compassionate, and never boring.
-Kevin Chong, author of Baroque-a-Nova and Neil Young Nation

— Kevin Chong

Reading Vancouver Special is like catching up with a smart, witty friend who's proud and aware of the place he calls home. What Demers has accomplished with this book is admirable: it's an authentic version of Vancouver, a recognizable yet illuminating view of here, from here.
-Georgia Straight

— Georgia Straight

Vancouver Special takes an unflinching and often hilarious look at the city, alternating between touching personal recollection and observational humour that seems tailor-made for a comedy set.

— Westender

Charles Demers presents a unique portrait of his hometown of Vancouver ... Together the writing and design contribute to a book that will be read in the distant future as an important snapshot of life in Vancouver during the era of the Winter Olympics.
-BC Studies

— BC Studies

Vancouver Special is a fantastic book. It is at times vivid, honest, witty, brash, generous, brutal, sentimental, unsentimental; it's a complete portrait of Vancouver. With his eye for detail, history, and humour, what Charles Demers has wrought is a book that captures the Vancouver of today.

— Thecommentary.ca

A lot of people have tried to explain Vancouver. But to do justice to a place so blithe yet smug, weird yet eager to please, good willed yet tough on poor folks, well, you'd need a hilarious stand-up-comic who also happens to have laser beam powers of social criticism. Fortunately we have that guy. Charles Demers. And sure enough, he nails this city, cold.
-David Beers, editor of The Tyee

— David Beers

My new favourite book about Vancouver.... Laughing along through stories about our neighbourhoods, people, and culture, you will get to know this place (and all of its beauty and ugliness) a lot better by the end of it. I almost feel like if you live here you have an obligation to read this book, and that you'll most likely enjoy fulfilling that obligation. Thank you, Charles, for taking the time to put together such an incredible piece of work on the city that you obviously love so much.
-Vancouver is Awesome blog

— Vancouver is Awesome
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Out of print

This edition is not currently available in bookstores. Check your local library or search for used copies at Abebooks.

About the Author

Charles Demers

Charles Demers is a comedian, writer, and playwright, and the author of the novels Property Values (Arsenal Pulp Press) and The Prescription Errors (Insomniac Press), and the non-fiction books The Horrors (Douglas & McIntyre), Vancouver Special (Arsenal Pulp Press, now out of print), and (with George Bowering) The Dad Dialogues (Arsenal Pulp Press). He's a regular on CBC's The Debaters and is the voice of Walter the Slug on the Emmy-winning Netflix cartoon Beat Bugs. He is also the editor of Robin's Egg Books, a humour imprint of Arsenal Pulp Press. A longtime political activist, he lives in East Vancouver with his wife and daughter.

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