Books for the beach, the bathroom or the bathtub
Blue Bike Books has series of light reading with interesting subjects
Saturday, Aug 09, 2014 06:00 am
by Dan de Figueiredo
Bathroom Book of Canadian History
By Barbara Smith
Bathroom Book of Canadian Trivia
By Angela Murphy
All published by Blue Bike Books. www.bluebikebooks.com
Not every summer read has to be a heavy Nobel Prize winner, right? Local publisher Blue Bike Books recently released a trio of light reading non-fiction books that would be perfect sitting on one’s coffee table or – dare I say? – in the bathroom or even the bathtub.
Since July is the month of the anniversary of our nation’s birth, every book in the series has the word “Canadian” in its title.
There are two titles in the publisher’s Bathroom Books series, one focusing on Canadian trivia and the other on Canadian history. Another book by Dan de Figueiredo features weird Canadian places. Conveniently called Weird Canadian Places, it’s a fine but far from comprehensive compendium of some of the strange places that can be found in this great wide country of ours.
You can read about the tunnels under Moose Jaw or the Oak Island “money pit,” a site in Nova Scotia rumoured to harbour buried pirates’ treasure. There’s also a place near Crowsnest Pass called the Lost Lemon Mine that is said to hold a fortune in gold. So far, no nuggets have been retrieved possibly due to the supposed curse that was placed on the place.
There’s a section of spooky tales as well, some dealing with paranormal sightings and others that have UFOs and extraterrestrial beings at their hearts. Edmonton’s now 100-year-old Princess Theatre even gets a mention with a ghost sighting out of a window two storeys up. Just across the river, the Hotel MacDonald’s ghost gets a tale of its own, except they’re horses, not humans, which are said to haunt the otherwise fine establishment.
If Canadian history is more of your thing, then Barbara Smith’s book is probably the better choice to leave lying around the house. There’s a lot to be said for the snippets of information – some of it even useful – that author Angela Murphy can cram into such a short amount of space.
How many words do we have for snow? Check. It’s in there.
Where should we park our cars so that they won’t be stolen? Check that too.
Remember the picture of the girl on the can of Old Dutch cleanser? Did you know how it influenced Margaret Atwood to write one of her best-known tales? It had a similar impact on poet P.K. Page too. Who knew? Now you do too.
While all of this trivia might be deemed frivolous in many people’s eyes, there’s probably still a sizable portion of the population that would see a benefit in learning how to successfully defend yourself against bears or cougars.
There’s also a particularly peculiar kind of parameter for what makes good trivia. Before this book came along, I wouldn’t have suspected that I would be so fascinated with a list of sobriquets for illegal liquor and its distribution.
Included in that parameter must be strange creatures. We all know about the Ogopogo and sasquatch, a hairy beast that has had 18 documented sightings in this province, somehow fewer than Ontario and Manitoba but has everyone heard of the Windigo? Personally, I think it’s more culturally and historically relevant, and far more worrisome.
The Bathroom Book of Canadian History doesn’t mention the Windigo but does devote a small section to Bigfoot, leading to the revelation that explorer David Thompson recorded a sighting of his own back in 1811.
All that hoo-hah aside, I enjoy learning about the unique parts of our nation’s history, like how a herd of Middle Eastern wild camels roamed around western Canada for four decades and how palm trees grew on the Plains of Abraham. The beaver, the symbolic chomper that represents the industriousness of our people, was transported to South America to bolster the fur trade. Instead, they – like so many alien species – became overpopulated and were soon considered a plague in Chile and Argentina.
There are summary stories about how Niagara Falls once stopped working or how young Englishman John Molson almost never made it across the ocean to become a beer icon in the New World. We can read about the Danish roots of hockey and the night that a thunderstorm helped more than 50 families in a small Manitoba town to eat goose for dinner. Okay, not much of this is dreadfully important history but it sure is fun to read.
That’s what makes this much like any of the other trivia books: perfect for the bathroom, the coffee table or the beach. Each of these paperbacks is pretty light on the scale and probably won’t lead to much raising of intelligence but they sure are entertaining.