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City Of Glass [Paperback]

Douglas Coupland
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 24.95
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Book Description

Oct. 10 2009

This irresistible little book offers a very different take on Vancouver, one of the world's most beautiful cities. Douglas Coupland applies his unique sensibility to everything from the Grouse Grind to glass towers, First Nations to feng shui, Kitsilano to Cantonese. Cleverly designed to mimic an underground Japanese magazine, this edition is fully updated and revised with riffs on Vancouver as a neon city, a land of treehuggers, and more.

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Toronto has Margaret Atwood, Montreal has Mordecai Richler, and now Vancouver has its own literary spokesperson. Douglas Coupland, author of societal pulse-taking novels like Generation X, Microserfs, and Shampoo Planet, turns his bemused eye on his hometown's quirks and quarks in this easy-going, photo-heavy tour. Coupland's voice is droll, whether explaining the way the ferries work ("the ferry experience involves waiting; that's because it's government-run") or theorizing on the origins of street names like Biddesden and Pyrford (he conjectures they were named by old English lords having a good laugh over a dram back in London). Having grown up in Vancouver, the author has a wellspring of childhood memories to draw from, and his reminisces add an even more personal note to pieces on well-known destinations like Grouse Mountain and Chinatown. An artist as well as an author, Coupland has an opinion on just about everything, from Greenpeace (begun in Vancouver) to the number eight (considered lucky by Chinese residents), but he is especially astute at capturing the essence of the city from an architectural perspective. "They made about as much sense in the neighbourhoods into which they were inserted as a UFO in Versailles," he writes of the type of dwelling units he calls "monster houses." And an essay about Lions Gate Bridge, in which Coupland mixes personal recollections with bridge lore, is enough to make even the most jaded Vancouverite see the town in a teary-eyed new light.

Though by no means comprehensive--what about, say, the people mosaic of Commercial Drive?--Coupland's book is a colourful, chatty guide, hitting on both obscure and famous Vancouver characteristics alike. Whether the reader is familiar with the city or a complete stranger, or simply a fan of witty, insightful prose, he or she will find much to enjoy in this portrait of what the author calls--rightfully, one is convinced by the end--"a dream of a city." --Shawn Conner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"This is Coupland's attempt -- just in time for the Vancouver Olympics -- to answer the questions visitors always ask about the city he loves, even before they ask them." (Globe & Mail 2009-11-27)

"The renowned Generation X author's humorous take on the area, from its drug culture ad tourist destinations to its people, food and film industry." (Daily Gleaner 2010-02-08)

"Subjective in tone and sexy to look at, City of Glass is a delightfully outlandish travel book -- just the sort of whacked-out guide you wish every was available for every great city in the world." (Globe & Mail 2000-10-14)

"Conversational text swatches are interwoven with brilliant photojournalistic images, giving us a flaneur's-eye-view of Vancouver." (National Post 2000-10-21)

"Here are moments of sparkling insight, and a perceptive reframing of many familiar snapshots of the city, more than enough to make Coupland's tour worthwhile." (Maclean's 2000-11-20)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Homesick book Nov. 14 2004
This is my homesick book, my security blanket, my Postcards from Home.
For Vancouverites, it's a source of boosterist pride, a good chuckle at some in-jokes, and perhaps enlightenment on why things are as they are. For people who have moved away, it's a book of memories, recollections of a city of glass and the people who make it. For people who have never been there, it's the tourist guide that talks about things the Lonely Planet won't. It's like having Mr Coupland sitting next to you as you make your way through our city. It's probably as close to an autobiography as he's ever written. The mark of Vancouver is on him as it's on me, and on everyone else who was raised there.
Yeah, I love my hometown.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a personal vancouver alphabet Aug. 10 2002
This book presents a charming, personal view of the city of Vancouver, BC, by an author both at home in and in love with his city. It is organized as an alphabet book, but this is just an excuse. Vancouver is a major city on the edge of one of the last great frontiers. It joins the Canadian wilderness and the Pacific Rim. It is a peculiar city of what we in the USA call the "Northwest', both cosmopolitan and local. I've read the book several times, both in Vancouver and at home, and I've enjoyed sharing with the author each time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reflecting the Vancouver Ideal June 15 2011
City of Glass reminds Vancouverites why we live here, and tells guests why they should visit. It is the book you leave in the guest bedroom to inspire and delight out-of-towners.

It's brochure like quality starts with the books physical form. City of Glass is bright and colorful'reminiscent of a sunny day in the city. Its cover is even colored in the omnipresent green and blue of Vancouver's branding.

The title of the book comes from Vancouver's large number of skyscrapers with glass or mirror fronts. Like the glass of it's title, Coupland's book reflects his personal memories of the city he loves.

Inspired by Japans underground 'zines', the book is an illustrated collection of vignettes and reflections on Vancouver. it takes readers on an alphabetical tour, from BC Ferries to YVR. Along the way, Coupland drops a lot of personal observations, historic trivia and often overlooked facts.

The book also includes a report of Coupland's essay, 'My Hotel Year,' previously published in Life After God. The essay is a nice intermission from the vignettes. It provides readers with a glimpse beyond the glass and into a gritty reality that is also part of Vancouver.

Interspersed throughout the book are some photographs of Vancouver at it's best and pictures of Vancouver, ephemera such as Campbell's soup cans with trilingual Cantonese/English/French labels and a salmon 'color fan.'
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Definitely Vancouver, but one person's view Aug. 4 2004
Imagine following Highway 99 south from Whistler down through West and North Vancouver, across the Second Narrows Bridge, along Boundary Road, crossing into Richmond, picking up the 99 again, and driving straight through to Seattle. Now, pay attention only to what you can see (Mount Baker, for instance), or things that are to your right -- west of the Vancouver-Burnaby border. Observe and comment on those things lucidly and with humour. But ignore the vast suburbs stretching to the east. Spend more time on Bellingham than on New Westminster. You have an idea of this book. Like Coupland's other works, it demonstrates keen insight about a limited part of its subject -- this case, Vancouver. He is a North Shore boy, and it shows. Worth reading, but definitely only one person's view.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The city of glass April 21 2007
Sure, it's only one person's view of Vancouver. But at least it's Douglas Coupland's view. In "City of Glass," the author of "All Families Are Psychotic" and "Generation X" strays from fiction to write about his home city. The result is a subdued love ode to Vancouver, peppered with photographs.

Coupland describes Vancouver with many page-long vignettes, sort of like a patchwork quilt: he describes feng shui in Vancouver, Japanese teenagers, a harbour full of sulfur piles, American couples on "love boats," monstrous houses, and the quiet detachment that Vancouver feels from the Rest of Canada. (Which has its own entry -- really!)

Coupland's fiction is generally distinguishable for its contemplative, cynically witty tones. But he drops all that for "City of Glass." Okay, there is a chunk of "Life After God" in the middle, blurry text and pics. And occasionally the transcripts of Coupland's memories remind one of his fiction, seeming sadder and darker.

Most of the time, he sounds fond and reminiscent, as if reliving the memories that come with salmon and fleece. Not to mention funny, such as when describing the confusing disagreements about feng shui (" this space should flowwwwww" or "flow is to be avoided at all costs"). And the photographs are quite good as well, with Coupland taking pictures of the prosaic subjects of his book -- a sleepy-looking Japanese teen, a fleece vest, a boat floating out on a light-filled harbor, a skiier in mid-twist on a sunlit hillside.

"City of Glass" isn't exactly going to make you race to Vancouver, but it will make you appreciate the little hidden facets of the city -- and perhaps make you notice the ones in your own.
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