e admire people who give rein to their passions and obsessions, who fly in the face of convention, who have easy access to an id unmeditated by a prissy, stultifying ego. We need them. You could say they have a societal utility. They shake up the old order. They remind us that our familiar priorities, whether personal or political, are arbitrary; the product of unthinking convention, and nothing more. We cherish these outsized characters because they amplify qualities we each of us possess in some small measure. And we love them because they give us stories. When all is said and done, it is stories that keep us buoyant.
so says bill richardson (host of cbc's richardson's roundup) in this lively, thought provoking, and ultimately compassionate look at some of the more colourful characters which have inhabited this vast country called canada.
containing more than biographical sketches, this book is a sort of road trip autobiography/biography. with his highly literate and quirky style richardson examines various persons of an eccentric nature all across canada and through a variety of time periods. but, as said, this is no pedestrian biography. it is a tale of many told through the experiences of one insightful individual.
When I began confiding to friends, acquaintances, and colleagues that I planned to investigate and write about the lives of some Canadian eccentrics, a disconcerting number of them arched speculative brows and asked, "Are there any?"
weaving personal anecdotes and introspection with interviews, historical reconstructions, and imaginative fancy, scorned and beloved proves itself an endearing labour of personal growth. richardson shows us how he himself understands these people and their passions and peculiarities and in the process has us asking ourselves "what the heck eccentricity is, anyways?"
The dictionary was sufficient anchor for me. "Eccentric." From the Latin eccentricus, out of the centre. Also the Greek kentros, the centre, and ek, out of. What could be more succinct or descriptive? I would search out stories of people whose lives veered away from the comfortable middle ground. I would collect stories of both the living and the dead. I would be broad in my definition of "Canadian"...
it seems that it is nothing more than being true to one's dreams and visions, regardless of how societally unacceptable or physically trying they are. we learn of k. who lives secluded in the woods by himself; a hospitable man who prefers the company of the wilderness around him to the seeming insanity of city life. there is laura kay, a vancouver prophet who sees into the future and praises the virtues of the healing duck she once owned, and those she will own.
all of these stories are unique and fascinating. at times, though, i would question the relevance of some figures, as well as the strange segues that richardson suddenly plants smack dab in what seems to be the middle of a story. however, stories never end and richardson uses his own life's journey as a roadmap to help guide us through this amazing bunch of canadians; most of which are people we can relate to in some way or other, or are quite possibly related to.
ultimately, this document of wonder reminds us all of how simple or complex life can be, only if we choose to make it so.
published by knopf canada